When Hinges Creak: 45 Years of Disney’s Haunted Mansion

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You must have really lived under a rock to have not heard of “The Haunted Mansion.” Not only is the world’s most prolific and well-known haunts, but one of the longest running as well. It is quite easily the most loved haunt in the United States, if not the world.

I had the express honor to get a front-row seat to “When Hinges Creak: 45 Years of the Haunted Mansion,” a panel held this year at ScareLA, an exciting haunt-centric convention held in Los Angeles. On the panel were two Disney legends: Alice Davis, Disney Imagineer and wife of the late Marc Davis who created the artwork and overall design of the attraction, and Bob Gurr, the creator of the Omnimover conveyance, which revolutionized theme park rides as we know it. The panel was moderated by Jeff Baham of Doombuggies.com, a Haunted Mansion fan site and the definitive source for anything involving Grim Grinning Ghosts who come out to socialize.

Davis and Gurr may be getting up in age, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still full of incredible information and entertaining Disney anecdotes. Gurr, in bright red running shoes, struck a pose before taking the stage, while Davis who needed a little more help punctuated her entrance with, “There’s one good thing about getting old, you can get more men.”

Gurr explained he developed the idea of the Omnimover by examining a candied apple. They could have a show where they would direct the audience into the different scenes, so they would segue through the story, and twirl people this way and that on a track. “A conversation as quick as that,” he shrugged, and although he never expected the name “Omnimover” to be the permanent title, it stuck.

Alice Davis

Alice Davis

We were also privileged to see dozens of concept art pieces illustrated by Marc Davis, some of which had never been used in the final incarnation of the ride, and can only be seen currently at the Walt Disney Family Museum, housed in San Francisco. Alice Davis really filled in the images with a rich history of her husband’s past. She believes that he got his wicked sense of humor from his experiencing a great deal of the United States – he attended 20 different grammar schools, before graduating in the sixth grade. Being the new kid on the block would often make him fodder for the resident bullies of the school, and as he used his artwork as an escape, he also began offering his drawings to his tormentors to get them to stop beating on him at recess. “It helped his humor, and also helped his body,” Alice joked.

They also discussed the difference between the Haunted Mansions in both Anaheim and Orlando, and how they differ from Phantom Manor, the version that resides in Disneyland Paris. Walt Disney’s one caveat was that he wanted the outside of the building to be pristine, so people would get the impression that he had a clean park, even if a part of it was haunted. Although Gurr supports the different look of Phantom Manor, which sports a very dry, cracked exterior, Davis “Thinks Walk would have wet his knickers” at the sight of the European version. Regardless, Gurr was very adamant when asked about revamping and reimagining things such as the Haunted Mansion. He thinks if Walt were still around, he would constantly be improving things as technology advance. “You want to keep telling the story the best way you can do it,” and also emphasized that Disney creators are very thorough about investigating different regions’ take and focus on things.

ScareLA really put itself on the map by snagging this once-in-a-lifetime panel with such Disney royalty, on the official anniversary of the ride opening 45 years ago. To get this glimpse into the creation of one of Disney’s beloved staples is nothing short of extraordinary, and truly inspiring. And remember, there’s 999 happy haunts located inside that mansion, but there’s always room for 1000…

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