Thursday, December 08, 2011

Hanging at the STOL Port

As a researcher it's all too often (or may just often enough) that you find yourself pouring over some obscure publication, peeking into corners, squinting at grainy old photos, hoping to uncover some amazing heretofor unknown treasure. It's the forever pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Friends, I'm here to tell you I found one earlier tonight. While browsing a pleasant but hardly promising looking little 1972 booklet called "The Walt Disney World Story", I found it. Look, can you see it???

It's the STOL PORT logo!!!!!!

I have never ever seen this before. I've talked in the past about Walt Disney World's amazingly cool old emblem system, and even gone so far as to suggest that the Golf Resort had the most amazing logo, but this one just beats them all. It's beautifully designed, relentlessly obscure, and amazing.

I'm going to assume that you know all about the STOLport, but if you don't, there's an excellent primer available here. We can't be certain of the colors, but I imagine the "D" is that lovely dark forest green on some sort of earthtone brown with a white arrow inside.

And that, my friends, is that.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The First Decade in Maps

Once upon a time, a strange place called Walt Disney World opened, and Walt Disney World had everything: rides, shows, rodents, plants, tikis, duck confit and folk singers. But there was one thing that Walt Disney World did not have, and it took her a surprisingly long time to get it: a damn map to get around.

Now, long time blog readers will of course recognize the gentleman to the right, Genius Guy. Besides his smokin' brylanteened hair, he's holding a map of the Magic Kingdom. It's not a map you or I would use today. It's about four feet wide and three feet tall. It is a wall map, the date is sometime in September of 1971, and Genius Guy is likely a contractee of the Buena Vista Construction Company enjoying the Magic Kingdom on a preview day. He's not using a souvenir wall map as a park guide for our amusement, it's because there was actually no general Magic Kingdom guide available and the very first one would not appear for another eight months or so.... in mid 1972.

I have no idea why this happened. Disneyland had had park guides for years at this point. It couldn't have been pretty from a guest service point of view and is the sort of thing you would think Disney would foresee... as a 1972 "Toy Review" article about Walt Disney World memorably describes:
"Mom said, "Don't you think we need a map?" "Of course," Dad replied, "Now that you mention it I see that everyone is looking at a map, where do you suppose they are giving them out?" As he spoke I saw dozens of people in front of us, each bending over a map in their own funny ways. Grandma asked, "I wonder why they didn't give us one when we bought our tickets?" Ten minutes later Mom came back. "They are giving them out nowhere - they sell the 'official' maps there for 50 cents.""
This article was written from the imagined perspective of a child traveling with family to Walt Disney World, but the author was clearly so peeved at the map situation they made sure to write it into their trip report. 50 cents is the equivalent of $2.50 today, by the way, so while that's not prohibitively expensive it is more than one would like to spend for something she should be given for free.

One publication which did have a map of the Magic Kingdom was Walt Disney World News, which featured a two-page spread at the center of early issues:

And it's a pretty good one. Things are clearly labeled although you'll see that those elements in a state of flux - like where If You Had Wings was being built - were pretty vague. That said it's hardly too artistically admirable - effective, yes, but not too pleasant.

In order to really get into the history of early Walt Disney World maps in all their lurid glory, we have to go back to before the place was even open, such as this glorious 1969/1970 "Fun Map" by Paul Hartley:

Because this represents a look at a park very much in a state of becoming, it's worthwhile to point out a few details of this map worth noting in special detail.

One can see for herself that the Indian Village has no inhabitants at all, which is just as the park opened in 1971, with the "population" added later in 1972 and 1973. Also, Marc Davis' "Tree Snag Reef" scene originally featured dangerous floating limbs as depicted in his concept art and on this map. As of September 1971 these show props were in place in the river, but shortly vanished. Whether this happened during the Rivers of America's first big refurbishment in 1973 is unknown, but for over thirty years now visitors on the Riverboats have had to supply their own dangerous waters between the Indian Burial Grounds and the Pirates Cave show scenes. One can hope these will return someday... but this seems unlikely.

There's alternative names, such as The Diamond Horseshoe with its unique Florida facade but painted yellow and gilded, like her Disneyland sister. Or the Liberty Square Tavern, which is a far less interesting name. What intrigues me is the label "Pinocchio's Village", which can accurately describe the entire Fantasyland West corridor and was applied to this area on the blueprints but never in any guest map as far as I know.

