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13 Facts About Disney’s Haunted Mansion

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Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion opened on August 9, 1969, and quickly became one of the park’s most beloved attractions. Every Magic Kingdom built since then, from Florida to Tokyo and beyond, has included some version of the Haunted Mansion. To celebrate all these years of grim, grinning ghosts, here are 13 facts about the spookiest ride ever devised by Walt Disney and his team of “Imagineers.”

1. In the Beginning

Disney first approached Imagineer Ken Anderson about the idea for a haunted attraction in 1957. Originally planned as a walk-through attraction, it would have involved maids or butlers guiding guests through the mansion and telling them about the tragic tale of a sea captain and his bride. Also planned was a “Museum of the Weird,” which would have showcased strange creatures and odd, interactive illusions.

2. An Empty House

Construction of the Haunted Mansion’s façade began in 1962 and was finished in 1963. The building sat empty after Disney and his Imagineers focused on the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. It remained that way following Disney’s death in 1966 as Imagineers, now left to their own devices, struggled to decide what to do with the attraction.

3. From Baltimore to New Orleans

Although the Haunted Mansion is located in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square and appears to be a typical antebellum manse, it was inspired by a home almost 999 miles to the north—Baltimore. The Shipley-Lydecker House was built in Baltimore in 1803.

4. Movie Influences

Many Haunted Mansion experts think that three films were major inspirations for the Imagineers as they completed the attraction—La Belle et La Bete, Jean Cocteau’s 1946 version of Beauty and the Beast; The Haunting, Robert Wise’s 1963 adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House; and the 1927 version of The Cat and the Canary. Design elements from all three movies can be seen in the ride itself.

5. Expensive Ghosts

According to an official Disneyland press release from 1969, the Haunted Mansion cost $7 million to develop and build. That translates to roughly $45 million today.

6. 999 Happy Haunts

From the very beginning, Disneyland press materials touted that 999 ghosts resided in the mansion. While the number of actual ghostly figures in the attraction has never been officially tallied, it is generally acknowledged that there’s always room for one more.

7. Different Lands

The Haunted Mansion is the only Disney attraction to be featured in different lands at each of the five Magic Kingdoms. In Disneyland, it’s in New Orleans Square. At Walt Disney World, it’s located in Liberty Square. It resides in Fantasyland at Tokyo Disneyland and in Frontierland at Disneyland Paris, where it’s known as Phantom Manor. At Hong Kong Disneyland, a completely different attraction known as Mystic Manor is located in Mystic Point.

8. Up or Down?

The world-famous stretching rooms, in which guests are introduced to the attraction’s “Ghost Host,” descend at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion and at Phantom Manor in Disneyland Paris. At Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland, the ceiling rises while guests remain on the same level.

9. Familiar Voices

The voice of the Ghost Host was provided by actor Paul Frees, who was also the voice of Boris Badenov on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and the Disney character Professor Ludwig von Drake. The voice of the main singing bust in the graveyard scene belongs to Thurl Ravenscroft, who voiced Tony the Tiger. Madame Leota, the disembodied head inside the crystal ball, is the voice of Eleanor Audley, who also provided the voices of Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella.

10. Dancing Ghosts

The dancing ghosts in the ballroom are created using a theatrical effect that’s been around since the early 1800s. Called the Pepper’s Ghost illusion, it’s a relatively simple trick in which illuminated objects are reflected onto a pane of glass, making them appear translucent. It’s named after John Henry Pepper, who popularized the effect.

11. Nemo’s Organ

 

At Disneyland, the pipe organ played by a spectral musician in the ballroom scene is the same organ used by James Mason as Captain Nemo in Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The prop was modified for use in the Haunted Mansion. The organs used in other versions of the ride are replicas of the original.

12. Hitching a Ride

The names of the three hitchhiking ghosts guests encounter at the end of the ride are Gus, Ezra, and Phineas. Gus is the short one with the ball and chain, Ezra is the tall, skeletal one with the bowler hat, and Phineas is the one carrying the carpet bag.

