Welcome back foolish mortals. Our Haunted Mansion journey now takes us to the dead end of what we know today as Liberty Square. When planning the East Coast Resort, known in its early days as Project X, Walt Disney once imagined a place called Liberty Street where colonial life among the ominously numbered 13 colonies would be re-created. Naturally when Imagineers looked at the layout for Walt Disney World in Florida, having done away with the concept of the southern style architecture of New Orleans Square, the natural fit for the wildly popular Haunted Mansion attraction became Liberty Square.
Imagineers looked to New York’s lower Hudson River Valley for inspiration to shape the exterior of the Victorian-era design, visiting the Harry Packer Mansion in Pennsylvania and modeling the Haunted Mansion in Florida after Dutch-Gothic architecture. Having learned a few things from the original Haunted Mansion in California, Imagineers wanted to make the exterior of this attraction a little more foreboding and giving the appearance that the building was ready to attack. Many people in California saw the Haunted Mansion exterior as a beautiful Antebellum mansion and thought the ride was appropriate for all ages, which it clearly was not. Taking that note, Imagineers made sure to create the building and queue in a fashion that alluded to the thrills awaiting inside.
- Ghost Host Fun Fact: When the California attraction was being built, Imagineers made two of everything. The Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World was ready to go a full 6 months before the park was slated to open.
The Haunted Mansion in Florida has undergone some similar interior changes mirroring those of the original California attraction. However, Florida’s haunted mansion has expanded the guest experience outside the mansion walls, immersing those who dare step foot on the grounds with a rewarding otherworldly plot. When the fast pass option began at the parks, Imagineers began planning what is called “Scene One” for those poor unfortunate souls unable to score coveted fast passes. In scene one, guests are able to interact in an expanded queue area, where Imagineers created an entirely new storytelling experience in a cemetery centered around the Mansion’s 999 happy haunts. The addition placed new tombstones with witty epitaphs throughout the queue line, one in particular near the entrance of the ride has Leota’s face and eyes that open and shut watching as you enter the mansion. Also added were the busts of a Sinister family appropriately surnamed Dread providing a riddle to be solved of who killed whom for the family fortune. Guests waiting wind around an ornate crypt of a composer in the shape of an organ featuring symbols of instruments played in the graveyard scene awaiting inside. When guests touch these symbols they play a rendition of Grim Grinning Ghosts as the instrument would sound. If guests touch more than one symbol at the same time, the instruments harmonize. It’s truly a hauntingly beautiful sound. In the dead center of the cemetery is the tombstone of Master Gracey. If you’re lucky you will see a fresh red rose clipped from the garden laid upon the tombstone, paying tribute to the Master of the House.
- Ghost Host Fun Fact: Jason Surrell who worked on the Haunted Mansion expansion wrote that Master Gracey was not intended to be the Ghost Host. This rumor started as an urban legend, that took on a life of its own, and has now become an accepted part of the Haunted Mansion History.
While still in queue guests see a large crypt of a Captain, this is a direct nod to one of the early ideas for the Mansion’s unused storylines. If you listen closely you can often hear the Captain sneeze or sing songs of the sea drunkenly; even bubbles appear from the top of the crypt as he drowns meeting a watery end. If you aren’t careful, his playful ghost will spray you with water as you get closer to the entrance. Finally, guests walk by the crypt of a writer named Prudence, who suffers from writers block from beyond. She urges for your help, in yet another interactive crypt. You can speak to her as she completes her poems, and push the books back into place on her crypt, which was modeled after the library in the Mansion. If that wasn’t enough, the spines of the books feature a cryptogram to be deciphered.
The Haunted Mansion attraction itself is a wonderful and spooky experience overall. As you sit in the doombuggy you are taken through various haunted rooms in the mansion, descending into the graveyard and deep into a crypt while the ghost host narrates your journey, but beware of hitchhiking ghosts. Once you ride, you’ll see what I mean.
Unlike Disneyland, Disney World’s Haunted Mansion doesn’t receive a visit from Jack Skellington and friends. The Mansion in Florida remains open year round and unchanged regardless of the season. However, if you are fortunate enough to visit during a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP), you will get to meet some fabulous members of the Gracey family. Both Lady Carlotta and Madame Renata visit the Mansion and sit upon a tufted Victorian lounger in all of their ghostly glory. As you wait to visit the Mansion during MNSSHP they make jokes, tell stories, often sing, and if you’re extra lucky they will interact with you leaving their lounger to haunt you up close and personal. I was fortunate enough to meet Madame Renata during my 2015 Halloween Night visit a couple hours after getting engaged in front of the mansion.
This year at MNSSHP, because the mansion is undergoing some cosmetic exterior upkeep, the ghosts have come out to socialize in front of the gates. For those who want to keep the thrills going year round your guest experience doesn’t have to end when you exit to the living world. You can continue to haunt the square by visiting Memento Mori, right outside of the Mansion. Memento Mori is a guest shop, which Imagineers made to appear like the humble abode of Madame Leota herself. Where spell books and potion bottles still line the shelves and guests can take with them a chilling memento of their visit to the mansion in the form of a transforming photograph, or anything Mansion made.
The frightening fun doesn’t stop yet. Next week our journey will take us to Toyko where you’ll think you’re seeing double, or experiencing deja-vu. So make sure to come back, missing the next mansion adventure in the series will haunt you forever.
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