Ken Anderson's Haunted Mansions, Part Two

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
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In Part One, I talked about the amazing Disney Legend Ken Anderson and his early contributions to the Haunted Mansion attraction. In today's column, using Anderson's own notes, as well as excerpts from interviews I did with him, we will go on a step-by-step walking tour of the inside of Bloodmere Manor, one of the earliest prototypes for the final Haunted Mansion. This information is from Anderson's September 17, 1957, final draft.

In the proposal, the Disney Company has relocated an authentic 1800s mansion from the swampy bayous around New Orleans to Disneyland, and strange occurences have happened including noises and people disappearing, but it will be safe enough as long as guests stay close to their butler guide.

Once inside the house, the guests would immediately experience some sound effects and even an invisible ghost writing on the wall: "Foolish mortals… go home!" However, a butler appears and assures the guests they don't need to worry, "He's only a ghost writer!"

Here is the first use of the term "foolish mortals" in connection with the mansion originating from Ken Anderson.

The butler explains that the last group he took through had the good fortune to see a good deal of ghostly activity.

As the butler talks, a panel in the wall behind him opens and a "huge, hairy arm gropes menacingly" but the butler easily avoids it and warns the guests not to get too close to the walls and to stay with the group at all times during their visit "because Hairy the Arm, who was the insane brute of a man servant for the old Blood family, delights in picking off stray visitors."

The group then passes through a gallery of portraits leading into the Library. The butler instructs the guests to come to the dead center so he can describe the portraits of the infamous ghosts because "the unfortunate Blood Family, which inhabited the house in life, had a tremendous circle of acquaintances and an international reputation as hosts.

"The supreme tragedy of the house occurred while the Blood Family was hosting numerous friends on the eve of the real-life wedding of their beautiful daughter. An event too horrible to mention prevented the wedding and it has been rumored that, on every anniversary for the last 150 years, the ghosts have been attempting to complete the ceremony which would lift the curse on the house."

An amazing thing about these portraits are that at first glance they appear quite normal "but on second glance, the eyes of each portrait appear to stare back directly at the viewer and follow him relentlessly wherever he moves." (Does this concept sound familiar?)

The guests are then led into a huge dimly lighted library. As the butler points out some of the items in the room, the group is joined by the "Lonesome Ghost" who is shunned by other ghosts because he likes people better than his ghostly peers.

At first, the group only hears the ghost, but then the butler directs them to look at the huge mirror hanging over the fireplace and the guests see not only their own reflection but the image of the Lonesome Ghost apparently moving through the group as he speaks. (A version of the Pepper's Ghost illusion.)

The Lonesome Ghost is excited because "two of our ghosts from prominent old ghost families are getting married" today. The ghost directs the guests' attention to more portraits in the library. As he talks about each portrait, an eerie light illuminates it and the portrait changes.

Here are some of Ken Anderson's suggestions from 1957: "As a typical example of the type of reaction, a portrait of the blue-blooded relative will seem to fill up with blue blood like a bottle filling with liquid, sound effects and all. Also a maiden aunt with an austere face will coyly wink and the portrait of a gay blade will disintegrate ala Dorian Gray, etc."

Does any of this sound familiar? While my admiration for Marc Davis is boundless, Ken Anderson's descriptions of humorously changing portraits was suggested before Davis even became involved with the project.

Hairy the Arm makes another grab for the butler, who tells the group they will need to wait in the room for a bit, but the Lonesome Ghost suggests another alternative and suddenly the group hears his voice from an adjoining room beyond the walls. "Oh dear me," moans Lonesome, "I forgot you mortals can't walk through the walls… you'll have to use the bookcase… "

A bookcase creaks open allowing the guests to enter a room called the "Gallery" where they get to experience a screaming female ghost whose head separates from her body. It is the ghost of Anne Boleyn who was beheaded by her husband.

"Of course, she'll have to pull herself together in time for the wedding," remarks Lonesome who will now disappear from the group for awhile when the guests start to leave.

As the butler tries to lead the group out a large double door, the shadowy figure of Hairy the Arm is seen as it throws a knife, which sticks in the wall panel across the room, forcing the guide to take the group through a secret wall panel.

In this new room, the butler is on the bedroom level when the group arrives in the bedroom at one end on a raised platform separated by a railing from the main floor. Originally, this platform was only a foot or two above the rest of the room… but now it has three separate levels so all the guests can see equally well into the bedroom.

There are a series of ghostly gags that take place in the bedroom including "five hideous little Charles Addams type children monsters who sit up in bed and glower at the visitors as they chorus: 'EEK! PEOPLE!'… a door opens revealing an invisible bather taking a bath using a visible sponge, brush and wash cloth… and singing 'I'll Be Glad When You're Dead You Rascal You'… " (It's our old friend, Lonesome, getting prepared for the wedding.)

