Saturday, January 21, 2017

117- Endless Rambling

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Joe is joined by Alan to talk about amusement parks, roller coasters around the world, The European Coaster Club, beers, and other random discussions on the meaning of life.

Email us at parkscopeblog at gmail dot com or follow us at ParkscopeParkscopeJoeParkscopeNick, and/or ParkscopeLane.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon Opens April 6th

Tonight as we were all watching the Nintendo Switch reveal Jimmy Fallon jumps out and goes "HEY MY RIDE IS OPENING APRIL 6TH!" He then laughs at his own joke.
Additionally they will be at Universal in early April to open the attraction.


The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...Illinois

One of America's most populated states and home to one of the three most important cultural hubs (Chicago), Illinois is a big deal to everyone who doesn't border an ocean and even some of those people too. In pure population of the city itself, Chicago is home to a million more people than LA and is larger than any Canadian city other than Toronto. Beyond Greater Chicago, there are vast agricultural spaces, traces of Route 66 (which starts in downtown Chicago and runs southwest to St. Louis), half the Quad Cities, the capital of Springfield, and a number of small cities not heavily known outside the midwest.

THE KNOWN:



-Six Flags Great America is one of the two Marriott's Great America parks that opened for the Bicentennial and was divested of in the early 80s. As is often the case, most of the coolest attractions the park ever had haven't run in years, though it does have some cool old theming pieces and a few really solid coasters.

-Schaumburg is home to a Legoland Discovery Center location, complete with a Kingdom Quest trackless dark ride.

-Navy Pier has a new ferris wheel (the old one is in Branson, MO now), wave swinger, carousel, and kiddie drop tower. Joining it in downtown are some very theme park-esque exhibits at the amazing downtown museums. The Museum of Science and Industry is home to The Coal Mine, which takes riders on a mine train ride using authentic equipment. There's also the multimedia heavy U-505 exhibit, which is incredibly huge and all indoors. Over at Adler Planetarium, you can line up to take a short ride into a giant metal ball which will imitate the night sky over Chicago.

CHICAGO: UNDERCOVER

The first place I ever moved out of my Mom's to was a friend's floor in Midlothian in the South Chicago 'burbs. I never found a job to get me by before Cedar Point opened for the '03 season and started employing me, so I wound up having a lot of time to drive around. I had brief tastes of the vast horizon bending fields prior, but I really dove in and went just about everywhere I could while I waited for my phone to ring with a crappy service job offer. Since moving to Michigan 8 years ago, I've been back many times, but many things I recall from the not all that distant past are long since gone. Kiddieland in Melrose Park is now a Costco, and so is Hillcrest in Lemont. House of Kicks on 95th lasted only a couple of years before coming down. There were a ton of indoor kiddie parks under the Dinorex name, and they're all gone or renamed too. Long before I arrived, there was a whole large scale indoor theme park called Old Chicago: you can still ride the Arrow Corkscrew at Canobie Lake Park in New Hampshire, but the building that went with it is long gone and now an auto auction lot.





Still, the weather up in the Windy City is such that indoor facilities are always going to be popular ideas to operate. Safari Land in Villa Park is the largest other than the Legoland Discovery Center, and features a decent size roller coaster, electric go karts (though these may be getting removed for a new attraction right now), Tilt-A-Whirl, and bumper cars in addition to arcade games and ticket redemption. The Brunswick Zone bowling alley in Naperville has some kiddie rides, and the Romeoville location features bumper cars. If you just want to eat, Schaumberg also has a Medieval Times Dinner theater.

Away from the Windy City, Illinois is still pretty darn cold in winter, and destination retail seems to be a place where rides and attractions of this sort can flourish. Scheels', an outdoors store in Springfield, has an Eli Wheel and race car simulators. Bass Pro Shops are pretty legendary in how over-the-top their decor is, and their East Peoria location often breaks out a carousel for usage at special events.

OLD TIME FAMILY ATTRACTIONS



Santa's Village was a place that very nearly joined the list of defunct parks. It opened back in 1959 during a time of great kiddie park expansion and ran continuously for nearly 50 years. In 2005, the gates shuttered for the last time. The owners had invested poorly in new attractions and were out of money, and it stayed closed until 2011. Divesting of many rides, the park was pretty much counted out until new owners took over and reopened it. There's been somewhat of a revolving door the first few years with many used rides being brought in and replaced, but 2017 seems to be the first year where entirely new attractions will start to populate the park in place of what were piecemeal initial additions. While rides like the ARM drop tower and Interpark Zyklon aren't entirely unique, there are some attractions left from the previous incarnation of the park. The SFVD Engine No. 3 attraction is pretty much a Santa's Village original; picture a sideways facing hayride but with water cannons and you put out fires. Different, no?

While the future of Santa's Village seems relatively safe, Donley's Wild West Town is not nearly as being on firm footing. Currently for sale in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, the owners (the Donley family, duh) are just straight up old. The patriarch is 87, and he's at the point where day to day operation of even a small amusement park is getting much for him. There are offers, so I hear, and it seems like operations will continue into 2017. But it may be wise to look into visiting sooner rather than later to get a feel for it. It is a love affair for the couple who own it and effectively built it from scratch to primarily display their collection of Western artifacts.

VAST FIELDS OF GOURDS

In 2015, the USDA recorded that the state of Illinois was the state in the union that produced the largest number of pumpkins. So great was the differential between Illinois and the rest of the field that nearly 318 million pounds of pumpkins produced in the state was a sum greater than #2-4 combined. Harvest time in Illinois is a very big deal, and this has led a number of pumpkin growers to expand their options beyond merely picking one's own future Jack O' Lantern and becoming fall time fun zones.



First on our list is Richardson Adventure Farm, which claims to have the largest corn maze in the world. Ramp based zorbing and ziplines are available here too. Stade’s Farm and Market in Harvard, IL is home to Stade’s Farmtractions Theme Park. There are fairly traditional amusement rides at this agro-tourism park such as a ferris wheel (with barn motif), small carousel, and kiddie whip, but also many fairly homebuilt attractions such as pneumatic apple cannons to fire, a mirror maze built from old animal transporters, or a pedal cart dirt track. Not to easily be outdone are the two Goebbert's Farms in South Barrington and Hampshire feature their own wild homebuilt stuff. South Barrington features all sorts of animal attractions and "mining" for light excitement, and more sturdy entertainment in the form of an Haunted House walk-through attraction and a strange robotic pumpkin eating dinosaur.

Goebbert's Hampshire location has dry slides, a haunted house and "pumpkin eating dinosaur" of their own, and more importantly, a train ride. The midwest seems to be a hub for railfans, and it should come as little surprise that rural Illinois farmer types love their trains. Larger scale, ride-able trains can also be found at Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park (also home to Farmer Jed’s Haunted Shed) and Royal Oak Farm in Harvard (there's a carousel there too).

