Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Raising - or Lowering? - the Dead

It's that eternal bit of Disneyland/Walt Disney World trivia that we can no longer escape. Everyone knows it by now. Even Steve Birnbaum put it in his earliest Official Guides, and it's given the unimaginative Walt Disney World tour guide slightly interesting material for lo these forty-two years: did you know that the stretching rooms in the Haunted Mansion go up at Walt Disney World and go down at Disneyland?

Yes. We know. Everybody knows. I'm sure children have this fact implanted in their brains at birth by now.

Where this factoid gains some life is when we inquire as to why the Stretch Room at the Haunted Mansion goes up instead of down at all, and most will readily respond: "oh, it's because of Florida's high water table!"

But I don't buy it.

Why? Well I'd first like to point out that Orlando, at the very center of the Florida peninsula, is in fact not at sea level. In fact, although Florida is indeed much nearer the water than many other parts of the country, Orlando sits a comfortable 90 feet above sea level.

Yeah, that isn't much, is it. Still don't share my skepticism? Well, let me then point out that the Magic Kingdom isn't built at ground level. There's those famous Utilidors underneath it, remember? The Utilidors are built at ground level, and walking around Magic Kingdom is very much like walking on the roof of a building. So that adds another fifteen feet, and even if the Haunted Mansion's lowest foundation is about level with the Utilidor, its facade and entrance is nowhere near ground level.

Not only that, but Magic Kingdom is actually built on multiple levels above ground level. As you walk up Main Street, there is actually an almost subliminal uphill slope before arriving at the Hub area. This makes Main Street seem longer from one end and shorter from the other, but the slope is so subtle I needed a level to show it:

Similarly, Liberty Square is entirely situated on a north-south incline, with the Haunted Mansion at the highest point and the Diamond Horseshoe at the lowest point. That's why you can get such an impressive picture of the Mansion from Frontierland:

Fantasyland is located on a plateau high above the rest of the park to get that welcoming forward sweep of the walkway to the castle that John Hench wanted. As the highest point in the park, this view allows us to directly contrast it with the lowest point in the park, which is the moat and Jungle Cruise. The height of this stonework wall is the vertical distance the park covers on pedestrian paths.

It's a Small World, Haunted Mansion's nearest neighbor, is actually buried a good ten feet underground, and below the water level is yet more concrete and earth nowhere near the original ground level. The gauge for the pedestrian level here is the bottom of the windows to the right:

To put it simply: the further south any one ride is at Magic Kingdom, the lower its elevation. The further north it is, the higher its elevation. In 1968, WED Enterprises placed three attractions on the very northern edge of the park: The Haunted Mansion, It's a Small World, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and I do not believe that those choices were accidental.

So, you ask, so what? So that old "water table" thing is just a myth, so what?

Well, then why do the stretch rooms go up instead of down? Doesn't that still warrant an explanation? Think of it this way: the Haunted Mansion was, in 1971, still a relatively new attraction for Disney. They had just come off a ten year development cycle on it, and it had opened to a wild success at Disneyland. For Florida the plan was to make it bigger and better, but why would they bother to re-engineer the first major show scene? Wouldn't it make sense to simply replicate the original design, lift and all, especially since it was so successful and popular?

And don't get me wrong: it's an entirely different design. The Disneyland elevator room is a complex design like a telescope, where the rider car (the floor) pulls the walls down in three distinct stages. At Magic Kingdom, the whole thing is basically run on ropes and pulleys. Although it looks impressive on stage, the operation is actually fairly quaint. It's more like pottery making apparatus than a special effect.

Disneyland Showtime: a model door for the WDW Mansion
And all of this was being done post-haste. The entirety of WED was deep into planning and building the Magic Kingdom by 1968, and the Haunted Mansion was "cloned" nearly immediately. Consider this: when you're watching Disneyland Showtime, the famous Disneyland episode where Kurt Russell takes us behind the scenes of the ride, what we see being constructed is the Walt Disney World Haunted Mansion at WED in December of 1969 - the special aired in February 1970. In most photographs of the Magic Kingdom under construction, Haunted Mansion is the furthest along, and in fact reached the finish line first. She was ready to go.

Wouldn't the abbreviated schedule be an additional incentive to replicate the elevator? Was that ever the original plan?

Let me introduce you to the Haunted Mansion that was almost built.

The Importance of Style

Have you ever noticed that Disney likes to localize the Haunted Mansion in upstate New York, specifically in the Hudson River Valley and typifying whatever "Dutch Gothic" is? This is probably because this open, wooded region has deep Americana associations with Sleepy Hollow and the headless horseman, but the house itself really doesn't seem to visually reflect anything specifically New England or upstate New York. It's more Old World than Old Cider Barrel. I think the Hudson River Dutch Gothic name-drop began very early in the pre-planning for WDW and was simply never really weeded out.

Let's unpack this for a moment. For one thing, a Dutch colonial mansion would've necessitated an estate built in the early seventeenth century, a full two-hundred years ahead of the Gothic revival house we got. And since practically nothing of the original New Amsterdam settlement remains, I think we can disqualify anything specifically "Dutch" about Disney's intentions - it's just an evocative phrase, meant to summon up an old house in the oldest part of the country, the Hudson, which flows out to sea at the port now known as New York.

Because so little of the Dutch colonial effort of the 1600's remains today, you're not going to get very far if you go looking for specific Mansion connections. However, you can see real-world Dutch influences that have survived the years. Here's an early photo of the Fairbanks House in Massachussetts, which is from 1637 and is basically the oldest house in America. The Dutch influence can be seen on the right-hand wing:

Of course, Dutch Colonials are still built today. The most famous haunted house in America is one; I'm sure you'll recognize it:

Trying to chase down the Dutch connection is a fool's errand. We're simply in the wrong style and wrong period. And while I'll bite into Gothic Revival more fully a bit later, it's worth keeping that question mark about Disney's old phrase lurking in midair just long enough to suggest that, in our minds, I think we're meant to think of the Mansion as built, with its widow's walks, tower, and proximity to the Columbia Harbor House to be more of a grand seaside horror mansion in the Cat and the Canary tradition. Imagine it atop a rocky buff with the crashing waves of a midnight storm lashing the coast below.