Have you noticed how unbelievably accurate this map actually is? Down to minor architectural details such as whether a window has shutters or not? And yet it lets It's A Small World go totally unlabeled?

Of course the general WED Enterprises indecision as to what to do with Tomorowland is reflected in Hartley's drawing here - it's just a jumbled mass of  space age buildings totally lacking in the type of detail seen elsewhere in his effort. Based on the evidence of this and other maps I would guess that Adventureland was the first area to hit the finish line and Tomorrowland was, as always, the last.

More confirmation that the Jungle Cruise queue was meant to go upstairs at some point. Hartley was probably working directly off the elevation blueprints for most of this stuff, which explains the charmingly flat style.

That cluster of three huts just above the Jungle Cruise boathouse represents the Adventureland Ticket Booth, by the way.

Later to become the Gulf Hospitality House, Disneyana Collectibles, Exposition Hall, and the Town Square Theater. But it's designed to be a hotel front, and it is an exceptionally gorgeous one - it's easy to imagine it nestled amidst rolling hills in upstate New York surrounded by a huge lawn.

Once a Hotel idea was nixed before opening day Disney had no idea what to do with that beautiful Redmond facade, so it was basically just a false front with enough room for a lobby and a restaurant. The Walt Disney Story attraction was built onto the back of the existing facade in 1972.

And two old favorites of this blog, the Liberty Square Market and Nantucket Harbour House, which would debut in May 1972 with a different, and inferior, name.

Paul Hartley's illustration is best known in its beautiful revised version which hung in Walt Disney world hotel rooms for the first decade of the resort:

This map circulates in two versions, and this one appears to be a work in progress - note Hartley's penciled in road which accidentally bisects the Walt Disney World STOLport - but offers I think much more spectacular and beautiful colors. The labels have been removed and a number of the finer details evident in his earlier piece not included, but this is one of the finest pieces of art ever created for any Disney property.

And, of course, there's the simple but wonderfully stylized rendering included in the Preview Edition guidebooks sold at the Walt Disney World Preview Center:

This one is beautiful, even if it shows some hesitation as to what the park will actually be - notice the vague Tomorrowland structures, Disneyland-style castle, and somewhat misplaced Small World - but is very memorable and provided the basic style for the 50 cent "official map" (which was far uglier), as well as a 1970's Walt Disney World lunchbox.

Sadly beautiful art was not what was found in the first GAF "Your Complete Guide to Walt Disney World" booklets when they appeared in 1972, handed out with guest tickets:

The detailed maps within were actually even worse, and hardly functional. To be fair, this was consistent with the style of the Disneyland maps at the time, such as this example from a 1971 INA "Your Souvenir Guide to Disneyland":

That's functional, yes, but sort of rough. A bit of relief from austere featureless blocks of color, "whimsical" fonts and suspect geography could be found on the centerfold page of the Walt Disney World GAF guides:

Follow the GAF photo trail!

This was nothing but a smaller and less garishly colored version of the "official map", by the way, and it repeated many of that product's mistakes, such as including the Disneyland Tom Sawyer Island, Frontierland train station, and Tomorrowland train station, which is in the right spot but would never get built. Oh, and that boomerang on stilts over the top of the Grand Prix Raceway.

Thankfully, the tradition of beautiful Walt Disney World maps lived on... in Vacationland Magazine!

Very much in the style of the "Preview Edition" map, this one elects to focus on the entire property rather than just the Magic Kingdom. Oh, and I have to feature this one detail from this map, because it's still hilarious.

Shut up and pay the duck, will ya???
Things did improve for Walt Disney World maps pretty quickly. By Christmas 1974 a greatly improved and much more useful for navigation map was circulation, not in the GAF guides but in separate fliers handed out for special events. This one was from a holiday season pamphlet:

This one really does have it all - it's pleasant to look at, combines the top-down view of the 1971 and 1972 maps with some pictorial embellishments, and introduces a clever color coding system that cuts down on clutter. Unlike earlier Magic Kingdom maps, you can actually navigate pretty quickly and easily through the park using this map.

