How a Haunted Mansion addict fell in love with the greatest ride on Earth


33 Responses to “How a Haunted Mansion addict fell in love with the greatest ride on Earth”

  1. wizardru says:

    OMG.  How fantastic is that picture of Disney in the 1970s?  It just sums up everything that’s great about Disney, right down to the saturation and nostalgia.

  2. Thomas Valley says:

    My parents lived in Ft. Pierce from 76 to 78.  In some weird otherworldly coincidence, we may have crossed paths waiting for the Haunted Mansion.

    I didn’t remember the cards until you talked about them, just now.  I have a sense memory of them — they had a unique plastic smell about them.  I associate it with that time…I also recall the smell of Stretch Armstrong from the same period.

    Every time we go to the Magic Kingdom, I transport back to the late 70s.  Here’s me in 77:  My brother is in the stroller, I’m the one working the camera angles in my blue tank top.

    My family started going in 2000, when my kids were old enough to enjoy it, and my wife got so hooked on it that we keep going back whenever we can scrape money together for it.  Our next trip starts on the 21st of next month.

    • Cory Doctorow says:

       What a beautiful shot!

    • edkedz says:

      “Every time we go to the Magic Kingdom, I transport back to the late 70s”
      If only the Magic Kingdom itself was transported back to the late 70s, too!

      (Seriously though, everything Disney-Theme-Park-related was massively better back then.)

  3. TheKaz1969 says:

    I am a Mansion fan (as well as Pirates) as well. This is a great story, Cory. I hope you find those cards!

    I think a lot of love of the Haunted Mansion, at least for those of a certain age, goes back to childhood memories. I’ve ridden, in the past several years, with adults who had never been on, and they always seem less than impressed, and I can never understand why. Perhaps because they DON’T have those childhood memories to reinforce all that makes this ride great.

    I embrace most of the changes they are making. I am hoping, in this world where kids need much more to impress them (or perhaps I just think they do because I am becoming an “old man”), that children will once again have a sense of wonder by these changes (e.g. the hitchhiking ghosts) and fall in love. I dread the day when the Haunted Mansion becomes a neglected ride and perhaps goes away all together. I hope that day never comes.

    • artbyjcm says:

      On the topic of the ride improving, cannot wait for color e-ink displays make the changing paintings really look amazing.
      (Currently they’re backlit displays, of course)

      Also, I want them to get rid of those weird screens they project on and update a couple of their animatronics in the graveyard.

      The bride is also… bad now… I liked the old version more… I hope they either change it at some point or make it do less and not be a projection anymore.

  4. Eric Calkins says:


    Please never stop writing about Disney.  I’m a little younger than you, but I started going to Walt Disney World in the late 1970′s as well.  My grandmother lived on the gulf coast, and we’d make yearly trips down from Michigan to visit.  Those visits always, always included a trip to Disney World.  

    When you write about your youthful experiences at the park, I’m transported back to that wonderful era of my childhood.  I remember the way the park used to be: more wild, less corporate, less choked by crowds, more magical.

    I remember when Epcot opened, and the delirious excitement of having an entire new park to explore.  I remember when Journey Into Imagination, and its fabulous interactive post-ride area, was the best attraction in the park, and not the hollow shell of itself that exists today.

    I remember 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and the magic of those stools and porthole viewers.

    I remember my honeymoon, just after the opening of Animal Kingdom, and sharing everything with my wife on her first ever visit (she caught the bug immediately).  By then, much that was, was lost, already.  But it was still pretty great.

    I’m taking my kids for the second time at the end of this year.  I’m feeling a weird mixture of anticipation and dread for the Haunted Mansion.  I haven’t been since the queue was updated, and I’m worried that it might be under its Nightmare Before Christmas re-skin.  Regardless, your piece has reminded me that it’s OK to indulge the kids on a few souvenirs to anchor them more powerfully to the experience, and to remember to bring them all home.

  5. joe k. says:

    I was at Disney World during the summer of ’77. I was 7 years old and I rode Space Mountain and it was the most terrifying yet awesome thing I had ever done. I did indeed ride the Haunted Mansion.

  6. otterhead says:

    As a longtime fan of the Haunted Mansion who’d gladly move in with the 999 Happy Haunts, I dreaded the new updates — Disneyheads were saying on forums that it was a desecration, etc etc etc. You know the drill.

    My trip last week was a huge relief. The new graveyard keeps the flavor of the Mansion; I love the playable organ with “Ravenscroft” inscribed on it. The new Hitchhiking Ghosts are a little manic (they’ve got a lot of animation to accomplish in the three or four seconds you spend before the mirrors) but the effects are astonishing. On one trip, a ghost swapped my head with my ride companion; on the next, when I rode alone, it sat down in the empty spot, pulled my head off, inflated it like a balloon, and exploded it.

    But the single creepiest thing in the ride will hopefully never change: that tiny woman at the end reminding you to bring your death certificate.

  7. BookManFilm says:

    THAT is one of the best articles I have ever read, pure enthusiasm and clarity from beginning to end.  Thanks.

  8. dpamac says:

    Long live Paul Frees!

  9. Amelia_G says:

    “C.J. Watson Solves the Dragon’s Blood Mystery” (I think it was) really awakened our interest in those Florida theme parks! It might have been CA theme parks though, or a mélange. Greg Rucka’s new book seems like a fun adult continuation of the genre.