"Upstate New York, eh? Come inside for Buffalo Wings!"
Of course, Hudson River Valley could still work. Disney amusingly built a near-perfect replica of Sunnyside, the estate of Washington Irving, at the front of Liberty Square and called it Sleepy Hollow Refreshments, so somebody was doing their Hudson River Valley research in WED.

Roughly contemporary with the style, date, and location of the Haunted Mansion is this real-world derelict New York Mansion, Wyndcliffe, built in 1853:

Urban Ghosts
I think it's fair to say that the Haunted Mansion as we have it isn't traceable to any one specific visual source - in the way that the Hall of Presidents is modeled on Indepedence Hall, for example - and is more of a fantasy creation.

Whereas this really is a Hudson River Valley mansion:

As far as I know this piece was not widely known as being a painting of the Haunted Mansion until 2003, when it was published in The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies by Jason Surrell. In that book Surrell seems to brush it off as an unrealized concept, but this concept actually came very very close to reality. And notice: there are guests gathering outside on the porch and being let in through a door in the facade, exactly like at Disneyland. This requires a house on a hill and an elevator.

Disney had foundations for the Mansion laid in 1969 - among the earliest work done on the Florida property, since it could be done at the same time as the start of the Utilidor entrance. In most construction photos of the Magic Kingdom, which is to say most photos published where there's something to look at, you can see the Haunted Mansion show building sitting there all set - except for the facade. In Florida they did the opposite of what was done in California - they built the ride first and the house last.

Early 1969 - Haunted Mansion (nearest foundation) goes vertical with the Utilidor
Mansion (upper left) getting nearly complete while the rest of the park is hollow boxes
Facade finally goes up as the park rises.

Assuming that the interior show was ready to go out of WED in Glendale in the first few months of 1970, the interior "show finish" - animated props, set surfaces, ride track and all of that - would've been ready by mid 1970, a date which is supported by Tony Baxter's recollection that the Haunted Mansion was basically ready a full year ahead of schedule. Given this time frame, isn't it suspicious that they waited so long to build the facade?

Here's a late 60s colored elevation of the original Mansion facade, probably by Claude Coats, courtesy of Widen Your World. Although the theme park faithful will automatically know this, please keep in mind that this is a colored-in blueprint, not a piece of concept art:

Please expand that and note that there is a separate notation for the elevation of the unload area at the bottom right. As built, the WDW Mansion enters, loads, unloads and exits on the same elevation.

Okay, let's figure out what we are looking at here. We have a facade with two wings. On either side of the facade are porches that are probably waiting areas. Past the waiting areas we have shade structures that terminate in boxy square entryways, much like the one seen in the piece of concept art above. The curved shade structures and entryways would've housed ticket collection boxes and turnstiles, very much like the one that actually was built in 1971:

I'm somewhat hazy on how a double-sided operation would've worked here, because there's only one entry door - it's the green door on the left side. Still, the 1971 turnstile shelter and curved holding area are well designed, even if they're no longer used as intended: the holding area accommodates exactly 90 people, which is the idea load size for both the Foyer and Stretch Room. All the ticket takers had to do in 1971 was to fill the holding area, stop the line, allow the group to clear the holding pen, then fill it again.

There's a few other nice details about this 1968 facade. Notice the two cupolas on the roof - one for each Stretch Room. We can see the entrance columns for the "Haunted Mansion" plaques down in front and, one assumes, gate and fence, as well as a sloping front lawn leading up to the doors. In short, this would've been very much like the Disneyland Haunted Mansion's entry and queue, which was at the time these plans were drawn up being reworked to add additional queueing capacity. The overall visual tone, however, is very close to what was built - Dutch cornerstones, red brick, lots of stone, slate roof. There's just a few too many trellises on the roof for comfort, and those sharp spires on the entry ways look violent. Even more tellingly, every window is shuttered... this place is creepy. It's only slightly creepier than the Disneyland facade - about 10% on the sliding creepy scale - but enough to look seriously intimidating.

In case the concept art and the elevation weren't enough, here's a good view of it on a Magic Kingdom site schematic from March 1969, while the Show Building was already into vertical construction:

And two courtesy Widen Your World, from late 1969 and early 1970:

And then that's it. In early 1970, the trail simply stops. The earliest blueprint depicting the facade as it was built that I can find dates from March 1970. Some of the other Magic Kingdom blueprints continue to use this outdated layout into mid or late 1970. But that's it. By early 1970, Claude Coats had colored a new elevation for the Florida Haunted Mansion:

Examining the Layout

Okay, let's get detailed here. Looking at the 1968 elevation, we can identify the various pieces of operational infrastructure:

And, as we know, this is the layout for the Haunted Mansion facade area as built:

What's interesting is that when you get right down to it, the layout has not been altered at all. Try lining up both elevations to compare; how different is this, in reality?

I think what happened is that once Claude Coats knew he would have to re-design the facade to sit at the same level as the load area, he simply transposed the layout down. The second ticket and holding area would now be useless as well as in the way of the exit door, which would now sit at the same level as the entrance door, so he got rid of it.

The Florida Haunted Mansion facade is really a pretty ingenious case of form following function; in this case; the form was already determined by an aborted elevator configuration. The Florida facade is actually very tiny; only large enough to accommodate the stretch rooms. The Foyer area is disguised as a stone pedestal that the house sits on, and it's buried in dirt on two sides, further disguising its function. This construction photo, paired with the layout above, pretty clearly shows how the Mansion itself is really just a tiny wrap that conceals the empty space that the dual stretch rooms are hauled up into:

In fact, the biggest change is that the entrance door now faces west instead of south - it's in the exact same spot.

What's interesting is that the placement of this door in a darkened antechamber next to the main foyer area shows just how little the layout was altered. Disneyland has always allowed a little bit of daylight into their foyer, although as far as I can tell the shade structure enclosing the porch around the door has always been there to mitigate it somewhat. This is not a problem because there are no special effects in Disneyland's foyer.