13. Pet Cemetery

Both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World versions of the ride have a small pet cemetery located outside the mansion. In Walt Disney World, one can see a tombstone for J. Thaddeus Toad, the hero of the park’s long-gone attraction Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

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Courtesy of Crumbs & Whiskers
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Animals
Inside Crumbs & Whiskers, the Bicoastal Cat Cafe That's Saving Kitties' Lives
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Courtesy of Crumbs & Whiskers

It took a backpacking trip to Thailand and a bit of serendipity for Kanchan Singh to realize her life goal of saving cats while serving lattes. “I met these two guys on the road [in 2014], and we became friends,” Singh tells Mental Floss about Crumbs & Whiskers, the bicoastal cat cafe she founded in Washington, D.C. in 2015 which, in addition to selling coffee and snacks, fosters adoptable felines from shelters. “They soon noticed that I was feeding every stray dog and cat in sight," and quickly picked up on the fact that their traveling companion was crazy about all things furry and fluffy.

On Singh’s final day in Thailand, which happened to be her birthday, her friends surprised her with a celebratory trip to a cat cafe in the city of Chiang Mai. “I remember walking in there being like, ‘This is the coolest, most amazing, weirdest thing I’ve ever done,'” Singh recalls. “I just connected with it so much on a spiritual level.”

Singh informed her friends that she planned to return to the U.S., quit her corporate consulting job, and open up her own cat cafe in the nation’s capital. They thought she was joking. But three years and two storefronts later, the joke is on everyone except for Singh—and the kitties she and her team have helped to rescue.

A customer pets cats while drinking coffee at the flagship Washington, D.C. location of cat cafe Crumbs & Whiskers.
A customer pets cats while drinking coffee at the flagship Washington, D.C. location of cat cafe Crumbs & Whiskers.
Courtesy of Crumbs & Whiskers

Washington, D.C. customers stroke a furry feline while enjoying coffee at cat cafe Crumbs & Whiskers.
Washington, D.C. customers stroke a furry feline while enjoying coffee at Crumbs & Whiskers.
Courtesy of Crumbs & Whiskers

Crumbs & Whiskers—which, in addition to its flagship D.C. location, also has a Los Angeles outpost—keeps a running count of the cats they've saved from risk of euthanasia and those who have been adopted. At press time, those numbers were 776 and 388, respectively, between the brand’s two locations.

Prices and services vary between establishments, but customers can typically expect to shell out anywhere from $6.50 to $35 to enjoy coffee time with cats (food and drinks are prepared off-site for health and safety reasons), activities like cat yoga sessions, or, in D.C., an entire day of coworking with—you guessed it—cats. Patrons can also participate in the occasional promotion or campaign, ranging from Black Friday fundraisers for shelter kitties to writing an ex-flame's name inside a litter box around Valentine's Day (where the cats will then do their business).

Cat cafes have existed in Asia for nearly 20 years, with the world’s first known one, Cat Flower Garden, opening in Taipei, Taiwan in 1998. The trend gained traction in Japan during the mid 2000s, and quickly spread across Asia. But when Singh visited Chiang Mai, the cat cafe craze—while alive and thriving in Thailand—had not yet hit the U.S. "Why does Thailand get this, but not the U.S.?" Singh remembers thinking.

Once she arrived back home in D.C., Singh set her sights on founding the nation’s first official cat cafe, launching a successful Kickstarter campaign that helped her secure a two-story space in the city’s Georgetown neighborhood. Ultimately, though, she was beat to the punch by the Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, California, which opened to the public in 2014, followed shortly after by establishments like New York City’s Meow Parlour.

LA customers at cat cafe Crumbs & Whiskers
LA customers at cat cafe Crumbs & Whiskers
Courtesy of Crumbs & Whiskers

Still, Crumbs & Whiskers—which officially launched in D.C. in the summer of 2015—was among the nation’s first wave of businesses (and the District's first) to offer customers the chance to enjoy feline companionship with a side of java, along with the opportunity to maybe even save a tiny life. Ultimately, the altruistic concept proved to be so successful that Singh, sensing a market for a similar storefront in Los Angeles, opened up a second location there in the fall of 2016. "I always felt like what L.A. is, culturally, just fits with the type of person that would go to a cat café," she says.

Someday, Singh hopes to bring Crumbs & Whiskers to Chicago and New York, and “for cat cafes as a concept, as an industry, to grow,” she says. “I think that it would be great for this to be the future of adoptions and animal rescues.” Until then, you can learn more about Crumbs & Whiskers (and the animals they rescue) by stopping by if you're in D.C. and LA, or by visiting their website.

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The Hospital in the Rock
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History
Budapest’s Former Top-Secret Hospital Inside a Cave
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The Hospital in the Rock

At the top of a hill in Budapest, overlooking the Danube River, sits Buda Castle, a gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage site visited by thousands of tourists every year. Directly underneath the castle, however, lies a less-frequented tourist attraction: a series of ancient, naturally formed caves with a colorful and sometimes disturbing history.

