The Unauthorized Story of
Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion

Expanded second edition!

by Jeff Baham | Release Date: November 3, 2016 | Availability: Print, Kindle

Welcome, Foolish Readers!

Join your new Ghost Host, Jeff Baham, as he recounts the colorful, chilling history of the Haunted Mansion and pulls back the shroud on its darkest secrets in this definitive book about Disney's most ghoulish attraction. Packed with photos, never-before-told stories, and comprehensive coverage of the mansion's haunted past and its chilling presence at Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and other Disney theme parks.

Beginning with the Haunted Mansion's original (but never realized) incarnation as "Bloodmere Manor", Baham pulls back the shroud on the clever effects that haunt the Mansion, including Ken Anderson's plan for a cyclorama-enhanced Headless Horseman, Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump's creative wizardry and "happy accidents", Bob Gurr's Doom Buggies, the technology behind Madame Leota's crystal ball, and the controlled chaos of the Ballroom Scene.

You'll learn why X. Atencio's idea for a raven narrator was ditched in favor of the now infamous Ghost Host, whether a screaming man caught in a spider web once dwelt in the mansion, and how technology exorcised the Hatbox Ghost.

There's more to the mansion than mere mechanics. More than perhaps any other Disney attraction, the Haunted Mansion is powered by story: the scenes and spirits you witness from your Doom Buggy all play roles in the overall narrative of the mansion, and if you don't know the story, you'll miss out on a lot of the fun, and a few of the scares, too.

Baham clues you in about such things as why the mansion is there, who built it, how it became haunted, and the dastardly deeds done by some of its residents in their corruptible, mortal states.

From the comfort of your Doom Buggy you'll enjoy:

  • Exclusive photos and commentary by Disney Imagineers, including Haunted Mansion "architect" Rolly Crump
  • Insider accounts of the creative clashes over whether the mansion's haunts should be humorous or horrific, and the internal workflow behind each mansion rehab or addition
  • An analysis of the ride, scene by scene, with insight into how the effects work, delightfully eerie trivia, and anecdotes from Imagineers and cast members
  • The stories behind some of the mansion's many denizens, including the Hatbox Ghost, the Knight, the Sea Captain, the Raven, the unhappy couple Constance and George, and the Ghost Host himself
  • A discussion of the most notable mansion collectibles released by Disney over the years

There's always room for one more, and this time you're it: come experience the Haunted Mansion with the "lights on" and learn its ghostly history, its sinister secrets, and why this Disney attraction continues to happily haunt fans young and old.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Rolly Crump

Introduction

Part One: The History

Chapter 1: Origins, or To Dream of Ghosts

Chapter 2: The Ghost House

Chapter 3: Geppetto the Tinkerer

Chapter 4: On the Move Toward Animated Electronics

Chapter 5: Too Many Cooks

Chapter 6: The Spiritual Cacophony

Chapter 7: Eighty-Two Thousand, Five Hundred Sixteen

Part Two: The Experience

Chapter 8: Act One—Ghoulish Delight

Chapter 9: Act Two—Sympathetic Vibrations

Chapter 10: Act Three—Out to Socialize

Chapter 11: Needful Things

Appendix: Dear Old Sandy Claws

Notes

Further Reading

I appreciate Jeff Baham's attention to detail and found The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion to be extremely interesting. I even learned some things I wasn't aware of. Even though I worked on the development of the Haunted Mansion along with the other Imagineers, at the time we were all working independently of each other, and we really didn't share what we were doing with each other. Somehow it all came together, but we'll never know what might have been if Walt had lived to see the Mansion completed.

Baham really did his homework, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.

Walt Disney’s Disneyland Park, a fantasy kingdom to which pilgrimage is made by 16 million people every year, hardly brings to mind the intimation of death, the occult—even suicide. Nevertheless, one ride—which Disney unfailingly included in his plans for every themed park he considered building—features such nefarious themes, sets them to toe-tapping music, and leaves its guests singing the tune on the way out of the stone crypt from which they emerge post-ride, perhaps scratching their heads incredulously at some of the bizarre visions they had just seen. This is exactly the type of magic that Disney so deftly created by establishing a themed realm so completely detailed and encompassing that visitors are happy to leave their preconceived notions of reality at the door. This, foolish mortals, is the Disney version of a haunted house.

