jason surrell


Here It Is: The ACTUAL Story Told in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion

While we all love the stories of the Bride and the Captain and the Eddie Murphy family (okay, so you can strike that last one from the record), in 2009 the Walt Disney Company actually released a book that described – in no uncertain terms – the actual tale being told in Disneyland’s magnificent Haunted Mansion ride.

In The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies, Jason Surrell explains:

“Though not as intricately constructed as a Shakespearean play, a story exists. In fact, Imagineering legend and Disneyland veteran Tony Baxter believes that, in the end, combining the seemingly divergent work of [Imagineers] Marc Davis and Claude Coats inadvertently gave the Haunted Mansion a fairly solid three-act structure.

"In Act One, which begins slowly and ominously in the Foyer, guests anticipate the appearance of the happy haunts, and experience poltergeist activity and unseen spirits.

"Madame Leota provides the curtain that separates Act One and Act Two. The medium conjures up the spirits and encourages them to materialize, which they promptly do in the swinging wake in the Grand Hall and the Attic.

"The descent from the attic window into the Graveyard takes guests into Act Three, in which they are completely surrounded by the ghosts who are enjoying the manic intensity of a graveyard jamboree. Finally, one of three Hitchhiking Ghosts materializes beside the guests in their Doom Buggy before the exit.”

And there you have it. The actual story being told in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion – and in the classical three-act structure, no less!


One of the Singing Busts in The Haunted Mansion is a bust of Thurl Ravenscroft, according to “The Haunted Mansion: From Magic Kingdom to the Movies”, written by imagineer Jason Surrell. He is often mistaken for Walt Disney. The bust of Ravenscroft is a tribute to the fact that he sang the voice of that bust in the theme park attraction. Another bust is that of Paul Frees, who narrates the Disney ride.


Comedy = Tragedy + Time

(I wonder if the same formula works for theme park rides?)

Did you ever hear the ORIGINAL STORY behind Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride? The cringe-worthy, ripped-from-the-headlines story pitched by Walt Disney himself in a classic case of ‘too soon’?

Author Jason Surrell describes the awkward pitch in his Disney-published masterpiece, The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies:

“Walt mentioned the [Haunted Mansion] project during an interview with the BBC in London, as he expressed his sympathy for all of the ghosts that had been displaced from their ancestral homes due to the London blitz during World War II and new construction to make way for modern housing.

"He then announced that he planned to build a sort of retirement home at Disneyland for all of the world’s homeless spirits. ‘The nature of being a ghost is that they have to perform, and therefore they need an audience,’ Walt said.”

Needless to say, this version of the Haunted Mansion lore was abandoned almost immediately thereafter!

“Walt liked the idea of the storytelling tableaux. But he said, ‘You can’t tell a story from beginning to end without a climax, as in a film, if you’re moving.’”

– Marc Davis, Imagineer

I pulled this quote from Jason Surrell’s descriptive, illustrative, well-adjectived book, Pirates of the Caribbean, from the Magic Kingdom to the Movies. A few pages later, Surrell says:

“The Burning Town scene is a fitting climax to the grandest theme park spectacle Walt Disney and his Imagineers had ever created. In some respects, it was the only way they could end the show. After all the wonders the guests had just experienced, there was nothing they could possibly do to top themselves other than burn their set to the ground, just as Atlanta had burned in Gone with the Wind.”

Wait a minute.

Walt Disney says that rides “can’t tell a story from beginning to end without a climax,” yet “the grandest theme park spectacle Walt Disney and his Imagineers had ever created” has “a fitting climax?”

“It was the only way they could end the show?”

Nossir, no structure here. No stories to see. Move along.