Mike at Jungle is 101 has a terrific post today about an encounter with one of the 999 happy haunts of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. His story got me thinking about my trip behind the scenes of the Mansion back in 1985.
As part of the 30th year celebration, Disneyland Cast Activities threw an “open house” for Cast Members and their families. The festivities included dinner and tours of several attractions. You could get a look at the Big Thunder control room, ride Space Mountain with the lights on, and, best of all, walk through the Haunted Mansion.
I understand that this kind of thing has become much more common in recent years. Reports I’ve read of various private functions/merchandising opportunities strike me as pretty disturbing.
For a few evenings in May of 1985, however, something extraordinary happened. Especially for those whose roles in the Disneyland Show never took them anywhere near the inside of a “ride.” Everyone from Arcade Mechanics to Zebra Taxidermists was allowed to see the Mansion without being confined to a Doom Buggy.
We learned all about Pepper’s Ghost illusions and front projections. We heard about the spiderweb created to hide the hole shot by some guest into the glass panel in front of the dining hall scene. We got up close and personal with Little Leotta and the ghosts who follow you home.
I don’t know how many people were there, but it was by far the most popular tour. Lines stretched out into New Orleans Square so far that you practically had to choose between seeing the Mansion or anything else before the night was over.
It’s amazing that the decades have not reduced the magic in what is, at heart, a carnival dark ride. But when Disneyland and imagination were still close friends, a simple but unexpected light in an upstairs window of the “house that people avoid walking past at night” became heart-stopping.
And a simple but unexpected extended visit to that house became one of the things that made being a Cast Member in the 80s the best possible job.