There are those who love carnival haunted houses and dark rides, and those who don’t. The clackity-clack of the cars running along the track, the musty air with an occasional whiff of cotton-candy or bile, the gaudy plywood forms painted in fluorescent hues, the air-powered peek-a-BOO! pop-up ghoulies—all of these things inspire either fear and loathing or a giddy sense of escape, depending on the stars one was born under, it seems.

Walt Disney didn’t love the grimy atmosphere of the carnival, but he did love dark rides. The storied mogul took his favorite yarns and fairy tales (grim as the original stories often were), made them into feature films loved around the globe, and then turned those films into dark rides in his personal vision for what a carnival could be like—should be like. That vision eventually became Disneyland, and Disney’s dark rides remain among the most popular themed attractions in the world to this day. Just try to ride Disneyland’s Peter Pan’s Flight around two in the afternoon, and you’ll understand. Yes, they may be called “kiddie” rides. But who doesn’t want to believe they’re still a kid at heart?

Disney’s darkest dark ride, the Haunted Mansion, finally opened to the public on August 9, 1969, though Walt had started formal development of the attraction in the early 1950s, with some design sketches and concepts for the haunted house created long before Disneyland even opened its gates on July 17, 1955. But Disney’s ambition to create a truly mystifying attraction (along with worthy distractions, such as the development and creation of famous exhibits for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in New York) carried the design phase of the Haunted Mansion well into the latter part of the 1960s. After their work for the World’s Fair (for which Disney’s exceptional team of hand-picked WED “Imagineers” perfected their robotic actors, known as Audio-Animatronics), Disney assigned some of his strongest talent to get back to work on Disneyland. Those designers would go on to complete the world’s finest example of a robotic themed attraction (the Pirates of the Caribbean), and then the world’s greatest haunted dark ride in the hearts of legions of scare lovers, the Haunted Mansion.

Of course, those same designers might not agree with that assessment. Many of the Haunted Mansion’s key developers disagreed with the direction the project took after the death of Walt Disney in December 1966, nearly three years before the attraction would be completed. In fact, to this day, some of the designers are unhappy with the result of their efforts. The Haunted Mansion’s long development was rife with repeatedly discarded story concepts, disagreement on the types of scenes and effects to be used, conflicts over how many viewers should be carted through the attraction per hour—even as basic an idea as whether the attraction should be scary or not. Egos were bruised, tempers flared, and at the end of the day, it just seemed that there were “too many cooks in the kitchen,” as Imagineer Marc Davis would often recall. Most of the original design team members look back at their individual tasks and work on the Haunted Mansion with pride, but scratch their heads at whether or not to call the overall finished attraction a success. Yet many Disney theme park guests call the Haunted Mansion their favorite attraction, and it commands an army of die-hard fans.

The timeless nature of Disney’s mythic attractions such as Pirates or the Haunted Mansion plays a role in this continuing popularity. The Haunted Mansion, an attraction that Walt had planned to build in the early 1950s, is now nearly five decades old—but what’s forty or fifty years? Consider 250 years, which is the age of some of the most confounding magic inside the Haunted Mansion. Visitors experience entertainment technology here that spans four centuries. The “magic lantern” was used to project illusions on walls as early as the late 1700s. Pepper’s Ghost, a stage trick involving reflections, was used to create living, transparent ghosts in the 1800s. Disney’s own space-age robotic technology came to life in the mid-1900s, and digital projection and computer-controlled effects have just entered prime-time this century—and all of these techniques are used with great impact throughout the Haunted Mansion. It utilizes the best special effects techniques from the broad history of modern live entertainment, so it’s no surprise that it still appeals to anyone who loves being amazed and impressed by great feats of imagination.

