Book Review: ‘Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic’ by Jason Surrell


My favorite theme park ride of all time is easily Disney’s Haunted Mansion. A dark ride which has the perfect atmosphere of dread for a haunted house, yet still has enough whimsical elements to prevent it from going overboard. That is to say nothing of the genius effects, Disney Imagineers created for this ride which sets it well above other haunted attractions. The storied history of this beloved attraction has been meticulously researched and written about by Jason Surrell in his book Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic.

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Even when the idea of Disneyland was simply a small park in the vacant lot across from the studio, Walt Disney wanted there to be a haunted house. Immediately the employees of what was then known as WED Enterprises began making pitches as to what this haunted house would entail, but it remained simply in the planning stages for years. Even when Disneyland opened the proposed haunted house was simply a building with a sign out front promising a home for ghosts and ghouls to haunt. Walt even promoted this yet to exist attraction to the worldwide press. Eventually creating the Haunted Mansion fell onto the laps of three legends of Disney Imagineering; Marc Davis, Claude Coates, and X. Atencio. Coates and Davis had been able to bring their individual visions to another great ride the, Pirates of the Caribbean, this is largely owed to Walt serving a mediator between the two. When the founder of the House of Mouse died with this spooky ride still in development, the Disney Imagineers found themselves split between; Coates’ idea of a dark and ominous ride and Davis who believed that a haunted house haunted3would be scary in of itself and needed to be more lighthearted. Through compromise and technological innovation, we eventually got the famed ride we have today. The Haunted Mansion proved so popular that each Disney park across the globe has its own variation on it. Ride technology never seen before was spawned from this attraction, from the omnimovers which keep a steady stream of guests flowing to the Pepper’s Ghost effect in the ballroom which still puzzles people. 

In telling the story of this masterpiece of a ride, Jason Surrell left no stone unturned in his research. Everything from Walt’s vague idea of a haunted house and everything going forward is told in great detail. He puts equal focus on the more storied elements (such as the story they devised for the ride) as well as the technical side (like the creation of the omnimover system).  Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic, includes interviews with past Imagineers, pictures of every stage of design, and most impressively countless sketches and concept designs from throughout the Haunted Mansion’s history. Hat Box GhostSince simply discussing the classic Disneyland attraction would not be enough, Jason Surrell also devotes chapters to each variation of the Haunted Mansion around the world; from the Magic Kingdom’s own Mansion to Hong Kong Disneyland’s Mystic Manor.

I have never been shy about my love for the Haunted Mansion, my favorite theme park ride ever, so Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic was a book I devoured. This gift is perfect for any Disney fanatic as well as people who love theme parks in general. Despite the fact the book is filled to the brim with information, it is still an easy read, due to the fascinating nature of the story. Author Jason Surrell, makes full use of his access to Disney’s archives as he includes stories and concept art which many believed to simply be legend. Even the most dedicated of fans will learn something new about this classic ride, but be careful because when you are finished reading this book A GHOST WILL FOLLOW YOU HOME HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

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