Florida seems to have always had the Aging Man effect intended for a fireplace between the two Stretch Rooms, and daylight would very much compromise the effect if the foyer were arranged similarly to Disneyland's. This goes double for a facade built up on a man made hill in the harsh Florida sun, facing south, where rays could easily enter in the afternoon. Walt Disney World's door ended up being buried between hills, facing west behind a stand of trees, making that short hallway somewhat unnecessary, but it remains to this day - a small echo of what was once intended.

Awaiting guests on a rainy day - Martin/Warren video
Towards the Gothic

All of the preceding establishes that time was very much compressed in all of this. And although we thankfully do have a fairly complete idea of what Coats' creative process was in arriving at the final design for the Mansion, I feel that a key piece of evidence has been somewhat under-represented in Mansionalia circles, so it's time to take a good, long look at Decorative Art of Victoria's Era, by Frances Lichten, published in 1950 by Bonanza Books.

This book is not exactly a secret amongst Mansion fans - I've known about it for years. It was once part of the Imagineering research library. According to a post at JustinSpace.com, back in the 1980s David Mumford was the first researcher to notice the key role this book plays in the Haunted Mansion's development. You see, on page 105, we come across this exciting photo:

We now know the house to be the Shipley-Lydecker Mansion, now demolished, in Baltimore. Never reported are the additional wrought-iron details on the facing page, 104, which seem to have guided WED's choice of wrought iron back in 1963:

However I was slow in obtaining a copy of the book myself for many years. Figuring that the best of it would already be known, I was finally motivated to get my own copy - partially out of motivation to improve on the low quality scans of the book - in preparation for this article, only to find, as usual, that having the book in front of you changes things quite a bit.

Now, to be clear, there aren't many "smoking guns" to be found in this book, and nothing on the scale of that Shipley-Lydecker house photo, a completely unambiguous "gotcha!" moment. Still, after spending time with the book, I am firmly convinced it was a major reference guide for the design of the ride. Lichten gives clear explanations of the reasons why the Victorians lived the way they did, and follows up with copious illustrations, giving instructions on everything from furniture to chandeliers, wallpaper, and window hangings. There is an entire chapter on graveyards. Another section of the book carefully details the Victorian cross-stitch "motto", and Lichten's precise instructions on the floral border and type of frame are carefully followed for the famous "Tomb Sweet Tomb" sampler - since I don't know of any art for this particular detail, I'm inclined to believe it was inspired by Lichten's book.

And oh yes, on page 59, there is this:

This illustration appears as part of a chapter detailing the Victorian fascination with the medieval as derived from the poems and writing of Sir Walter Scott, especially Ivanhoe. Finding a parallel in the (then) modern fascination with Antebellum style and decor sparked by the success of the film Gone With the Wind (1939), Lichten traces the Victorian development of what we now call Gothic Revival and what it meant in its own day.

Now, call me picky if you like, but prior to obtaining this book, I considered the above only a pretty likely inspiration. With better detail now visible, it's easier to make a case for certain details of the Mansion... that chimney is darn close, as are the peaked roofs, gables, and even the Gothic cross on the central tower of the Mansion can be derived from this engraving.

But what a scanned image can't convey is what sold me on this being the clear, unambiguous source for the Florida Haunted Mansion, and that is the text surrounding it. As I studied the book I felt like I was there with Claude Coats back in 1970, becoming increasing convinced that this was the correct route to take.

This is the text that is directly above the illustration:
Despite the scarcity of good architects, the taste for the new fashion developed quickly in the United States, and by the 1830's there were many examples of the style. The Gothic was thought to be particularly well suited to the American countryside - a region characterized by the "wilder, romantic and more picturesque country where the hand of man has been only partially laid on the forest. This type of terrain," says A. J. Downing, the greatest American arbiter of architectural taste in the first half of the eighteenth century, "supplies the appropriate background for a style which sprang up among the rocks and fastness of Northern Europe." Mr. Downing's affection for the Gothic was responsible for innumerable example of the Old English cottage, and of residences of the Castellated style, as the domestic specimens imitative of castles were then called. Like mushrooms, the popped up on every hill in the more cultivated regions of the country, for country estates were then a fashionable indulgence, and the Gothic, the only style then considered appropriate for rural living.

In 1836, a traveler, describing his initial train ride on New Jersey's first railroad, indicates the early flowering of the taste: "Our ride to Philadelphia over the Camden and Amboy Railroad and up the beautiful Delaware was truly delightful, especially the latter. New and beautiful scenes continually opened to view - with fine country seats, built in imitation of Gothic castles, with towers and battlements standing amid a fine growth of trees of every kind..."
A few paragraphs later, Lichten may have inspired the Haunted Mansion's early landscape design, which included a stately rose garden, as well as the wrought iron terraces which cover the house and grounds:
As the nineteenth century moved into its sixth decade, the craze for the Victorian Gothic house must have reached its utmost in absurdity, for we find it dealt with by the writers of the day. James Russell Lowell accepted the challenge offered his pen by the sight of a ridiculous wooden castle, set on an unshaded, mathematically squared lawn patterned with flower-beds of equal geometric perfection.


Designers for [wrought iron] brought out patterns calculated to attract the eye of the romantically inclined. No longer need the owner of a new Gothic mansion enclose his velvety lawn with anything so commonplace as a white picket fence. Now he could purchase fanciful wrought iron traceries, as Gothic in detail, if not material,  as that of the most ornamental of ancient stone or wood carvings. As additional medieval garnish, the foundry men stood ready to supply porches and verandas patterned in formal Gothic trefoils or qua-trefoils, as well as garden pavilions - the latter affairs being frivolous counterfeits of the flamboyant traceries of a cathedral window. Over these lacy structures, the Victorian maidens coaxed vines to grow, to simulate the antique arbors of their sentimental reveries. And if the solemn English ivy, accustomed to a support of honest stone, refused to clamber over a deceitful edifice of iron, the light-minded native vines were found to be more accommodating and made quite as satisfactory if less poetically evocative green draperies.
In short, here was a great find - an architectural style not too far outside Liberty Square's era which blended old world and new (to better mix Liberty Square and Fantasyland) and which would harmonize with the high Victorian interior already designed. In short, practically everything about the exterior was inspired by pages 59-61 of Lichten's book. But if all of the above isn't enough, consider how Lichten ends her chapter on the Gothic:
"Many examples of the Victorian Gothic residence are extant, both in city and country districts: the substantial stone and stucco mansion as well as the wooden farmhouse and cottage, their eaves still supporting the remnants of the once-so-fashionable edging of wooden lace. Where the battlemented stucco castle stands deserted, once trim trees and shrubs crowd the jungle-thick, and push exploring fingers through broken windows of many-colored glass. In the dark of the moon, fog drifts about the ruined toy-like turrets. Morayama's or Arzelia's bower is given over entirely to bats and rubble, and the thrust of strong vines has pushed apart iron traceries.