But it wouldn't be for another few years that this version would be streamlined into an even better incarnation. This is it: in my opinion, probably the best Disney theme park map ever devised for clarity, ease of navigation, and simple aesthetic charm:

I doubt that will ever be topped. This map brought Walt Disney World out of her first decade, and in 1982 all of the maps were altered. Magic Kingdom maps in particular began to get cartoonish and distorted again, while EPCOT Center inherited the simple austere beauty of this style of map because, you know, EPCOT Center was supposed to be less fun. But for pure variety, beauty and interest, no era of Florida property maps have ever topped those first few, fleeting years.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Other Kingdoms to Conquer

The theme park scene in Orlando sure is competitive, isn't it? Whether it be attraction wars, bragging rights or the thrice-annual price hikes, Universal, Disney and Sea World are all necking for the front of the race trying to squeeze the others out.

But it wasn't always like that. Yes, competition may have always been the name of the game, but rather than the rather open hostility between the various travel destinations, back in the 70s there was at least an aura of shared destiny about all of this. Prior to Eisner arriving on the scene, declaring "war" on Universal Studios and attempting to vacuum up every last tourist dollar in Florida, there was a rather cooperative atmosphere about the whole business. Today it's rather strange to see the footage of the Disney Florida press conference and watching the owners of Busch Gardens Tampa and Cypress Gardens praising Disney's arrival, because history tells us that Disney would alter their history forever.

Walt Disney World even shifted traffic patterns for hundreds of miles around. Prior to the opening of Walt Disney World, US 192 was hardly a cow road and most tourist traffic followed along US 27, a north-south strip passing through a number of major southern cities and connecting Indiana to Miami. The Bok Tower, Citrus Tower, and Cypress Gardens, three hugely important early Central Florida tourist attractions, are located off US 27 , and today it's littered with the skeletal remains of hundreds of fruit stands and motels meant to capitalize on the wagon train of tourists headed north and south along a trail that's been dead for decades now.

So Walt Disney World's early relationship with other tourist destinations was always sort of strange. There were buses to Cypress Gardens and Kennedy Space Center leaving every day from the Transportation and Ticket Center. This alone indicated Disney's position as just one component of a huge ecology of Central Florida tourist, an ecology they could all benefit from and which seems quite strange to us today. This was the era of the family road trip, and indeed it was a very big deal that Walt Disney World was once engineered so the vacationing family could leave their car behind for an entire week or more. But car trips outside the "Kingdom" were indeed expected in those early days when Disney's empire was still limited, and so Walt Disney World Vacationland enters the fray to help tourists decide what to do and when.

Vacationland was a regional magazine descended from its Disneyland cousin, which was distributed everywhere within a one day drive of Disneyland. It describes itself this way on the inside cover:

Vacationland is a service-feature magazine published three times yearly by the Walt Disney World Co. Personally distributed through numerous hotels, motels, chambers of commerce, AAA clubs, and leading tourist attractions and carriers, Vacationland is the only publication specifically directed to the vacationer and travelers in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

Of course there were plenty of articles about Walt Disney World, but they featured in each issue a nearby Florida attraction such as Ybor City or the Everglades, where Vacationland editors gave us such gems to savor as this:

For the motor-bound tourist, Vacationlands are chock-a-block with delicious, delirious advertisements, which have already been highlighted on this blog here and here. But these advertising missives from three generations ago today are strange, beautiful and sometimes frightening. So let's take a brief look outside the 'Vacation Kingdom' at the Vacationland, a world that seems very different from our own of multi-day tickets, LEGOlands, Magical Expresses and theme park fortifications. A world found today only in... Disney publications of the past.

This eye-poppingly gorgeous ad from 1972 highlights a famous and historical chain of Florida restaurants. I'm pretty sure the Columbia on Lake Eola is gone, but there is one along the lake in Disney's own Celebration, Florida.

More great mid-century typefaces!

Vacationland could always be counted on to deliver advertisements for Walt Disney World sponsors. GAF was Walt Disney World's photography sponsor until 1977, when Polaroid signed on until the rise of Kodak in 1982.

Kal-Kan sponsored the Walt Disney World Kennel, which if you believe what old Vacationlands tell you, was more like a private club where Goofy and B'rer Fox would regularly cavort. If you believe what you read in old Vacationlands, that is.

Circus World never quite grew past its' "Showcase" - read: preview center - although it did last until right around the opening of EPCOT Center, eking out a rather sad eight year existence. It's now a strip mall.

