History of Disneyland Halloweenby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
I often write about Walt Disney World because I worked at the vacation destination in a variety of capacities for fifteen years and part of my role was to research information to share with cast members and corporate clients.
However, I grew up in Southern California and went to Disneyland as a kid, a teenager and an adult. Just like some of you who like me never worked there, I discovered many things especially reading, talking to people who did work there, and attending Disney fan events.
Of course, I was there at Christmas but I also visited during Halloween. While the Halloween party is cancelled this year, I thought I would like to bring up some memories of a Halloween at Disneyland by exploring a little of its history at the park.
While the coronavirus outbreak made Disneyland into a literal ghost town, once it is up and running again to full capacity, it might still be possible to encounter a ghost or two in those areas and not just the Audio-Animatronics kind in the Haunted Mansion.
Places like hotels, where many people have come and gone over the decades, and where emotions were often at their peak, are often cited as good locations for a ghost sighting. Disneyland has a similar profile and regrettably, there have actually been people who have died while at the parks. In addition, some people have scattered the ashes of loved ones in the park, although Disney does its best to actively prevent it.
A ghost is sometimes just a spirit who didn't want to pass over to the other side for whatever reason including not even realizing that they are dead. More than a few people might like spending their afterlife in a Disney theme park for all eternity.
Undeniably, some sightings described as being paranormal are nothing more than a misidentification or an optical illusion that is a trick of the light. After all, the Haunted Mansion ballroom scene is based on the same premise of being in a lighted room at night and looking out a window and seeing images on the outside lawn that are merely a reflection from the lighted room.
Articles have been written, and unofficial tours given, of the haunts of supposedly ghostly entities at Disneyland. None have ever been verified despite the stories of cast members and guests who reportedly encountered these spirits more than once. While I have had a few brief experiences that I could only classify as paranormal, I never had one at Disneyland.
In the 1980s, a woman named Dolly Young who was riding the famous Disneyland Matterhorn roller coaster was thrown from her bobsled and killed by an oncoming bobsled. Cast Members who work on the ride claim her ghost still lingers in a section where she died that they call Dolly's Dip, and can hear strange sounds at night.
Bogden Delaurot, who died in the Rivers of America, still seems to splash in the waters; while Thomas Cleveland, who died on the Monorail track, has been seen running along the beam. A young cast member named Debbie Stone, who was crushed to death in the America Sings attraction, reportedly roams the area and, while the attraction was still in operation, sometimes gently warned fellow cast members who got too close to the rotating walls.
Mr. One Way on Disneyland's Space Mountain will appear in an empty seat on a ride vehicle, but disappears before the final tunnel at the end of the ride. At Disneyland, the ghost of a young boy cries near the exit of the Haunted Mansion looking for his mother.
Roy O. Disney has been seen at Disneyland including in Walt's apartment over the fire station. Of course, Walt himself has been seen at different locations in Disneyland and always seems to be enjoying himself. Club 33 seems a particular favorite hangout for him. Sometimes he is accompanied by a puff of smoke and foul stench from the French cigarettes he smoked later in life.
History of Mickey's Halloween Party/Oogie Boogie Bash
While Disneyland began celebrating Christmas with decorations, entertainment and a parade even the very first year it was open, it took awhile for Halloween to be embraced at Disneyland.
For the first decade or more of the park opening, the big holidays were Christmas and Easter, especially since they tied in with a time when children would be out of school and might visit the park with their parents.
That being said the first Halloween event, especially designed for children, took place October 31, 1959, where children dressed in Halloween costumes and carved pumpkins. It was judged at Holidayland followed by the children parading with their pumpkins down Main Street in what was called "Parade of the Pumpkins." That was the last Disneyland Halloween event for over two decades.
In 1995 (the same year WDW introduced Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party) at Disneyland, Mickey's Halloween Treat debuted and returned in 1996. It was held at Disney California Adventure Park for four seasons beginning in 2005. (It was known as Mickey's Halloween Party from 2005-2007, and Mickey's Trick-or-Treat Party in 2008 and 2009.)