In truth the decaying structure conveys to the present-day observer the same sense of horror and mystery that the medieval ruin conveyed to the popular mind. Lacking the patina which the mellowing touch of time and nature give to the ruins of the middle ages, the abandoned Victorian Gothic domicile, its shoddy fabric disintegrating before one's eyes, has today become the artistic and literary symbol of "the haunted house".
There's really only one alternate that exists between the abandonment of the 1968 Federalist facade with its elevators and the arrival at the 1970 Gothic facade. It's very close to the final product, perhaps indicating that the path here was set right away, with a buried foyer, conservatory and level exit hall:

I think this is likely a half-measure, although I do like the steps up to the facade from ground level. By early 1970 the Gothic Haunted Mansion with the raising stretch rooms was being assembled on-site in Florida and the Federalist facade would be forgotten for over three decades.

Up or Down?

The only thing that's missing from this narrative is the reason why, during construction of the ride, in early 1970, the original plan was abandoned, and the simple answer is that I don't know and I'm not sure if we will ever know.

If you're a long time reader of this blog then you'll know that I love to return to that eternal question of why the Haunted Mansion is in Liberty Square, and I've spent tens of thousands of words justifying it conceptually and artistically. But here's the likely, final reason: they wanted to put it on the north side of the park where it would be properly elevated so they didn't need to even worry about Florida's high water table. I really think that's it. Say what you will, but the Magic Kingdom was an impeccably planned project.

I still believe that what we are looking at here when we corral all of this evidence and all of these schematics is some sort of remnant of a technical gaffe. When you are building a theme park, you don't want to go doubling back to re-engineer a problem you've already solved, which is what Coats was having to do here. He had lots of other stuff on his plate which also had to be ready for October 1, and his friend Marc Davis probably wasn't even involved in the 1971 iteration of the ride. Simply put their initial plan was the obvious one: repeat the elevator, exactly as it is at Disneyland. What stopped them?

I have exactly one lead on this. In David Koenig's More Mouse Tales, printed in 1999, Koenig cites information he culled from an interview with Cast Member "Haught" on page 111:
"The [Haunted Mansion] finally opened six years later, then briefly closed. To lower guests so they can walk underneath the railroad tracks to the main show building, the Haunted Mansion uses a pair of elevators. But, about six months after the ride opened, the elevators stopped going down. Somehow, water had seeped into the elevator pits and caused the lift mechanism to fail. By putting green dye in the water, repair workers were able to trace its source to the Rivers of America. Maintenance pumped the entire river, then resealed the elevator pits."
 Six months after August 1969 puts us exactly in February 1970, which is slightly before the facade of the Florida ride was redesigned to ditch the elevators. If this is a coincidence, it's one that strains credulity. Sadly, I have no information to back up this story, nothing in Disneyland Line, nothing in Los Angeles area newspapers, and most of the memorandum of that era was long ago destroyed and so is not on file at Disney.

Originally, the Rivers of America at Disneyland were lined with mud. Today, they are lined with concrete, and I don't know when the concrete came in - whether in 1970 or some later date. The Magic Kingdom's River has always been concrete, and I'm going to assume that it was the intent from the start, as Florida's sandy soil would likely sucked up any clay lining Disney would've put down.

Did the water leak spook the designers of the spooky house? Having to close your attraction after only a few months to reseal elevator pits after weeks of misfiring effects and years of development may have just been the thing to do it.

And if that's true, then there's an irony lurking behind all of this: for all my complaining and railing against the water table pat explanation, it may be true -- not Florida's water table, but Magic Kingdom's.


Unknown said...

Personally, I have always thought the elevators vs. rising ceiling came down to a matter of necessity. At Disneyland, the elevators were necessary to take guests down a level to get them underneath the railroad tracks and over to the main Haunted Mansion show building. In Florida, there just was no need to take guests to a lower level, because the main building could be built at the same level as the entrance. However, everyone probably thought that the stretching room was a part of the Haunted Mansion experience that could not be removed without cutting out part of the heart of the attraction. So to keep it in, they went with the easier/cheaper effect of just raising the ceiling. Not necessarily to cut costs, but just because spending the extra money on big elevators wasn't required by the virtue of being able to start from scratch with a fresh, unconstrained site.

HBG2 said...

Bless you for providing a BIG scan of Lichten. Some very nice stuff in that book.

As for the question asked by this post, methinks you're putting your brain to too much trouble: first, WDW has no railroad track to get past, and second, the raising ceiling is much cheaper, simpler to build, and easier to maintain. Seems to me that's pretty much all the answer anyone should need.

K. Martinez said...

Interesting article. I always thought the elevator scene went up in the Magic Kingdom because there was no need to pass under a railroad track like at Disneyland. Never thought about it being a water table issue in the Magic Kingdom. Nice to get a different perspective on the subject. I never new about the book "Decorative Art of Victoria's Era". I'll have to check out it. Thanks!

The_Mad_Hatter said...

Spectacular. Your posts are always such a treat. That was one of the most in depth articles I've read. Every new piece is worth the wait, whatever it may be.

psa928 said...

As a cast member who worked at the Disneyland mansion in the early '90s, I can confirm that the river was a problem for the elevator pits -- the same thing happened when the river was flooded after Fantasmic was installed in '93.