Now we're cooking! The very first Red Lobster opened in 1968 in Lakeland, Florida - about thirty minutes from Walt Disney World and a true Florida original. If you think the vaguely-unappetizing plate of fried shrimp is a little off putting, here's your month's supply:

This. This is terrifying in so many ways, from his eerie expression to those fried... shrimp, or sausages, or something, to the ghoulish supernatural void from whence this image is emerging. Imagine that popping out of a trunk in the attic of the Haunted Manson. We're waiting for you!

Did I mention you can click on these for a higher resolution version? Huh?

This one is fantastic, minimalist, and all about Lake Buena Vista, so you know I couldn't resist.

Probably the most handsome of Sea World's many Vacationland advertisements throughout the first half of the 70s.

Okay, Sambo's. Having grown up in the North and in the middle of nowhere, I had no idea what a Sambo's was until I started collecting these Vacationland magazines. We had a few Burger Kings, a Denny's, and a Bob's Big Boy. But you know what? I'm totally sold. There is one Sambo's left - in California. One day I will eat there and tell the staff that I'm here to eat because I saw them advertising in a Florida magazine from 1974.

I'm sure this will make me the most popular gal in the restaurant.

I love this one. It's absolutely pitch-perfect in my book, from the appealing squiggly people, the happy sun, the copy text - they don't make them like this anymore. All the coffee I can drink for just a dime!! I'm there.

Look at that. A bowl full of strawberries and walnuts. It's simple, sure, but don't tell me that spread doesn't raise your spirits.

These are only a handful of the advertising riches found in these all-too-scarce volumes. From restaurants to bars to antique malls, the pages of Vacationland are like an index of places and things you can't do or see any longer. Yes, there are happy endings amidst all that, but they're few and far between, and not every Florida tourist attraction could afford a full page ad in a Disney-published magazine slick.

For every Sea World or Weeki Wachee there's dozens of Movieland Wax Museums, Mystery Fun Houses, Circus Worlds and Marco Polo Parks. Orlando tourism is a gold rush business, where places spring up and dry out as quickly as money can be lost. I don't know about you, but I think maybe a little more cooperation between the tourist attractions and a little less competition could go a long way in the long run.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Start to Shriek and Harmonize

Ah, autumn!

The whole stretch of the year from September through to January in Florida has wonderful dusky light and silhoutette sunsets, perfect weather for excursions to the Magic Kingdom - which rarely ever looks better than in the waning hours of sunlight in the waning year - and which seems now especially suited to visits to the Haunted Mansion. There may not be autumn leaves blowing like they have in New England where we lay our scene, but this is a perfect time to experience this most complex of attractions. So it is perhaps natural that our thoughts turn towards the Mansion as the month rolls onward towards All Hallow's Eve.

Today I would like to direct your attention towards one of the least respected and most frequently dismissed aspects of the attraction: the lowly pop-up ghoul.

There is not much love in the world for these minor inhabitants of the spirit house. For one, they are not a special effect - the Haunted Mansion's true stock in trade, of course. Second, they are relatively close to the spookhouse apparatus which had been as of 1969 haunting local amusement parks and fairground Ghost Trains and Wacky shacks for around 40 years.

Me, I'm obsessed with them.

To begin with I, for one, see no harm in pointing out that Disney appropriated certain established aspects of a very rich American tradition of amusement parks, a rich American tradition which is all too often ignored in studies of Disneyland and her progeny. Just as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and especially Snow White's Adventures took the form of dark rides not unlike any number of non-Disney spook houses, the familiar presentation is part of what helped frame the audience's expectations for these attractions. Both Mr. Toad and Snow White were beautifully mounted experiences in a genre they helped disband.  To cite another example, the 1971 Jungle Cruise kicked off with a leafy variation on the traditional Tunnel of Love, and of course the trip behind the waterfall introduced in 1955 at the Disneyland version had been a stock in trade for Dark Rides for generations - Coney Island's "Spook-A-Rama", predating Disneyland, pulled the same trick.