During these displays, Hairy the Arm pulls the butler into the wall and the room goes pitch black with only the sounds of fighting and then silence. The lights come back on with a disheveled butler appearing to usher the guests into a large oval room called the "Salon."

The room slants toward a large bay window that displays a windy moonlit scene of distant bayous. As the guests watch, clouds obscure the moon, there are flashes of thunder and lightning and ghostly skeletons seem to rise from marble tombs and float toward the guests. There is a distant sound of pounding hoofs that signal the approach of the Headless Horseman, who is eventually seen galloping through the tops of the small trees and overgrown shrubs.

A fireplace near the guests mysteriously rises and Lonesome reappears to invite the guests to follow him to the wedding. The guests enter an octagonal shaped room with rough unfinished walls and ceiling and windows on three sides with broken panes.

Suddenly the storm breaks outside in full intensity with rain drenching the windows and more arriving ghosts (some with skeleton umbrellas).

A series of brilliant lightning flashes reveal the transparency of the ceiling… as it goes transparent guests can see at the highest point in the peaked ceiling is the ghost of a figure in full dress clothes… hanging by the neck. Does that sound familiar?

Since the room seems to be filling up, the guests are ushered into another short mirrored hallway and as guests look in the mirrors they see not only their reflections but the transparent reflections of ghostly visitors heading in the same direction.

Anderson actually wanted some of those ghosts to be famous like Dracula, Frankenstein, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Phantom of the Opera, Scrooge and Marley, Little Eva and Simon Legree, Jack the Ripper, the Canterville Ghost, Captain Hook, King Tut, etc. According to his notes, apparently blacklight would be used in this effect as well.

Eventually, the guests would be in a large octagonal shaped room with mirrors on all sides. Even the doors are mirrored, so that guests can clearly see all the ghosts in the mirrors who are attending the wedding and chattering away about gossip, like the wedding gifts of a matched set of poisoned darts, guillotine bookends, etc. The Lonesome Ghost mingles through the group of ghosts.

The sound of wedding bells causes all the ghosts to disappear, leaving only the reflection of the guests who move into "The Great Hall" where the wedding is to take place. On the lower floor is a long table with a wedding cake, candles and flowers all covered in cobwebs. An invisible ghost plays an old pump organ. Well, all of this is starting to sound familiar, as well.

The groom appears, as does the bride on the opposite side who floats toward him. He tenderly reaches out and takes her head off and kisses it. She retaliates with a resounding slap. This action is repeated several times. This causes lights to flash, thunder claps, rattling shutters. The groom kisses her again and is slapped again.

Suddenly the music gets faster and faster to crazy rhythm. Footprints run all around the floor and walls below while furniture is upset and the organ is now joined by various floating jazz instruments. The storm builds to a climax. The ceiling collapses and rain pours down to the floor below.

As things intensify, the butler leads the guest into the "Trophy Room" where the skulls of ghostly animals on the wall stare back at the group as the portraits did in the "Portrait Hall." The group is rushed through a fireplace, still hearing the pounding rain and the loud chaos behind them. As they are led outside, they are surprised to see that it is not raining at all. (Remember this is many years before the Enchanted Tiki Room, which uses a similar effect at the end of the show.)

The butler attempts to discuss the Blood Family crypt and graves which the guests still have to visit, but Hairy the Arm grabs the butler and pulls him back into the house with a bloodcurdling yell. The tour is finished and apparently so is the poor tour guide.

Anderson even thought that an attraction should end in an area where guests could purchase merchandise related to their experiences. This concept later became commonplace at Disney theme parks, but here is the first time it is introduced.

In the garden crypt, "visitors will be given the opportunity to buy pieces of ghost wedding cake neatly wrapped in shroud material, and tied with a bow of ribbon… suitable for placing under the pillow for inducing dreams; Lonesome Ghost lapel buttons, which plug a visit to the Ghost House; or Lonesome ghost balloons, complete with floating China silk shrouds (and Anderson drew a quick sketch to show what this might look like).

"In the high walled and fenced garden, the visitors may take many paths all leading to the exit. There will be knee bones, foot bones, and skulls protruding occasionally from the silent paths. A statue in a secluded spot in the unkempt, overgrown garden animates mysteriously at timed intervals. In one corner of the garden is a typical graveyard with epitaphs to be inspected, while closer to the exit gate is a wishing well with an echo effect."

Anderson moved back from WED to the Studios in the late 1950s for a variety of reasons (including that, with the mounting costs on Sleeping Beauty the animation department needed to be brought back under control, which is why Anderson proposed using xerography to save costs on hand inking cels) and spent much of the next several years working on the Disney animated feature films.