All of these things are family operations, and one hypothesis I have going these days is that we're seeing fewer and fewer people willing to take these risks on their own and receiving little or no credit for having done so. Walt's Dream has been dragged out a million times, but Walt was also a man with a burgeoning media empire and billionaire friends whom he could lean on to provide corporate advertising. The lack of fresh blood means we're relying on increasingly older people, and the risks inherent with that. Take for example Dollinger Family Farm in Channahon, home to a narrow gauge tourist railway (The P&J) run by Jerry Stinebring. Jerry's wife Paula, the P of the operation, passed in 2012. The two had run the railway together since retiring from Caterpillar, and it is now entirely reliant on his own expertise and love of steam powered rail. He owns one steam train built by Crown (same manufacturer as the two Busch Gardens, Hersheypark, and Kings Island trains) as well as a gas powered one of his own design. Who will follow him? Is there someone who can? For those solely concerned with gigantic 9 figure dark rides, this isn't a concern. But it should be as it is a greater societal loss; we are losing people who had imagination and desire, and replacing them with, what, people who make Youtube videos playing Dreamcast games?

RIDING THE NARROW RAILS

There's actually several train based attractions in Illinois which stand alone. The Prarie State Railroad Club in Big Rock run their trains for the public occasionally in Plowman's Park. Illinois Live Steamers are a similar situation, except they collectively purchased a 7.5 acre plot to run their equipment on. The Deerfield and Roundabout Railroad of Lake Forest has a website filled with historical info to go along with their infrequent steam train rides.


WHAT'S AN FEC AGAIN?

Many times over in this series, I've used the term "Family Entertainment Center". Shortened to FEC, this term encompasses a somewhat wide variety of indoor and outdoor facilities. Generally speaking, FECs range from small amusement parks/water parks to theme restaurants not unlike Chuck E. Cheese. The general linking thing between all of these is a business model that promotes constant guest spend for individual activities over a pay-one-price model. What do I mean by that? FECs are heavy on upcharge experiences: bumper boats, mini golf, go karts, Eurobungy. They are heavy on arcade games and specifically ticket redemption. They may have rides. They may even have fairly big rides. But they aren't really competing for large scale group sales, but rather things like children's birthday parties or team building exercises via laser tag. They merge all of these individual things under one umbrella and then sell it. That's an FEC.



Illinois does not have a single pre-WW2 traditional amusement park remaining in the state since Kiddieland closed, and if you're looking for remnants of anything, you'll be touring the grounds of UIC (built around the Midway Plaisance from the 1893 Columbian Exposition). Haunted Trails/Enchanted Castle's three locations within the Chicagoland area are probably the most well known such places, featuring a mix of rides (including kiddie coasters at the Haunted Trails spots), mini golf, batting cages, and arcade games, all anchored by party rooms where overpriced pizza can be consumed. Less diverse is Par-King, possibly America's finest mini golf facility. The holes feature tons of automated action and huge obstacles and are immaculately maintained. Unlike almost any other course I can think of, there's staff that hands out golf clubs, directs individuals to particular courses and take time to try and space out players to prevent them from running into one another. Homemade? Sure. But phenomenal nonetheless, and not all that far away from Chicago's legendary Superdawg drive-in either.

For something remarkably weird, one must head to the town of Metamora, located just a short distance from Peoria. Didley's Place is a restaurant first, an outdoor movie theater second, and a family entertainment center third. With the exception of the diesel miniature train, everything here is pretty much homemade. The ferris wheel almost seems to be using kiddie Zipper cars or something. The carousel is basically folk art of the folkiest sort.

PUBLIC ATTRACTIONS



Illinois, like many places, has all sorts of community operated rides. There's a vendor operated Giant Slide and skyride at the Illinois State Fairgrounds and a train ride at the Sandwich Fair. Pittsfield, IL's Lions Club has a small carnival that they operate during fairs in town, and Waterman's Lions Park is home to the regularly operating Waterman and Western Miniature Railroad. Jacksonville, IL's Rotary Club operates a Eli Wheel at a community park. Chicago suburb Elk Grove features a kiddie park called Pirates Cove, and Freeport has operated a carousel at Krape Park since 1959. There's even a state park with a train ride: the Wildlife Prairie State Park has a 40 minute train ride on the Prairie Zephyr. Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, Niabi Zoo in Coal Valley, and Scovill Zoo in Decatur all operate carousels in addition to their animal exhibits.

THE HOPE DIAMOND OF ITS GENRE



Jasper Sanfilippo is a multi-multi-millionaire you've likely not heard the name of. His father's company is the parent of Fisher Nuts, and he himself was CEO for quite awhile. Jasper and his wife Marian have a keen interest in automation, and I don't mean industrial/manufacturing types. I mean automatic music machines, steam engines and things of that nature. His collection, located in his private estate in Barrington, IL, is home to a ride that is nothing short of spectacular. There are only 4 remaining Salon Carousels in the world, and this is the lone one in North America (the two most well known are at Europa and Efteling in Europe). Eden Palais is considered the most complete and original of them still in operation, but is only able to be visited on occasions where the home is doing tours (minimum group of 40) or open for charitable events.

Salon Carousels different from more traditional merry-go-rounds in two distinct ways: first, the "salon," or room. They had large structures specifically intended to cover and surround the carousel, almost all of which were done up in audacious amounts of gold leaf and crystal. The other is the way the carousels typically moved. They were almost all steam powered, and rather than use the jumping mechanisms we know on most carousels, movement is entirely generated in the base. Salon Carousels were, for the late 19th century, often anchors for European midways. This is the best one you can find.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

116- MaxiPass



Joe and Nick stretch one out in the new year and talk Avatar, Star Wars Galactic Nights, booze, Potter nighttime show rumors, Volcano Bay updates, and then close it out with Lane calling in to talk about his recent trip for the WDW Marathon.

Email us at parkscopeblog at gmail dot com or follow us at ParkscopeParkscopeJoeParkscopeNick, and/or ParkscopeLane.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What is Theme Park Fandom?: A Hypothesis



According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, the world's leading trade organization for the theme park industry, 934 million people attend/experience amusement attractions annually. While likely inflated, even a more conservative reading would likely place 1/10 of all living people in the world as visiting an amusement facility annually. Considering that the world's middle class is rated at 1.8 billion people, anywhere between 1/3 to 1/2 of that number experience the amusement industry. These numbers are generated from a constellation of various types of attractions. Not only traditional amusement parks and modern theme park facilities are counted, but family entertainment centers (FECs) based around direct revenue model attractions such as mini golf and go karts, arcades, open air museums, and aquatics facilities (water parks). 

As with any recreational activity, fandom has grown around it and allowed for individuals to identify with communities built around their preferred activity. While no specific estimates of their numbers exist, divisions of "casual" and "hardcore" fans play out in the space of theme parks just as they do other artistic mediums or with sports. A cavalcade of enthusiast and brand based communities began to spring up in the 1970s as the amusement industry took off during a great period of American expansion. Later, the advent of the Internet and social media ages have caused these communities to multiply in direction, philosophy, and scope. 

This piece intends to briefly examine the relationship of hardcore (diffused) American and Canadian "theme park fans" to the industry which they identify with as consumers. Most importantly, I intend to explore of the perceived and real dichotomies contained within. In doing so, it is hoped to create a clearer picture of the overall nature of theme park fandom, and to open discourse in other aspects of how and why people are motivated to expand to varying degrees of obsession when it comes to the amusement and themed attractions industry. The format of the piece is not traditionally linear. The purpose for this relates to the authorial intent of the individual producing it; by describing the theme park fandom world as it is seen by its largest group and then expanding it outside their traditionally held boundaries, it is hoped to show the true multivariate nature of hobbyists.