Before Disneyland, Coney Island was America's Playground

It is where these Disney attractions connect to a larger native tradition of amusement parks, World's Fair, Amusement Piers, Atlantic Cities and Coney Islands that the difference between what Disney did and the rest of the world did becomes most evident. Anyone who had actually boarded a spook house at a local carnival would immediately see and understand this world of difference. The funny thing is that Disneyland and The Magic Kingdom are places where these established traditions, expanded and elaborated, could have lived on. Coney Island is but a pale shadow of her former glory, and rare is the person today who has actually been on a real Wacky Shack or Phantasmagoria at their local amusement park. The Disney versions have driven the originals to the verge of extinction, and today the points of connection between the Disney tradition and the earlier traditions are often our only point of connection to a larger, and vanishing, world of American Entertainment History.

So, yes, the difference between what WED Enterprises did and what these small companies operating out of the East Coast and Midwest were able to accomplish is staggering, but continuing to exclude the heritage of the American Dark Ride - as American an invention as Coca-Cola - from the history of the Disney version is foolish. To begin with, Disney did not invent the ride through attraction any more than he invented the Ferris Wheel or roller coaster. But most importantly: what you gain by insisting on the independence of the two schools - the home brew paper mache one and the big Hollywood industry version - is insubstantial compared to what you lose. It's over sixty years of precedents just gone in a flash.

So yeah, in the Haunted Mansion, those pop-up ghouls are just masks on sticks. What of it? It isn't the trick itself that matters here, but its presentation in a larger context I'd like to dwell on.

Fact is, the Haunted Mansion is really the best Ghost Train ever built. You don't ride in Pretzel Amusement Company cars and you don't zip past dancing skeletons and women being sawed in half, but there are a number of eerie echoes between the Mansion on the earlier attractions which, perhaps even if subconsciously on the part of the designers, became a part of the texture of the whole experience. For example, here's this gag built by Funni-Frite of Ohio. This page comes from a 1966 catalouge:

It's a terrific gag, nearly impossible to predict, and was well known by the time the Haunted Mansion opened. I've always suspected that it inspired, perhaps indirectly, the Mansion's own Grandfather Clock:

Or how about a connection between monstrous spiders and a large, haunted staircase? This was designed by Outdoor Dimensional Display, whose chief designer Bill Tracy had an imagination uneasily combining equal parts whismy and horror, and whose style is as immediately recognizable as Marc Davis':

This is where our pop up ghosts appear. The first company to create what we essentially know as the dark ride was Pretzel Amusement Ride Company of Pennsylvania, whose signature attraction "Pretzel" was a long, winding, disorienting trip through darkness which did not yet have things jumping out at you, but instead often simple gravity-operated gags creating crashes, bumps, and thumps. When there were visuals, these were things like donkeys kicking their hind legs, befuddled cops, and mice running along a shelf, knocking over bottles. These experiences were more about disorientation and absurdity instead of suspense and horror, which is why their signature and namesake attraction, The Pretzel, became known as Laff in the Dark.

They also created this:

The fellow on the left was the "Jersey Devil" stunt, a simple paper mache head impaled on a rod, and the Pretzel Company's highest seller. When the car would roll near the Jersey Devil's box, the wheels would depress a lever set in the floor which would both send the Devil shooting up on his pole and connect an electrical circuit causing his light to turn on. When the car rolled away, the lever would reset and the light would turn off. You should recognize the fellow on the right, he's related to the Jersey Devil but indeed not far removed from our own frame of reference.

I bet you think I've wandered far afeild from the Haunted Mansion by now, haven't you? Check out this drawing in Yale Gracey's own hand:

This gag was realized at Disneyland pretty much exactly as Gracey illustrated. Disneyland lost two of their "Rocket Skulls" in 2006. They leapt out of hatboxes in the Attic, a holdover from the bad old Hatbox Ghost days, and it's very likely that Gracey took his inspiration directly from a Pretzel Amusement Company stunt he saw in his own life or in a catalogue.

It's unique gag, and unique to the Disneyland Mansion - I've never found any real evidence that it was replicated for the Florida version. There's one left out in California in the Graveyard scene in front of the Tea Party.

The simple fact is that you can wander Disneyland for many hours and not stray too far from what enterprising people like Leon Cassidy were cooking up back when Mickey Mouse was still making a name for himself. Disneyland is intimately woven into the fabric of this cultural history.

