Calling all Grim Grinning Ghosts! It is time to talk about my hands down, all-time favorite attraction in the Disney parks. As you make your way through Liberty Square, there is a charming gothic mansion that just calls to you and begs you to enter its darkened halls. You don’t know why but you feel the home has a story to tell, and boy does it. So climb aboard my DoomBuggy and let me tell you why this attraction tops them all.
Growing up, I had an interest in the creepy and the macabre. This part of me always seemed like a stark contrast to the the glittery, show tune-loving Disney junkie that the world sees. When I was younger, I felt that those two sides were in opposition of each other, but the first time I laid eyes on the Haunted Mansion, this spooky plantation home had my heart. It was the Disneyland Fun Sing Along VHS; the organ began churning those creaky opening notes as the trees in the yard came to life. Maleficent and her villainous counterparts cast their evil intentions through the screen and I was hooked. I had to know everything about it. This also began my life-long love of Disney history and finding the full story of each attraction; the details make me love them even more. When I had my first Disney World vacation, I was more than eager to run my family across the park and see Florida’s gothic revival manor looming at the riverside. The Haunted Mansion was officially cemented in my heart.
As you approach the queue, you can hear the faint sounds of the happy haunts enticing you to join them in the nightly jamboree; the organ plays you in while funeral bells tell you all that you need to know: something grave has happened here. You wind your way through the manor grounds and, of course, the cemetery encountering the Dread family and their murderous tendencies, the crypt containing Uncle Blaine, Mr. Frees, Our Good Friend Ken, and Brother Roland, also known as Blaine Gibson, Paul Frees, Ken Anderson, and Roland “Rolly” Crump; some of the creators of the Haunted Mansion. Other notable residents of the cemetery include Leota, Harriett, and of course, Master Gracey. Don’t linger too long, your ghost host is waiting. Inside you enter the foyer, affectionately referred to as the stretching room. The walls are flanked with portraits of “guests as they appeared in their corruptible mortal states” which begin to stretch, leaving you no apparent way out. As the room stretches, the true nature of each portrait is revealed, and let’s just say its not going to end well for any of them. The ghost host confirms your worst fears that you are trapped in the room but there is always his way out as the lights shut off and the image of a hanged man swings above you. Creepy, right? No fear; your ghost host was only joshing and you are ushered into the hall to board your DoomBuggy.
The buggy slowly takes you from room to room, down hallways and dimly lit corridors. You are introduced to floating candelabras, bulging doors, and then to my personal favorite of the 999 happy haunts, the one and only Madame Leota. Leota is sending out her sympathetic vibrations and the ghosts are responding. Instruments fly through the air and what was once frightening transitions to a ghoulish party. Spirits glide through the ballroom, duel in midair, and dazzle you with such a lively get together. You are transported to the attic, past the money hungry black widow bride, and are promptly moved through the attic window and into one “swinging wake.” Name a ghost, it’s in that graveyard and you are the guest of honor. Hitchhiking ghosts attach themselves to your buggy with the promise to haunt you till you return. As you prepare to exit, a tiny Leota makes one more appearance to remind you to hurry back and not to forget your death certificate. You emerge into the light, sufficiently creeped out and humming “Grim Grinning Ghosts” for at least an hour.
Next door to the manor at the edge of Fantasyland, you’ll find Memento Mori, the gift shop for the Haunted Mansion and rumored former home of my favorite disembodied heady crystal ball. Here is where my love of this ride does not combine with my love of merch. The story, the detail, the origins of the ride, it all draws me in and holds me at rapt attention but when we get to the merchandise, I just don’t feel it’s up to the standard for this amazing ride. I can’t put my finger on it, though I wish I could, but the wallpaper of purple and black on everything feels lazy and the constant use of the Ezra, Phineas, and Gus, aka the hitchhiking ghosts, just doesn’t call to me. The prints from artists like McBiff and the newest Haunted Mansion puzzle were must-buys but the rest, sadly, I can do without. A real bummer when I want to scream my love of this attraction at anyone who will listen.
I am not alone in my admiration for this attraction; there are hundreds of articles detailing the rich and vibrant history of the creation of the Haunted Mansion. Dozens of podcasts also do the same. In a world where everyone wants a little bit of oblivion and escapism, and true crime content is topping all the lists, a ride like this one hits just right. You get to turn back the clock to when ghost stories were real and the Disney Villains were your biggest fear. Fear, fun, and a little fantasy are always a good time. So if the sun is setting and you hear the knell of a requiem bell, don’t resist the urge to head back toward Gracey Manor for one last ghostly party. Tell the Madame I said hi.