As no academic literature has been produced specific to brand and enthusiast communities to theme parks (only general attendance), and only industry studies of overall customer base have been generated, the piece has been titled as a hypothesis. A loose basic framework for testing the hypothesis will be suggested.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Wish Upon a Blue Sky, The Top 30 Disney Attractions Never Built #24: Museum of the Weird and the Rogues Gallery


Walt Disney: A THE BEST Wizard

Walt Disney was a force of nature. He was like a Greek myth incarnate. Like a fay or a genie or a wizard, he waved his arms and everything magically turned out fine. No, better than fine. THE BEST. He was a THE BEST wizard. That’s my new nickname for Walt.

NO!!! That's a THE WORST Wizard!

There’s no reason Disneyland should have worked. None. Except Walt believed in people. He believed they would respond to a superior product, made just for them, and NOT for the owners or shareholders. It was a Christmas gift to the whole world, made all the more perfect because Santa delivered it. It was like the magical snowglobe ball from The Santa Clause, which is like every other snowglobe except, when you shake it, you can see where Santa is, and watch him fly through the sky. Walt took three-dimensional entertainment and made it fly.

Amusement parks were dirty, They had roller coasters and ferris wheels. They sold hot dogs and beer from stalls. Customers were treated as “marks.” There was no effort in landscaping, or providing artistic buildings that didn’t produce direct revenue. The employees were nasty, because the owners were nasty to them. That’s what amusement parks were. If it weren’t these things, it wouldn’t be an amusement park, would it? So Walt waved his hands…

And no more unthemed coasters and ferris wheels, right? RIGHT?!

I’m providing this introduction because this particular entry is the only one on my list that directly involves Walt Disney. It includes the only attractions on this list planned or created before his untimely death. Now I know, Rock Candy Mountain looks cool and the Monstro the Whale shoot the chutes…well…doesn’t….but alas, they did not make the Top 30. Though, there will be an intermission halfway through the series to highlight the concepts that didn’t make the list…sort of an honorable mention parade…so they’ll certainly be highlighted there. But the funny thing about Walt was that he actually built most of his best ideas. And when he didn’t, often they would come back in another form (One Nation Under God and Edison Square/Carousel of Progress come to mind). So I really don’t have much to work with here!

Not happening. Get over it.

But there are some loopholes in this reality. For example, original versions of certain attractions, if they’re interesting enough (and they do actually have to be interesting enough. No Confucian restaurants or Hotel Mels here, thanks) would certainly be included on this list. And it just so happened that the two attractions most theme park fans argue about being the best of all time actually had very interesting original versions indeed!

I’m talking of course, of Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, the George Washington and Abraham Lincoln of the theme park world. As many of you know, both of these attractions were originally walk-throughs! Both were conceived as Disneyland was being finished, and both took more than a decade to bring to reality! In fact, since these attractions were gestating since Disneyland came into being, their history is almost a history of Disneyland itself! What a coincidence that I actually like telling histories about histories! So to return to our story…Once Upon a Time, Walt Disney waved his hands and…



The Story of the Museum of the Weird and the Rogues Gallery

Our tour begins here. In this television show.

I TOLD YOU TO TAKE THE WIZARD"S STAFF!!!

Here, where you see a black and white photo of Walt showing off his newest THE BEST creation, as he appeared in his corruptible, mortal state. (Oh, get ready for a ludicrous amount of puns and allusions in this one. There’s no turning back now. Okay, not really.)

This is Walt showing off Disneyland via his first television show, “Disneyland.” As many of you know, many (if not all) movie moguls saw television as an enemy to be vanquished (much like today’s movie and TV companies see Netflix and digital content). Walt, of course, saw it as an opportunity for entertainment and advertisement. And so, in exchange for a hefty percentage of ownership in Disneyland, Walt gave ABC a weekly Disney show. Look kids, real synergy!

YES! Real synergy in action!!!

Before we get into the history of Pirates and Mansion, it behooves one to have the general history of Disneyland on retainer. If one were to fully appreciate, say, Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, one must also appreciate the circumstances of the presidency, such as the Missouri Compromise of 1850, the Civil War, and the disastrous reign of James Buchannan. So, to that end, what follows is a short, cliff notes version of the history of Disneyland during Walt’s day. For a detailed account of this time in Disneyland’s history, I would whole-heartedly recommend Sam Gennawey’s excellent “The Disneyland Story.” Available in fine bookstores everywhere.

What do you mean, I'm not entitled to royalties for the advertisement?

Disneyland, 1955-1959

Disneyland opened on July 17th, 1955, and revolutionized the theme park industry. Walt spent a ton on landscaping, theming, iconic structures with no attractions, and small details galore. The rides were customized. There were no roller coasters, no ferris wheels, no beer. The employees were happy. There were just as many small attractions as big attractions. And it was all surrounded by a train.

And people loved it! The per-cap Guest spending and the stay time were off the charts, by most estimates both were four times that of the average amusement park. Walt knew that if people genuinely enjoyed the atmosphere, they would stay longer, and spend more money. Like the economy, this is an idea professionals still somehow get wrong today. It’s the stay time, stupid. This was driven by Walt’s idea to have the park be designed by art directors and animators instead of architects and civil engineers. The theme parks were stories in three dimensions, imagination wrapped inside concrete and fiberglass shells. Instead of wandering through an amusement park, Guests felt as though they were walking through genuine fantasy realms and exotic worlds. And they didn’t want to leave.

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TRY TO LEAVE, TIMMY

Now, we all know that opening day at Disneyland was a disaster. But, to be fair, this was not due to the attraction lineup itself but to the naïveté that Disney had in actually running an amusement park: the last-minute construction that caused wet concrete and wet paint, the unfinished plumbing that caused the lack of drinking fountains, the poor gas line engineering that caused the Fantasyland gas leak, the poor ticket stock that caused tickets to be easily counterfeited, the lack of operations knowledge that allowed employees to overload the Mark Twain and cause it to sink, on and on and on. The only real attraction concerns were the pack mules (stubborn and unpredictable) and the Autopia (the lack of a guiderail caused lots of accidents, until the guiderail was installed soon after). And what you might not know was that, while summer and Christmas were very, very busy, the offseason was very, very not.

Walt continued to build out Disneyland during the first couple years, but there were no big expansions, just various ride additions. He would add the Columbia to the Rivers of America, Alice in Wonderland to the Fantasyland dark ride lineup, the Viewliner, the Skyway, and many, many others. He wanted to constantly provide something new for his guests. And, given the success of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Lady and the Tramp,” these new attractions did not break the bank.

However, what is often not told is how precarious the financial position of the park was for the first few years. It is not certain whether Disneyland was actually making its money back. Disneyland would be closed two days a week (usually Monday and Tuesday) during the offseason. Park operating hours (except for Fridays, Saturdays, and holidays) were not nearly as long as they are today (10-6 operating days were the norm). And during the winter and spring, the offseason was dead. Like, 500 people in the park dead (and no, that’s not a Mansion reference. It would have been a Mansion reference had I said there were 999 people in the park, with room for 1,000. But you’re thinking. I like that).

Read testimonials from CM’s at the time (especially managers like Van France, Dick Nunis, or Jack Lindquist), and they’ll tell you that CM’s literally did not know if they would have a job when the offseason started. Most CM’s at the time were seasonal, and they didn’t know whether they would have a position for the next season. The managers literally did not know if they were going to get paid the next week. It was a very scary first few years at Disneyland.