So what separates the pop-up ghouls in the Haunted Mansion from the Jersey Devil lurking in the dark corners of some Pretzel ride seventy years ago is context. Unlike rides with names like Pirate's Cove and Laff in the Dark, the Haunted Mansion seems to pull all these disparate elements together into a tightly woven tapestry which combines a lot of distinct ideas, styles and methods into a single unified whole, something which has structure and life. Even those pop-up ghosts have meaning and form, you know, and I'd like to demonstrate why these simple gags deserve your respect.

Let's start with the obvious, first: compared to the paper mache creations of the Pretzel company and Outdoor Dimensional Display, Blaine Gibson and the rest of the WED model shop did a bang up job sculpting the array of faces which leap up at us from behind tombstones and out of trunks. It's too bad that these sculptures must be seen only fleetingly, and it's almost like somebody was thinking the same thing, because the heads which are used on these pop-ups were also photographed and used to line the walls of the Disneyland Corridor of Doors scene in 1969. They are a rogue's gallery of ghoulies and ghosts:

These photos were excluded, I think intentionally, from the Florida version of the show, although they did belatedly appear on the East Coast in 2007. You'll notice there are really only four heads. From left to right we have Winky, Hook Nose, Droopy Eyes, and Bug Eyes. They're all sculpted to appear to be screaming. Here's what each looked like in situ in the Disneyland Mansion; I've pulled each of these from Disney promotional films so there's no cheating.

 You'll also notice the somewhat extravagent wig designs these figures were given in 1969, complete with those interesting curly-Q hair strands. I'm sure these were devised to "animate" the heads a bit as they bobbed up and down, and of course Winky on the left up there has a quite extravagant fright wig in 1969. Some of these figures have clear "shoulders" intended to give them a bit of body, and others do not:

Generally, the majority of the Disneyland popups still have "shoulders" and wigs, even if the wigs today are are white close cropped affairs. They still have white shirts for bodies, which are a reasonably good approximation of burial shrouds. The Florida versions only used shoulders and white shirts in the Attic scene prior to it's 1996 "upgrade"; the Graveyard figures all have simple black cones of material to hide their mechanics.

Also, this may be a trivial point, but the Disneyland versions tend to rise and then retreat immediately. Over the last forty years as the pneumatic pressure which runs the mechanisms has been reduced, they tend to rise much more slowly and drop out of sight quickly, giving a "peek-a-boo" effect. The Florida versions still rise quite quickly and tend to stay in their raised position for a second or two before lowering out of sight, much more of a shock effect. Again, I have no idea if this is intentional.

For whatever reason these four faces are weirdly spliced across the two Stateside Mansions, with Droopy Eyes appearing only at Walt Disney World and Bug Eyes exclusive to Disneyland. I have no idea if Droopy Eyes has never appeared in California, if the heads were worn out and eventually replaced, or if there were other factors leading to the current arrangement.

I'm not pointing all this out to be pedantic but to establish that far from being careless "scare-em" afterthoughts to the texture of the Haunted Mansion, these simple gags were carefully thought out and integrated into a fully realized environment. In fact, the pop-up ghouls are a far more important part of the attraction than they currently appear to be.

Mansion Specialist HBG2 has already written extensively on the way these pop-ups were used in the original version of the Disneyland attic to suggest a connection between a mysterious bride figure and her phantom suitor with a vanishing head; what was already an implicit connection due to the figures being linked by a phantom heartbeat was made even more on the nose by having - at two other places in the Attic sequence - skulls emerging from open hatboxes amongst the junk. Decapitated heads stuffed in hatboxes is a pure murder mystery gothic horror tropes, the same tropes the Mansion traffics in to create much of its meaning. And what about those other pop-up ghouls?

They popped out of trunks.

Even in Florida, where there never was a Hatbox Ghost for the bride to menace, the connection was perfectly clear. Dastardly deeds were afoot in this house long before the other ghosts moved in, deeds seemingly confirmed by the presence of the ghostly bride. Bodies stuffed in trunks forgotten in the Attic is as firmly established a gothic tradition as phantom lovers, and indeed in some folk stories these two strands intersect where the phantom bride is trapped in and suffocates inside a trunk.

