The Quick 10: Disney's Haunted Mansion

Those of you who read my blog already know that I am a rather obsessive Haunted Mansion/Disney fan. In fact, as you read this, there's a chance that I'm at the Haunted Mansion right now"¦ I'm actually on vacation all this week and prepared the Q10s ahead of time. The Disney part is in my genetics "“ my mom is a pretty rabid fan and I grew up with pretty much all of the Mickey I could handle. I'm sure she questions where she went wrong with why I prefer 999 Happy Haunts to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Anyway, I have lots of Haunted Mansion factoids buried in my brain, so I figured it's time to dig some of it up just in time for Halloween.

magic cart

1. Museum of the Weird. The original plans called for the Mansion to be a walk-through attraction and would include a section called The Museum of the Weird. Guests would wander through the spooky house and enjoy oddities such as this one: a magic cart that would roll to life all on its own at random intervals. The Museum was the pet project of Imagineer and Disney Legend Rolly Crump, but sadly, most of his ideas never made it to fruition because they wouldn't work if the ride wasn't a walk-through. He did reveal that the famous Haunted Mansion hidden faces wallpaper was based on one of his designs for the Museum, however. Photo:

hatbox2. Hatbox Ghost. In California, there was an exceptionally creepy ghost in the attic for a very brief time period. He was an older gent holding a hatbox, and his head would periodically disappear from his neck and appear in the box he was holding instead. They had problems getting it to work consistently, though, and elected to remove him from the attic altogether. Photo:


3. Tombstones with a Purpose. While you're waiting in line for the big show at the Magic Kingdom, you can entertain yourself by reading the epitaphs on the tombstones. They're funny all on their own, but when you know that each one is tied to an Imagineer, they are even more interesting. X Atencio, who wrote the lyrics for "Grim Grinning Ghosts" (and had a hand in lots of other Disney awesomeness), also wrote the inscriptions, including his own.

There are quite a few stones, so I'll just give you a smattering of them. "Dear departed Brother Dave" is Dave Burkhart, who built the model of the Mansion; "Brother Claude" is Claude Coats, designer of the track layout; "Grandpa Marc" is Marc Davis, one of the main concept designers; "Dear sweet Leota" is Leota Toombs (seriously, Toombs), a Disney artist who was also the model for the head in the crystal ball.

4. Pepper's Ghost is an illusion used in magic tricks and theater. Basically, it's using plate glass and specific lighting to make objects appear to disappear and reappear, or morph into something else (it's more complicated than that, but you get the idea). The Haunted Mansion contains the world's largest case of the Pepper's Ghost technique "“ it's the entire ballroom scene. The reflections in the glass is what causes the appearance of ghosts in the room. If you're someone who likes to spot the inconsistencies in movies and the typos in my posts, you'll enjoy this: the Imagineers screwed up when designing the scene. They forgot to flip the ghosts to account for the reflection, so if you look at the dancing ghouls, you'll see that the ladies are actually leading the men instead of the other way around.

organ5. Recycling Organs. Not those type of organs "“ pipe organs. If you visit Disneyland in Anaheim, take a close look at the organ in the ballroom scene. It's the original prop from the 1954 Disney film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It used to belong to Captain Nemo, but now it's entertaining ghosts who are permanently partying. It fit in so perfectly that an exact replica was made for the Mansion at Disneyworld and Tokyo Disneyland. This photo is from DoomBuggies as well - click the link to learn more about the organ and how it was altered to fit in with its new home.

6. Is the Haunted Mansion really Haunted? Maybe. Personally, I think the atmosphere probably just lends itself to freaking out cast members who are there late at night closing by themselves. Then again, I've never worked there and experienced these things, so it's not really for me to say. One such ghost story is "The Man with the Cane". He makes his home at the Orlando manse and several cast members have reported seeing him. It always happens late at night to the person working at the part of the ride where people are loaded. One second, the Doom Buggies are flowing through, empty, and the next second, there's a thin, old man with a cane sitting in a buggy, staring straight ahead. The cast member attempts to say hello or make some sort of conversation, but the man doesn't acknowledge him or her "“ he just continues his journey through the room and on into the Mansion. Understandably freaked out, the cast member calls his or her supervisor and they wait for the man to come out at the end of the ride "“ but he never comes. Some say it was the ghost of Yale Gracey, one of the main Imagineers who worked on the project (Master Gracey, the man of the house, is named after him). You can find more stories about Haunted Mansion haunts at The Shadowlands (a great place if you have a few hours to waste).

7. A Real Final Resting Place. People dump ashes in the Haunted Mansion all of the time, Which lends some real credence to those haunting stories. You can read about one such instance here. Ash dumping happens so often that Disneyland had to purchase a special HEPA vacuum that can pick up ashes, but also little tiny bone fragments that are often left behind after a cremation. If you ever hear a Haunted Mansion cast member calling for a "HEPA clean-up," maybe you want to check out another attraction for a while and come back when the crew has tidied up a little.