Disneyland Cast Member vision of future Disneyland, circa 1957

All that changed in 1959. Instead of taking his money and running (like the owners of the former Marineland), Walt waved his hands again. He saw two major threats: the continuing running-in-place of Disneyland’s profits, and the introduction of new competition across the country. Indeed, because of Disneyland, there were quite a few parks with Disney’s mindset springing up throughout America. There was Magic Mountain in Denver, Freedomland in the Bronx, and Pleasure Island in Boston. All these parks (and others) were trying to be the next Disneyland, with themed rides and everything. So, like I said, instead of taking his money and running (or doing what they do nowadays and advertise a bunch of characters and WRISTBANDS), Walt took his money as DECIDED TO COMPLETELY ANNIHILATE THEM. No kidding, he went full Gandalf and told the Balrog where he could shove his dark fire.

Thanks, THE BEST wizard

At the same time he was spending $6 million on “Sleeping Beauty” (the most expensive animated film to date), Walt bet the farm again and came up with a full multi-million dollar expansion of the park. He instituted no less than three major E-Tickets, along with a ride replacement and two ride enhancements. All in one summer. The Skyway was rerouted and the Autopia gained an extra track. The Motorboat Cruise was added to the small waterway between Autopia and Fantasyland. And then there were the three E-Tickets. It bears mentioning that these rides were so big and awe-inspiring that they literally invented the term “E-Ticket.” Up until that point, tickets were sold in just the A-D range. And what E-Tickets they were. Walt introduced the first Monorail in the western hemisphere (at that time just a ride around Tomorrowland, since it made no extra stops). The Submarine Voyage ride, at the time the “eighth largest submarine fleet in the world,” made its debut as a space-age update to the old glass-bottom boat rides scattered throughout the country. This time, Walt wanted his Imagineers to know, Guests would be riding under the water, in submarines similar to the SS Nautilus, which famously made a journey to the Arctic Circle in 1958. And of course, Disney created the E-Ticket of E-Tickets, The Matterhorn, the first tubular steel roller coaster in the United States, and the first Disneyland roller coaster. The competition simply could not keep up with Walt’s constant invention, and most of Disneyland’s direct competition closed within the next few years. At that time, Disneylanders knew that the park was here to stay.


Pirates of the Caribbean Overview and the Rogues Gallery, 1955-1959

Pirates of the Caribbean is sheer theme park bliss. It is the culmination of every trick of the trade in the previous 12 year history of the theme park medium. Every single aspect of the attraction proper is superb, because it all was assembled by the individual masters of the theming craft: Marc Davis’s character design and ride pacing, Claude Coats’s staging, ride layout, and background design, Blaine Gibson’s master AA figure sculptures, Alice Davis’s costumes, Wathel Rogers and Roger Broggie’s AA mechanical design, Bill Justice’s figure animation, X. Atencio’s script and song lyrics, Dick Irvine’s administrative oversight, George Bruns’s background music, Yale Gracey’s special effects, and John Hench’s color palette and boat designs. And in the middle, like the conductor of the Hall of Fame orchestra of all time, was Walt. It was the equivalent of the Founding Fathers collaborating on and creating the Constitution.

Take it and run with it, Walt!

Literary commentators, both online and off, have woven gorgeous prose to elaborate on Pirates’s theatrical effectiveness. However, that is outside the scope of this history article, and besides, the elaboration of which would give me carpal tunnel and kill me, probably in that order. The best literature online, in my opinion, is Foxxy’s obsession with Pirates and Mansion (and New Orleans Square in general) over at Passport to Dreams. Check out her articles on Pirates HERE

What I can say is that Pirates will be 50 (!) years old this year, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t as relevant today as it was the year it opened. To this day, Pirates still sees the some of the highest ride counts in the park. It is the culmination of a nascent period in the theme park medium, similar to how Snow White was the culmination of the art form of Disney animation’s forays into cartoon shorts. It grabs us and pulls us in to a three-dimensional world just as forcefully as Snow White pulled us into a two-dimensional world. The art of the craft is just as stunning. It defined three-dimensional storytelling, to the point where it is patently impossible to drink in all the exploding artistic expression in one lone journey. It is just too good, and too mind-blowing, to contain in your mind. There, I’ve said my piece.

Pirates (originally Rogues Gallery or the Pirate Wax Museum) benefited most from the innovations brought forth due to the 1964 New York World’s Fair: the amazing scenic design of the Ford Magic Skyway (which far surpassed the scenic design of any moving vehicle attraction of Disney’s up to that point, at which time the high point was Mine Train Thru Nature’s Wonderland), the ultra high capacity conveyance of It’s a Small World (remember, high capacity rides did not exist at Disneyland before then), and the lifelike human animatronic figures of Mr. Lincoln and Carousel of Progress. The AA figures were especially crucial to Pirates: here was a technology that would allow fully animated characters (like actors) to deliver the same lines over and over again, day after day. The relevance of this will be described in a later section.

The beginning of the Pirates of the Caribbean story was very modest. Walt always had an interest in pirates. He was a big fan of Robert Louis Stevenson and swashbuckling adventure movies growing up. He made several pirate-themed movies in the 1950s and 60s, such as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Blackbeard’s Ghost, and tied pirate cameos into still more, such as Peter Pan and Swiss Family Robinson. So it was no surprise that Walt had pirates in his mind for Disneyland from the very beginning.

As Disneyland was in its initial stages of design, the area we know today as Adventureland was called “True Life Land,” in reference to the then-new True Life Adventures documentary series that Disney was producing and presenting before its feature films. Walt asked Herb Ryman if he could try to fit some sort of pirates area into True Life Land. Ryman came up with a small piece of real estate for two different experiences called “Blue Beard’s Den” and the “Pirate Shack.” It remains a mystery what exactly these experiences would entail. Most likely, they would be individual rooms with certain mechanical effects (think Main Street Cinema crossed with Adventurer’s Club), however this is purely conjecture on my part.

Ironically this wouldn't be out of place in 1955 Fantasyland

Time passed. Disneyland opened. And of course, there was no pirate shack. But Walt did not give up on his pirate idea. There was still plenty of undeveloped land on Disneyland’s west side. In fact, in the late 1950s Frontierland was the equivalent of Soviet Russia. It’s land stretched all the way from the western border of Fantasyland (what is now the Pinocchio Village Haus area), through what is today Frontierland, and all along the Rivers of America from the broadway from Main Street to the intersection with Adventureland all the way out to what is now Critter Country. Imagine if Walt Disney World’s Liberty Square and Frontierland were combined into one big Frontierland and this is how dominant Frontierland was at Disneyland.

The big one is the Mark Twain

In what is the current New Orleans Square area, there was a very nice park-like area called Magnolia Park. It extended from the Aunt Jemima Pancake House (now River Belle Terrace) to the Swift Chicken Plantation Restaurant (now Haunted Mansion). Magnolia Park was a relaxing area with plenty of shade trees and benches for people to rest (for real though guys, Disneyland was built on a teeny tiny budget). This area also hosted some live entertainment on summer nights and weekends, as people would grab food from one of the nearby restaurants and sit under the stars in Magnolia Park.

