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"The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion"

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Tributes, Homages, and Influences on Popular Culture

Is it just a "ride?"

Have you seen a great tribute to the Haunted Mansion somewhere? Many artists and entertainers have been influenced and inspired by the Mansion. Disney's effects-laden haunted attraction was a critical and popular success when it opened in 1969, and mainstream and underground artisans alike have claimed to have great respect for the ride. Some have even said that their artistic roots can be traced back to early Haunted Mansion experiences.

One sure-fire way to tell the Haunted Mansion has made it into the public consciousness is the fact that it once was the answer to a "Wheel of Fortune" puzzle, a telling barometer of pop culture.

The Haunted Mansion has subtly crept into pop culture over the years. A couple examples? Well, the popular game of "Clue" has been remade in the theme of the Haunted Mansion. The Mansion was also once the answer to the puzzle on "Wheel of Fortune." More recently, in "1408," the 2007 film adapted from a Stephen King novella, horror novelist Mike Enslin (performed by John Cusack) claims that the best place in the world to find real ghosts is the "Haunted Mansion, Orlando." And in 1964, Disneyland Records' own ubiquitous "Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House" record album, which will be discussed in the media section of DoomBuggies, helped create anticipation for the Haunted Mansion by creating a lasting connection between the Disneyland brand and Halloween spooks.

Following are just a few examples of notable fans of the Haunted Mansion, and their impacts on popular culture.

Whuffie - The Haunted Mansion Meets Nanotechnology

Cory Doctorow. Photo by Bart Nagel.

In 2002, author Cory Doctorow (pictured at right) published his breakout novel "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" which takes place in a Walt Disney World of the future. Doctorow, who has since been compared to authors no less than Philip K. Dick and Robert Silverberg, ended up creating a world so engaging that the Onion called the book a "prescient, wholly entertaining yarn that's short enough to be read in a single sitting, and involving enough that it almost inevitably will be."

But what's the story about? Entertainment Weekly describes it like this:

Japanese cover for Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

Doctorow takes the scariest scientific advances - cloning, medical immortality, an inter-networked world in which social standing is based on eBay-style ratings ["Whuffie"] - and sets them inside a Disney theme park. More specifically, these techno-possibilities are the backdrop for a battle over the Haunted Mansion. Members of the governing "Ad-hocracy" want to preserve the attraction's animatronic innards, but a techno-populist team from Disneyland Beijing has developed a way to flash-bake experiences directly on visitors' brains. The resulting tug-of-war leads to on-line insurrections, fan-led coups, and an assassination... Doctorow's debut is a sci-fi ride worth lining up for. A-

In fact, Doctorow's idea of "Whuffie" or "reputation economies" was deemed significant enough to become the basis for an article in the Utne Reader. The book was inevitably declared a finalist for the 2004 Nebula Awards, and won the Locus Award in 2003.

The book has been published in a number of languages and editions: The cover pictured above to the left is from the Japanese edition, which portrays a stylized version of the Haunted Mansion itself in the background.

Intriguing? You can buy the book here, but Doctorow has also released the whole novel under a Creative Commons license, so you can download it in a variety of formats for free.

Haunted Mansion fans can also thank Doctorow for allowing them the ability to own free email addresses at the HauntedMansion.com URL, since he donated the domain to DoomBuggies.com in 1998. Doctorow, who also can be found on the masthead of magazines such as Wired, MAKE, and Popular Science, is a lifelong Haunted Mansion fan, as regular readers of his blog probably already know, due to his fairly regular postings about the Haunted Mansion in culture.

Bill Amend's Foxtrot, March 22, 2004.

Comics, Cops, and Rock 'n Roll

In 2004, cartoonist Bill Amend told DoomBuggies that the Haunted Mansion had made a huge impression on him as a kid, much as it did to Jason, the character in his comic strip "Foxtrot" with whom he identified. "I remember writing to Imagineering back in my own 'Jason' days asking for the blueprints to the Haunted Mansion because I wanted to build my own," Amend recalled.

The Haunted Mansion was also featured on an episode of "NYPD Blue" in a storyline (episode 196, May 21, 2002) in which Andy Sipowicz' son Theo begs to go to Walt Disney World, and later claims to have loved the ghosts that follow you in what Andy refers to as the "haunted house."


A live recording of famed avant-garde guitarist Buckethead, performing "Grim Grinning Ghosts" at one of his concerts.

Sometime-Guns-'n-Roses guitarist Buckethead has also claimed a fondness for the Haunted Mansion, which his many die-hard fans probably already knew since he often improvises on the Haunted Mansion's theme song "Grim Grinning Ghosts" during his live performances. In conversations with DoomBuggies, Buckethead has talked about a planned solo album consisting of only Disney cover tunes, as he is a huge fan of Disney soundtracks and the Disney parks.

In fact, in 2007, Buckethead released a solo album called "Pepper's Ghost" which is undoubtedly a reference to the Haunted Mansion's ghostly effects - a fact made even more apparent by the cover art on the album, in which two people riding in a carriage that looks suspiciously like a "Doom Buggy" are surprised to find a ghostly Buckethead appear between them.

Slave Labor Meets Disney

In 2005, Slave Labor Graphics, under the friendlier title of SLG Publishing, obtained the license to create a number of comic book titles based on Disney properties, one of which is the Haunted Mansion (and the others being Gargoyles, Alice in Wonderland, and Tron.) The Haunted Mansion comic has featured art from many notable independent comic book artists, most notable probably being Roman Dirge of "Lenore" fame. Other popular artists working regularly on the title are Christopher (who created the cover art pictured above for issue #3), D.W. Fryendall, and Bean. The Haunted Mansion title, which is printed in black and white, offers consistently fresh takes on the various scenes and characters found in the actual attraction, paying close attention to established fan mythology, and offering clever inside jokes.

