Chapter Six: An Attraction Unveiled
Whetting the public's appetite
Back as early as 1961, Disneyland was beginning promotion for the Haunted Mansion attraction. While the title "Haunted Mansion" was still itself even a work in progress, a pamphlet distrubted at the park heralding "Coming Attractions" talked about the new land being built on the outskirts of Frontierland that would bring the French Quarter of New Orleans to Anaheim. Claming that Walt Disney had "talent scouts" out gathering the "world's greatest collection of ghosts," the pamphlet promised the attraction would be coming to the park in 1963. The facade was built, even as the Imagineers busied themselves with "World's Fair" business. The attraction itself didn't open until late in 1969.
As the WED "illusioneers" worked hard to blend their ideas and develop the final design for the Haunted Mansion, they started to share some of their concepts and imagery with the public, which was clamoring for information once the mysterious Mansion facade was unveiled. For instance, the promotional material below appeared in the official "Guide to Disneyland" souvenir book sold in 1966.
Rumors began to fly surrounding the long-planned attraction. Since the facade had been up for nearly five years, myths and urban legends began to run rampant. Some folks wondered if the attraction's delay was due to its being too horrifyingin fact, some speculated that the delay was due to revisions being made since one particular "test patron" had supposedly been literally scared to death. Many such rumors began making their way through schoolyards and across back fences.
Amidst the hoopla, Disneyland started issuing press releases and promoting the attraction both outside of the park and within. The marketing department at Disneyland could only have been thrilled with the public's interest in the mysterious dark Mansion.
Promotion continued until the day the attraction opened. The image to the left is another teaser from one of the park guidebooks, circa 1967. Large cast-iron lace gates kept curious guests a fair distance from the building... or were they keeping some...thing a safe distance from the guests? After all, for years guests had been reading a sign outside the empty building that read:
Notice: All Ghosts and Restless SpiritsPost-lifetime leases are now available in this HAUNTED MANSION. Don't be left out in the sunshine!... Leases include license to scare the daylights out of guests...
Disneyland's addition of New Orleans Square was received with acclaim by the park's guests, and the new Pirates of the Caribbean attraction had proven itself to be a wild success. The Haunted Mansion was certain to achieve similar results from the public, and the "deserted" facade only added to the anticipation. The press photo to the right shows the lonely facade circa 1968, with the curious public anticipating its open gates.
Walt Disney World Promotes As Well
Skipping ahead a few years, it is interesting to take note of the promotion that Walt Disney World did for its own Mansion. Although the Mansion opened with the Magic Kingdom theme park in 1971 as a charter attraction, the ride was also promoted individually due to its popularity at Disneyland, which, on occasion, had to close its gates due to too many guests wishing to visit just to see the Mansion.
This full page promotional advertisement (at right) featured a sinister group of 11 "family" portraits realized by Marc Davis and Ed Kahn, and a photograph of the nearly-completed facade. (Click on the image to view a larger version.) The ad reads, in part:
"These are a few of the 'creepy characters' that will call the stone-faced mansion their haunt. Workmen putting finishing touches on the Edgar Allen Poe-style 'Haunted Mansion' have reported hearing strange noises, obviously made by restless spirits who have already moved in to the cobweb corridors."
By focusing on some characterizations that were not utilized in the Disneyland Haunted Mansion, the Walt Disney World version was given a different promotional twist. The 11 sinister portraits remained in the Walt Disney World attraction until a major refurbishment of the attraction in 2007.
A WED's-eye-view walkthrough
In April of 1969, WED produced an internal, confidential report detailing the attraction as it was meant to exist on opening day. All of the major characters and props were finalized, and this report, written by WED's public relations manager Frank Allnutt, detailed and named each scene that would appear. While intended for confidential, internal use at the time (since the report detailed exactly what would be seen in the still-to-be-unveiled attraction four months before it opened), the report as written went on to become a major source for the Haunted Mansion "Story and Song" record album, with some of the lines lifted intact from Allnutt's report. It is interesting to note Allnutt's original titles for the various scenes, since the way in which they are "officially" referred to by Imagineering has since changed, in some instances. In Allnutt's report, guests are to experience (in order) a Ghostly Gallery, a Corridor of Haunted Portraits, the Endless Hallway, a Creepy Conservatory, the Hallway of Demonized Doors, a Weird Seance, a Bewitching Birthday Party, The Attic, and a Happy Haunting Ground. Click here to read Allnutt's report (and notice the inclusion of the infamous Hatbox Ghost!)
August 9, 1969: Opening, at last!
Pictured at left is a banner which was posted backstage at Disneyland prior to the Haunted Mansion's "official" opening, announcing a Cast-Member-only "soft opening" for the Mansion, which is how Disneyland often makes final test runs of its attractions. The Haunted Mansion was finally about to be released to the public, and the Disneyland employees were to be the lucky few that were first ushered through the iron gates of the long-awaited ride.
When the gates finally did open to the public on August 9, 1969, the public response was overwhelming - to the point that just one week after the Mansion opened, Disneyland set an attendance record of 82,516 patrons. "All the rumors and misinformation had worked to the Mansion's advantage," writes Jason Surrell in The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies. "The attraction was an instant hit, and remains a Disneyland favorite after more than thirty[-five] years."
DoomBuggies.com contributor Dan Olson cleverly points out that in many press releases from the Mansion's opening, the official date of the opening is listed as August 12. And the press "sneak preview" discussed in the next paragraph being held on the 11th seems to bolster this claim. However, Disneyland itself claims August 9th as the Mansion's birthday, so who to believe? Most likely, the 12th was chosen as a safe target for the attraction to be opened to the public, and was advertised as such in press releases and the scheduling of the press event, though the public was probably ushered in starting on the 9th, immediately following the successful soft opening from the 7th and 8th.