Prior to 1959, as Disneyland’s revenues and attendance increased, Walt targeted Magnolia Park to be the location for a New Orleans-inspired section. In Walt’s view, it was an obvious choice. In his mind, the Rivers of America most resembled the colossal Mississippi River, the artery of American waters. This is most obvious considering the Mark Twain steamboat is designed after a Mississippi sternwheeler, and that Tom Sawyer Island (Tom Sawyer frequently made trips on the Mississippi) was at the center of the circular river. So, Walt felt Magnolia Park would be a natural location for New Orleans Square.

Apart from Herb Ryman’s concepts for the True Life Land pirate adventures, John Hench and Bill Martin began principle designs for a New Orleans Square in 1956. Sam McKim would take over the development in 1957 and finally released plans for NOS in 1958.

NOS at that time consisted of a giant New Orleans storefront area (think one side of Main Street) facing the River, stretching from the Adventureland connection path to the Plantation Restaurant. This giant storefront would then hide the three major experiences within the Square: The Blue Bayou Mart, The Thieves Market, and The Pirate Wax Museum/Rogues Gallery.

The major attraction would have actually be the Blue Bayou Mart. It was the Blue Bayou concept jumbo-sized. In addition to a restaurant similar to Blue Bayou, the enclosed Blue Bayou Mart area would be connected to the (also enclosed) Thieves Market, which would be the location for all the stores, snack, and drink vendors.

So picture this: there is a massive storefront, Main Street-like, themed to New Orleans and stretching the length of what is currently NOS (remember no Pirates at this time). Behind this storefront would be the entirety of NOS as we know it (the alleys, stores, etc.) ENCLOSED IN A BLUE BAYOU SETTING. ALL OF IT. All the alleys and back walkways of NOS would be under the eternal nighttime ambience of the Blue Bayou. Not only that, but according to Sam McKim’s plans, the show building would also have “various rain and quicksand (!) effects.” DUDE.

The Pirate Wax Museum would be located off to the side, in the “basement” of NOS. Guests would literally descend via stairs/elevator into an underground cavern area (famously that area is now the cavern sequence of the current DL Pirates) and meet their tour guide, who would lead them through several scenes recreating the life of pirates in the Caribbean centuries ago. Of course, without the aid of animatronics, these scenes would be static, with some mechanical and lighting effects to give some life to the scene.

However, Sam McKim’s wax museum concept was very basic, and was not seriously considered by Walt in the late-1950s. Mostly he was distracted by other ideas (1959 expansion), but also, it is important to note that Walt was starting to sour on the concept of walk-through attractions. He was very excited to open the Sleeping Beauty Diorama inside Sleeping Beauty Castle in 1956, but he was disappointed how the attraction turned out. He was having a debate with his Imagineers over whether future Disneyland walk-through should be self-guided (like Sleeping Beauty or Swiss Family Treehouse), or if a tour guide should take groups of guests around to set up and display show scenes. Eventually they would settle on the tour guide for theming and pacing purposes. However, this concept, along with the Haunted House, was put on hold for the 1959 expansion, and picked back up at a later date.


Haunted Mansion Overview and History 1955-1957

And now we come to the Mansion, the Lennon to Pirates’s McCarthy. The Mansion has been called by many to be the greatest example of special design in human history. It is the favorite attraction of millions of visitors, despite reaching its 50th anniversary. It fires the imaginations of first-timers the same way it did when it opened in 1969. It has survived movies, and TV, and VHS, and DVD, and arcades, and Nintendo, and the internet, and now virtual reality. And it still has all its teeth, bared. What a ride.

Again, the thematic design and semiotics of this ride is outside the scope of this article. I would recommend you visit the excellent articles at Long Forgotten HERE and Foxxy’s excellent articles at Passport to Dreams HERE. I highly recommend them…they’re probably the seminal works on Mansion on the internet.

The Ghost House has been a primal staple of our subconscious since…I have no idea. But it certainly permeates the American fantasy landscape. From the scary ghost stories we used to tell as kids (after all, we all had at least one scary house on our streets growing up, right?) to the countless Hollywood horror movies to the Haunted Shack/Mansion/Pretzel rides of the early amusement parks. In addition, many of Walt’s animated movies and shorts had visceral, primal, and unforgettable horror elements inserted in them. He knew the primeval power of the horror motif. Since the Skeleton Dance was released in 1929, Disney reveled in the macabre. From the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment of Fantasia, to The Old Mill, the forest sequence and the Witch transformation in Snow White, the dragon sequence in Sleeping Beauty, on and on and on, Disney knew the most effective fairy tales were the ones with genuinely frightening elements. If Walt Disney was going to have amusement park staples like carousels, dark rides, and roller coasters (Matterhorn) at his park, he surely would want to employ the most thematic of all the amusement park staples. And he certainly did.

The Mansion would be a thought bubble in Disneyland’s design literally since the theme park concept began. The earliest known production drawing of a Haunted House ride was during the days of the Burbank Mickey Mouse Park in 1951. Hollywood art director and Disney artist Harper Goff had been put on Walt’s payroll at this time to design his Mickey Mouse Park across the street from the animation studio. Even these pre-natal Disneyland designs featured a Haunted House. Walt just couldn’t resist.

As the Burbank park turned into Disneyland, early Imagineers Marvin Davis and Ken Anderson would take on the Haunted House project. As Disneyland was taking shape, the prevailing wisdom would be that it would be off of Main Street, before one reaches the Hub. It was, in fact, the first of the side-street concepts for Main Street that were never built (International Street, Liberty Street, etc.). The House would be located on a crooked, dead-end side street off of Main Street proper, like a mini version of Sunset Boulevard leading to the Tower of Terror. Obviously, these plans never came to fruition. The Haunted House concept would be temporarily abandoned as Disneyland got up and running.

In 1957, the same time that Sam McKim took up new plans for the New Orleans Square/Pirates concepts, Ken Anderson once again picked up the plans for the Haunted House. As Disneyland was looking to expand, Walt targeted the House to be located next to the new New Orleans section, replacing Magnolia Park. Except, at this time, the House would be located on the other end of NOS from where it sits currently. In the late-1950s plans, it would be located in the area where the Adventureland pathway and the Swiss Family Treehouse is now, next to the current River Belle. Unfortunately, like the pirate plans, the concept would be put on hold yet again.


Disneyland History, 1960-1964

Disneyland went through an interesting lull after the 1959 expansion blew everyone’s minds. Perhaps they all had to pick their brains up off the pavement, having just exploded in a tornado of excitement. Wow was that gruesome. Anyway, stories differ as to the reason for the lull. Some say Walt did not know whether Disneyland would survive the 1959 expansion before it happened. Some say his respect for his brother Roy put some of his plans on hiatus, since Walt literally built the Matterhorn while Roy wasn’t looking (that’s actually true. Roy expressly forbid Walt from building something so ridiculously huge as the Matterhorn, since the company coffers were not inexhaustible. So Walt had his Imagineers design it and started construction while Roy was on vacation. True story. He was a combination of David Copperfield and Matt Damon’s pickpocket character in Ocean’s Eleven). Some say Walt didn’t go crazy with Disneyland because Sleeping Beauty was going way, way, way, way over budget. Some say he had a bit of a breakdown during this time (again supposedly because of Sleeping Beauty, as well as his increased responsibilities everywhere else) and decided to take a few vacations. Whatever the reason, Disneyland from 1959-1963 did not see a lot of change, at least not nearly as much as it had in the previous five years of operation. But, there were two monumental developments during this time.

