Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Welcome, foolish mortals...

“Welcome, foolish mortals, to the Haunted Mansion. I am your host – your ‘ghost host.’"

The Haunted Mansion has held a special place in my imagination from the moment I read about the attraction in Babysitters on Board: Babysitters Club Special, No. 1. 

I can tell you now, quite honestly, that no babysitting gig of mine ever made me this happy.
When I was a kid, my mom would let me pick out a new book from the Waldenbooks store every time we went to the local mall, titles from The Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and Sweet Valley High (I just recently learned that those twins grew up; see Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later. Who knew? I thought they remained 16 forever, traipsing around in Jessica's red Fiat).  The local mall was over half an hour from the tiny coal-patch town where we lived, so trips there were fairly infrequent. As a result, I read each book I got over and over ... and over again. Subsequently, I read Babysitters on Board, oh, about 50 times.

For a kid who never ventured far beyond the confines of Main Street, USA, this book was serious adventure. Several days on an ocean-liner, followed by almost a week at Disney?! Seriously. I was so jealous my hair turned green (well, that might have been the chlorine from the local pool, but who's counting). The scene that stands out to me most in this book, however, is the girls' trip through Disney's famed attraction, a ride that began in the mind of Harper Goff, the famed Disney illustrator. Below, the black-and-white sketch that inspired the eventual construction of the first Haunted Mansion in Disneyland.

What fascinates me most about the original conceptualization of the Haunted Mansion is that it was meant to be the "house at the end of [Main] street," that spooky, abandoned, decrepit former showplace that, in its demise, stood for all that had gone wrong with the American Dream. It's no surprise to me that the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland is a plantation tucked into the corner of New Orleans Square.

Take a virtual tour of the Haunted Mansion here.
On their website, Disney invites you to "tour via 'buggy' the home and estate of a prosperous yet departed sea captain whose elegant 19th-century mansion in the New Orleans Square was once the setting for some of the most prominent social gatherings this side of the Mississippi." That way of life is as dead as the departed sea captain. Dead as a doornail. As it should be.

I think of this as an adult. As a child, I was the kind of kid who wanted to take a hitchhiking ghost home with me, as promised. Who wouldn't? That is, until the friendly ghost would have been an unfriendly one under my bed. My favorite part of the attraction (note, I've been to the one in Florida)? The woman in the jar.

For those interested in the evolution of the Disney mansions, a fascinating blog post filled with reproduced sketches, both concept work and elevations at the Long Forgotten Blog.

"...And consider this dismaying observation: this chamber has no windows and no doors... which offers you this chilling challenge: to find a way out! Of course, there's always my way...” Exit here. Alice

You'd be ready too if you were eight months pregnant at Disney in late August. Let's just say I was not "light in August" (hehehe).
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