Pictured at right is a flyer that was illustrated by art director Bill Barry and created by the in-house "University of Disneyland" that was distributed to cast members on August 7, 1969, advertising the private preview rides offered to Disneyland staff.
Members of the Press Get a Private Ride on August 11, '69
On August 11, the press were invited to take a trip through the brand new Haunted Mansion attraction. Each official attendee was given a special press package, which included the "Press Ghost" pass pictured at right, which would be worn throughout the evening. According to some reports, the members of the press were invited to a late-night gathering in New Orleans Square's exclusive Club 33 and were wined and dined there until nearly 12:00 a.m., when a recording of Peter Renoudet as the "Ghost Host" interrupted the festivities and welcomed the reporters to the Mansion, at which time they were escorted to the new attraction for a special midnight preview.
The actual press release presented by Disneyland went on to describe the Haunted Mansion as follows:
"HAUNTED MANSION TO HIGHLIGHT $10 MILLION EXPANSION PROGRAM FOR DISNEYLAND'S SUMMER '69"
"Highlighting what is expected to be the biggest summer season in the Magic Kingdom's 14-year history is the much-anticipated 'Haunted Mansion.' The 'Haunted Mansion' will be Disneyland's most frightfully entertaining adventure. It will be furnished with ectoplasmic ghosts, mischievous spirits and happy spooks from all over the world... Walt Disney and his staff at WED Enterprises, Inc., began designing the 'Haunted Mansion' more than 10 years ago. Researching haunted homes and castles, supernatural occurrences, and psychic phenomena, the designers are creating a spine-chilling atmosphere to attract happy haunters."
The event was a success, and the press went on to dutifully report on the amazing new attraction to newspapers throughout the country. Click here to see an example of Disney's early press coverage, in which Bob Thomas interviews Disneyland's Card Walker and Dick Irvine about the imminent opening of the Haunted Mansion.
"Many times I listened to [Walt Disney] spin ghostly tales he planned to dramatize in a Haunted Mansion at the Anaheim park," Thomas writes. "The project went through many states... but Walt was never satisfied with the illusions, and he died before his dream could be realized." Thomas goes on to reveal some of the secrets about to be unveiled in the Mansion. Click here to read the rest of the article.
Start Spreading the News
New promotional materials were published quickly, to capitalize on the anticipation that had built up over the years. At right is an advertisement launched when the attraction finally opened, encouraging guests to revisit the park (and featuring one of the three hitchhiking ghosts, which would come to be the ride's unofficial mascots.) Click here to view a larger version of the advertisement, which reads:
"If you think pale moonlight is romantic, visit the Haunted Mansion... you may have a change of heart," the ad reads. "Delightfully dreary. Frightfully entertaining. Our latest census shows 999 haunting creeps in active retirement... and there's always room for one more."
Business is "BOO"-ming!
Disneyland's publicity department, realizing they had a "monster" hit on their hands, created a strong advertising campaign, including outdoor advertising (see examples above) and radio spots in addition to standard print advertising and reports from the press. Paul Frees, who performed as the "Ghost Host" for the actual attraction, reprised his role along with other Disney voice artists to create a number of radio advertisements in which various spooks were interviewed as they took their place in Disneyland's new ghostly retreat.
"Daddy, will you tell me a human story?" a young ghost asks in one of the humorous ads. Other ads feature a recently-deceased silent movie vamp, an old-timer who died in 1720, and a dead Olympic "hide-and-seek champion." Early marketing was designed to increase people's curiosity by making it clear that there was a sense of character and history to Disneyland's Haunted Mansion, quite unlike the spook house at the fair. This haunted house was quite correctly perceived to be unlike any other ever created.
Mikey Likes It
At right is a home movie from the earliest days of the Haunted Mansion in operation at Disneyland. Die-hard fans might be interested to note the original tombstones, with names that honor the Imagineers that worked on the attraction, as they appeared when the attraction first opened, positioned next to the queue. Also fun to see are the shiny new plaques that are installed just outside the gates of the Mansion, which have since deeply darkened from patina and age.
The tombstones have long since been replaced, and now a pet cemetery rests alongside the queue. For more information about the grounds of the
Mansion, visit our behind-the-scenes tour.
I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream...
Disneyland also celebrated the attraction in the park itself, with various promotions, souvenirs and celebrations - such as the co-branded Carnation "I Scream" Sundae, which came complete with a little red plastic spoon picturing the three hitchhiking ghosts. Silkscreened posters advertising the confection (see example at left) were displayed at the park during the promotion.
In his foreword to "The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies," Imagineer Martin Sklar notes that "the Haunted Mansion, in many ways a tribute to Walt's enthusiasm... became the first major attraction designed by the Imagineers after Walt Disney's passing. Today it is a classic in every Magic Kingdom park around the world. And whether you're listening in English, French, or Japanese, those "Grim Grinning Ghosts" will always 'come out to socialize' when you ride a Doom Buggy..."
Vacationland - Summer 1969
Vacationland, which was a magazine published from the late '50s through the '70s, was a sort-of house organ for SoCal travel agents, and it regularly featured light articles about the latest happenings and goings-on at Disneyland and in surounding Southern California attractions. This issue has a page celebrating the long-awaited opening of the Haunted Mansion, calling it the "most asked for" attraction ever to open at the park. "Demonized doors, elastic rooms, floating furniture and a perpetual levitation system are being installed," it reads. Click here to see the article.