Disneyland still has the Main Street Pumpkin Festival that includes the giant Mickey Mouse Pumpkin and lots of unique Disney-themed hand carved pumpkins in Town Square that started in 2006.
Space Mountain is refitted as Ghost Galaxy. In this version of the ride, guests travel to the far reaches of space where ghostly occurrences have been detected. The outside of the attraction sets the tone with loud, scary shrieks emanating from the mountain and creepy lighting effects.
During Halloween Time at Disneyland, a specific "Happiest Haunts Tour" for an extra price is held that focuses around the specific Halloween attractions and story of certain Halloween elements in the park.
Starting in 2019, the Halloween celebration became the Oogie Boogie Bash where the villain from A Nightmare Before Christmas animated feature has taken over the park and his oversized silhouette welcomes guests into the park.
There is a 10-foot tall, imposing Headless Horseman statue that has smoke coming out of the rearing horse's nostrils.
The World of Color has a show overlay titled Villanious! telling the story of a little girl named Shelley Marie, created by Disney animator Eric Goldberg, as a tribute to Frankenstein author Mary Shelley. Shelley Marie has to decide whether to be a princess or a villain for her Halloween costume, and goes on a journey that teaches her that there's a little villain in all of us.
Hollywood Land hosts the DescenDance Party and the Mickey's Trick and Treat show.
The Frightfully Fun Parade starts over by Paradise Gardens Park and winds its way through DCA. Following the Headless Horseman, the parade is lead by Minnie and Mickey Mouse in Halloween outfits, and features a number of villains including the Evil Queen, Dr. Facilier, Cruella de Vil, Hades and Ursula, among others as well as Jack Skellington and Sally, the Hitchhiking Ghosts from the Haunted Mansion and the Cheshire Cat.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Monsters After Dark attraction overlay centers on the guest serving as bait to distract the monsters that have been released from their cages from eating Baby Groot.
Radiator Screams has costumed Cars characters, and ride overlays emphasizing the colors blue, black and purple instead of the warmer colors at Disneyland because this is meant to be something for a slightly older audience. The concept is that this is an area "built by cars for cars" so the cars have come out to decorate for Halloween so there aren't the traditional skeletons and bats. However there is Mater's Graveyard JamBOOree, Luigi's Honkin' Haul-O-Ween, Fillmore's Jack-Oil-Lanterns, Flo's Spider-Car and Witchy Miss Lizzie's shop who is using a special coolant to try to bring cars back to life. Even Sarge has gas cans that look like pumpkins. The spider car is built from parts of one of the Mr. Toad's Wild Ride vehicles. In Cars Land, Mater is attired as a vampire with Lightning McQueen dressed as a superhero with a flying cape. Others include Cruz Ramirez (pirate), Red the Fire Truck (clown) and DJ (punk rocker). Again for reasons related to pandemic restrictions, this event was cancelled for 2020.
Ray Bradbury Halloween Tree: Disneyland Frontierland
One of the exciting things about writing this column is when readers offer corrections or additions so we can document the most accurate and complete story. I have talked about the Ray Bradbury Halloween Tree before and that sparked a wonderful response from Disney authority Tim O'Day who was very complimentary.
He also gave me additional information about the story in 2019:
"Ray and I actually came up with the idea of placing a Halloween Tree at Disneyland in late spring/early summer 2007 over lunch at Storyteller's Cafe at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel. We were joined by Duncan Wardle from Disney Parks Public Relations.
"I was unaware of Ray's book and when he mentioned that he had a 'new' book coming out (an anniversary re-print) the proverbial light bulb went off in my head. The original idea for the Halloween Tree was to fabricate a large, 60-foot tall, gnarly oak tree in Town Square where the Christmas tree traditionally resides. The Oak tree would have been hung with hundreds of swinging, illuminated, jack-o-lanterns. It would have been quite the impressive sight!