Despite the recent addition of digitally projected effects, the Haunted Mansion’s late-’60s technology is the magic behind the ride that leaves guests stymied to this day. Not much has changed since then, though even today riders will leave scratching their heads, mumbling about the futuristic three-dimensional “holograms” that must be employed to create the incredible transparent ghosts seen inside the attraction—not aware that nineteenth-century audiences also marveled at the same stage trick. Nevertheless, there was some cutting-edge technology used to make the massive attraction function properly back in 1969. The characters in the ride are examples of Disney’s aforementioned Audio-Animatronic robots and are computer-controlled, as are their individual soundtracks. Some of the ride’s visuals are provided by projection, so film loops were in constant use (though those have been replaced by digital video projection today). And the ghost train carriage system itself—called the Omnimover system by Disney—was quite innovative in its own right, spinning toward the action at every scene and forcing the viewer to watch precisely what the show designer intended him to watch. All of these innovations clearly took the Haunted Mansion a leap beyond the previously existing expectations for a carnival dark ride, and set a standard for haunted attractions which still stands.

A trip through the Haunted Mansion leaves the typical visitor slack-jawed, whether or not he is a dark ride aficionado. The sheer scope of the ride is mystifying, especially since the guest is led to believe that the entire ride occurs in the relatively small visible facade of a late nineteenth-century plantation manor that you enter to begin your tour. But hidden elevators swiftly move visitors underground, and the massive ride itself occurs in an enormous warehouse beyond the visible berm that separates Disneyland park from the outside world. While the Walt Disney World version of the attraction has a larger, more imposing facade, the secret scale of the attraction is no less amazing.

Once inside the doorway, guests experience a haunting tour, eerie atmosphere, and obsessive attention to detail. Even the gleaming stanchions used to hold the chains that direct the queue to board the carriages are unique brass bat-gargoyles, custom-made for the ride. Crystal chandeliers are outfitted with thick, draping cobwebs. Bronze gargoyles hold flickering candles in their clawed hands. Detail was so important to Walt Disney that WED Enterprises even hired a master woodcrafter from Cuba to sculpt the enormous number of architectural details scattered throughout the Haunted Mansion. Suffice to say, there are plenty of silly sight gags and breathtaking illusions to go around. A gallery stretches before your eyes. Marble busts stare you down and follow your every move with their malevolent glare. Restless spirits materialize, and in one stunning set piece, you can watch them dance in and out of sight, disappearing and reappearing as you look right through them.

The engaging details can’t be contained to the interior of the mansion, however. Upon reaching the attic, with nowhere else to go, riders are thrown from a window into the private graveyard, where in a cacophony of crazy music and singing statues, the graves open to release their occupants, all of whom have “come out to socialize,” as the ride’s theme song insists. Behind a glowing veil of fog, dead socialites share a sip of tea with each other, while an Egyptian mummy murmurs in the background. An executioner sings a duet with his victim, a decapitated knight (who holds his singing head under his arm). And finally, as you are about to escape through a crypt, a trio of hitchhiking ghosts tries to join you by materializing aboard your Doom Buggy. In fact, the sheer amount of details even gave the ride’s designers pause—at least until they caught up with Walt Disney’s vision, which entailed leaving the guest ready for a repeat performance. WED Imagineer X. Atencio, who developed concepts and wrote the script and song for the Haunted Mansion, recalls a conversation he had with Walt about the Pirates and Haunted Mansion attractions, which were packed with scenes, sounds, and conversations surrounding the ride conveyances, which seemed to move past the scenes too quickly for the guests to catch all of the goings-on. “I said, Walt, I apologize, but you can’t understand what they’re saying. Then he said ‘X, it’s like a cocktail party. You tune in on this conversation, then you tune in on that. Each time they come in, they’ll hear something new.’”