The first was the migration of Marc Davis. Marc would revolutionize the entire concept of Disney’s themed attractions. In 1961, Marc had just completed his tour-de-force animation of Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians. He had planned to help create a new animated movie himself, based on the fantasy story of Chanticleer. (Chanticleer was about a swashbuckling rooster. Moving on.) Unfortunately for Marc, Bill Peet was the reigning story king at the animation studio at the time (having written/storyboarded Dalmatians ALL BY HIMSELF), and Walt deferred to Bill to create the next Disney animated movie, which would turn out to be Sword in the Stone. Having lost a lot of his enthusiasm for animation, Marc joined the Imagineering team over at Disneyland. Marc had an incredible story sense, and had helped with storyboards and story direction for the animated films (he actually influenced the design of most of the animal characters in Bambi). He also designed many great moments for his memorable animated characters, from Maleficent to Tinker Bell to Cruella.

Walt invited Marc to “take a look around” Disneyland, and to come back with notes. When Marc did in fact come back, he told Walt that he had many concerns about the theming and story pacing of many of the attractions. So Walt got Marc started by helping re-theme the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train, which at the time was a mellow train ride through a landscape inspired by the True-Life Adventure film The Living Desert. The ride featured show scenes of (stationary) animals in a desert habitat, along with the infamous teetering rock formation, geysers, and the Rainbow Caverns. Marc told Walt there was plenty of ideas he had that could make the attraction more entertaining. He was flummoxed by some of the design decisions, such as the decision to arrange the benches on the train to face toward each other, like the front rows of the parking lot trams. Marc told Walt quite adamantly that “people don’t like to ride like that…it’s unnatural and uncomfortable.” So Walt challenged him to re-design the attraction. Marc took the most exciting elements of the Rainbow Caverns attraction and added several more show scenes, with the intention of telling a story for each one. The pigs trapped a bobcat on top of a cactus. The bears were fishing and napping by the river. The coyotes would pull on a piece of meat.


The biggest element that Marc felt was sorely lacking at Disneyland was humor. When you think about it, there was little to no humor in any of the attractions in the 1950s. The Tomorrowland attractions were science-fiction and deadly serious. Frontierland was made up of natural attractions like the pack mule ride. The Fantasyland dark rides were very, well, dark in tone. So that was Marc’s number one priority throughout his career at Imagineering. Famously in Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland, he saw a fox nodding up and down, and a hundred feet away there was another fox shaking his head left to right. So he immediately placed the two foxes facing each other, and suddenly you have humor. He would also do weird things like design cactus in the attraction to look like the seven dwarfs. Whatever it took. Overall, Marc’s designs for the Imagineers would present stories in each scene, well-defined characters, broad thematic situations, and visual humor. These would all become trademarks not only of Marc’s theme park style, but Disney’s theme park style over the next decade.

Marc would also do the same thing with the Jungle Cruise, adding the elephant bathing pool and, of course, the comedy spiel. Walt ate it up. He was especially happy with JC, because it was an attraction that was starting to get old with repeat visitors. JC was the attraction where Walt famously overheard a family saying, “we don’t have to go on that, we’ve already seen it” as they walked past. Walt was determined from then on to add as much repeatability as possible to his attractions, starting with JC.

The second major development in Disneyland’s history during this time was Walt’s sudden obsession with Audio-Animatronics. As the story goes, while on vacation Walt was wandering around a store and saw a little mechanical bird in a cage. He bought the little bird and took it back to his Imagineers and said, “We have to find a way to do this!” He had his buddies in the machine shop (Roger Broggie and Wathel Rogers) take the bird apart to see how it worked. He would then spend the next few years working with his Imagineers to bring Audio-Animatronics to life. From the Dancing Man figure of Buddy Ebsen to the little mechanical recreation of So Dear to My Heart to the singing Barbershop Quartet, the Imagineers continued to make progress in constructing bigger and better animatronics.

Eventually, Walt hit upon the idea for an Adventureland restaurant where an animatronic Confucius would regale diners with his stand-up routine and impressions of Buddy Hackett (okay, he would impart wisdom and stuff). 

GET IT??!! Come on, this could have been great!

Since the Imagineers would have such a hard time bringing to life a humanized animatronic, eventually Walt would return to the source and replace the Chinese philosopher with a restaurant full of tiki birds, who would sing and serenade the diners throughout their meal. As we all know, the restaurant idea was abandoned, and the Enchanted Tiki Room became the first Audio-Animatronic attraction.

Over the period of a year in 1962-1963, Adventureland got a lot of loving and received a major makeover, with the addition of the Tiki Room, the new and improved Jungle Cruise, and the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. This was the most action Disneyland had seen since 1959. However, after these attractions opened, Walt tasked the entire Imagineering team to work on the four Disney attractions at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. So, Disneyland would not see any new attractions for another few years.


The Rogues Gallery/Pirate Wax Museum Overview and History, 1959-1964

Picking up where we left off, right before plans for the New York World’s Fair came to fruition, Walt gave the go-ahead to start construction on the New Orleans Square project, which would be the first new themed land built since the park’s opening. Construction on New Orleans Square began, to the point where steel beams for the Pirate Wax Museum were put in place in the basement underneath the construction site. However, like everything else at Disneyland, New Orleans Square would be halted so the Imagineers could work on attractions for the World’s Fair.

But before this event happened, the Pirates project underneath New Orleans Square was given to Marc Davis, at around the same time he was helping with the Tiki Room. Walt gave Marc only vague instructions; he knew that he wanted to have “something” with pirates, but he was never able to articulate exactly what. So, without any real options (a standard dark ride or train ride would be inappropriate in the NOS basement location), the project became a walking tour/wax museum almost by default. Marc would go on a trip and found influences in the Madame Tussaud’s wax museums around the country, as well as the Chamber of Horrors attraction in London.

The original wax museum concept was very dark, with influences of the voodoo past of New Orleans (some of which can be seen at the Mansion). Marc actually kept the tone for the attraction because of the location, but injected humor and pathos into many of the wax museum scenes to make it “more Disney.”

Sam McKim had already designed an attraction that was very heavily themed, placing guests in a surprisingly immersive environment for 1957. Marc, of course, upped the ante even more. The guests would be fully transported to the Caribbean Islands of the 18th century. This was not to simply be a series of displays with wax figures. Marc designed an attraction where the Guests would be thrown in the middle of a Caribbean town as it was being ransacked by pirates (hey, just like the eventual attraction!). Each scene would be a full show scene, Marc Davis action scenes as the tour guide sets the mood and delivers the adventure spiel. The tour guide would take approximately 50-70 Guests at a time through 6-8 show scenes (depending on Marc’s draft version). Each scene would display a vignette of the pirates, and each scene would include state-of-the-art lighting and projection effects, as well as mechanical props.


With each pass that Marc did, the sets and tableaus became more and more elaborate. Eventually, there was a real possibility that the first human animatronics would be for the Rogues Gallery. After the failure of the Confucius figure and before the Lincoln figure, the Imagineers had the idea that each of the pirate show scenes would feature one pirate animatronic, who could also act out the plot. Eventually, this led to the idea that there would not be any more tour guides. Guests would be let in 50-70 at a time, and would be free to wander through the attraction at their leisure. Once an appropriate amount of Guests left the attraction, another group would be let in. Each show scene would come to life every 5 minutes or so, and guests could spend as much time as they wanted inside the attraction. However, once the Imagineers reached this point, all Disneyland projects were put on hold for the World’s Fair.


