The Grand Hall
C0me enjoy a swinging wake
After leaving Madame Leota's circle, guests find themselves overlooking a magnificent ballroom. While ghostly couples waltz as they disappear and reappear, a mysterious birthday party is taking place with transparent guests. Ghosts flutter in and out as the reverie continues with an evil organist playing a haunting refrain on a massive pipe organ. With each note, wraiths fly out of the pipes and vanish like wisps of smoke.
Pictured above is an early Marc Davis concept painting (circa 1965) of ghosts arriving at a party, carried in a hearse. The hearse and the ghost woman with a parasol, along with the general light tenor of the scene, appear in the Grand Hall as it exists to this day.
Pictured above is a promotional photograph released by Disneyland just before the Haunted Mansion opened to the public in 1969, demonstrating the amazing special effects to be found in the Grand Hall segment of the attraction.
Happy birthday to... who?
Pictured above is the ballroom table as it exists today- sans its guests, since in this photo, the work lights are on and the ghosts are taking a break. The Grand Hall scene is the centerpiece of the Haunted Mansion, and is probably the most memorable scene in the attraction. Its spectral special effects astound people to this day, who typically refer to the ghosts in the ballroom as "holograms," by which they probably mean "something too technical for me to understand." Little do they know that the illusion that creates the ballroom ghosts, commonly known as the "Pepper's Ghost" effect, is a common daily occurrence that most people come across everyday, probably without giving it a second thought. But more about Pepper's Ghost in a bit.
The Grand Hall, as a major set piece in the attraction, receives a lot of attention from the cast members that work at the Haunted Mansion. To that end, cast members at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World have taken to setting the table in the ballroom with one placesetting in the form of a "Hidden Mickey," which is a representation of the familiar three-circle form of the head of Mickey Mouse. For a time, WDI Imagineers would inevitably reset the table according to their specifications, which did not include the Mickey-shaped arrangement of plates, thus "challenging" the Haunted Mansion staff to reorient the placesetting once again.
Honoring the passed
The Mansion itself has even served as a memorial, of sorts. An anonymous cast member from Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion shares the following bittersweet memory:
"Last night, one of the weekend cast members asked me to look for something he found under one of the dinner plates on the banquet hall table, at the end of the table with the candle blowing lady is reflected on. Under each plate is a photo of the place setting and how it should look. When I lifted up the plate at the end of the table, underneath were two photos and notes on the back, both the same photo and message. The photo was of a very nice looking woman, 30-something, standing somewhere in the park with a big smile on her face. I didn't copy down the message, and I really wish I had. It started out like this, and the rest is sorta close:
This is our mommy. She died of Cancer in July of 2002. we had so many good times here and this was our favorite place. Could someone please put these pictures under a plate in the banquet hall, so that when we come back, our mommy will be here with us.
I took the other picture and put it under the plate at the opposite end of the table. I am assuming that (the family) gave it to an operations person, and they put them there. I am passing the word around for anyone who finds them to leave them there..."
Bridging a gap
In early drafts of the Haunted Mansion storyline (and in concepts developed by both Claude Coats and Marc Davis), the Grand Hall scene was a bridge from the seance, where we first experience the manifestation of the supernatural, to the attic and graveyard, where we actually join in with the Mansion's residents. The ghosts of the ballroom, who appeared in response to Leota's supplications, are inviting us to join them, in a sense. Some early concepts had the party as being a wedding reception of sorts (a storyline which tied in with the Bride character found in an upcoming scene), and others described the gathering as more of a "who's who" meeting of some of the famous ghosts from throughout history. Regardless of its origins, the scene is offering the possibility that the ghosts and goblins that inhabit the Mansion are not all bad - and that, in fact, the afterlife might prove to be a bit of a party.
