The Staircases, Endless Hallway and Conservatory
Which way is up?
With the 2007 re-haunting of Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion, a completely new area was added in Orlando which isn't found in any other Mansion. A strange space has been created that appears to contain staircases and doorways to other dimensions. A maze of various carpeted stairways lead to and from through the air, some of which seem to turn and defy gravity, with doorways and candleabrum posed upside-down, as glowing ghostly footprints (in a nod to some early Ken Anderson concepts) travel up and down the staircases before fading away. (Photo below courtesy Jeff at WDW.)
After passing the bizarre intertwined staircases, guests find themselves being stared at by a forest of familiar glowing, blinking eyes. As the ambient light grows slightly, visitors suddenly realize that the blinking eyes belong to the demons trapped in the pattern of the wallpaper, which was designed by Rolly Crump. (More on this wallpaper design will follow when we visit the Corridor of Doors.)
To infinity, and beyond...
After moving past the staircases at Walt Disney World (or traveling up a grand staircase at Disneyland - and again, even in the dark, attention is paid to every detail, including barely-visible intricately carved banisters and evil griffin staues that surround the staircase), guests find themselves staring down a long hallway that seems to stretch into infinity. Floating up and down in the middle of the hall is a lone candelabrum, with its flames flickering faintly in the gloom.
Three candles in the wind
When viewing this effect, guests peer down a long corridor and see a gold candelabrum with three flickering candles. What remains hidden is the fact that the wall five feet behind the candelabrum is entirely mirrored, reflecting the hallway and making it seem to be endless.
The photo below was taken with a flash, and clearly shows the scrim in front of the candelabrum, which itself is held in midair by thin black wires, and is painted black on the back side to reduce its reflection in the mirror. The candelabrum is illuminated gently by a small spotlight (which is lit from the small hatch in the wall against the floor, in front and to the left of the candelabrum in the photo below). The thin black scrim is positioned a few feet in front of the candelabrum, to further impede clear viewing of the reflection, and to make it appear cloaked in mist.
So how long is the hallway, really? Well, if you examine the photo below from Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion, which was taken from right up against the scrim, looking back toward the Doom Buggies, you can get a sense of the scale. The "endless" effect is made merely by mirror. (Photo courtesy Jeff at WDW.)
A dark and stormy knight
What mansion could be haunted without an empty suit of armor that mysteriously started to move around? Disney's Haunted Mansions each have one, and it is a reasonably simple animatronic. Check out WED's complete blueprint here.
Interestingly, Disneyland experimented with "live" knights positioned in the Haunted Mansion in the mid-'80s, who would pop out from behind the Doom Buggies and startle guests. Visit our "insiders" page to learn more about the character from one of the cast members that actually performed as the knight. The character, while extremely successful as an addition to the Haunted Mansion experience, proved to be too costly in terms of problems that required the ride be shut down (the knights carried automatic shut-down switches, and would use them when startled guests would drop items or take a swing at the knight), so the experiment only lasted a few years at most.
You've Disturbed a Guest!
Moving onward, visitors to the Haunted Mansion find themselves gazing into the old conservatory, which is a room that once displayed rare specimens of flowers and plants - much like a greenhouse. However, the withered plants and rotting flowers in this conservatory seem to be left over from a funeral service, as there is a lone coffin placed in the middle of the room. A large raven, who will become a sort of mascot for the ride, settles on the coffin and squawks. The ornately carved coffin contains many creatures and animistic details, as if it were a living thing itself. Download this copy of the blueprint for this prop to see these details for yourself.
In the "Story and Song of the Haunted Mansion" record album, the bird even speaks to the passersby, in his squeaky avian voice: "You've disturbed a guest! Caw! You'll be sorry for that! Caw! Caw!" And thenvisitors notice that maybe they have disturbed a guest, as two hands from inside the coffin push up on the lid which had been nailed shut, and a muffled voice cries "Let me outta here!" from within...
Coffin it up
It was quite common in the Victorian era for a large estate to have a conservatory, to display rare collections of exotic plants and flowers. A coffin, however, was probably not typically part of the room decorations. The dilapidated conservatory scene in the Haunted Mansion features a large coffin in the center of the room, with motorized hands pressing up against the lid of the coffin from within, seemingly in an attempt to escape. In years past, Disneyland has used this scene as misdirection, to enable the live "knight" character performing in a suit of armor to hide behind the Doom Buggies, and then pop out in front of the riders when the Doom Buggy turned away from the scene.
The plaintive wailing coming from inside the coffin was performed by "X" Atencio, who wrote the lyrics and script for the entire ride. Atencio also recorded some sample dialogue for the Haunted Mansion's raven, which makes its first appearance in this scene. In the end, it was decided to leave the raven as a visual mascot, rather than turning it into a narrator, and all the speaking roles were left to the "Ghost Host."