Aerial view of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion facade and ride-building

The Long Forgotten blog -- the world's greatest source of informed critical speculation about the design thinking behind the Haunted Mansions at the Disney parks -- has just put up a smashing post about dueling theories of the intentions (conscious and subconscious) of the Mansion's creators. In the middle of that post is this remarkable photo, showing the Mansion's facade, and the ride building behind it, outside the railway berm, in what was once the parking lot. I've never seen this shot before -- I'm riveted by the sight of the ride's apparent structure and the huge, actual structure behind it.

Add to this the surprisingly flexible limits of "realistic" presentation under any circumstances, not just haunted houses, and things really become loose. Few films or rides concern themselves too much with reconciling inside and outside architecture. Someone with a perfect sense of architectural space may wince once in awhile, "knowing" that if the character really did turn left down that hallway, he should by rights walk smack into the outer wall of the house, but for the most part such concerns are ignored. This includes size considerations. With the HM, even if we discard about a third of the show building as housing an outdoor scene (the graveyard), the square footage of the house we experience is still much larger than anything that could pass for the "original" house remodeled into the current Mansion.

Long-Forgotten: The Ghostland Around Us, Beneath Us


  1. Wow, that is much larger than I expected. Wonder how much of that is used for queueing and maintenance. Are there multiple tracks for the same ride? I remember Space Mountainn having multiple tracks but don’t recall seeing that in the Haunted Mansion.

    When it comes to the inside and outside not matching, the Brady Bunch house is a prime example. The livingroom isn’t even close to what would fit in the house shown in the exterior view.

    1. No, the Mansion is a single-track ride. Space Mountain in WDW has two tracks, like the Matterhorn, but Disneyland’s SM is single track.

  2. I was actually on this ride yesterday!

    Got a fastpass for Splash Mountain, then had 30 minutes to kill.  

    Haunted Mansion was a great ride.  Constant loading / unloading meant the line moved fast.  It was good kids of all ages, and had some neat effects.

    Not knowing anything about the ride before we entered, we thought it was going to be a matter of just walking through a house.  Boring.  But it wasn’t!

  3. “Few films or rides concern themselves too much with reconciling inside and outside architecture.”
    So, is this your first time in a T.A.R.D.I.S.?

  4. I’d briefly looked at Disneyland on Google Maps before and had noticed those large structures, but hadn’t really thought about what they were. Looks like the one for Pirates is almost twice as big! But what’s perhaps most interesting is how much bigger those two rides (and Indiana Jones) are than anything else, at least from what you can see.

  5. At the risk of seeming like a naysayer, I genuinely don’t get the ongoing fascination with Disneyland. The whole amusement park thing has always struck me as relishing in a kind of sickening ersatz fabulation. I’ve always associated the worst aspects of American consumer culture and privilege with it (not to mention the probably terrible workplace conditions). Perhaps I’ve been stuck up all these years? I’m not saying don’t post about it… but I just don’t understand /why/. Am I dead inside, and missing the obvious wonderment? All I see is superficial opulence concealing widespread economic injustice and inequality.

    1. Doubtlessly someone will respond by saying I’m too serious or I shouldn’t reduce everything to socio-economic inequality, yada yada yada. I genuinely try not to be reductionistic… but there’s just something about the sheer… /fakeness/ of it all that brings the dark underbelly of culture into stark relief.

      1. Go read Stephen M. Fjellman’s “Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America.” It’s an in-depth sociological treatise on WDW. It’s engaging, well-written, and unapologetically baroque – which it has to be, given the scope of its subject.

        Then come back and talk to us.

    2. The shortest way I can put it is: My father was an alcoholic with a bad temper, but I still loved him. It’s possible to feel affection for someone or something even presented with manifest flaws.

    3. I genuinely don’t get the ongoing fascination with Disneyland […] All I see is superficial opulence concealing widespread economic injustice and inequality.

      You just answered the question yourself, my friend. We deal with widespread economic injustice and inequality 24/7, places like Disneyland provide a momentary (if entirely superficial) escape.

      That, and they have Big Thunder Mountain.

      1. Exactly.  When/if you have kids, take them to Disneyland, and they will show you from even before you enter the front gates what it’s all about.

  6. Very interesting photo. All these years I thought the entire ride was in and under the Haunted Mansion, but, of course, it is all an illusion. I like this ride. Can’t wait for the proposed Guillermo del Toro movie for Disney’s The Haunted Mansion. They say his version will be more scarier.

  7. For those curious, here’s what the Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom looks like from above.

  8. I didn’t read the link, but my recollection is that the sinking room at the beginning of the ride was to lower people so they could walk under the train tracks to the larger structure behind the “mansion.”  The effect was so popular that they replicated it at WDW even though they didn’t have to tunnel under anything.

    Haunted Mansion story: when I was 3, I’m told that the ride broke down and our vehicle(?) stopped in front of a coffin with a ghost jumping up from it, over and over and over.  I must have blotted out the memory. All that I (vaguely) remember is having to walk out of a ride in a long queue of people.

  9. Few films or rides concern themselves too much with reconciling inside and outside architecture.

    Don’t forget that a big chunk of the ride isn’t supposed to take place in the house anyway, it’s set in a graveyard. Also, magic.

  10.  Yes, that’s correct; the stretch room and haunted corridor were put in to get people under the berm and into the main show building.

    In Florida, of course, the stretch room isn’t an elevator; it’s just the top that stretches, because you can’t build a tunnel in a swamp.

  11. You can see all of this on google maps. And for most of it, the warehouse sized building for each ride is labeled.

    To me what is more fun is to look at the old guest maps to compare and see how the illustrators made all this square footage disappear on those maps.

  12. I don’t think it matters that the facade and the ride itself don’t reconcile, everyone knows that walls move in haunted buildings.

  13. A large part of the design for the Disney rides goes into queuing. Because the parks can get so very crowded, and people can wait in line for an hour and longer on rides that have been around for years, the introductions to the rides are just as important as the rides themselves. 

    The HM at Disneyland has both an outside and inside queue. The outside queue (overflow) winds around the front facades of the building and lets a visitor see the outside graveyard, where joke headstones mark resting spots. Once inside, a visitor enters the foyer and the elevator drops them under the railroad. Then they queue down a hallway filled with “moving” paintings, reversed sculptures and creepy wallpaper. 

    All that happens before you ever even sit down to ride the ride.

    The first part of the ride brings you to another “outdoor” graveyard, where nighttime lighting disguises the ceiling. In reality, you’re underground, and behind the house itself. That happens moments away from the corridor where you’ve sat down. The shape of the cart, which curves slightly above and around you, and the fact that it turns you toward the action you should be watching, helps to quickly reinforce the illusions that are being presented.

    The fact is that the Imagineers at Disney are masters of manipulation. Most people don’t realize what goes into set dressing, lighting, and organization for areas that aren’t even the main stage. My favorite example of this is actually the Tower of Terror at California Adventure. The queueing area for that drop tower thrill ride is so interesting and well-designed that waiting in line can actually be enjoyable!

  14. I have ex- who was obsessed with mapping the imaginary architecture of the Brady Bunch house.  After all the Dad was an architect.
    And it only gets worse if you try to reconcile it with the exterior shot of the house.

  15. Great blog.  Love the detail.  Is there one like it about the Pirates of the Caribbean ride?

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