In 1964, Walt Disney assigned the task of the Haunted Mansion to Marc Davis, Claude Coats and X. Atencio, while Crump and Gracey developed a "Museum of the Weird," which would have been a "spill area" near the attraction where guests could enter and exit at their leisure before going through the main attraction, or after they had experienced it.

In later years, Davis was quite vocal about how Walt didn't want a storyline for the attraction and that, when Walt died, there was a struggle over the direction. Most Disney fans agree that the first part of the attraction, with its spooky elements, reflect the contributions of Coats, Crump, Gracey, and even Anderson, while the second part of the attraction, especially the graveyard scene, is indicative of the more humorous approach of Davis, plus some funny elements suggested by Anderson.

This disjointed approach resulted in cast members and guests creating their own cohesive storyline for the attraction utilizing bits and pieces of the various different storylines from the original proposals.

Looking over Anderson's concepts from the late 1950s, it becomes instantly apparent that he should receive greater recognition for his contribution to the attraction.

Just the short summary of one of his proposals reveals many elements, from the transparent ceiling revealing a hanged gentleman, to portraits which transformed humorously before your eyes, to looking in a glass reflection to see both a guest and a ghost, which are some of the most memorable experiences in one of Disney's most popular attractions.

All of these ideas were in place before other talented Imagineers were even assigned to the project nearly five years later. Of course, it is not unusual (or unethical) for Disney Imagineers and animators to be inspired or build on the work of earlier artists.

However, especially during this 45th anniversary, some credit should be given to Ken Anderson who lay the groundwork for a Disney treasure.

Sometimes people say, "Jim, it's great you knew these people and have access to so many interesting historical documents and that you share all that information but what about the rest of us? Where can we find information?"

In the case of the Haunted Mansion, there are two excellent books and an outstanding website that can provide you with much more information than I ever could.

While writing this article, I was saddened to discover that one of the best books about the Haunted Mansion is out of print and selling for premium prices, although used copies can sometimes be found inexpensively of the original edition:

The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies – updated by Imagineer Jason Surrell. The original edition came out in 2003, with the updated edition released in 2009 to take advantage of the 40th anniversary celebration. Surrell is an Imagineer and show writer who has written several Disney-related books over the years, but this was his first.

It covers all the Disney Haunted Mansions worldwide and goes into great detail on individual aspects of the Mansion, as well as its history. The advantage to being an approved Disney book is every page is filled with rare artwork and color photos. There is even information on The Nightmare Before Christmas overlay. Surrell packs a lot of information onto every page and this is the definitive book on the subject. He has a clear, crisp writing style that makes reading a joy.

The disadvantage to being an approved Disney book is that Surrell had to leave more than three times the amount of material that appears in the book on the cutting-room floor. The book is also completely "Disney positive" with any "speed bumps" glossed over if they are referenced at all. I personally don't feel that omission is a "deal breaker." In addition, the book was released to promote the upcoming Eddie Murphy feature film based on the attraction, so one-third of the text is devoted to that somewhat disappointing movie.

The book does not cover merchandise, which would probably cover an entire book by itself. I recommend this book be in your personal Disney library.

For a decade and a half, people wanting to know about Disney's Haunted Mansion have visited www.doombuggies.com. Doombuggies launched October 31, 1997 under the direction of "Chef Mayhem" (Jeff Baham) and has grown into a friendly and informative location.

In 2006, Baham self-published a book titled DoomBuggies.Com presents The Secrets of Disney's Haunted Mansion. It was 64 pages long, however many of those pages were devoted to full-sized photos or artwork, six pages to souvenir merchandise, and two pages to more than 100 tiny photos of DoomBuggies' fans.

So, while the text is good, there is less in the book than you might first suspect.

Released the same week as the 45th anniversary in August was The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion by Jeff Baham. This book was published by Theme Park Press (www.themeparkpress.com) that publishes my books, but I had no connection with this book at all and never saw it until a week after it was published.

This 140-page book has little in common with the previous book by Baham, except an enthusiasm for the Haunted Mansion and amazing details. The book focuses primarily on Disneyland's Haunted Mansion from its history to some of its secrets. There are photos, but they are all in black and white.

Many things I never knew I never knew are in the book. For instance, Baham shares that Imagineer Yale Gracey's original model for the Pepper's Ghost effect still exists and still works and is housed at the famed Magic Castle in Los Angeles. In addition, he shares a black and white photo of its interior. That's just one of many surprises to enjoy in this book that do not exist in the Surrell book.

So, even if you have the Surrell book, if you are a true Haunted Mansion fan, you need to add this book to your collection before it goes out of print and shoots up in price. I recommend it highly and the writing is lively, clear and packed with facts.

One book you do not need to add to your library unless you are a fanatic is The Art of the Haunted Mansion that I reviewed in 2009.