Rick Baker's concept art for the Hitchhiking Ghosts

Professional Haunters Hearken Back to Their Roots

Many professionals in the special effects and Halloween industries cite the Haunted Mansion as a huge influence on their decisions to enter the fields in which they now work. Make-up artist extraordinaire Rick Baker, who has worked on some of the greatest genre films ever (such as Star Wars, An American Werewolf in London, and Planet of the Apes), claimed that simply being able to walk through the Mansion and inspect it with the lights on was enough reason for him to take the job as a creature creator for the filmed version of The Haunted Mansion. "They asked if I was interested, and of course I said yes. I love the Haunted Mansion!" This is apparent from the concept art Baker created for the film (pictured above), which echoes the attraction very strongly.

The Halloween business may be considered a "niche" industry, but as the second-largest commercial holiday in the United States, Halloween has created opportunities for all kinds of artistic ventures and creative companies. The Ghoulish Gallery, a business that creates eerie changing portraits (such as the one pictured at left), is one such company that has direct roots in Disney's Haunted Mansion attraction.

Owner Tim Turner, who has worked on films as a special effects artist, admits to the Haunted Mansion roots behind The Ghoulish Gallery. "Having taken a cue from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion attraction, I’d made a home version of a changing portrait years earlier for a haunted house I’d built for The Downtown Business Association in Long Beach, California," Turner said. "Clearly, this had all the markings of a great Halloween product for the home consumer market."

The Third Dimension... and Beyond

Ray Keim's paper model of the Haunted Mansion.

Computer modeler Ray Keim is another Haunted Mansion fan who has added some amazing contributions to Haunted Mansion fandom in the form of 3-D computer models of the Mansions' facades that he then converts into paper models (such as the Disneyland version pictured at right) which fans can download and build for free. Besides very faithful interpretations of both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Mansions, Keim also offers paper models of the entrance gates, various tombstones, and even the conservatory coffin.

Keim credits his love of the Haunted Mansion for helping him get through some very hard times during a fight with cancer. "That was when I found DoomBuggies.com and used my recovery time to produce some Haunted Mansion art," Keim said. "The work took my mind off the nagging, dark thoughts which came from worrying about my health, and redirected the energy into something I really enjoyed."

Former Disney Contractor Builds His Own Haunted Mansion

Mark Hurt's Georgia Haunted Mansion.

Mark Hurt, a theme park engineer and former Disney contractor, has built a 11,000 sq. ft. replica of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion of his own in which he actually lives in a gated community in Georgia. While he designed the home himself and tried to be as faithful to the original Mansion as possible, he had to make minor modifications to make the place liveable - such as adding a cat door and a mailbox.

Hurt plans to add singing busts, a talking head in the foyer and a ghost-projection system to the roof of the Mansion someday. But the dimensions and architectural details of the Mansion Hurt created match those of the real Haunted Mansion. Even the wrought-iron fencing on Hurt's front terrace came from the same Alabama foundry that Walt Disney used to create the iron details for the original Haunted Mansion.

Fan Donates $37,400 to Become Mansion's Honorary "1000th Ghost"

Cary Jay Sharp is named the Haunted Mansion's 1000th ghost.

Cary Sharp's Haunted Mansion Tombstone

In October 2004, Disneyland held a charity auction to raise funds for the local chapter of the Boys and Girls Club. The prize? A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become a part of the Haunted Mansion attraction by being "interred" as the honorary "1000th Ghost" to occupy the Haunted Mansion.

The winner was Cary "Jay" Sharp (pictured at left, holding tombstone), a doctor and medical lawyer. Sharp, who hails from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was given a special midnight "burial" at Disneyland Park on the porch of the Haunted Mansion, at which time his tombstone, which now rests inside the attraction's graveyard in front of the ghostly band, was unveiled. Sharp was presented with a miniature replica of his tombstone and a "Death Certificate," and he officially became a permanent resident of the Mansion.

Over 60,000 people visited the online auction by the time the final bid was tallied. "I was stunned when I realized I had actually won," Sharp said. "To see this clever reference to me in this famous attraction - it really is a special honor."

Haunted Mansion Butler or Maid is a "Dream" job for many

In 2007, as part of the Disney parks' "Year of a Million Dreams" promotion, Disneyland and CareerBuilder.com hosted a contest in which participants could apply to be a Disneyland character for a day as a "dream job." Potential applicants could choose to try out for the role of Jungle Cruise Skipper, Princess-in-waiting, Pirate, Parade performer, or Haunted Mansion maid/butler.

After thousands of applicants uploaded video resumes to YouTube as the contest required, three of the five grand prize winners in the Haunted Mansion category were members of the DoomBuggies forum community: Richard Brigante, Timothy Dunne (seen in the video above), and Gordon Free. Also living out their dream (or should that be "nightmare?") job in the Mansion were Michael Hemphill and Karen Lemker.

Timothy Dunne - a.k.a. "Master Timothy" - has provided DoomBuggies an exclusive inside look at the entire "Disney Dream Job" day, with behind the scenes photos, exclusive video, and a description of his experience. Click here to visit Master Timothy's web site.

The Disney Channel celebrates the Haunted Mansion on 'House of Mouse'

We shouldn't overlook the Mansion fans inside the Disney Company itself. For instance, look at this loving tribute created for the Disney Channel's "House of Mouse."


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