"To be sure, Ray was VERY enthused about the idea and couldn't wait to see the concept become a reality. Duncan and I valiantly tried to move the idea forward but plans were already in place for the giant "Mickey" pumpkin to be placed in Town Square. Not letting a good idea die, I told Tony Baxter about the book release and the tree idea and he and Kim Irvine made it a reality."
The Halloween Tree is a 1972 fantasy novel by Bradbury, which traces the history of Samhain and Halloween. A group of eight boys (dressed in iconic costumes like a skeleton, grim reaper, mummy, Jack-O-Lantern, etc.) set out to go trick-or-treating on Halloween, only to discover that Pip, a ninth friend is on the verge of death.
Led by the mysterious Mr. Moundshroud, they must pursue their friend's spirit across time and space to rescue him. Along the way, they learn the origins of the spooky holiday. The Halloween Tree itself, with its many branches laden with jack-o'-lanterns, serves as a metaphor for the historical connection of these many different traditions.
In October 1966, Ray Bradbury and his daughters sat down together to watch the Halloween special It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and none of them liked it. They were all disappointed that The Great Pumpkin didn't show up and felt it wasn't a proper Halloween film at all.
Bradbury complained about it over lunch to his friend the animator and director Chuck Jones who agreed with him. He soon brought Jones an oil painting of a Halloween Tree Bradbury had made a few years before, a dark, haunting tree decorated with jack-o-lanterns swaying from its autumn branches.
Jones arranged for MGM to hire Bradbury to write a half-hour animated special for Jones to produce and direct. However, soon afterwards MGM closed its animation department and the script was never done but Bradbury adapted it into a written story that became the book and later a 1993 Hanna-Barbera animated feature for television.
On October 31, 2007, 87-year-old, wheelchair bound author Ray Bradbury attended the dedication of a Halloween Tree at Frontierland.
An oak tree near the Golden Horseshoe Saloon was designated to be the representation of Bradbury's Halloween Tree during the Halloween season and is decorated with nearly 1,500 glowing red and orange lights and roughly 50 different hand-painted jack-o-lanterns.
"I belong here in Disneyland, ever since I came here 50 years ago. I'm glad I'm going to be a permanent part of the spirit of Halloween and Disneyland," said Bradbury at the dedication as he pulled the stem of a lighted jack-o-lantern to light up the tree. He would visit the tree several times before he passed away in 2012
Brad Kaye, Creative Entertainment art director at Disneyland Resort, who helped decorate that very first Halloween Tree stated, "As a fan of [Bradbury's] books, it was really an honor. For the first year, [Walt Disney Imagineers] Tony Baxter, Kim Irvine, and I sat in front of the Golden Horseshoe late one night and 'magic-markered' all the pumpkins. In the years following, park enhancement has done a wonderful job of keeping it up in all its Halloween glory."
"As the tree gets older and bigger, it will get more and more décor every year," said Baxter.
During Halloween, the Disney Cruise Line ships often put up a Pumpkin Tree in the lobby of its ships as an homage to Bradbury's Halloween Tree. Holiday Services has less than two hours to install it in the atrium of the ship. It starts with an interior metal infrastructure that resembles something from an erector set, then branches are added, a trunk-like covering and fifty pumpkins.
The Legend of the DCL Pumpkin Trees
Before the time of now, there was Halloween. Not the Halloween of today, filled with merriment and pranks, but a darker celebration. The night was filled with mystery. The moon seemed to shine a little bit brighter, and in every shadow lurked something unimaginable.
This was the time of the Pumpkin King who was the caretaker of the stories and the memories of Halloween. But as the years grew on, the Pumpkin King grew weary.
He needed someone to help him keep the history of his favorite, most beloved holiday. So he reached in his head and retrieved four pumpkin seeds, each one representing a different characteristic of his wicked personality.
He planted them around and watched as the seeds grew into beautifully morbid trees.
The trees bloom only once a year. Deep within its dark, gnarled branches hold the remnant spirits of Halloween memories gone past. According to the legend, once everyone has learned the who, the what, the why, the real and true spirit of Halloween, the Pumpkin King will bring the trees to life.