Despite the rich, centuries-old technology, the attraction still appeals to today’s sophisticated theme park attendees. Many of Disney’s Imagineers, who designed and built the Haunted Mansion, are forefathers, in a sense, of today’s wired generation. There can be no doubt that many of those Imagineers would feel at home in today’s “maker” culture, were they part of this generation. You had arguably the world’s finest animator designing the gags for the ride in Marc Davis (the creator of Tinker Bell from Peter Pan and Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty), and then there’s the genius of tinkering duo Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey, who would lock themselves in a warehouse and engineer mechanical illusions so hair-raising that the cleaning crews would refuse to go into the room. In the early days of the Haunted Mansion’s development, WED Enterprises was composed of an intimate group of inventors, dreamers, and mad scientists, forging their way without precedent. Today’s geek culture is reflected in that set of circumstances.

However, the ride’s popularity demonstrates more than a simple appreciation of its creativity. It also distinctly appeals to a wide cross-section of folks, and it definitely appeals to a variety of vocal and active fan groups. Goths, geeks, artisans, actors, haunters, magicians, and the standard-issue Disney fan all can find something to love and relate to in the Haunted Mansion. Many of the current generation of fans are monster kids, influenced by all manner of groovy ghoulishness: the great genre rags of the 1970s like Famous Monsters and Omni magazines, graphic novels, building-your-own-hovercraft with instructions from the back of a comic book, glow-in-the-dark plaster skulls, owning an amulet filled with dirt from Dracula’s castle in Transylvania. Those who remember such great stuff will find a very soft spot in their hearts for Disney’s haunt.

But the Haunted Mansion also has a strong appeal to younger generations. One example of this occurs at Disneyland around the holidays, bringing about the largest yearly change to the attraction. In an inspired move, Disneyland decided to blend the story of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas with their Haunted Mansion franchise in the holiday season of 2001 by creating an overlay for the attraction: a “skin” applied to the ride that changes the soundtrack and some of the scenery and props to create a new experience for the rider. The holiday update was directed by Steven Davison, the Imagineer who went on to lead the production of the award-winning World of Color water show at Disney California Adventure. The experiment was an instant hit with holiday guests to the park, so the overlay has been repeated annually ever since. Blending the off-beat, monstrous world of Burton’s comic film with the kooky setting of the Haunted Mansion is so clever that it seems like an obvious and inevitable pairing, and the characters from Burton’s film fit right into the Haunted Mansion’s dank surroundings.

Walt Disney once said that “Strong combat and soft satire are in our story cores…There is no cynicism in me, and none is allowed in our work.” Much of popular culture today lazily rests on the laurels of grabbing a cheap snort through the use of cynicism. The idea that there exists an amusement park spook house that both encompasses the best of modern entertainment technology as well as innocent storytelling has an appeal to people of all types. There are no gory body parts, no horrifying decay, yet the dark humor rests underneath the surface, for those inclined to seek it out. The inoffensiveness of the Haunted Mansion is a greater draw then most people realize, and its adherence to Disney’s earliest intent for the attraction is key to that strong appeal.

Welcome, foolish mortals, to the Haunted Mansion. As you read this book, I hope you’ll enjoy your trip through the secret spaces of the world’s finest haunted dark ride—a testament to Walt Disney’s fantastic commitment to drama and his consistent use of darkness to define the lighthearted nature of his art. After decades of daily use, the attraction’s magic hasn’t dimmed a bit. Here’s to decades more.

Jeff Baham

Jeff Baham has been a Haunted Mansion fan as far back as he can remember—at least back through 1973, which is his earliest memory of breaking his treasured Story and Song from the Haunted Mansion record album and crying inconsolably (until his mother relented and bought the first of numerous replacements that would follow through his childhood years).

More recently, Baham is known for founding and operating DoomBuggies.com, a Haunted Mansion fan website that has become a focal point for Mansion fandom to congregate and share stories, learn facts, and enjoy a common bond. DoomBuggies.com has contributed to numerous Disney parks’ Haunted Mansion events, and was an invaluable resource to Walt Disney Pictures during the production of The Haunted Mansion, starring Eddie Murphy. Baham also served a full term on the Disneyland Creative Advisory Council.

Even more recently, Baham contributed to the Walt Disney Records Haunted Mansion 40th Anniversary CD and Box Set, and founded the Mousetalgia podcast, a weekly show dedicated to the exploration of Disney in today’s society, emphasizing theme park culture and exploring the past, present, and future endeavors of the people who have imagined Walt’s happy place into existence.