As an engineer, I think there is another way to ask the question -- instead of "Why doesn't WDW have elevators", you should ask "Why did Disneyland have them in the first place?". Of course we all know the answer (the Railroad), but keep in mind this is a solution that is complicated and expensive and would not have been used if not for those tracks being in the way. Why repeat this complexity and expense in WDW when you can acheive the same result with some simple pulleys and sliding walls?

Mikecheck said...

Great article and info, but isn't the painting labeled Hudson Valley Mansion actually an old southern plantation? Aren't those cypress trees with spanish moss? Wouldn't that fit with the New Orleans Square style that was obviously attempted at some point?

Adam said...

Great as always!

As someone who has grown up and still lives in the Hudson Valley, I have always loved this little corner of Liberty Square. While I don't recognize the "Dutch Gothic" of the mansion itself, it does somehow fit. The famous big stone mansion around here have more of a Newport, RI feel - like FDR's Hyde Park or the Rockefeller estate Kykuit.

However, the more Federalist style of the first go around reminded me a lot of a local mansion called Boscobel (http://www.boscobel.org/visit/). And the best part - the place is known to be haunted! This time of year they even offer ghost tours, which I've been lucky enough to go on in the past. And how could I not let the Mansion we all love creep into my thoughts while walking around a big old rickety house in the dark looking for spooks.

Lastly, I agree with your sentiment about whomever did their research in the area completely nailed it with Sunnyside.

FoxxFur said...

Hey all;

Thanks for your responses.

Everyone has their own version of the "correct" answer to this story, but the overall point isn't so much to find a definitive answer as it is to point out that there may not be one. The water table theory doesn't hold water. The railroad tracks answer seems to be repudiated by the fact that we know that they intended to use elevators to begin with. And if budget was a concern, why did they start building the ride using the elevator arrangement to begin with?

The overall point is to challenge the baseline assumptions we can make about the FL house's design. There was nothing technically stopping them from using the lifts. The utilidor goes down far deeper than any Mansion stretch would've, and even in that deepest section there's elevators with pits. I also doubt money was an issue either - when you're digging out two entire lakes as part of your construction project, nobody's going to sweat over two cloned elevators. Once the menu of attractions/shops/hotels was decided on, WDW was one of the last Disney projects built under the "it'll cost what it'll cost" mentality of Walt's time.

For example, is the reason the first three scenes of the ride are situated on a slope because they were designed to sit on a single, level floor - much like the second floor of the existing DL Mansion - and had to be changed? The Library has a huge chandelier that's anchored to a wall with a thin wire to appear to hang straight down in a room that's situated on an angle, which is a weird choice to make if you don't have to make it. The cars move down a long slope, pass a piano, and immediate go up a huge staircase. Are we seeing the remnant of a compensation for a design that had to be rapidly changed?

I don't know, and I'm not prepared to make guesses. If we knew, for example, that the DL lifts were malfunctioning from the start, I'd be prepared to make a better guess, but I'm not. What we have is effects without known causes and a lot of guesses and assumptions papering over the rest.

Consider this: Had I suggested ten years ago that the Endless Hallway is a compromised version of an intended scene, I would've been called crazy. Now we've drowning in evidence that this is true. I submit that less is known about the FL Mansion than we think.

bigbrian-nc.com said...

To Mikechecks comment, I see from the Jason Surrell book that Foxfurr mentioned in the article (The haunted mansion from the movies to the screen) that the painting in question was Herb Ryman concept art, so I turned to another book ( A Brush with disney - an artists journey told through the words and works of Herbert Dickens Ryman) and see that it was painted in 1969, so it looks like what Herbie was doing was placing that hudson river valley style house in the southern landscaping, either because that was the same as the setting in Disneyland, but also perhaps he figured that would work well in Florida, where that type of landscaping would presumably thrive.

ColanderCombo said...

Awesome as always, but....

"sea level" isn't the problem here, the local water table level is. If you dig a hole below the water table around WDW it'll start filling up (unless you run sump pumps) There's also the problem of the added hydrostatic pressure on the structure. You *can* build below the water table, but it's expensive and prone to failure. The water table around the MK is essentially at the level of the lagoon and canals. *almost all* of the park facilities are above this level.

In the 1969 construction image, the topmost structure is the Fantasyland Basement, which underlies essentially the entire original land *up to* Small world. Small world, the Fantasyland basement and the Haunted Mansion show building are all at the same elevation (~ 100ft above sea level if I remember correctly); they're comfortably above the water table but probably not a full story up.

The utilidors do vary a bit in elevation, but they don't go too far below the 100ft level (the lowest point is in the tunnel that cuts from main st to fantasyland under the hub, where it has to duck under the hub waterway)

Note that the ground is built up around the buildings/walkways that are top of utilidors and tends to slope down to normal ground level as you move away. There's a *huge* change in elevation between Small World and Liberty Square

Also, while I don't have good evidence to back this up I suspect there was a more practical reason to place the Mansion where it is: its proximity to the DACS machine room . On opening day the "control heavy" shows were The Hall of Presidents, The Mickey Mouse Review, The Haunted Mansion, The Tiki Room and The Country Bear Jamboree (Maybe Small World too, but I think in '71 it didn't use a lot of programmed animation). HoP and MMR's stages abutt each other, and their pits are *right next door* to DACS. Tiki and Bear Band are also *right next door to each other*, at the end of the utilidor from liberty square (until the extension for Pecos Bill's) Back then all the animation data and audio signals had to be amplified and transmitted to the show from DACS and the longer the cable the greater the chance of noise or distortion... so why not keep everything as close in as possible?

Michael said...

I have to agree with PSA928 in general.

Based on what I know (and some other anecdotal evidence), my guess is that it was a combination of things:

1. the location of the river relative to any 'pits' dug in the area, plus the fact that, and the Florida water table (see below for why I think this is still a factor)
2. why go through the cost of the elevators if you don't need them? (they are, or at least were, notoriously flaky and they are hard to fix when they break and when they go down they take half the capacity with them)
3. WDW has to contend with high winds and far worse weather than DL, which required a rethink about the building design (stone vs. wood, daily rain, and potential flooding)

Also, while I'm not an environmental engineer (I AM an engineer, just not that type :)), I don't think you can equate elevation above MSL (mean sea level) with the water table. They are not really related to one another.

