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The Haunted Mansion is one of my favourite rides at Disneyland. The illusions are fantastic, the music is groovy. Lines are usually quite short, and there is enough of interest on the ride that it’s worthy of several visits. While my writeup is really about the Disneyland attraction (located in New Orleans Square), there are nearly-identical versions of the ride at Walt Disney World and Disney Tokyo as well as Phantom Manor at Euro Disney in Paris, which is very similar but there the ride is in Frontierland and has a western atmosphere. The Paris ride is also much more structured around a coherent story.

Construction of the exterior of the Haunted Mansion began in 1962 and was completed in 1963, but the ride itself didn’t open until August, 1969. Walt Disney’s death in 1966 and work by Disney employees on the New York World’s Fair of 1964-1965 were contributing factors to the delay.

This "dark ride" is housed inside a building resembling a big, run-down mansion. Once inside, visitors are crowded into an elevator, which then slowly lowers them below ground level. The elevator is designed so that it appears that the room is actually stretching upwards and the visitors are staying still. It actually requires quite close observation to perceive the illusion. If the interior was kept immaculately clean and perfectly maintained, I think it might be impossible to see what’s going on.

After disemelevatoring, visitors walk to the “doom buggies,” the cars that carry them through the attraction. These cars are of the Omnimover design, first developed for the Adventures in Inner Space attraction, and used on several rides at Walt Disney World / Epcot Center. The cars are scoop-shaped and can pivot all the way around; this way throughout the ride the car can turn to point its occupants at each illusion as they pass it.

The doom buggies carry the visitors up through hallways and past various illusions, then, in the most spectacular part of the ride, they are carried above the main ballroom, where they look down at a ghostly dinner party, with ghosts swooping around, dancing, etc. The ghosts seated at the table are particularly convincing, and it is very difficult to perceive the illusion without foreknowledge of how it works. The viewer is actually looking down through a very clean angled pane of glass into the ballroom. Out of view and above is an exact replica of the room, upside-down, with audio-animatronic “ghost” figures seated at the table, reaching for the gravy, etc. The view through the glass and the reflection on the glass combine to create the amazing illusion of spectral figures; this effect is known as “Pepper’s ghost” and was not a Disney invention.

As the buggies pass through the graveyard, a barbershop trio of severed heads serenades visitors with the haunting refrain “Grim Grinning Ghosts”:

When the crypt doors creak and the tombstones quake
Spooks come out for a swinging wake
Happy haunts materialize
And begin to vocalize
Grim grinning ghosts come out to socialize

Now don't close your eyes and don't try to hide
Or a silly spook may sit by your side
Shrouded in a daft disguise
They pretend to terrorize
Grim grinning ghosts come out to socialize

As the moon climbs high over the dead oak tree
Spooks arrive for the midnight spree
Creepy creeps with eerie eyes
Start to shriek and harmonize
Grim grinning ghosts come out to socialize

When you hear the knell of a requiem bell
Weird glows gleam where spirits dwell
Restless bones etherealize
Rises spooks of every size

As the doom buggies move towards the exit, there is the “hitch-hiking ghost” effect. The cars face a mirror and move sideways, in the mirror a ghost can be seen riding along in the car. This effect is fairly simple; the mirror is not completely reflective, and the image of the ghost is projected from behind, following the car.

Many of the illusions of things floating in the air, etc., in the mansion are simple illusions created by suspending the objects with thread and then careful lighting to prevent the thread from being visible; not difficult in a mostly dark room. Some of the ghosts are projections onto very thin, gauzy material. The material is invisible in the dark other than where it is projected on.

There are no security cameras in the mansion. The entire track followed by the doom buggies is flanked with pressure-sensitive mats so that if anyone tries to get off the ride, it can immediately be stopped and park personnel in the control room can be notified.

At least once a day, a Disneyland Cast Member goes through the entire ride with a checklist, making sure that every one of the hundreds of little illusions is functioning properly.

As on all of the rides at Disneyland, the music is playing 24 hours a day. The sound is turned off while the ride is being cleaned or worked on, or when there is a problem and the ride needs to be stopped, but the music actually cycles endlessly.

Most of the information for this writeup came from http://www.themedattraction.com/mansion.html and http://www.doom-buggies.com (a fantastic site with interviews with people who’ve worked on the ride, mythology of the ride, etc.)

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