In 2013, Baham started The DoomBuggies Spook Show, a podcast about the history of the Haunted Mansion and other “spooktacular similarities” that might appeal to fans of the attraction.

A Chat with Jeff Baham

If you have a question for Jeff Baham that you would like to see answered here, please get in touch and let us know what's on your mind.

What's your first memory of the Haunted Mansion?

I was terrified! My first memory riding it as a child is cloudy—most likely because I was hiding my eyes for most of the ride. Ironically, I loved the soundtrack record album though, which I owned long before I ever tried riding the Haunted Mansion. I was definitely a monster kid—loved Famous Monsters magazine, spooky glowing model kits, and my Haunted Mansion record with incredible paintings of some of the most famous scenes in the Mansion by Imagineer Collin Campbell. So the album is really what I think of as my first impression of the place.

What about the Haunted Mansion led you to create doombuggies.com and devote so much of your spare time to researching and writing about the attraction?

I had a lot of Haunted Mansion ephemera saved up over the years, and to me, it seemed to be a mysterious attraction in the sense that Walt started it, but wasn't able to complete it. I always knew there was probably an interesting story to tell in that situation. In terms of creating DoomBuggies.com, I really needed to teach myself web site design back in the mid '90s. I had recently graduated from the San Jose State University School of Art and Design, and I was there just before the web became integral to life. I didn't need to take a single computer course to graduate, but I quickly realized I'd need to be able to design for the strange, new world of the internet. So that desire to learn web site design was probably of equal importance to my love of Disney history toward getting DoomBuggies.com online.

Was there any one Imagineer (we won't count Walt) who was indispensable to the creation of the Mansion, and without whom it wouldn't exist as we know it today?

Yes—but the thing about the Mansion that makes it unique is that it's an imperfect blend of ideas and concepts, which allows each Imagineer's input to really stand out as their own stamp on the project. I say imperfect in the sense that most of those designers were probably shooting for a full attraction that was a seamless experience; but I think the clarity of everyone's individual input on the attraction is part of what makes it so popular today. That said, without Imagineer Yale Gracey's penchant for tinkering around with stage magic, lights and mirrors, we wouldn't have some of the incredible illusions that make the scenes so involving.

If you could add one scene or prop or denizen to the Mansion (we won't count the Hatbox Ghost, the obvious answer), what would it be?

Marc Davis had a lot of conceptual illustrations of glowing, ghostly female characters in white gowns, some of which were probably ideas for the bride in the attic, but many of which seem to be younger girls, or the bride in various points in her life. I'm not entirely sure if these were only attic concepts or more than that, but the idea of a glimpsing a glimmering little girl in a white dress, holding a teddy bear or a flower, off to the side of the path—that gives me goose bumps even now. But Marc Davis had dozens of unused concepts for the Mansion, any of which would be a neat addition to the ride.

Have you ever been through the Mansion with the "lights on", and if you have, has the experience lessened your enjoyment of the ride with the "lights off"?

I haven't had that opportunity. I've passed up a couple chances, and now, the current thought at the parks is that demonstrating any attraction out of its intended character is frowned upon, so the options to be granted a "walk though" are far more limited. I think I'm so familiar with the ride today that a glimpse backstage would be a plus. I love peeking behind the curtain to see what Oz is really up to.

Have you been through all the Haunted Mansions in all the Disney parks where they exist? What's your favorite—and your least favorite?

I've only been to the Mansion's in the U.S. parks. Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion is, technologically, far superior to Disneyland's at the moment. In particular, their stretching gallery has an audio technology that floats the Ghost Host's voice around the room, while the gallery creaks as it stretches and bats flutter about. It's a simple sonic addition that sets that scene far ahead of the Disneyland version.

Is there anything left to discover about the Mansion, or have all its secrets now been revealed?

I was just talking to (Imagineer Marc Davis's widow) Alice Davis recently, and she surprised me with new information that I didn't already know. But generally speaking, I think the Mansion's history is pretty well told—but there will always be new secrets to tell about the attraction, because Imagineering keeps revisiting it. It's a deep well of potential stories, and for every decision and addition Imagineering makes to the ride in the future, there's bound to be a collection of stories to go with that process.