WDW was built on a swamp, and therefore has different characteristics for soil than surrounding areas. The changes in the soil type have large impacts on ground hydrology (see http://www.devoeng.com/memos/paper_on_estimating_SHWT.pdf). So I'd also hazard to guess that when they looked at all that plus the elevator pits and other clearance needed and the expense, they decided to go the route of the utilidors and build everything above ground level.

The details you are looking for are probably long lost in constructions and hydrology reports from the late 1960s.

FoxxFur said...

Great info everyone!

ColanderCombo - I've been trying to find out more info on exactly how DACS worked in the 70s. A great deal of the information is garbled/contradictory, but based on my own experiences I'm fairly sure that while many MK attractions ran from DACS at least a substantial number were run independently. Jungle Cruise seems to have always had its own ride control, and Pirates wasn't hooked into the system in 1973 (although If You Had Wings was, in 1972).

I suspect that Small World and Mansion shared some sort of a control room but it may not have been the central DACS. There still is a control room that runs Mansion underneath the maintenance bay, right across from Small World, and the numerous stories about Mansion and Small World's data being messed with may be seen to corroborate this. I think it's probably safe to say that the attractions on the outmost perimeter of the park probably always were run on their own mini-DACS. I also suspect that the shared Mansion/IASW DACS is one reason why the two MK show buildings and their relationship to each other was repeated exactly in TDL.

ColanderCombo said...

Specifics on the floor elevations we're talking about here:

HM Entrance area: 107' 11"
HM Show building: 97'

Fantasyland Basement: 96'
Main St. Basement: 92'
Terrace Basement: 92'
East/West Loop Utilidors: ~90'

Diamond Horseshoe Finished Floor: 108'
(almost exactly the same as the mansion!)

So there *is* a definite slope upward in the base unimproved ground level (which may have something to do with the lagoon area having been swampy and the MK site proper being relatively dry) but it's less than you might think; most of the impression of height change is in the design.

If you compare this to the situation in Anaheim:

Entrance area: 144' 6"
Load area: 126'
Bottom of elevator pit: 114'

That's a 18'6" difference floor-to-floor, which in Florida would place the show building floor at about 90'. There *are* places where the Utilidor floors are that low, but as we saw those are further to the front of the park where the unimproved ground level was lower (and thus likely has a lower water table) You could probably get away with digging the floor down 10' below the unimproved ground level... but since there needs to be equipment (lift equipment, load conveyer belts, ride system, figure bases, etc., etc.) you're either going to need to go down even farther that 90' *or* design in some fancy elevation changes to the floor to get guests up 7'-10' from the level they exit the elevators at.

Also remember that the show building design was locked at the 97' level very early on in design and construction. If there was ever a thought of using elevators that means they must have planned on having guest enter closer to the 116.5' level, which would put it close to (if not the) highest ground level in the park.

ColanderCombo said...

re: DACS, we should be clear to distinguish "ride control" and "show control"

DACS and its successors have never been involved in ride control. In the 70's most ride control was via networks of relays that reacted in extremely rudimentary ways (Did someone push the e-stop? Kill power to the motors!) These relay racks would be in a ride equipment room as close as possible to the controlled equipment (e.g., motor controllers) Space and Big Thunder were exceptions--Space was the first computer controlled ride system--but their computers also lived in their ride control rooms.

DACS provided "show control" (and equipment monitoring, but that's another story). In this context, show control means a "real-time" stream of data at 30fps that commanded equipment in sync with an audio soundtrack. Both the data stream and the multitrack audio required extremely large, expensive and finicky equipment to run (giant binloops for audio, 1971 vintage *fixed disk drives* and *hardwired decoding logic* for the data stream), so placing it in EERs around the park really wasn't an option.

As far as I know, on opening day *all* audio and animation data was sourced from the DACS machine room under Fantasyland. All the ride control would still have been local to the attraction, and it's certainly possible (I don't have direct knowledge) that some shows with simple animation requirements used local relay logic instead of DACS. (They managed to do the Jungle Cruise animation without DACS in 1955... so it's not unreasonable to assume they did the same in '71. DACS wasn't also great for running multiple simultaneous 'triggered' scenes, so it actually may have been easier)

In '71 there was no such thing as "miniDACS". DACS was the *very first* production computer animation system *ever*, and real computers were so expensive that they had to use hardwired logic for playback. miniDACS came around either in the late 70's or EPCOT era as a (relatively) inexpensive microcomputer solution for shows with simple control requirements (e.g., DL '83 Fantasyland Dark Rides) As computing power increased in the 80's I think it was deployed more widely @ DL (which never had a centralized DACS system, and was able to rely on the pre-DACS solutions through the 70's)

I can't directly explain the Small World/Mansion mixups, but I'm pretty sure they've always sourced from DACS (Of course, I've heard peoplemover safety announcements in the CoP and seen Utilidor security video on a room TV at Old Key West... so very little would surprise me.) TDL's control systems were almost identical to EPCOT's, so it's unlikely you'd want or need to share equipment between attractions. I'd guess it had more to do with OLC asking for a park that was the "same as Florida's"

FoxxFur said...


Yes, show control, you'll have to excuse me, it's been a few years now.

The south elevation of the WDW Mansion-with-elevators I posted handily includes the floor elevations:

99' River Level (which matches your number)
108' Unload Area
110' Entrance (?)
117' Facade

..which more or less matches your difference of 18' using Disneyland's figures but leaves no place to put the elevator pit. Of course the notations of the load area are not noted on the blueprint so we're not sure how far down they were intended to go. For all we know, they were toying with both raising the ceiling and lowering the floor or something - there would've been room left above the Stretch Room scrim ceiling if the facade were really going to be as big as that colored elevation.

