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Podcast 0048: There is always room for one more at the Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansion in the Moonlight at Disneyland
Haunted Mansion in the Moonlight at Disneyland

This month on Dispodopolis, we discuss the one and only Haunted Mansion. Fiona decided this October we needed to dive into the history and stories behind the Haunted Mansion. October is the best month to tackle this conversation. From the Haunted Mansion's initial concepts to its many variations, it culminated into a unique collaboration among the many artists chosen from Disney Animation into the new world of WED. From the beginning layouts of Disneyland, Walt Disney wanted to have an old house on the hill that overlooked a typical victorian main street, and it evolved into a haunted house. This evolution led it to be placed in one of Walt Disney's favorite Americana motifs, New Orleans Square. The tribute for the 60th anniversary shows the long-standing love and appreciation of the Haunted Mansion.( Join us as we touch on the many people and elements that make the "Haunted Mansion" the pivotal creation that reimagined a carnival ride.

The Haunted Mansion is a unique singular experience that immerses you into a world created in the minds of the geniuses that came from a film and animated background. The landscape surrounds you and pulls you into a world that seems eerily familiar but skewed just enough to be dissimilar and drudges up fear and comical delight at the same time. This attraction is not for the faint at heart or the young. A child under the age of three excepts the surroundings as safe and wildly imaginative, but after that point, a child will shriek and cower from the attraction. Their primary extinctions kick in and understand the fear of the dark and the unknown lurking in the shadows. The fear they feel is a natural way of self-preservation. They want to live to see a new day. Glory be the day when they will once again possess the willingness to rejoin you on your journey through the Haunted House.

Haunted Mansion Holiday Overlay of the "Nightmare Before Christmas"
Haunted Mansion Holiday Overlay of the "Nightmare Before Christmas"

I'm excited to be able to experience the "Haunted Mansion" once again this November. Even though it won't be the original version and will have the overlay of "Nightmare Before Christmas," it is the same ride with the same tricks that fool the eye. One of the unique parts about the overlay is that this is the twentieth anniversary of the "Nightmare Before Christmas" addition to the Haunted Mansion. I'm also interested to see the modest recent renovations of the Haunted Mansion. ( These renovations include new drapes, carpet, wallpaper, and decor touches sprawled across the Haunted Mansion. Due to the extended closure of the park due to covid restrictions, new ideas and additional renovations were reviewed and completed during this time. There are also a few technical updates to various imagery that fill the Haunted Mansion's halls and rooms. One being the April to December portrait in the portrait hall, and this is located in the hall you walk through after exiting the stretching room and before you enter your doom buggy.

Let's jump into some of the fun things that make the Haunted Mansion so distinctive. One of those is that the Haunted Mansion holds the record for the longest time spent on a single attraction in the parks. From its conceptual beginning in 1951 until the opening day on August 9, 1969, it took 18 years to open to the public. I'm glad it took so long because the technology that makes the attraction so special had not been developed until the mid-1960s. We wouldn't see that technology until it was developed for the 1964 World's Fair. Thanks to Walt Disney's ingenuity and ability to get corporations involved in funding some of the most technologically advanced animatronics and transportation developments, the Disney Corporation improved the parks.

Walt Disney signed on to create multiple attractions for the 1964 World's Fair in New York. He pulled most of the Imagineers off of the park attractions and onto the fair concepts. Walt Disney aligned himself with multiple large corporations that paid for the research and development that shot the park attractions into a new era. The Haunted Mansion was one of the first attractions that benefitted from this incredible research, not developed for the fair.

Old House on the Hill original concept art by Harper Goff
"Old House on the Hill" original concept art by Harper Goff

Back in 1951, when Walt Disney was initially creating a conceptual map to encourage vendors to financially back his dream, one of the original ideas was an "Old House on the Hill." Ken Anderson worked on this, and then the torch was passed on to Marvin Davis when additional maps and directions were produced for Disneyland. There was no clear concept of how this would come to fruition, but Walt Disney always wanted a Haunted Mansion. The first interior direction for a Haunted Mansion was a walkthrough attraction, which Harper Goff and Ken Anderson were working out in 1955. They took up the mantel after Disneyland had opened, and Walt Disney was looking to expand the park and add attractions.

Shipley-Lydecker House in Baltimore, Maryland
Shipley-Lydecker House in Baltimore, Maryland from the book, "Decorative Art of Victoria's Era."