The Attic always seemed to be the dark heart of the attraction, the room you were never supposed to see where the secrets were hid. It is the only part of the attraction where you are without the Ghost Host, who leaves you while you unwittingly uncover the scariest room in the house. This was confirmed by the sudden appearance of the apparently malicious leaping ghosts and the mournful, mysterious bride. After passing through this room, we flee from the house through a window - as clear a sign of escape as you can ask for - and stumble into the graveyard party to rejoin our host. The room is supposed to be a turning point in the attraction.

All these ideas circulating in the undergrounds of the Attic scene were what gave it its deep resonances, ideas which are to some extent still present but now explicitly spellt out for us with big signs and narration in the new Attic show. Furthermore, the new version of the Attic is just another gag sequence, it isn't dangerous or scary. The pop up ghosts and their piercing screams were our indication that things were getting serious in the old house on the hill, and ever since their removal the spark has seemingly gone out of this central sequence in the ride.

Okay, so I've established the importance of the figures, the excellence of the accomplishment of the effect, and the important role they played in the Attic sequence. But the pop-up ghouls have been silenced at Walt Disney World since 2007, and since 2006 at Disneyland. What about the ones left down in the show's big climax, the Graveyard jamboree?

Their relevance lies in a matter of structure.

In the original versions of the show at Disney and Magic Kingdom, the Attic pop-ups came up all at once, which was certainly nerve wracking and loud, creating a din that could be heard as far back as the start of the Ballroom scene. Both coasts also share a feature of timing in the Graveyard scene: each ghoul rises all at once at the conclusion of each verse of "Grim, Grinning Ghosts". It still is this way, but the reasons why this happens is our clue to unlocking the secret of the importance of these figures to the larger Graveyard scene itself.

First of all, we must establish something not much mentioned, which is that the Haunted Mansion signature song, Grim Grinning Ghosts, has a subtitle, and that is:

Now,  not to put too fine of a point of it, but have you ever noticed that the lyrics to Grim Grinning Ghosts are super literal about describing the attraction? I mean no disrespect to X Atencio, but once we notice that lyrics like:

When the crypt doors creak and the tombstones quake
Spooks come out for a swinging wake


Now don't close your eyes and don't try to hide
Or a silly spook may sit by your side

Restless bones etherialize
Rise as spooks of every size!

Seem to be describing things have have happened or will happen on the attraction? Observant riders will see plenty of creaking crypt doors and quaking tombstones and rising spirits in the Graveyard scene and of course the reference to spooks sitting by your side needs no explanation. Ironically X's own lyrics help discredit his famous assertion that the Hitch-Hiking Ghosts were a last-minute addition!

Once we've noticed that Grim Grinning Ghosts is quite directly referencing things happening in the attraction, statements in the lyrics like:

Creepy creeps with eerie eyes
Start to shriek and harmonize

Start to look suspicious. There's plenty of harmonizing happening in this "Screaming Song", but shrieking?

Let's take a look at a picture:

This isn't just a nice picture of the Graveyard band; it contains an important detail. Notice that gravestone in the lower left side? How there's a speaker built into it? You've probably already put it together by this point, but yes, it's true, in the early years of the attraction - for about the first decade, in fact - each Graveyard popup would loudly scream or shout as they rose. Since Grim Grinning Ghosts is called The Screaming Song, they quite naturally scream between verses as a sort of punctuation.

That speaker and gravestone, actually, belong to this guy and, once again, here's how he looked in 1969:

In addition to "vocalizing", each pop-up once had it's unique lighting; you can see it in the picture of Winky above, faintly causing the white "body" of the ghoul to glow blue.

The Graveyard sequence really does play out as a series of loosely connected gags - each group of ghosts is doing something different and they're all singing the song but each setpiece doesn't really feel like it relates to the others. However, each scene has its own pop-up ghoul... except for the Singing Busts, and even they were supposed to have one too:

From the original WED model.
Known as "Sir Misplaced"; he's popping up right where the steps down
into the projection pit are, making it obvious why he was cut

This repetition allows there to be some formal continuity between each cluster of ghosts in the graveyard. So these ghoul pop-ups aren't just cheap scares throughout the scene, they were actually the thing that structured the Graveyard finale, a unifying thread just as much as the song.

When I worked at the Florida Haunted Mansion, I spent a good deal of time under the Graveyard with flashlights and old maintenance books trying to determine positively that there were once individual lights and sound effects for these ghosts. There was only minor evidence left. I believe that the lights are supposed to be off when the figures are at rest, turn on for the ascent and descent, then turn off again. This would mean that each figure would be "invisisble" in its lowered state.