How do you think the new Haunted Mansion shop in Walt Disney World's Liberty Square (replacing Yankee Trader) will perform? Is there a pent-up demand for Mansion merch?

I don't know that the demand is pent up, but there's a strong, consistent demand, because as Disney has seemed to suddenly realize, the Haunted Mansion taps into a lifestyle that many people embrace—an occasional walk on the wild side. That said, along with the new shop, Disney announced over 100 new Haunted Mansion pieces that will shortly flood the marketplace. The well of demand is deep, but we'll see if Disney tests its limits. I think the new merch location will do just fine, but I think all of the merchandise available there will also be sold at Disneyland, and probably online too.

Tell me about the consulting work you've done for Disney as it relates to the Mansion.

Most of the work I've done over the years that's associated with Disney is either under the radar or unofficial. The most frequent requests I've had, from everyone from video game designers to licensees creating merchandise to graphic designers working on products or corporate literature, is for logos and research images of various characters, artwork or scenes in the attraction. I guess it's easier to go to DoomBuggies.com than to wade through the corporate libraries—and even then, Disney hasn't really had very good resources for some of the imagery in the Haunted Mansion. Beyond that, DoomBuggies was a big part of Disney's grassroots marketing for the Haunted Mansion movie in 2003, and we've also been asked for input regarding some of the celebratory events the parks have hosted celebrating the Mansion over the years.

Are there any really cool bits of trivia or personal anecdotes about the Haunted Mansion that didn't make it into the book?

DoomBuggies celebrated our tenth anniversary by renting out the Blue Bayou restaurant at Disneyland and hosting a spookily-themed steak dinner with a panel of Imagineers, and then we rented the Haunted Mansion after the park closed to allow our attendees to have an unusual, very personal ride without the usual clatter of the crowds. But the funny thing is that the most expensive part of the evening was hiring licensed characters dressed as the Hitchhiking Ghosts to make an appearance in front of the Mansion for an hour. Disneyland really knows the value of their properties!

Walt assigns a new team to the Haunted Mansion project: Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump. Crump recalls how he and the older Gracey got along.

By 1959, Disney had assigned a new team to the haunted house project. Yale Gracey, a WED Imagineer who came from animation, as did many, was tapped to lead the new search for the best illusions and methods for portraying a realistically haunted piece of architecture. Gracey, a layout artist before being moved to WED, was a known tinkerer, and it’s likely that Disney knew that the special effects research and development would best be carried out by someone willing to create something new from scratch rather than rely on traditional theatrical techniques, as did Anderson’s climactic meeting with the Headless Horseman.

Along with Gracey, Disney also brought WED Imagineer Roland “Rolly” Crump to the project to assist Gracey. Crump, who also cut his teeth in the animation department, had originally come to Disney’s attention due to his own interest in three-dimensional design and kinetic sculpture. It’s quite clear that Disney decided that, perhaps as far as the haunted house project was concerned, two heads would be better than one, so he turned the duo loose on the project, and sent them back to the Studio sound stage to keep developing new demonstrations and illusions for the attraction. “Walt knew that I did little funky things, and Yale did little funky things, so he just put us together,” Crump said.

“Yale was so thrilled to be asked to come to WED,” Crump recalled. “He was an older guy, and came from animation and was ‘just’ a layout person. I don’t know how Walt picked him to come, but Walt was the best casting director that ever lived on the planet. So he decided that Yale and I should work together, but I didn’t know Yale from up. I knew who he was, but that was about it.”