I'm fairly positive that the FL lifts, when they were being considered, weren't intended to go as far down as Disneyland's - the WDW stretch rooms have never grown quite as "big" as out West. Given the numbers provided on the art, we're only looking at about ten feet. But regardless there's quite a lot of room below that actual load area as built, almost abnormally so. If I recall correctly you'd almost need to get up on a ladder to reach the underside of the load/unload belt equipment, and that always struck me as a little odd. So there was a bit of wiggle room there had they wanted to situate the loading hall floor level nearer the foundation and still allow for omnimover track and load belt mechanisms. Theoretically the elevator pits would've then been dug and sealed separately to the south of the 97' show building foundation.

Yeah, it all sounds ambitious and unlikely, but maybe that was why they redesigned it! :)

FoxxFur said...

Just a quick note to everyone - thank you all for a great comment section! :) They are getting increasingly uncommon, glad this subject has inspired you all!

Mark said...

Thank you for one of your most fascinating posts! As much as I love the look and feel of DL's NOS style mansion, there's something even better about the mansion placed in Liberty Square- especially at night. For whatever reason, I am thrilled they placed it in that land and designed it with that style. Just curious- have you been to DL Paris? What did you think of Phantom Manor?


K. Martinez said...

This subject as does most of your blog posts inspire and fascinate me. One of the things I love about your blog is the in depth analysis and comparison you write about between Disneyland Park and the Magic Kingdom.

I'm a fan of both parks equally and appreciate their differences and similarities. I've also experienced both parks in their early years so I can relate to many of the subjects you write about. I don't think I've ever been given so much food for thought as when I've read your articles. They make me think about the parks in ways I haven't before. Thank you!


Love this article -- was glad to see someone tackle it! I know that the first "Federal" style WDW mansion concept(in Herbert Ryman's concept) was inspired by two mansions, one being the Dor Mansion in Rhode Island built in 1809 (greatly altered in the 1880's)and a second which for the life of me I cannot recall or find my notes. The elevation color painting of the final mansion was done by George Jensen --who did almost ALL of the color elevations for Liberty Square and was probably the artist who did the color elevation of the Herb Ryman mansion painting as well. The Gothic mansion study painting is definitely Claude Coates' work!

I too have always wondered why the portrait corridor/library/music room was at a slant -one time at WDI someone said it was to give a disoriented-floating feeling to the guests--but couldn't that have been achieved with the Doom Buggy position?? I think there may be much more to the story behind why those rooms ARE at an a angle.


Some additional notes on the post: The blonde girl "painting" the mansion's model door is Imagineer Peggy Van Pelt who helped author the John Hench book. She isn't really painting the model--just pretending, when the film crew came in, they had to all act like they were really working so most of the scene at WED in that episode were staged.

The Herbert Ryman painting of the WDW Federal style Mansion was known about, just rarely every shown to the public since it didn't look like anything that was ultimately built. The painting was featured in the early 1990's in Tokyo Disneyland's opening Disney Gallery exhibit; "The art of Disneyland, Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland" and is titled HAUNTED MANSION TWO, Herbert Ryman 1969.

I really love the looks of both DL & WDW's Mansions. I liked the idea behind the style of Phantom Manor, but I feel it's a tad too toy-like, as so much of WDI architecture is becoming -- everything is TOONIFIED now -- even the new color schemes of Liberty Square are plastic cartoon looking.


I still cannot find the name of the second mansion that was partial inspiration for Herb Ryman's Federal-esque Haunted mansion painting. In some notes I have, Bill Martin had mentioned that some details for the final WDW Haunted Mansion were inspired by a set of volumes called Sloane's ;The Model Architect first published in the 1840's or 1850's.

I think the term Dutch Gothic is perfect for the WDW Mansion. There are so many variations of Gothic architecture, Perpendicular, Norman Style, Debased Gothic etc. and Germany, Italy, France, and Holland all had their own takes on it as well. Since New York was founded by the Dutch as New Amsterdam, it would make sense that there might be some early Dutch elements mixed into the overall design of the Haunted mansion's version of Gothic.

The Gothic style in America wouldn't appear until the 1820's and 1830's and peaked in the 1850's--well after Liberty Square's Colonial time period. So maybe the Imagineers referring this Manse as Dutch-Gothic helps to fit it into a Colonial setting...... Now why 1850's -1870's Steamboats are docking in Colonial Times is another problem.......

Also The Hudson River Valley once had hundreds of castle-like mansions and manor houses in the early 19th Century --that would have been situated along a hillside along the river just like the Haunted Mansion. Not many survived the changes in architectural tastes after the Civil War, and most were so altered,"modernized" or completed razed with newer style mansions built in their place, so today it is difficult to find examples of the mansions that dotted this area in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Jezza said...

The inspiration for Disney World's haunted mansion was the Harry Packer Mansion in Jim Thorpe, PA.

It is now an Inn, with a popular murder mystery show:


How Bowers said...

It has occurred to me that it may have been circumstances beyond Imagineering's control the required the change. Since the lifts would have been fabricated and installed by Otis Elevator, any glitch in their supply chain or labor pool could have thrown their part of the project off schedule and therefore jeopardized the build.

Perhaps it was unprecendented to have four installations of these kinds of elevator systems going on simultaneously. Along with the Mansion, there's a good chance these lifts were also being put into the stages in Tomorrowland Terrace and Fantasy Faire.

Jack said...

Has anybody ever seen an architectural ground plan of the interior of the Shipley-Lydecker House?

Mad Angel said...

(part 2)

(A) About a brand NEW project.
When going into a brand new project, there is a drive to develop the most appropriate ideas to carry a proposed storyline + contentwise theming base + budget lock (which is trespassed more often then not..) into a convincing and captivating realisation.
Now.. During any concept-&-design process, we bounce into bluntly material conflicting situations.
"Solving" a conclict, can lead to rigid tech overhead/overdoing (a mosquito becomes an elephant) if it's done by a classic conceptual blind engineer. (Which in the end, leads to explode budgets as well.)
BUT, the vitue of the different logic coming from the 'ideënman', is that every conclict leads to a CHANGE-to-the-BETTER from the original scenario.