Into thin air
While it's quite possibly the Mansion's grandest showpiece, the Grand Hall is also based on one of the oldest and simplest effects... a theatrical illusion commonly referred to as "Pepper's Ghost," in which animatronics (such as the birthday guests pictured above) appear to vanish and reappear at will. The Haunted Mansion makes great use of time-honored tools of phantasmagoria such as "Pepper's Ghost," which was over one hundred years old when WED Imagineers Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump started experiementing with the technique.
Disney itself is loathe to admit the simplicity of this trick; in a column by Disney's own "Bill Nye The Science Guy," Nye convolutes the "scientific" explanation of this effect in a misguided attempt to tie it together with holograms, which have nothing to do with "Pepper's Ghost." In an article for children (which appeared in ZD Net's Family PC feature about Disney World's 25th Anniversary), Nye provided the following confused explanation, which we can only hope was written by a "ghost" writer:
"Haunted Mansion Holograms Holograms are pictures made with laser light. The ones in the Haunted Mansion are made with light bouncing off of smoky particles. The light hits the smoke and changes direction as it heads toward your eyes in exactly the same pattern as light bouncing off of three-dimensional objects. You see 3-D people in smoke, so they look like they're not quite there, like a ghost."
Unfortunately, this explanation has nothing to do with the special effects found in the Haunted Mansion.
Unraveling the mystery of Peppers Ghost
So how exactly does this illusion work? The most common effects-related question people have about the Haunted Mansion involves these transparent ghosts that seem to waltz, duel and party while vanishing and reappearing at will. This is a simple trick; it actually is based on a common theatrical illusion from around the turn of the century which was named after John Henry Pepper (pictured left), a professor of chemistry at the London Polytechnic Institute. In 1862 he published a manual entitled Wonders of Optical Science which outlined this effect among others, and "Peppers Ghost" became famous, largely through stage performances of Dicken's "Haunted Man" in 1862, and soon after, Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," which adopted the illusion enthusiastically.
Pictured above is a sample illustration of Pepper's illusion in action, as illustrated in a turn-of-the-century handbook. Note that the "ghost" in the top panel with the actor represents the audience's perception, not an actual actor. The only actual performer in a sheet is the actor below the audience and out of their view, being illuminated by a projector.
Something to reflect on
All that is needed for this illusion is a piece of glass and a light source. At its simplest, this effect works because you see what is reflected off of the glass at the same time as you see through the glass to what is behind it. You may have seen this effect in action when you have tried to drive at night while a passenger decides to turn on the overhead light, making it difficult to see through the reflection in the windshield.
So while guests peer into the ballroom, they are actually gazing through a very large plate of glass at the scene below. If you look very carefully, you might see a slight reflection in a sheet of plexiglass that is placed in front of the actual glass to protect it. The glass itself is very hard to see. At Disneyland, if you see the faint spider web by one of the pillars near the ghostly organist, you're looking at a crack in the glass that was made by an errant guest, which was quickly masked with a little ingenuity. On the next page, we'll look at some of the animatronics that create the transparent guests at the ball.In Jason Surrell's "The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies," WED Imagineer Rolly Crump recalls testing the massive Haunted Mansion ballroom set for guest visitors, some of whom were professional magicians who would have been well aware of the "Pepper's Ghost" illusion. "We fooled them too," he said. "They'd just never seen a piece of glass that big before."
Trivia time: Gnicnad moorllab?
Fact: The Imagineers forgot to take the "mirror image" aspect of the ballroom effect into account when designing the animatronics. So the animatronics perform correctly, but when seen as a reflection, the ladies lead the men in the dancing! Another note: The ghosts are costumed in light pastel colors in order to give them a eerie glow in the ultraviolet lighting that illuminates them.
A closer look at the details
The Haunted Mansion's Grand Hall is the showstopping set piece in the ride, being the first panoramic display of multiple audioanimatronic ghosts and grand, spacious architecture. Click here to download a high resolution image of a press photo released in 1969 featuring the details in this spectacular display.
Continue to the next page to learn more about the characters in the Grand Hall, including the mad organist and some dueling ghosts...