Haunted Mansion Original Versions and History, 1957-1964

As we left off, Ken Anderson had once again taken over the Mansion project in 1957. Anderson was an appropriate choice for Walt, not only because he worked on the original Main Street Haunted House but also because he was the lead designer for the Fantasyland collection of dark rides. Anderson would pour his heart and soul into designing the Mansion before leaving to return back to the animation division to work on 101 Dalmatians. And he would certainly have an interesting and convoluted conception period.

No kidding, Anderson went through no less than four distinct versions for the overall plot of the Mansion. Before he began, he talked with Walt about what he had in mind for the concept. As Walt usually did with these sorts of projects, he gave Ken his feelings of what the attraction should be, but left out many crucial details. He would often leave it to his Imagineers to fill in the blanks. For the Mansion, Walt wanted to have the idea that it would be a “retirement home” for ghosts, since he “felt bad” that they had nowhere to go. 


He also liked the idea that the Mansion be designed to look like a big mansion or plantation from the Old South. Beyond that, he didn’t have much. Anderson then went to work. He did copious research on southern mansions and plantations, eventually birthing the iconic Louisiana plantation house/antebellum mansion that exists today (to note, Walt did not like the look of Anderson’s mansion, thinking it looked too dirty and run-down, and it featured lots of dead trees and hanging Spanish Moss lining the pathway to the Mansion’s entrance. Anderson would often fight with Walt on this, insisting that a haunted mansion should actually look haunted. But Walt was adamant that “the ghosts take care of the inside, and we take care of the outside.” Eventually the Disneyland Mansion would be cleaned up and feature a neat and tidy front lawn as Walt wanted. But the look of the Mansion itself is very close to Anderson’s original concept).

For the story of the Mansion, Anderson drew upon not just the horror tradition in Hollywood, but also the Winchester Mystery House, the infamous 161-room mansion with doors and stairways that lead literally to nowhere. Anderson’s first story concept (remember, at this point the House is a walk-through attraction) involved the bloodthirsty Captain Gore, owner of the Mansion. You would be lead through the Mansion by your tour guide Beauregard the Butler (for real). The Mansion was to be the seaside manor of the old sea captain named Gore, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances years earlier. The tour began in one of the front rooms, reached by descending a set of stairs from the entrance. A precursor to the eventual Stretch Room sequence, after the butler completes his introduction, the entire floor of the front room begins to descend, and Guests realize that they are actually on a ride platform/elevator. The floor descends into the basement, where the tour begins. Along the way, there are the expected special effects elements: secret passageways, changing portraits, wandering statues, watching walls, and inanimate objects come to life. One especially memorable scene involved a pair of hands emerging from a secret panel in the wall behind the butler. The story would be told through several animated window displays (similar to the Rogues Gallery), eventually revealing that Captain Gore killed his wife Priscilla and hung himself in the attic.

Anderson’s second story involved the Blood Family of Bloodmere Manor. The Blood Family was not a group of vampire serial killers but just an unlucky family who owned the Mansion but died under mysterious circumstances. As the story goes (and this is played out in a similar sequence and tone to the Captain Gore story, including many similar tricks and effects), ghosts began to haunt the Mansion after the deaths of the Blood Family. The subsequent owners tried to make changes to the house (where it is mysteriously always night), but the ghosts wouldn’t let them, always playing pranks on the construction workers, and the Mansion was left abandoned. This attraction was a similar walking tour attraction.

A Ken Anderson show scene

The third version of the story was probably the weirdest version, because instead of a tour guide, Guests would have actually been accompanied by Walt Disney himself! Of course, Walt would not be physically present, but his recorded voice would lead the tour group, Ghost Host-like, through each show scene. The Walt version of the attraction was similar to the Blood story, with the added element of a “ghost wedding” climax at the end (bringing the idea of Priscilla the bride back in).

The fourth and final version combined elements from all of the above. Anderson kept the Blood story but also brought back the sea captain and his wife as being two of the ghosts residing in the Mansion. An entire scene was built around their story, climaxing in a major cool flooding effect of the room the Guests were standing in. This final version featured an added climax of the Headless Horseman (of Ichabod Crane fame) breaking up the ghost wedding at the end (this scene was actually quite similar to the current Mansion graveyard scene, and is undoubtedly the impetus behind the final version).

Though Walt was not completely satisfied, he gave Anderson and the Imagineers the go-ahead to continue with the development of the Mansion, and to create mock-ups and models of the eventual show scenes. During this time, Walt felt it was time for the Mansion to gain some extra inspiration, so he recruited Imagineering legends Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump to brainstorm ideas about the spooky effects to be used in the Mansion. This was probably his most inspired decision. Rolly Crump was actually an amateur magician and was a whiz with kinetic sculptures and weird architectural features, and he knew the secrets to many of the oldest magic tricks. Yale Gracey was a mechanical genius and model builder, and knew the secrets to many of the movie industry’s go-to special effects. Both were, to put it mildly, outside-the-box thinkers. The two of them would spend most of 1959, locked in the same office, dreaming of mind-blowing effects for the Mansion. And eventually, they delivered them, in scene after scene after scene.

After a few years of work, like the New Orleans Square/Pirates projects Walt approved the next phase of development for the Mansion. However, he still wasn’t entirely convinced with the product. The Operations team thought the show was too long, since each scene took 3-4 minutes, having 6 or so scenes (plus walking) made the tour over 30 minutes long. Walt also wasn’t big on the walk-through format because of the Sleeping Beauty Diorama, and he still didn’t like the run-down look of the outside of the Mansion. But plans continued.

After a while, the Mansion had to get kicked to the northern section of NOS. Though it was originally planned for the area between NOS and Adventureland, this land was suddenly swallowed up by the Swiss Family Treehouse and the Indian section of the expanded Jungle Cruise. So, the Mansion was set to replace the Swift Chicken Plantation Restaurant. Disneyland souvenir maps and advertisements claimed that the Mansion would open by 1963.

Construction began on the exterior of the Mansion, and was actually completed by 1963. But alas, Walt still wasn’t happy with the final product, so the Mansion sat empty, with the Mansion itself sitting only as a façade. Before plans were halted, Operations had finally got some of its way. They increasingly pushed for more and more capacity, and finally the Imagineers came up with the idea that the attraction building be built outside the berm, with an underground tunnel/themed area to connect the entrance and the show building. This would allow the Imagineers to have room enough to build two identical walk-through attractions, for more capacity. Most stories agree that the Imagineers came up with this idea (the show building outside the berm) for Mansion first, before using it for Pirates. This is the point where all Disneyland projects were put on hold for the World’s Fair, and the Mansion sat empty for years, with only Marty Sklar’s tantalizing advertisement for ghosts to get youngsters far and wide to wonder what was in that spooky antebellum Mansion.