8. Grim Grinning Ghosts. It's an undeniably catchy song with some really vivid imagery invoked in the lyrics. There might be a reason for that "“ the phrase "Grim Grinning Ghosts" first showed up in Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis. A sampling:

"Hard favour'd tyrant, ugly, meager, lean,
hateful divorce of love," - thus chudes she Death -
"Grim-grinning ghost, Earth's worm, What dost thou
to stifle beauty and to steal his breath,"

But X Atencio swears he didn't rip the phrase off from Shakespeare. I was at a Haunted Mansion event in Disneyland in February (told you I was a Haunted Mansion geek) and X was in attendance, along with Harriet Burns, Blaine Gibson and Bob Gurr. Someone asked him where the phrase came from, and he grinned and replied, "It came from X Atencio!" But that's a pretty distinctive phrase"¦ my guess is that he probably read it somewhere a long time ago and absorbed it into his brain without even realizing.

9. The Knight in Shining Armor. If you've been on the ride, you probably remember the knight standing all by his lonesome in the hallway. And if you're paranoid, like me, you probably thought, "That would make a great place for a person to hide"¦" and then nervously wonder if it was going to come chasing after you. Well, you wouldn't be too far off the mark. It's not done anymore, but when the Mansion was newer, the Knight really did house a cast member who would run after Doom Buggies. It really freaked people out, and the knight constantly had to stop the ride when he was punched or spit on. One cast member who played the knight for a summer recalls that one of his co-workers had his nose broken. He also tells the story of having to tell a girl to put her top back on because she was in the middle of a steamy make out session with her boyfriend.

staff10. The Servant's Quarters. Showing Disney's amazing attention to detail, even a part of the house that is rarely seen is themed to the hilt. There's a little corridor that connects the outside exit hallway to the Parlor inside "“ I believe it's also the handicapped entrance. But what could have easily been a hallway with some funeral parlor-eqsue wallpaper is actually the Servant's Quarters, marked with a small sign shaped like a bat. There are bells that go to each person's chambers, each labeled with a room that pays tribute to an Imagineer. Some are repeats, so I'll just explain the ones I didn't talk about in the tombstone section. Ambassador Xavier's Lounging Lodge, Madame Leota's Boudoir, Grandfather McKim's Resting Room (Sam McKim, sketch artist), Uncle Davis' Sleeping Salon, Master Gracey's Bedchamber, Colonel Coats' Breakfast Berth and Professor Wathel's Reposing Lounge (Wathel Rogers, who designed and programmed lots of the audio-animatronics in the Mansion).

And, if you're a Disney fan and a BoingBoing fan, here's a treat: Haunted Mansion fan, BoingBoing founder and sci-fi author Cory Doctorow recounts his first Haunted Mansion experience for Oh, you know who else is a Haunted Mansion fan? NPH (Neil Patrick Harris). He was at the event I was at in February, which makes me like him even more than I already did.

Live Smarter
Nervous About Asking for a Job Referral? LinkedIn Can Now Do It for You

For most people, asking for a job referral can be daunting. What if the person being approached shoots you down? What if you ask the "wrong" way? LinkedIn, which has been aggressively establishing itself as a catch-all hub for employment opportunities, has a solution, as Mashable reports.

The company recently launched "Ask for a Referral," an option that will appear to those browsing job listings. When you click on a job listed by a business that also employs one of your LinkedIn first-degree connections, you'll have the opportunity to solicit a referral from that individual.

The default message that LinkedIn creates is somewhat generic, but it hits the main topics—namely, prompting you to explain how you and your connection know one another and why you'd be a good fit for the position. If you're the one being asked for a referral, the site will direct you to the job posting and offer three prompts for a response, ranging from "Sure…" to "Sorry…".

LinkedIn says the referral option may not be available for all posts or all users, as the feature is still being rolled out. If you do see the option, it will likely pay to take advantage of it: LinkedIn reports that recruiters who receive both a referral and a job application from a prospective hire are four times more likely to contact that individual.

[h/t Mashable]

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Essential Science
What Is a Scientific Theory?
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

In casual conversation, people often use the word theory to mean "hunch" or "guess": If you see the same man riding the northbound bus every morning, you might theorize that he has a job in the north end of the city; if you forget to put the bread in the breadbox and discover chunks have been taken out of it the next morning, you might theorize that you have mice in your kitchen.

In science, a theory is a stronger assertion. Typically, it's a claim about the relationship between various facts; a way of providing a concise explanation for what's been observed. The American Museum of Natural History puts it this way: "A theory is a well-substantiated explanation of an aspect of the natural world that can incorporate laws, hypotheses and facts."

For example, Newton's theory of gravity—also known as his law of universal gravitation—says that every object, anywhere in the universe, responds to the force of gravity in the same way. Observational data from the Moon's motion around the Earth, the motion of Jupiter's moons around Jupiter, and the downward fall of a dropped hammer are all consistent with Newton's theory. So Newton's theory provides a concise way of summarizing what we know about the motion of these objects—indeed, of any object responding to the force of gravity.

A scientific theory "organizes experience," James Robert Brown, a philosopher of science at the University of Toronto, tells Mental Floss. "It puts it into some kind of systematic form."