Mind setting simple example : a nessessary structural column is coming down RIGHT in the middle of a scene, "destroying" the original scenario/set.
Engineer solution : "Oh, no problem, we can cut out that colomn, by a strong bridging construction above that space, perfectly safe. This detail will cost you 5-10 times the amount for the column, but of course, there is no way around it. Face it: you 'need' it, we can do it..."
'Ideënman' solution : "Let's see. That colomn comes down right 'there'? It's the most logic, best construction type, so why not rearrange the scene? We bring the key focus points well in view again, and make the column become a themed part of the scene. This will cost you some redesign time for the set, but the experienced end result will be even better, because new inspiration is going in."

(You would not believe how many projects, anything from a simple at home bathroom renovation up to the largest attraction or even a complete city quarter redesign, just deal with the overhead engineer type of solutions...)

The end result of the whole concept, design and conflicts adaptation process, is a sensitive experience. Users/visitors experience. This result, especially when excelling, starts it's life as an immaterial 'body' getting engraved in the psyche of the people. The development PATH that lead to the said result, has no importance to the user/visitor. It's wiped out. The experience itself becomes independent.

The whole story of the Disneyland HM elevators is a GOOD illustration of what the 'ideënman' is doing with the railway tracks conflict : RE-THINKING the whole first part of the experience, where the real-world bottleneck solution "elevators" is turned into an essential story addition. Without the railway conflict, the STORY-part of stretching rooms would never have existed.
That is the usually forgotten dimention in (architectural) design : "Upgrade follows Conflict"... :-) There is a mighty key-theoretic book about this phenomenon in the design process : "Forme et déformation des objects architecturaux et urbains" ( http://livre.fnac.com/a1782439/Alain-Borie-Forme-et-deformation-des-objets-architecturaux-et-urbains ) which seems to be blinded towards most of the world, simply because it has never got an English translation. (Recommendation to all : learn more languages.. ^_^ ) This book however, really opened my eyes since I was an architecte student (back in the early 1980-ies.., think I read it in 1981, it was first published in 1978)
It's THE theoretic base must-read for 'imagineers', even if the research topic is architecture & urbanism in periods 16th-19th century)


Mad Angel said...

(part 3)

(B) Cloning a project.
Now, THAT is something very different. Because, the starting point is most radically different...
If with a brand new project, no user-experience-psyche-body exists, the design process has total freedom. When cloning, any major change will collide with EXISTING public expectations.
Cloning is economically grafted into two pilars : quite massive cost reduction (in the overall development process = a business PUSH factor > COST) and serving the public expectations (= a business PULL factor > MARKET).
If changes are made, then the "MIND-SET EXERIENCE" model should be respected, and new-encountered conflicts will nearly always lead to "fooling" the visitor in order to keep up with the mind-set. You could see it, as if the registered MIND-SET, acts like an invisible dictator into the design process.

The whole story around the WDW HM faked elevators-stretchroom is a GOOD illustration of how inevitably, cloning dictated a nonsense redesign. Taking up the new conflict of the material UN-nessessity of the stretchroom scene, could have lead to an amasing totally new upgraded experience. But business-driven-fear for the MIND-SET, shove the enriching 'ideënman' approach aside and actually just employed the engineer...

So, that was my story, as brought from the inner soul of an 'ideënman'. :-)
Let it be clear, that I do not like cloning... The "/..serving the public expectations (= a business PULL factor > MARKET)../" could be weaker then we think. I can explain that on a different occasion..

Mad Angel said...

Hello FoxxFur
Your analytic historic research is just wonderfull. Nowhere plain speculation, just detailed analysis.
I was already completely past the opening question "why up, not down", as the façade design history (style and adaptation to functional requirements) became your true topic. You could even have altered the article title, to match your content, afterwards .. :-) (The up or down, being merely the anectotic side note)

I cannot add anything regarding the fact research. I however can mention something different which is belonging to "imagineering psychology"...
Telling this from my inner gut feelings, as I'm an architectural designer/concept developer/"imagineer" myself (".." put on, because I personally have no relation with WED or Disney, here in the past it was very simply called "ideënman" (in Dutch language, that is) = literally 'ideas guy'. I like that 'title' MUCH more then the IMHO too blasé title of 'imagineer'. :-)
OK, here is my 'ideënman' work-logic:

(Perhaps, this part was not first in row, as sending gone wrong first time?? Anywaat, this is First part, of 3)

Tim said...

On the original 1968 WDW model, the back stage maintenance road for the Magic Kingdom was on the "West side" of the Fantasyland, near were the Indian Village is on the WDW Rail Road, there's still a small dirt road there now, but during construction of The Magic Kingdom that was the main access road...

On that 1968 model though, Small World was going to be "behind" the Pinocchio Village Haus Restaurant, and the ride queue and restaurant would have been housed under a huge, oval shaped, domed building, probably to simulate a "night sky" like the Mexico Pavilion at EPCOT, but you would have entered the restaurant to get to the Small World ride in the back

The Skyway station would have been where the entrance to Small World currently is, and the entrance to Haunted Mansion would have been "at the top of the hill" where the Skyway Station was (or were Tangled restrooms are now) but they would have needed the elevators in the Stretching Rooms to get guests "below the utilidor"

Somewhere in the building process they moved the main Backstage Access road to the "East side" of Fantasyland, and built the bridge over the train tracks which is how it still is today, but that meant they had to move Small World "next to" the Pinocchio Restaurant, which made them have to move the Skyway Station further west "next to" Small World, and the entrance to Haunted Mansion got pushed to "the bottom of the hill" and twisted around to face the Rivers of America instead of facing Liberty Square, and they had to shrink the size of the Haunted Mansion building facade, from the large white building with lots of land around it, to the small "forced prospective" brick facade, the area for the entrance had shrunk

...but that's why The Haunted Mansion no longer need the elevators, The Columbia Harbor House looks out on to Fantasyland, and the "order windows" of Pinocchio Village Haus are themed to look like "exterior spaces" with an odd florescent light in the ceiling were the domed night sky would have been

Also the blueprint at the beginning of your post wasn't used in Florida, but I think it is what was used in Tokyo