Needful Things: Haunted Mansion Souvenirs and CollectiblesBy Chef Mayhem
Disneyland's Haunted Mansion was launched in 1969 with great fanfare, since it had been gaining notoriety in the public eye after having an empty façade that sat forlorn and waiting for almost a decade. When it was finally opened to the public, it became the cornerstone of improvements and additions made to Disneyland park-wide, and it was promoted heavily to the public via radio and print advertising.
Upon entering the park, patrons cross under the Disneyland Railroad station via two tunnels that display circus-style "attraction" posters, advertising the various experiences guests might wish to undertake during their stay. Disneyland created a new attraction poster for the Haunted Mansion, and included cartoon images of the "hitchhiking ghosts," which would go on to become unofficial mascots for the attraction.
The summer of the attraction's debut, Disneyland also created a clever cross-promotion with Carnation, one of the park's sponsors, and sold "I Scream Sundaes" at the park that were marketed with the image of the attraction's famed hitchhiking ghosts. The sundaes were served with a small, disposable plastic spoon that pictured the ghosts' faces, and those spoons are now quite rare and highly collectible by Disneyana enthusiasts.
The promotion was advertised inside the park with special handmade silk-screened posters (as all of Disney's early attraction posters were produced). Those posters are also extremely rare examples of early marketing materials for the Haunted Mansion that are highly valued today. Similar posters might fetch over a thousand dollars from avid Disneyland park memorabilia collectors.
Disneyland souvenirs were a popular means of promoting the park and making a bit of profit on the side, so Walt Disney Productions did not hesitate to capitalize on the new attraction with clever gadgets and mementos that would woo the public's continued interest. One of these was a "Haunted House Mystery Bank," which didn't contain any Haunted Mansion-specific graphics, but did contain beautiful tin lithography, and a battery-operated ghost that floated out the front door to capture loose change.
Another popular souvenir was the "Secret Panel Chest," a wooden puzzle box that had a colorful illustration of the Haunted Mansion on the top that could only be opened by using a secret combination of movements. The boxes were constructed by a small company in Hikone, Japan, using many types of wood for each box. They were available in three different sizes. These are desirable collectibles in the Disneyana marketplace, bringing anywhere from $50 for a well-worn piece to over $200 for a box in excellent condition with the instruction sheet.
A less expensive souvenir was the glow-in-the-dark "Changing Portrait," which consisted of an illustration of a typical man or woman, pasted on black cardboard with a gold sticker proclaiming it a product of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. The illustrations were printed over with phosphorescent paint that would glow in the dark, changing the placid illustration into some type of demonic visage when the lights were turned off.
A sample in good condition, such as the one pictured at left, might cost a collector as much as $200 today. There were both Disneyland and Walt Disney World versions of these souvenirs, which were available in many different designs.
Disneyland's Main Street Magic Shop was also a natural tie-in for the Haunted Mansion, so for a dollar, visitors could purchase a book called "Magic from the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland" with common tricks themed to the attraction. The park also sold the requisite postcards featuring scenes from the Haunted Mansion, and super-8 film spools, ViewMaster reels, and Pana-Vue slide sets from the ride.
Randotti skulls and tombstones
The Randotti Company, well known in the '60s for creating various chalk and plaster skulls and totems, entered into an arrangement with Disney in which they created a number of exclusive items, including skulls and plaques. Most popularly, they also created a line of small plaster tombstones, approximately four inches wide by eight inches tall, which contained various pithy epitaphs and a blank space where the purchaser could personalize his tombstone with his own name. "Here Lies (blank), Gone to Happy Haunting Grounds," was a popular stone, as was "Here Lies (blank), Loaded-So Was the Gun." Disneyland Cast Members would apply the lettering to customize the tombstones right at the kiosk at which they were purchased. These tombstones were also treated with phosphorescent paint to make them glow in the dark. Fine, unchipped examples might sell for over $100 a piece.
Randotti collectibles were also themed to the Pirates of the Caribbean and Adventureland areas of the park, and all such collectibles are highly valued today.
The promotional efforts toward marketing the Haunted Mansion were not just aimed at visitors to the park, however. Walt Disney Productions also wanted to advertise its amazing new attraction to potential patrons at large. To that end, two records were made about the Haunted Mansion and sold through Disneyland Records' national distribution channels in toy stores and convenience stores throughout the country. One of them, called "Walt Disney Presents the Haunted Mansion," was a seven-inch, "read-along" style record with a 24-page book. Intended for children, this record was narrated by popular Disneyland Records' storyteller Robie Lester, and was one of a long line of "See, Hear, and Read" records.
The company also produced a long-playing 12-inch album called "The Story and Song from the Haunted Mansion," which featured an 11-page book and sound effects from the actual attraction, as well as the "Grim Grinning Ghosts" theme song. The record again features the voice talents of Robie Lester, as well as Disney voice veterans Thurl Ravenscroft and Pete Renoudet, as well as "Ronnie" Howard, before he went on to star in television's "Happy Days" and become an Oscar-winning director. These two albums sold well for many years, though they have been out of print since the late '70s and are now highly sought-after collectibles. You can learn more about these collectibles in the media section of this web site.
In a sense, Disney's efforts to publicize the Haunted Mansion actually went back to 1964, when the company released a famous sound effects record called "Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House." This album, which features many sounds that are actually used in the attraction, is comprised of a series of situations narrated by longtime Disney voice talent Laura Olsher. The cover art, by Disney artist Paul Wenzel, is a piece of pre-production conceptual artwork created for the attraction, although the attraction's title "Haunted Mansion" wasn't decided on until many years after this album had been released. For much of the development of the ride, the project was known simply as the "Haunted House." This is evidenced by another product released in the late '60s: a Whitman jigsaw puzzle called "Walt Disney's Haunted House at Disneyland," which features artwork of Mickey Mouse and Goofy escaping a scene from the Haunted Mansion's grand ballroom.