The architectural style of the Haunted House was set in 1957 when Ken Anderson used the Baltimore Shipley-Lydecker House for inspiration. Construction for the Haunted Mansion began in 1961 in New Orleans Square, and the exterior was completed in 1963. Shipley-Lydecker House in Baltimore, Maryland, the inspiration for the structure of the Haunted Mansion, was named after Charles Shipley, who originally built the house in 1803, and Philip Lydecker, who bought the house in 1906. I'm assuming that Lydecker made extensive changes to the red brick house built by Shipley. The addition included the unique structures that pull the design of the house in line with what you would see in New Orleans. Lydecker added the Greek columns in the front, a balcony, the metal balcony railings, and a large glass cupola at the top. The house was adapted to represent the architectural fashion of the day. Unfortunately, the house was demolished in 1967, but not before it was famously documented in the Victorian Era book, "Decorative Art of Victoria's Era," written and released in 1950. No, the Imagineers didn't have a field trip to Baltimore even though the house would have still been standing, but they did have the book in their WED library. The house was also documented by the Works Progress Administration or otherwise known as the WPA, which was an organization created by Franklin Delano Rosevelt (FDR) administration during the depression to put people to work. The WPA book is titled "The WPA Guide to Maryland." It was released in the 1930s, and the Shipley-Lydecker house was not pictured in a favorable light. The book "Decorative Art of Victoria's Era" can still be found on the Disney campus in the Walt Disney Imagineering Information Research Center, which is currently located in Glendale, California. Imagineering was known as WED Enterprises back when they began work on the Haunted Mansion. In the beginning, WED Enterprises was a private company owned by Walt Disney. He wanted to make sure he had control of what was happening in the parks without reporting to a large corporate board.

There wasn't a clear direction for the interior, and Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump spent a few years engrossed in creating ideas on top of ideas to fill the halls. Walt Disney handpicked them to set the tone and feeling for the Haunted Mansion. Both of these men truly enjoyed the time they spent together developing the many different tricks and vignettes that set many directions of the Haunted Mansion going forward. Let's take a closer look at each of these men and why they were given the initial task to take on the Haunted Mansion interior.

Yale Gracey and the Hatbox Ghost at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland
Yale Gracey and the Hatbox Ghost at Haunted Mansion at Disneyland

Yale Gracey is the genius behind the effects. Even when there was a reorganization of the project after 1964, he was the man they all went to to get it done. Gracey had no formal training, but he had an insatiable curiosity about fooling the eye and creating imagery and effects. He started in the animation department as a layout artist for "Pinocchio." He also would work on numerous features, including the Disney Classics, "The Three Caballeros," and "Fantasia." He continued in the animation department, working on various shorts throughout the 1940s and 50s, and most of those centered on Donald Duck. Two of my favorite characters were born during this era: Humphrey the Bear and Spike the Bee. The shorts department was coming to a close at the end of the 1950s, and Yale Gracey was picked up and transferred to WED. Walt Disney recognized and respected Yale Gracey's constant tinkering at his desk, and Walt knew what to do with him. It pays to show off the depth of your skills and imagination at Disney. It seems you should always be going above and beyond the assignment. Those who do are recognized for their talent.

Since a young boy, Yale Gracey had a love for two subjects: magic and gadgets. He would engross himself in the Popular Mechanics set of books titled "The Boy Mechanic" from the early 1910s. Having this base of engineering and chemistry, he concocted spectacular effects for numerous Disney attractions, including the Haunted Mansion. One of those effects pulled straight from those books is the "Pepper's Ghost." Pepper's Ghost is a spectacular effect that is a simple concept using mirrors and light. Henry Pepper was a magician that developed this effect for his act. Yes, magicians still use smoke, mirrors, and lighting to amaze us. You see Yale Gracey's effects throughout the Haunted Mansion.

The talents of Yale Gracey touch every room and effect. One of the greatest honors given to Yale Gracey is using his namesake in the Haunted Mansion as the proprietor of the establishment, Master Gracey. John Hench, former senior vice president of creative development at Walt Disney Imagineering, once recalled, "Whenever we needed a special effect, we went to Yale. Sometimes it took a while to get what we were asking for; however, along the way he'd develop other marvelous effects we could use. I remember one time we asked him to create a particular illusion, and in the process of experimenting, he developed a gopher bomb, which we all used in our yards. It worked very well!"

Rolly Crump and the Museum of the Weird for Disneyland

Yale Gracey's right-hand man was Rolly Crump, and his creation of the "Museum of the Weird" later morphed into what we know today as the Haunted Mansion. Rolly Crump joined the Walt Disney Studios in 1952 to become an in-between artist and assistant animator. He worked on the Disney classics Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, and Sleeping Beauty. He was moved over to WED Enterprises in 1959, and that is when his imagination took off. He and Yale Gracey went wild creating, a menagerie of creatures and exhibits for the Museum of the Weird.