But Crump quickly got to know Gracey, and soon realized how much creative energy they had in common. “Yale was like a ‘Geppetto’—a little tinker-toy man who was always creating strange things,” Crump recalled. In addition to building models of haunting effects at WED Enterprises and then constructing life-sized demonstrations of those effects at the Studio, Crump and Gracey ended up spending lots of time together researching the horror media of the day, which included seeing monster movie matinees. So Crump spent a good amount of time visiting Gracey for their various research trips. “When you walked up to Yale’s house, he had these little rods that stuck up, about every three or four feet, and on top of the rods, he had these little salt shakers that the cap had been taken off of, and then there was a little light bulb inside of that,” Crump said. “So his lights were little salt-and-pepper shakers turned upside down.” Crump was fascinated by Yale’s penchant for invention, and his ability to find a purpose for an item that was intended for something completely different.

At this point in the project, Gracey and Crump were still working with Ken Anderson’s story ideas and plot concepts, along with other ideas that had been tossed in the pot along the way. “Since Walt had wanted a haunted house in the park when he opened Disneyland, he had a lot of people in animation work on different crazy little ideas, but they never were much more than one sketch,” Crump said. “Yale and I got all those sketches and laid them out, and started looking at them, and…the interesting thing about it was that we didn’t know what we were doing.”

Despite their seemingly haphazard methodology, some incredible ideas and effects started to develop from the Gracey/Crump collaboration, based on the conceptual work that had been done prior to their involvement. “We worked side by side on ideas, and just had a great time. But Yale was really the leading force in that,” said Crump. “I was really just helping him, building the boxes. I was actually learning from Yale.”

Jeff Baham discovers a forgotten mansion denizen: the Knight.

In the 1980s, Imagineering tossed around a few ideas for adding an element of unpredictability into the Haunted Mansion, in an effort to keep the attraction on the spooky side of the tracks. So Cast Member Joe Dagostino was one of a select few chosen to portray a physical character inside of the attraction—a live-action knight in armor. He recalled:

I was a character that played the Knight in the Mansion in 1985. The role was originated through the Disneyland Entertainment division and pioneered through a gentleman named David Mink. For the first year, he was the only character authorized to be the Knight.

After this trial period, others were allowed that character, but only after a training session and test. The character was so popular that at one time there were two knights on duty, one relieving the other after a thirty-minute shift. The costume only had a front side to it. You had to be dressed in tights and a plastic breast plate, and thigh pads and elbow joints went over this. This meant that your back was exposed to the elements, and it was very hard to be frightening while dressed head to toe in tights with a chilled breeze going up your backside!

Originally we were armed with a six-foot battle axe. We were supposed to slam this on the floor to add to the guests’ experience, but other creative uses soon popped up. Hooking it around the Doom Buggy before the car swung around to reveal you to the guest was a popular move, as was slamming it on the back of the car. Needless to say, we were soon disarmed for safety sake. Some of my best shifts were as the Knight in the Haunted Mansion, and the character was so popular that there was talk about adding a live-character groom in the attic. The costume was even designed and produced, but both characters were discontinued before anything happened.

Another Cast Member who took on the role of the Knight was Kyle Clark. “The idea of dressing up as a knight in armor and scaring people was, at that time of my life, too much fun to behold,” Clark recalled. “I could cause people to scream, cry, laugh and jump from their seat. But the job also had its problems. I can remember a fellow Knight having his nose broken by an overly frightened female cheerleader. He got too close, touched her, and she promptly punched him square in the face.” The close quarters inside the Haunted Mansion where the Knight was stationed—between the conservatory scene and the corridor of doors—probably led to a lot of sticky situations. “This created a new rule in the character department—to stay at least six feet from the guests and to never touch them. Later, other rules included not scaring senior citizens and young children. I can only imagine why those rules were implemented,” Clark said.

After sixteen years of operating day by day without human characters, the sight of the Knight must have been a shock to many guests. “Even the long time patrons of Disneyland were not aware of what they were about to encounter,” Clark said. “This made for some very interesting sights and sounds. During my time spent in the hallway, I was witness to the best and worst of human behavior. I received many compliments…but at the same time, I witnessed drug use, vandalism, and several ‘make out’ sessions featuring topless women—you should see the look on a girl’s face when a knight tells her to put her clothes back on.”