The trees, which appear in September and October, and each have distinctive facial features are located in the atriums of each ship and are named as follows:
- Grim – Disney Dream
- Mucklebones – Disney Fantasy
- Bog – Disney Wonder
- Reap – Disney Magic
Haunted Mansion Holiday
One of the things I always get asked is what Walt Disney might have thought of some change at Disneyland even though he had proclaimed that it was not a museum but would be constantly changing.
We do know that he wanted a haunted house at Disneyland and that he loved Christmas so in all likelihood he probably would have liked The Nightmare Before Christmas overlay to the Haunted Mansion.
When Walt Disney conceived of building an amusement venue, the concept of a haunted house was always part of the dream. It would have been an attraction where it was always Halloween 24 hours a day, seven days a week where spirits would gather in the perpetual darkness.
Certainly, "haunted" dark rides were popular in trolley parks and later amusement parks. The iconic Haunted Pretzel (because the ride track twisted back and forth like the shape of a pretzel) was built in 1927 for Bushkill Park in Pennsylvania. It featured scary heads popping up from the floor, a hallway of doors hiding who-knows-what, a body trying to get out of a coffin and more very similar experiences to what was in the original Haunted Mansion.
For an early Disneyland concept drawing, Walt had Imagineer Harper Goff do a sketch of a dilapidated old house on the top of a small hill overlooking a church and a graveyard on a side street near the end of Main Street U.S.A. just before the Hub. Guests would have pressed their faces against the large windows to see the ghostly activity inside.
When The Haunted Mansion Holiday debuted, the Disney press release proclaimed: "Pumpkin King Jack Skellington has been busy decorating the Haunted Mansion with frightfully festive touches inspired by Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Experience some of your favorite sights, special seasonal surprises – and scare-aracters from the movie. Sally, Oogie Boogie and other Nightmare nasties will be on hand to wish you 'Season's Screamings!'"
With the ongoing popularity of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Disney looked at possible ways to integrate Burton's vision into the Disney theme park experience. In 1996, Imagineer Chris Merritt submitted a proposal for a traditional Disney dark ride that was inspired by Nightmare.
Visitors would enter through the tree/portal to Halloween Town, and board a coffin sleigh for a trip that would take them through the land of Halloween, into the Professor's laboratory and through Oogie Boogie's lair, resulting in a whirlwind trip through a familiar snow-covered graveyard where Jack finally gets his girl before the sleighs return to the world of the living.
While that concept never got off the drawing board, another one about combining the Haunted Mansion attraction with an overlay of elements from the Nightmare film took almost three years to get approval.
The original concept had been to theme the iconic Haunted Mansion to Dickens' Christmas Carol and its Christmas ghosts but the idea of using Nightmare supplanted it because it could be used for both Halloween and Christmas because it represents a time when "the two holidays collide".
On October 3, 2001, Haunted Mansion Holiday opened and quickly became popular with many guests. The storyline is that this experience takes place after the events in the film. Jack Skellington discovers the home of the Happy Haunts and to spread some holiday joy, he shares some of his original "dark" Christmas presents and decorations.
The gingerbread house on the table in the Grand Ballroom is real and different every year. It takes roughly 150 pounds of gingerbread and a dozen bakers (working at the Central Bakery across the street from the park) to make it.
In 2001, Garner Holt Productions produced over two dozen Audio-Animatronics, including Jack Skellington, for the overlay that has been running for nearly twenty years. GHP was the first outside vendor to provide audio-animatronics for Disney.
"Guests don't realize that 90 percent of what you see of that overlay is actually stored inside the ride during the rest of the year," said GHP creative director Bill Butler. "If the lights were on and you could see around corners, it would be obvious. It's a huge space with lots of places to hide."
Happy Halloween to you all and you might want to consider picking up a copy of my latest book as a special Halloween treat: Vault of Walt Volume 9: Halloween Edition where I talk about all things Disney and Halloween.