  10. sqyntz says:

    hope you got your allowance mortgage back, it’d be kind of like the mortgage bank loosing your house or something, not that could really ever happen in real life…

  11. spocko says:

    What a great story. I tweeted it out. I think you all should to. Let’s help Cory Find those cards!

    Help my friend @doctorow find his lost glow in the dark Haunted Mansion cards!

  12. Where I come from (Ireland), “falling in love with the greatest ride on earth” has very comical connotations!  According to Irish (and particularly Dublin) slang, it would be almost a redundant or tautological observation, the greatest ride on earth being either the hottest person around, or the most accomplished in the sack, or both.  Sorry for this barely relevant and tone-lowering observation.

  13. PeaceLove says:

    You went to Disneyland your first time with Matthew McConaughey?

    • katkins says:

      Indeed.  I loved the smile on that guy in the background.  Either Cory’s Mom (or Dad!) was really good looking, or that guy hadn’t lost his youthful joy either…

  14. beforewepost says:

    That was easily the most charming post Cory has written. 

    Loved the photo of a 6-year old Cory.

    • roslyn says:

      Actually Cory was 2 1/2 in this photo. This was his first trip to DisneyWorld. We took the Amtrak from Fort Lauderdale.
      The 6-year old Cory, however, did lose all his Haunted Mansion loot, much to our dismay, since we never heard the end of it (and, still haven’t!)
      Cory’s Mom

  15. zartan says:

    Awesome post, Cory.  I have similar memories of Disneyland from visits to my grandparents in LA in the late 70s.

  16. Off White says:

    Having read Cory’s Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom this spring, this post dovetails very nicely. Definitely recommended for any Haunted Mansion fan.

  17. sam1148 says:

    Thanks for this. I went to the HM as a kid in the early 70′s…and the HM was the star of the park to me. I got a HM LP on that trip (gone now).
    I fondly remember all the wonder and joy on that vacation. Even the little things like the magic shop (my favorite shop), and penny arcade on Main Street…and those plastic orbs of orange juice you’d get at the Florida turnpike welcome centers. (Do those still exist?).
    In the mid 90′s the SO and I took our niece and nephew and my sister to WDW. Best. Vacation. Ever.
    I sorely miss that Tom Sawyer’s Island no longer has lunch at Aunt Poly’s…Cold fried chicken leg, half a ham sandwich, slaw and cookie.
    Coke served cold, in glass bottles out of galvanized tub with ice; perfect theme of lunch and place.
    You could hear the wolves howling from the Haunted Mansion while eating on the riverfront porch.

  18. msmo says:

    oh those coupon books! i remember staring at the leftovers we brought home, remembering the rides and imagining when we’d get to go again.  funnily enough everything scared me, from the dinosaurs on the train between tomorrow and main street, to the hitchhiking ghosts, to the even the sea monster on the submarine. thanks for ride down memory lane.

  19. All right, Cory Doctorow: Who the hell are you, and how did you manage to thieve my childhood?
    I’m a newcomer to this blog, just directed here by a colleague. Imagine my horror as I read the above entry and realized that YOU HAVE STOLEN MY MEMORIES.

    Well, almost. I was thirteen, not six, when I visited Disneyland, not WDW. But the experience was the same: almost closing time… the last E ticket in the book… a transmogrifying experience.

    I was just old enough to know that I HAD NO IDEA how they were doing those illusions. As soon as I got off the ride, I ran back around to the front gate, but too late: Disneyland was already closed, and it would be three agonizing years before I could return, armed with theories, flashlights, high-speed film and a stereo cassette recorder, to study the Mansion with deranged intensity.

    The Mansion also gave me a career. Today I work in the theme park industry, designing rides and attractions for Disney, Universal, and other clients around the world. I say a little thanks every time I board a Doom Buggy.

    And I still have my souvenirs. 

  20. Keith Seaman says:

    Long live Thurl Ravenscroft … best name ever! I adore the mansion. I am not a fan of the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay they stick on it here in California 3 months out of the year. Thanks for the post, it clarifies nicely why so many of us have a obsession with that ride.

  21. Sean Shafer says:

    If you like the Haunted Mansion, check out this site!

  22. Snig says:

    It sounds like your Happy Mutanthood was most firmly stamped on you that day.  Parents these days have it easier. When my daughter’s treasured Wiggles beanie babies went missing, I found their clones on Ebay.  She was happy to greet them back from their “vacation”. 

  23. P W says:

    As a voice-over artist myself, I can tell you that it is very rare that a voice actor makes as much of a mark on world culture as Paul Frees did with his work on Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride.

    Without all those spooky voices, the special effects would have been pretty much meaningless.

    >>>  The ORIGINAL tapes of those recording sessions are archived here:   <<<

    For him, of course, it was just another day's work — like his work on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, his work on the Bullwinkle cartoon show, old-time radio dramas, and literally thousands of modern radio and TV commercials.

    The (small) paychecks were cashed and spent.

    But his work lives on inside the heads of just about everyone who grew up during the fifties and sixties.

    That's immortality.  And it's rare.   :-)

  24. Kimberly says:

    I’m so sorry you lost all your cool stuff.  I was a monster girl (Famous Monster magazine provided by my Grandma, and a fascination with everything horror from age 7) in ’77 and grew up close enough to go to the original Disneyland.  I always used my E tickets for Mister Toad’s ride and some of the other dark rides.  The Haunted Mansion has always been one of my great memories, along with the Enchanted Tiki Hut.  I really hope that you will be able to track all of your memorabilia from that era.  

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