It’s been nearly 50 years since the dark, spooky heart of the happiest place on Earth first opened its doors and to celebrate, Midsummer Scream brought together figures past and present who had a hand in crafting this indelible landmark that played such an integral role in making many of us horror hounds into the twisted individuals we are today.
Beginning with an acapella barbershop quartet rendition of Grim Grinning Ghosts, we were then introduced to our panelists, including Bob Gurr, creator of the Doom Buggy system; Tony Baxter, who was responsible for bringing the Haunted Mansion abroad in the form of the Phantom Manor; Don Hahn, producer of the Haunted Mansion movie; Tom Morris, former Imagineer and Disney historian; Tania Norris, interior designer for the Haunted Mansion and New Orleans Square; and Doug Barnes, host of the Season Pass Podcast.
Gurr began by going over the history of the Doom Buggy, the technical and artistic advantage of having the ride vehicles tethered and the history of how the Omnimover from Journey Through Inner Space was transformed into the carriage that would transport guests into this smoldering sanctum of the spirit world. Baxter chimed in to talk about the difficulties of translating the mansion’s spirit of playful horror into the Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris, which he described as difficult because the French apparently understand American horror and American comedy but struggle with combining the two.
Don Hahn largely talked about the influence the Haunted Mansion had on him as a kid and showed a good sense of humor about the mixed reception his film adaptation received. Tom Morris came in at that point to lay out the long and winding history of the mansion, which was in the planning stages as early as 1957 and was originally planned as a traditional haunted house with multiple exits before being reimagined as a dark ride. Perhaps the most interesting stories came from Tania Norris, who seemed relatively new to the convention scene compared to Gurr. Gurr’s a firecracker that had the audience wrapped around his finger from the very beginning, but once Norris started telling her stories about traveling with Walt Disney and his wife to source antiques for the Haunted Mansion and New Orleans Square, the entire grand ballroom was on the edge of their seats.
Much of the information in the talk is stuff that enthusiasts of the mansion likely already knew but hearing it straight from the minds that brought it to life was a rare opportunity that might not exist for too much longer, so it’s good to see these things being brought out into the light so they can be preserved for future generations.