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Walt Disney began developing the concept of a haunted mansion nearly 20 years before it was actually constructed.   Versions of a haunted house attraction appeared in early concept art during the initial planning of what would become Disneyland.   Walt had planned to build a small "theme park" on a parcel of land across the street from his Burbank studios.   Disney's art director, Harper Goff, created a concept sketch for the proposed park called "Church, Graveyard, and Haunted House", which depicted a gothic haunted house on a hill.

Harper Goff's sketch.

Plans for the new park outgrew Walt's eleven acre lot, so he purchased a much larger plot of land in Anaheim.   He used the talents of artists from the motion picture industry to create the highly imaginative park.   These artists and engineers became known as "imagineers".
Originally, the haunted mansion was going to be located on an off-shoot of Main Street, at a dead end.   Then it was going to be built in Frontierland (shown left in an early concept drawing).   But eventually the whole project was put on hold.

Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, without a haunted mansion.   Within three years, Walt decided to expand Disneyland, to include a new land called "New Orleans Square", which would contain new shops, restaurants, and a haunted mansion.   The foundation for the façade of the Plantation style mansion took place in 1962.   Early concepts for a neglected looking house were replaced with Walt's preference, a clean, well-preserved façade, which matched the pristine look of the rest of the park.   Walt said "We'll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside".

Even though the façade was completed, it was an empty shell for years due to storyline problems and other distractions such as the 1964 New York World's Fair, where Disney built the first version of "It's a Small World", among other state of the art attractions.

New Orleans Square haunted mansion in
  On December 15, 1966, Walt Disney died of lung cancer.

With the loss of their great visonary, the Imagineers debated over the design concepts of the haunted mansion, such as whether the haunted mansion experience should be scary, or funny.   In the end, imaginers Marc Davis (funny), and Claude Coats (scary), combined their ideas, so the ride begins with spooky sets and chilling concepts, and eventually becomes "a swinging wake", full of silly spooks, and ghostly gags.

Finally, after years of planning the New Orleans Square Haunted Mansion opened its doors, on August 9, 1969.

During this time the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom was being planned and constructed in Florida.   So duplicates of each mansion prop and scene were constructed, with one staying in California, and the other going to Florida, to be stored until the WDW haunted mansion was completed.

New Orleans Square haunted mansion in

The Liberty Square haunted mansion
in Walt Disney World.

The haunted mansion in Disney World was located in Liberty Square, and the façade reflects the Colonial architecture of the surrounding structures.   The façade is a mixture of Hudson River Valley, Dutch Gothic style, and of a particular mansion in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, called The Harry Packer Mansion.

The Liberty Square mansion was completed in time for Walt Disney World's opening in 1971.
Another haunted mansion was built in Tokyo Disneyland.   It has the same architectural style as the Liberty Square mansion, but it is located in Fantasyland.   It also has been known to break Walt Disney's "rule" of "taking care" of the outside, having a somewhat neglected appearance.

The Haunted Mansion in Tokyo Disneyland.

The Phantom Manor in Disneyland Paris.
The haunted mansion in Disneyland Paris, known as The Phantom Manor, completely ignores Walt's decree, and returns to Harper Goff's original concept of a ramshackle Victorian house on a hill.   Disneyland Paris, and The Phantom Manor opened on April 12, 1992.   This haunted mansion is l ocated in Frontierland, next to Big Thunder Mesa.   Unlike the other Disney haunted mansions, Phantom Manor follows a specific story plot, of a jilted bride, and a phantom groom.

That's the end of my simplified history of the Disney Haunted Mansions.   If you want THE DEFINITIVE history of the haunted mansions, please purchase Jason Surrell's excellent book, "The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies".

is also a fantastic (the best) web site dedicated to the Haunted Mansions!

Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, and all Haunted Mansion photographs, characters, multimedia and artwork are copyrighted by and/or are trademarks of the Walt Disney Company / Disney Enterprises. This website is not affiliated in any way with any Disney company. Site launched 9.26.04. Copyright © Ray Keim. Haunted Dimensions™
Email Ray: haunteddimensions@gmail.com