Rolly Crump, in his own words, said that "At the time, they still didn't really know what they wanted it to be, so they just kind of set us loose. … Walt just wanted us to be left alone, and he gave us the freedom to do whatever we wanted. We had our own little studio that we just filled with all sorts of crazy stuff." Rolly Crump fondly remembers his time working with Yale Gracey on the Museum of the Weird and from their numerous ideas and drawings, which would eventually turn into the Haunted Mansion. Both of them attacked it from the idea that Walt wanted to scare people. To scare or not to scare is something that would be a topic of contention between two other Imagineers, Marc Davis and Claude Coates, that Walt Disney tapped to bring the Haunted Mansion across the finish line.

"It (The Museum of the Weird and the Haunted Mansion) was Walt's idea," Crump said. "He loved all that. He loved to scare people. He said, 'People love being scared,' and that one of the things we should be doing is to scare people." The plan was that there would be a Museum of the Weird connected to the Haunted Mansion to place all of the creepy and unsettling directions of Rolly Crump's ideas. Rolly Crump was featured on a 1965 episode of "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color," giving a preview of the Museum of the Weird. YouTube link.

Upon Walt's death in 1966, the Museum of the Weird was canceled by the new lead Imagineers, who didn't see the purpose or understand the direction. But some of Crump's ideas did make it into the Haunted Mansion. A few of his ideas are the hand-holding sconces, the organist that appears and disappears, and the iconic wallpaper that lines the hallway scenes. Disney Concept Designer John Horny observed, "Rolly has a knack for bringing out the best in others. Trusting their talent, he encourages artists to push their creativity to the limits. It's a rare creative person who can let others run with the ball." Show writer Jim Steinmeyer added, "The idea is king with Rolly. It doesn't have to be his vision, as long as it works."

Originally it was thought that the wallpaper that decked the halls of the haunted hallways of the Haunted Mansion was created by Marc Davis. But the wallpaper of the Haunted Mansion is a unique creation that spawned from the ideas of Rolly Crump and Claude Coates. The fun part was Rolly Crump didn't even realize his creativity had been the starting point for Claude Coates. Claude Coates used a picture for inspiration that Rolly Crump created. The title of this now the favorite cult image is called "plant man." That is the one picture we know was lifted from Rolly Crump's imaginative work, and we aren't sure if there were any more, but it is enough for this legend to grow. Claude Coates was additionally inspired by Gothic Damask patterns for the layout and style. Many of these original Gothic Damask flocked wallpapers were created using arsenic.

I wanted to expand on our discussion of the Haunted Manion wallpaper. I wanted to throw in additional information about the entrance foyer wallpaper that covers the walls before you enter the stretching room. The entrance foyer wallpaper comes from the Bradbury & Bradbury Art Wallpapers. It is a reproduction of a Victorian wallpaper that graced the halls of many English and American homes during the Victorian Era. The colors are olive, terra cotta, and indigo. The blue seems to fade into the background, and the olive pops out into the foreground. You are usually rushed through this room, making it difficult to stop and appreciate that hand-made layering of paint that creates this wallpaper. It is hard to enjoy the colors unless the natural light finds a way to flood the room. Many of the wallpapers you see throughout the Disney properties are produced by Bradbury & Bradbury Art Wallpapers. Their company was founded in 1979 in Benicia, California, so they didn't create the wallpapers for the original Haunted Mansion.

The original idea for a walkthrough experience changed thanks to the many innovations from Disney's involvement in the 1964 World's Fair. Enter Bob Gurr and his wonderful mechanics. He created a track system with a car that can guide and direct visitors' vision through a maze of rooms and experiences. As soon as the World's Fair opened and the Imagineers headed back to California, Walt Disney pulled Claude Coates and Marc Davis to finish the Haunted Mansion. Unfortunately, Walt Disney passed in 1966 before the attraction had been flushed out. Still, the Imagineers pushed forward, and three years later, the attraction opened on August 9, 1969, with a television special starring the Osmond Brothers and Kurt Russell. It was so popular that lines wound through the park and were as long as 4 hours long.