The entire cave system is over six miles long, and most of that has been left unchanged since it was used as cold storage (and a rumored dungeon) in the Middle Ages. Between 1939 and 2008, however, a half-mile stretch of those caves was built up and repurposed many times over. Known as Sziklakorhaz or The Hospital in the Rock, its many uses are a testament to the area’s involvement in World War II and the Cold War.

At the start of World War II, the location served as a single-room air raid center, but operating theaters, corridors, and wards were quickly added to create a much-needed hospital. By early 1944, the hospital had officially opened inside the cave, tending to wounded Hungarian and Nazi soldiers. After less than a year of operation, the facility found itself facing its largest challenge—the Siege of Budapest, which lasted seven weeks and was eventually won by Allied forces on their way to Berlin.

As one of the few area hospitals still operational, the Hospital in the Rock was well over capacity during the siege. Originally built to treat around 70 patients, close to 700 ended up crammed into the claustrophobic caves. The wounded lay three to a bed—if they were lucky enough to get a bed at all. Unsurprisingly, heat from all those bodies raised the ambient temperature to around 95°F, and smoking cigarettes was the number one way to pass the time. Add that to the putrid mix of death, decay, and infection and you’ve got an incredibly unpleasant wartime cocktail.

A recreation inside the museum. Image credit: The Hospital in the Rock 

After the siege, the Soviets took control of the caves (and Budapest itself) and gutted the hospital of most of its supplies. Between 1945 and 1948, the hospital produced a vaccination for typhus. As the icy grasp of the Cold War began to tighten, new wards were built, new equipment was installed, and the hospital was designated top-secret by the Soviets, referred to only by its official codename LOSK 0101/1.

Eleven years after facing the horrors of the Siege of Budapest, in 1956, the hospital hosted the casualties of another battle: The Hungarian Uprising. Thousands of Hungarians revolted against the Soviet policies of the Hungarian People’s Republic in a fierce, prolonged battle. Civilians and soldiers alike lay side-by-side in wards as surgeons attempted to save them. During the uprising, seven babies were also born in the hospital.

Surgeons lived on-site and rarely surfaced from the caves. The hospital’s chief surgeon at the time, Dr. András Máthé, famously had a strict "no amputation" rule, which seemed to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but in the end reportedly saved many patients' lives. (Máthé also reportedly wore a bullet that he’d removed from a patient’s head on a chain around his neck.)

The Hospital in the Rock ceased normal operations in December 1956, after the Soviets squashed the uprising, as the Soviets had new plans for the caves. With the Cold War now in full swing, the still-secret site was converted into a bunker that could serve as a hospital in case of nuclear attack. Diesel engines and an air conditioning system were added in the early '60s, so that even during a blackout, the hospital could still function for a couple of days.

The Hospital in the Rock

The official plan for the bunker was as follows: In the event of a nuclear attack, a selection of doctors and nurses would retreat to the bunker, where they would remain for 72 hours. Afterward, they were to go out and search for survivors. Special quarantined rooms, showering facilities, and even a barbershop were on site for survivors brought back to the site. (The only haircut available to them, however, was a shaved head; radioactive material is notoriously difficult to remove from hair.)

Thankfully, none of these nuclear procedures were ever put into practice. But the hospital was never formally decommissioned, and it wasn’t relieved of its top-secret status until the mid-2000s. For a while, it was still being used as a storage facility by Hungary’s Civil Defense Force. The bunker was maintained by a nearby family, who were sworn to secrecy. In 2004, it was decided that responsibility for the site fell solely on St. John’s Hospital in Budapest, who were seen as the de facto owners in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

By 2008 the bunker was renovated, refurbished, and ready to be opened to the public. Today it operates as a museum, with exhibits detailing life in the hospital from various periods of its history, as well as the history of combat medicine as a whole. The sobering hour-long walk around the hospital concludes with a cautionary gaze into the atrocities of nuclear attacks, with the final walk to the exit featuring a gallery of art created by survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

Another part of the caves beneath Buda Castle. Image credit:Sahil Jatana via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The caves beneath Buda Castle have certainly had a bumpy history, and walking through them now is chilling (and not just because they keep the temperature at around 60°F). A tour through the narrow, oppressive hallways is a glimpse at our narrowly avoided nuclear future—definitely a sobering way to spend an afternoon.

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