Foolish Mortals are Talking

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

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The Foyer and Gallery

When hinges creak in doorless chambers...

Upon entering the doors to the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, guests find themselves in a small foyer, dimly illuminated by a cobweb-covered crystal chandelier. "When hinges creek in doorless chambers, and strange and frighening sounds echo through the halls... whenever candlelights flicker, though the air is deathly still; that is the time when ghosts are present - practicing their terror with ghoulish delight," a disembodied voice intones. "Welcome, foolish mortals... to the Haunted Mansion!"

Disneyland Haunted Mansion foyer.The voice, of course, belongs to the Ghost Host, who will be the narrator for our excursion through the Mansion. The Ghost Host was voiced by regular Disney voice artist Paul Frees, with a wonderful ghoulish glee in his performance.

Pictured at left: a small candelabrum on the wall adds to the flickering gloom; and an empty foyer is ready for trepidacious guests to enter the Disneyland Haunted Mansion.

For trivia buffs (or those enchanted by the Mansion's lush gothic interiors), the Victorian wallpaper used in the foyer is available from Bradbury & Bradbury Art Wallpapers. It is called "Lily-Dresser Tradition II," and is color code LYW-550 and color scheme "Ashes of Rose."

Upon entering the foyer, guests hear an organ quietly playing a solo line from Buddy Baker's theme to the Haunted Mansion. This clip is an alternate take that was recorded but never used.

A look at the Haunted Mansion foyer at Walt Disney World

All of the Haunted Mansions' foyers are primarily a loading area to start separating the patrons into groups that will fit inside of the streching galleries. (Each Mansion has two separate stretching galleries, to keep a continual flow of guests through the ride. While one is operating, the other is loading.) The foyers have fancy wallpaper, audacious chandeliers, and elegant moulding, to fit the style of the house's architecture. The wood features in each foyer are stained and varnished, giving each room a lush, rich appearance.

However, the Haunted Mansions at Walt Disney World and in Tokyo also have a mysterious changing portrait installed in the foyer. In an echo of "The Picture of Dorian Gray," the image (which was projected from behind by dual slide projectors until 2007, when the portrait became digitally animated) goes through a quick succession of steps that transform the young man into a decrepit rotting corpse.

This illusion takes the place of Disneyland's hallway of changing portraits, as the Walt Disney World attraction skips the hallway altogether and takes guests directly from the gallery to the Doom Buggy loading area. (The hallway was an unneccessary part of the layout at Walt Disney World, since at Disneyland it is used to transfer people underneath the train tracks that are located directly behind the ride facade, and in front of the main show building. However, some of the Disneyland changing portraits have been moved into the Walt Disney World Mansion into a hallway beyond the Doom Buggy loading zone.)

Dining in Disney World's Haunted Mansion.

The Walt Disney World Haunted Mansion foyer has also been used for special events, such as the exclusive dinner pictured at left. Various special events can be booked at the park in certain locations, if the price is right. Click here to learn more or to check availability.

Once all the guests that the foyer can accomodate have been ushered in to the room, the doors will be closed behind you, and a secret panel will slide open, allowing the Mansion's visitors to begin their curious tour through this mysterious home to 999 "happy haunts." The foyer is usually quite a loud place, as most guests are either chattering nervously or finishing up conversations that were begun while waiting in line. But most visitors will start to quiet down once they walk through the hidden passageway to the next room...

A ghoulish gallery

After entering the Haunted Mansion and being introduced to the "Ghost Host," guests of the attraction find themselves suddenly herded into an octagonal gallery of large portraits. The four large paintings portray former guests of the Mansion, at least as they had appeared in their "corruptible, mortal state," according to the Ghost Host. However, something unusual happens. As the Ghost Host continues speaking, you notice that there seems to be a disquieting metamorphosis taking place. Are the walls actually... stretching?

There's always my way...And by the way, how exactly does one exit this gallery? It seems that after you entered, the wall slid shut, leaving no windows, and no doors. So here's your chilling challenge... to find a way out!

The Ghost Host goes on to offer that you're always free to take his way out, which turns out (in an atypical bit of Disney black humor) to be suicide, as lightning flashes and shows us the only view we will have of the Ghost Host's physical body... a long-since dead skeletal corpse, hanging by the neck from the rafters above (and speaking of the rafters... wasn't there a ceiling on this gallery just seconds before?)

In the gallery, the four seemingly innocent portraits, each of which was conceptualized by Marc Davis (as pictured in the sketches above), "stretch" to reveal sinister goings-on in each situation. The final stretched images are rather ghastly, though the situations depicted are improbable and humorous. Pictured below are realizations of Davis' designs, in actual attraction-used paintings (by Disney artist Clem Hill) which were retired and replaced during a "ride rehab" (which is a procedure in which the Haunted Mansion is closed down and refreshed.)

The constant motion these paintings undergo (as part of the "stretching" process) is hard on the canvas, and every couple of years a new painting may be needed. These images are repainted using guides and color keys for reference. Therefore, each new image contains the touch of the artist completing it.

Disneyland Haunted Mansion Gargoyle

Exquisite detail abounds

The details in the stretching gallery are superb. Evil gargoyles wait above each wall panel, holding onto flickering candles. Pictured to the left is a close-up view of one of the imposing statues, designed to seem to be staring at each occupant in the claustrophobia-inducing room. Carefully-chosen wallpaper with vertical stripes masks the stretching motion, and adds to the effect by making it appear that the walls are eerily growing skyward. Specially designed circuitry makes the flickering candle flames actually dim and brighten randomly, in an imitation of the properties of real fire.

The ceiling, at a glance, seems to have molding like the other walls with a recessed center... but upon closer inspection, you will realize that the ceiling is actually a cleverly painted scrim, or piece of fabric. Commonly used in theatrical presentations, a scrim is material that is tranluscent when lit from behind, and opaque when lit from the front. When the house lights are extinguished and the lightning flashes above, you see the corpse of your "Ghost Host" dangling from the rafters above the scrim (see photo at right, taken by ArizonaSteve). When the lights come back on inside the room, the ceiling is once again illuminated, hiding the secret rafters. The stretching gallery, which is actually a cleverly-concealed OTIS elevator, takes you down beneath the ride facade so that you may enter the true ride building.

Re-Haunting the Walt Disney World Mansion

In September 2007, Imagineering refurbished the Walt Disney World Haunted Mansion, adding a number of brand new special effects. In the stretching gallery, the Ghost Host still narrates the scene, but utilizing new wave field synthesis technology and an array of speakers that encircles the entire gallery, the Ghost Host's voice seems to dart and float fluidly around the room by recreating sound waves and eliminating the need for a "sweet spot" to fully experience the surround sound. Now, the entire room is essentially a "sweet spot," and the effect is startlingly realistic. You can see a part of the speaker array in the photo below (taken by DoomBuggies staffer TrinitysGhost). The imagineers also considered adding voices to the gargoyle statues (which could be pointed toward each statue with pinpoint accuracy using the new audio system), but the effect was considered to be too disruptive to the original Paul Frees narration. They did leave one little bit of extra "gargoyle" narration: when the Ghost Host releases guests from the room, asking the groups to "all stay together, please," the gargoyles whiper "Stay together" as guests exit the room, and then giggle like otherworldly children as the gallery finally empties.


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