A theory's ability to account for already known facts lays a solid foundation for its acceptance. Let's take a closer look at Newton's theory of gravity as an example.

In the late 17th century, the planets were known to move in elliptical orbits around the Sun, but no one had a clear idea of why the orbits had to be shaped like ellipses. Similarly, the movement of falling objects had been well understood since the work of Galileo a half-century earlier; the Italian scientist had worked out a mathematical formula that describes how the speed of a falling object increases over time. Newton's great breakthrough was to tie all of this together. According to legend, his moment of insight came as he gazed upon a falling apple in his native Lincolnshire.

In Newton's theory, every object is attracted to every other object with a force that’s proportional to the masses of the objects, but inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. This is known as an “inverse square” law. For example, if the distance between the Sun and the Earth were doubled, the gravitational attraction between the Earth and the Sun would be cut to one-quarter of its current strength. Newton, using his theories and a bit of calculus, was able to show that the gravitational force between the Sun and the planets as they move through space meant that orbits had to be elliptical.

Newton's theory is powerful because it explains so much: the falling apple, the motion of the Moon around the Earth, and the motion of all of the planets—and even comets—around the Sun. All of it now made sense.


A theory gains even more support if it predicts new, observable phenomena. The English astronomer Edmond Halley used Newton's theory of gravity to calculate the orbit of the comet that now bears his name. Taking into account the gravitational pull of the Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn, in 1705, he predicted that the comet, which had last been seen in 1682, would return in 1758. Sure enough, it did, reappearing in December of that year. (Unfortunately, Halley didn't live to see it; he died in 1742.) The predicted return of Halley's Comet, Brown says, was "a spectacular triumph" of Newton's theory.

In the early 20th century, Newton's theory of gravity would itself be superseded—as physicists put it—by Einstein's, known as general relativity. (Where Newton envisioned gravity as a force acting between objects, Einstein described gravity as the result of a curving or warping of space itself.) General relativity was able to explain certain phenomena that Newton's theory couldn't account for, such as an anomaly in the orbit of Mercury, which slowly rotates—the technical term for this is "precession"—so that while each loop the planet takes around the Sun is an ellipse, over the years Mercury traces out a spiral path similar to one you may have made as a kid on a Spirograph.

Significantly, Einstein’s theory also made predictions that differed from Newton's. One was the idea that gravity can bend starlight, which was spectacularly confirmed during a solar eclipse in 1919 (and made Einstein an overnight celebrity). Nearly 100 years later, in 2016, the discovery of gravitational waves confirmed yet another prediction. In the century between, at least eight predictions of Einstein's theory have been confirmed.


And yet physicists believe that Einstein's theory will one day give way to a new, more complete theory. It already seems to conflict with quantum mechanics, the theory that provides our best description of the subatomic world. The way the two theories describe the world is very different. General relativity describes the universe as containing particles with definite positions and speeds, moving about in response to gravitational fields that permeate all of space. Quantum mechanics, in contrast, yields only the probability that each particle will be found in some particular location at some particular time.

What would a "unified theory of physics"—one that combines quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory of gravity—look like? Presumably it would combine the explanatory power of both theories, allowing scientists to make sense of both the very large and the very small in the universe.


Let's shift from physics to biology for a moment. It is precisely because of its vast explanatory power that biologists hold Darwin's theory of evolution—which allows scientists to make sense of data from genetics, physiology, biochemistry, paleontology, biogeography, and many other fields—in such high esteem. As the biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky put it in an influential essay in 1973, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

Interestingly, the word evolution can be used to refer to both a theory and a fact—something Darwin himself realized. "Darwin, when he was talking about evolution, distinguished between the fact of evolution and the theory of evolution," Brown says. "The fact of evolution was that species had, in fact, evolved [i.e. changed over time]—and he had all sorts of evidence for this. The theory of evolution is an attempt to explain this evolutionary process." The explanation that Darwin eventually came up with was the idea of natural selection—roughly, the idea that an organism's offspring will vary, and that those offspring with more favorable traits will be more likely to survive, thus passing those traits on to the next generation.


Many theories are rock-solid: Scientists have just as much confidence in the theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, evolution, plate tectonics, and thermodynamics as they do in the statement that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

Other theories, closer to the cutting-edge of current research, are more tentative, like string theory (the idea that everything in the universe is made up of tiny, vibrating strings or loops of pure energy) or the various multiverse theories (the idea that our entire universe is just one of many). String theory and multiverse theories remain controversial because of the lack of direct experimental evidence for them, and some critics claim that multiverse theories aren't even testable in principle. They argue that there's no conceivable experiment that one could perform that would reveal the existence of these other universes.

Sometimes more than one theory is put forward to explain observations of natural phenomena; these theories might be said to "compete," with scientists judging which one provides the best explanation for the observations.

"That's how it should ideally work," Brown says. "You put forward your theory, I put forward my theory; we accumulate a lot of evidence. Eventually, one of our theories might prove to obviously be better than the other, over some period of time. At that point, the losing theory sort of falls away. And the winning theory will probably fight battles in the future."


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