Sometime after these effects seem to have been retired in the early 1980s, and with the apparent reason for the pop-up heads to be present at all now gone and fading from memory, Imagineers began to tinker with the Attic sequence and the pop-up heads began to suffer a number of indignities.

In 1995, to go along with a reworked Attic, Disneyland ditched their screams and added ghostly echoes of "I Do", as well as a fancy new shadow pianist plunking out the Wedding March. The timing of the leaping ghosts was adjusted: no longer rising all at once, they would jump out in sequence from the back of the scene to the front. The shouts weren't all bad, some of them were pretty creepy, but the menace of the scene was radically undercut. Additionally, the adjusted timing now made it possible to ride through the entire Attic and not see a single pop-up ghost, a feat I accomplished several times. Previously, the screams and imagery of heads in hatboxes and bodies in trunks bespoke an atmosphere of dread that rubbed off on the silent bride. Now the ghosts at the piano and hiding in the junk seemed to be mocking her.

Is the bride a hero or a villian? In the original formulation of the scene, she had decapitated the Hatbox Ghost and probably a few others too. Not only that, but her face was a freaky skull that tended to scare the bejezus out of riders. In later years, the figure became mysterious, then eventually sad and oppressed.

Reconfiguring the attic ghouls to shout "I Do!" radically altered their meaning - which ought to be enough evidence of their importance - although the actual staging of the scene was kept more or less the same as it had been in 1969. Walt Disney World took a different route to revamping their bride in 1996.

The Florida '96 variation kept the original screams and the simulatious rise, but absurdly redressed their pop-up ghouls as grooms, or something:

It sounds okay on paper, but as you can see the cartoonish costumes leave something to be desired. But the worst offense was the removal of the boxes and trunks these figures would leap out of; for all except two of these figures all that was required to spot them before they would rise would be to lean forward a few inches. Winky, on the left up above, could be clearly seen "hiding" near the floor right as the buggies ascended into the Attic. It didn't make the scene any less loud or scary, although it was now a good deal more transparently lame. Why bother at all?

The figures themselves followed their hiding places to the great beyond in 2007.

Today, the only place where something like the original Attic can be seen is at Tokyo Disneyland. Although their ghouls rise sequentially, they still scream, emerge suddenly from boxes, and foreshadow a menacing ghost bride.

I think we should care about these pop-up ghouls because they were, like everything else in the attraction, conceived with a purpose. They drew on spook house traditions to further both the atmosphere and design of both of the scenes they appeared in, creating effects and ideas that were far more advanced than the limited technology they represented.

Plus, they were scary. What was once the dark heart of the attraction's mystery now seems fairly tame compared to even the minor scenes which open the attraction. While the Black Widow Bride Attic represents a significant advancement in technology and especially set dressing than its forebears, it isn't really scary. The sense that the stakes are being raised now that your Ghost Host has left you is gone. While The Haunted Mansion is no slouch in creepy ideas and images that can get to you late at night, the pop-up ghosts represent the only really scary thing in the whole ride, the only thing that could make you jump. That they appeared only in the final leg of the attraction was significant and speaks to a structural progression which was carefully thought out and artfully realized. They may represent a sort of base fairground level shock, but I think they were about the right amount of scare for an attraction which is, after all, called The Haunted Mansion. In that name that there is a promise which - at least partially - is no longer being delivered.

I think it's time to restore this particular long-lost effect to dignity. The Florida pop-ups that remain still have their individual lights but these lights should be made to turn on and off at appropriate times. Their gravestones still have holes cut in them for speakers to facilitate their original shrieks, grunts, and groans. In fact, having been under the graveyard to investigate, I can attest that at least as of several years ago most of the wiring is still intact. And, of course, it would be nice to see these figures treated to a bit more loving care - with appropriate wigs, facial details, and bodies.

Maybe then, once the true intentions of the people who, after all, designed the attraction are made apparent, this minor but important feature of the Haunted Mansion show will finally be given the respect it deserves.


I raided nearly every corner of the internet to assemble this article, but the following sites were especially helpful: Daveland, Long Forgotten, Laff in the Dark, Disney Fans, and Trimper's Haunted House