Claude Coates in his studio
Claude Coates in his studio

I wanted to cover the last three men, Claude Coates, Marc Davis, and Xavier Atencio, who hugely influenced what we see today as the Haunted Mansion. Claude Coates is the other half that Walt Disney tapped to get the Haunted Mansion on track and push it through to the finish line. With Walt Disney's death in 1966, Claude Coats and Marc Davis did not see eye to eye on the project, and there was no one to guide their work. Claude Coates' talent was in his ability to take the two-dimensional and create a three-dimensional world. His background watercolors painted for Pinocchio demonstrated a level of beauty that captured the audience's imagination. His talent was moved over to WED Enterprises, where he designed numerous attractions for Disneyland and the 1964 New York World's Fair. He worked on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Snow White's Scary Adventures, and Submarine Voyage for Disneyland along with the Magic Skyway, Carousel of Progress, and it's a small world for the World's Fair. He stood at 6'6," and Walt would joke with him about how he ruined or spoiled the scale at Disneyland. Claude Coates brought the intensity and style to the Haunted Mansion. He created the model that carried you into the Haunted Mansion experience.

Marc Davis and his artwork for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland
Marc Davis and his artwork for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland

Claude Coates carried you in, and Marc Davis gave you the depth of story and brought in the humor. Marc Davis and the Haunted Mansion are inseparable. He is the comedic half of the Haunted Mansion that balanced out the tension that Claude Coates created. Marc Davis' influence dominates the vignettes created in the ballroom and the graveyard scene. Marc Davis had a plethora of ideas that would flow out of him onto the blank page. If he saw that it wasn't going in the direction he imagined, he would take over the task and complete it himself. One example is when Rolly Crump drew the original stretching room images, but he didn't have the technique or ability to bring Marc Davis' concepts to life fully. Marc Davis threw out Rolly Crump's paintings and painted them himself. His artwork fills the halls of the Haunted Mansion. Marc Davis started creating his comic relief moments when he worked on the animated feature, Snow White. Walt paid his animators for the gags that they wrote for each scene. Marc Davis appreciated the extra cash, and his talent grew from there.

The last Imagineer that we cover in our podcast is Xavier Atencio and how his influence fills the halls of the Haunted Mansion. Xavier Atencio, or X-Atencio, created the haunting lyrics that ring through the graveyard scene of the Haunted Mansion. His ability to twist words into memorable lines of imagery was a gift that Walt Disney spotted. Walt Disney tapped him to write the lyrics for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction and loved them so much he asked him to repeat his genius for the Haunted Mansion. They added a nod to X-Atencio's concept of a demonic cat that follows you around the Haunted Mansion during the last renovation. The Imagineers created a sculpture that now sits in the hallway before you enter your doom-buggy. It doesn't truly represent X-Atencio's conceptual art or verbal explanation of a black cat missing an eye, but none the less it is a beautiful icon to express his talent. The figure is a cross between expressionism art with its smooth, sleek lines that remind one of the works of Modigliani and Ancient Egyptian sculptures honoring the dominion of the cat.

Paul Frees as Ludwig Van Drack
Paul Frees as Ludwig Van Drack

As we finish our discussion about the Haunted Mansion, Fiona throws us a curveball and wants to touch on the voices that haunt the halls of the attraction and ring out the narrative and haunting lines written by X-Atencio. The two that influence the sounds of the Haunted Mansion are Paul Frees and Thurl Ravenscroft. Paul Frees was no stranger to the Disney Studios and was the voice actor that brought Ludwig Van Drack to live along with a host of characters for the Rankin/Bass stop motion animation works from the late 1960s and early 1970s. He is the original voice of the Ghost Host, and it is a voice that eerily reminds one of the actor Vincent Price.

Thurl Ravenscroft
Thurl Ravenscroft

Thurl Ravenscroft is best known as the booming voice of Tony the Tiger from the Frosted Flakes ads. Every child grew up listening to Thurl Ravenscroft's voice on television, movies, and Disney parks. He can be heard throughout numerous animation features for the Disney Studios, from "Lady and the Tramp" to "Alice in Wonderland." In the parks, he can be heard singing in the "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Enchanted Tiki Room," and even "its a small world." One of the most beloved songs he sang was in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" in "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." His voice will continue to influence the soundtracks of numerous attractions and movies to come for generations.

If you want to take a deeper dive into the Haunted Mansion, we highly recommend these books and websites to learn even more.

Before discussing the Haunted Mansion, we ask ourselves which Disney Legend we would like to see grace the halls of the Haunted Mansion. We discuss the Disney Imagineers and Animators who worked on the attraction and those that influenced the company's visual direction. Which Disney Legend would you like to see in the Haunted Mansion? Would you like to see someone who worked at the studios, in the parks, or someone whose image or voice represented the company? Please send us an email at

Please enjoy our latest podcast, Dispodopolis. We would love to hear from you and your family. If you have any comments, questions, or fun and fancy-free thoughts, email us at

Images from: Dispodopolis, Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Archives, and D23

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