Cast Member Graydon Van Ert, who also performed as the Knight, shared some more recollections. “Playing the Knight was both one of the coolest and one of the most disturbing things in characters,” he said. “Sitting on break behind the wall was disconcerting. You would always hear noises and sounds you swore you hadn’t heard before, and some days you didn’t feel as if you were alone. Also—behind the doors you could hear, repeatedly and very clearly, one of the voices saying, over and over, ‘Ohhhh…let me out of here!’” Van Ert also mentioned that the supervisors were fond of “sneaking in while you were out on set and waiting in the little hallway between the corridor and the break area to scare you when you walked off set.”

Van Ert recalled some other characters that might have been. “The Character Department had also tested a phantom character in the transition hall to the attic and in the attic, but lighting in the transition hall and space in the attic was an issue,” Van Ert said. “The idea of a specter in the Graveyard had also been mentioned, but never tested.”

Media consultant Tim O’Day, who worked with Disneyland at the time, credits the original idea of the live-action Knight to Randy Bright. “Mr. ‘Scary Knight’ only lasted a year or two due to complaints at City Hall about the Haunted Mansion now being too scary!” O’Day recalled. “We also re-instated the Phantom of the Opera briefly in the Main Street Cinema—lasted less time than the Knight.”

Disneyland Phantom of the Opera

This short-lived Phantom of the Opera character haunting Disneyland’s Main Street was also briefly considered for a possible live-action resident of the Haunted Mansion. Photograph from the collection of Jeff Baham.

About Theme Park Press

Theme Park Press is the world's leading independent publisher of books about the Disney company, its history, its films and animation, and its theme parks. We make the happiest books on earth!

Our catalog includes guidebooks, memoirs, fiction, popular history, scholarly works, family favorites, and many other titles written by Disney Legends, Disney animators and artists, Mouseketeers, Cast Members, historians, academics, executives, prominent bloggers, and talented first-time authors.

We love chatting about what we do: drop us a line, any time.

Theme Park Press Books

The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion The Ride Delegate 501 Ways to Make the Most of Your Walt Disney World Vacation The Cotton Candy Road Trip The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney Disney Destinies Disney Melodies The Happiest Workplace on Earth Storm over the Bay A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World: Volume 1 Mouse in Transition Mouseketeers Down Under Murder in the Magic Kingdom Walt Disney and the Promise of Progress City Service with Character Son of Faster Cheaper A Tale of Two Resorts I Saw Ariel Do a Keg Stand The Adventures of Young Walt Disney Death in the Tragic Kingdom Two Girls and a Mouse Tale Ears & Bubbles The Easy Guide 2015 Who's the Leader of the Club? Disney's Hollywood Studios Funny Animals Life in the Mouse House The Book of Mouse Disney's Grand Tour The Accidental Mouseketeer The Vault of Walt: Volume 1 The Vault of Walt: Volume 2 The Vault of Walt: Volume 3 Who's Afraid of the Song of the South? Amber Earns Her Ears Ema Earns Her Ears Sara Earns Her Ears Katie Earns Her Ears Brittany Earns Her Ears Walt's People: Volume 1 Walt's People: Volume 2 Walt's People: Volume 13 Walt's People: Volume 14 Walt's People: Volume 15

We're always in the market for new authors with great ideas. Or great authors with new ideas. Whichever type of author you are, we'd be happy to discuss your book. Before you contact us, however, please make sure you can answer "yes" to these threshold questions:

Is It Right for Us?

We specialize in books that have some connection to Disney or theme parks. Disney, of course, has become a broad topic, and encompasses not just theme parks and films but comic books, animation, and a big chunk of pop culture. Your book should fit into one (or more) of those broad categories.

Is It Going to Make Money?

There's never a guarantee that any book will make money, but certain types of books are less likely to do so than others. They include: hardcovers, books with color photos, and books that go on forever ("forever" as in 400+ pages). We won't automatically turn down these types of books, but you'll have to be a really good salesman to convince us.

Are You Great to Work With?

Writing books and publishing books should be fun. The last thing you want, and the last thing we want, is a contentious relationship. We work with authors who share our philosophy of no drama and zero attitude, and the desire for a respectful, realistic, mutually beneficial partnership.