Disney's efforts toward making the Haunted Mansion name known didn't stop with records and puzzles. In the mid '70s, Walt Disney Productions released a board game through licensee Lakeside called "Walt Disney World Haunted Mansion Game," presumably to start promoting the attraction that had recently opened at Walt Disney World (although the game's cover art features the Disneyland Mansion façade). The intricate, 3-D game board with colorful artwork and moving pieces is hard to find in good condition today, which makes this game a valuable Haunted Mansion collectible. Other efforts to keep the Haunted Mansion in the public eye included various coloring books and puzzles. One clever early tie-in was a Ben Cooper "Disneyland Character" Halloween costume titled "Mr. Skeleton," which featured a plastic mask of a top-hatted ghost and a vinyl cape with the Haunted Mansion logo prominently displayed.
In the '70s, Walt Disney Productions had great success with the Pirates of the Caribbean models sold through MPC, so a line of four Haunted Mansion models was also produced. The model kits all featured some form of MPC's popular rubber-band-powered "Zap Action." Only "inspired" by the Mansion, the models didn't picture any scenes actually lifted from the attraction, and they didn't prove to be as popular as the Pirates line. Nevertheless, their scarcity today makes un-built kits quite valuable.
A point-of-purchase display card advertising the model kits is quite rare. In fair condition, a piece like this might sell for $150-$200. The model kits themselves sell for over $150 each, unbuilt.
The Disney Company went through many changes throughout the '80s, and the emphasis on souvenirs aimed at specific theme park attractions lessened. Most of Disney's marketing efforts went toward bolstering their popular characters, and more of the souvenirs produced during this time had a park-wide focus. Of notable exception was some Haunted Mansion-themed merchandise sold at a 1995 DIsneyana Convention in Orlando, such as the "Liliput Lane" recreation of the Walt Disney World Mansion facade (pictured, above). Despite a dearth of merchandise, the Haunted Mansion's legion of fans remained faithful, and with the popularity of the internet in the mid '90s, these fans began to find each other and form communities. Disney took note, and Disneyland decided to host a Haunted Mansion 30th anniversary event in 1999. Billed as a special "merchandising" event, the occasion allowed the guests opportunities to buy special limited-edition merchandise and artwork. The evening also offered a special midnight ride through the Haunted Mansion and a panel discussion with many of the Haunted Mansion's original designers from WED, including Marc Davis, Sam McKim, Rolly Crump, X Atencio, and Buddy Baker.
Part of Disneyland's experiment with the 30th anniversary event was to learn about the strength of the internet fan base, so they turned to DoomBuggies.com for help in promoting the event. The first 250 patrons to purchase their ticket to the event through the DoomBuggies.com website were offered a free bonus lithograph. The event sold out very quickly, prompting Disneyland to increase the number of tickets available, and moving the venue from a smaller indoor theater to the Fantasyland amphitheatre. Among the popular items offered in limited editions were sculptures, lithographs, Marc Davis giclee prints, pins and watches. One clever line of items included a set of lenticular cards portraying the changing portraits in the Haunted Mansion. When the cards were flipped back and forth, the image would appear to change. A special cloisonné pin given to each guest who attended the event has become a hot collectible, bringing up to $250 in the secondary market.
Since the success of the anniversary event, Disney has had other Haunted Mansion-themed goings-on at the various theme parks. The 1999 Walt Disney Art Classics convention featured many items portraying the famed "hitchhiking ghosts," and items from that convention demand high prices on the secondary market as well. A "13 Hour Watch" from the event was a Art Classics limited edition of 500 pieces, and might bring well over $250 if sold today. In 2000, Disneyland also offered an exclusive $2,000-per-plate dinner inside the Haunted Mansion, and each guest received special artwork created specifically to his or her taste.
In 2001, Disneyland launched the premiere of the "Haunted Mansion Holiday" overlay with a special merchandising/panel event, and the park hosted similar events in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Walt Disney World also has hosted a number of "Happy Haunts Ball" events which have offered limited edition merchandise to collectors as well. In 2003, the release of the Haunted Mansion movie staring Eddie Murphy coincided with the Happy Haunts Ball, so some of the events and merchandise was related to the release of the film, such as a book of production art signed by Director Rob Minkoff, Executive Producer Don Hahn and author Jason Surrell.
Clearly, Disney is making renewed efforts to stir up interest in the Haunted Mansion, as evidenced by the popularity of these events, as well as the reemergence of general Haunted Mansion souvenirs in the parks (such as a licensed version of the Parker Brothers' "Clue" board game, themed to the Haunted Mansion, and the proliferation of Haunted Mansion-themed cloisonné pins at the parks). In 2005, DisneyShopping.com released a line of online exclusive Haunted Mansion collectibles in honor of Disneyland's 50th anniversary, many of which sold out quickly - such as a "arm sconce" based on the design by Rolly Crump that is found at the unload area of the Haunted Mansion, and a set of four embroidered tapestries based on Marc Davis' stretching paintings.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of Haunted Mansion collectibles. In fact, we have barely scratched the surface. It is a testament to the enduring fascination that fans have with the attraction to see the resurgence of interest in Mansion memorabilia. Interest in the Disney theme parks remains passionate, and Disneyana collectors remain resolute in their hobby. So go start haunting your local flea markets and garage sales you never know what you might unearth!