This is a Ken Anderson original...so yeah, I'd say it was pretty close to the mark

Pirates of the Caribbean Finalization, 1965-1967

You’ll notice that we skipped the history of Disneyland from 1965-1970. This section is very simple, since most of the attention was given to Pirates and Mansion. Once Walt and Imagineers were done with the World’s Fair, they returned back to Disneyland (and in the background, Walt started plans for Project X in Florida). During this time, Walt’s imagination was running on overdrive, as the Fair and the Florida idea (plus the Mineral King Ski Resort, plus CalArts, plus Mary Poppins, plus Jungle Book, plus…) had unleashed his creative instincts. And as we all know, Walt Disney hated sequels, and was always looking for something bigger and better that he could do next. During the 1965-1970 time frame, Walt decreed three orders of business for Disneyland: first, bring the attractions of the New York World’s Fair to Disneyland. Second, finish the New Orleans expansion. And third, complete a complete renovation of Tomorrowland, which Walt had felt had been unfinished since the park opened. These three objectives were completed, some after his death. The four World’s Fair pavilions found their way to Disneyland: the Pepsi/UNICEF Pavilion (It’s a Small World at the back corner of Fantasyland), the General Electric Progressland Pavilion (the Carousel of Progress show, a staple of the New Tomorrowland), the Illinois Pavilion (Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln in the Main Street Opera House) and the Ford Pavilion (dinosaurs appeared in the Primeval World Diorama on the last leg of the Disneyland Railroad, and the conveyance system for the Ford Magic Skyway was used as inspiration for the Peoplemover, again part of the New Tomorrowland). And of course, Tomorrowland received its extreme makeover, with several new attraction experiences, including (most relevant to this article) Adventure Thru Inner Space, the first attraction to use the Omnimover conveyance method for the ride vehicles.

And so Walt also had the Imagineers pick up the plans for the New Orleans expansion. At this point, Marc Davis’s star was rapidly rising, having not only hit home runs with the Mine Train and Jungle Cruise, but also with the Tiki Room and It’s a Small World, which was designed and built on an incredibly rushed timeline. Coming back from the Fair, Marc picked up where he left off on Pirates. His first inspiration, approved by Walt, was to make Pirates less scary/voodoo-y and instead play up the pirates to have broader personalities and have more potential for comedic moments. The story, then, would be turned into more of an adventure tale like Treasure Island rather than a horror/mystery.

As Marc started to work, another necessary change became apparent. The World’s Fair had taught the Disney operators about the need for increased capacity (since at this time, Guests were paying with tickets to go on each ride). The Fair really impressed upon Disneyland’s operators how fast Guests could be moved through an attraction. There was enormous pressure on the current planned walk-through adventures (including Pirates and Mansion) to include a much faster and more efficient means of conveyance. The obvious answer for Pirates was a boat conveyance system. Not only did it fit thematically, but a high-capacity boat system was constructed for It’s a Small World, which could then carry more than 3,000 Guests per hour through the attraction with an endless procession of 22-passenger boats (much better than the walk-through, which would average about 800-900). Dick Nunis, then an Operations Director and the eventual President of Walt Disney Attractions, was insistent that Pirates be given a boat system. Walt and the Imagineers agreed, on one condition. When Claude Coats was assigned to the project and began to work on the ride layout, he hated the Small World fiberglass flume system. He suggested instead that the boats be put on a guided path through a natural waterway. This would not only work within the bayou/pirate bay setting, but would also help with reflecting the lighting and the dark ambience of the attraction, as well as give the feeling that the ransacked town had been “flooded.” This would provide Guests, as Coats described, “a genuine waterborne adventure.”

And so, with the new ride idea in place, the Pirates concept would have to outgrow the basement area that had originally been assigned to the Rogues Gallery. Like with Mansion, the Imagineers were to build the show building outside the berm. The boats would plunge down a waterfall into a prelude “caverns” area (actually the original area for the wax museum), where they would also flow underneath the Disneyland Railroad tracks, until they finally reached the show building in all its full glory. The jail scene would then be the return to the park proper underneath the tracks, where a “reverse waterfall” would take Guests back up to New Orleans Square and the load area. The show building would be constructed in an area that was once used for Holidayland, which was a large patch of land that Walt put aside to invite companies to Disneyland to have picnics. Along with picnic areas were softball fields and event tents for other companies to host parties and get-togethers, where their Guests could also enter Disneyland proper through Magnolia Park. And so, everyone said goodbye to Holidayland.

And so the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction was born. Marc Davis understood the layout of the scenes now that Guests would be passing on boats and not standing in one place for several minutes. All the scenes had to be simple and broad, because each scene would act as a piece of a puzzle. Marc loved to say, and repeated often, that the theme and atmosphere of an attraction mattered more than the plot. After all, Pirates has very little plot. Marc often repeated that what was important was that Guests experience the “idea” of pirates, not the plot of a pirate movie. It is how you put Guests in the headspace, and let them use their imaginations. It is about the experience, the feeling of the attraction. This is part of the reason why survey after survey proves that Guests find non-plot driven attractions like Pirates, Mansion, Space Mountain, Jungle Cruise, and Small World to be far more memorable than the more recent plot-heavy attractions.

To support Marc’s brilliant show scenes, Claude Coats and John Hench put on a tour de force in designing the backgrounds and ride layout for the attraction. The mood and tone in Pirates throughout is literally note perfect, from the lighting, the colors, the atmosphere, everything. Coats and Hench not only were artistic geniuses, but, as true background artists, knew that backgrounds were supposed to support the action, and not be an artistic statement in itself. One of the most unsung artistic efforts in cinematic history was Claude Coat’s brilliant work on Lady and the Tramp, which is full of amazing Victorian background art and stage-setting, yet is always overlooked, because every frame of the background art is designed to support the story, and not cry out for attention. If you have the Lady and the Tramp Platinum DVD, I whole-heartedly recommend watching the art documentary where current Disney artists marvel over Coats’s background art for the alley dog chase scene. It is so masterful, but you’d never notice, because you’re so caught up in the story itself! Coats and Hench do the same thing with Pirates. Both of them were truly unsung heroes of art in the Imagineering circles.

Walt had also plucked X. Atencio from the middle ranks of the animation division to write the show script for Pirates. While X. was hesitant at first, like Blaine Gibson before he was picked by Walt to take up sculpting (and become the finest sculptor at the company), he trusted that Walt knew what he was doing (smart move). X studied several dozen pirate movies and read plenty of pirate history to get the slang and pacing of the dialogue down. He and Walt also decided that there should be a song sung by the pirates in the attraction to take some of the edge off the rascally pirates, and to provide a sense of thematic continuity. X came up with a few lyrics and presented them to Walt, thinking he would give the idea to the Sherman Brothers (who had written the songs for the Tiki Room and Small World, as well as Mary Poppins). But nope, Walt just told X to see George Bruns to come up with the music. So X, with no music training whatsoever, wrote all of the lyrics for “Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me.” The brilliant George Bruns (another unsung artistic hero who wrote the background music for Sleeping Beauty, Jungle Book, and the Davy Crockett series, among many others) then devised the melody for the song and wrote it into the background music for the entire attraction, which set the mood brilliantly.

These artistic grand slams run through every aspect of the attraction, from Blaine Gibson’s character models to the animatronic animation to Alice Davis’s costumes. And it was all conducted in perfect unison by Walt, the old Mousetro himself. Like the greatest fantasy orchestra of all time, the Imagineers on the Pirates team conducted a mind-blowing symphony. We are so lucky that, due to the foreverness of the theme park, we can experience the artistic brilliance of Pirates over and over again, year after year. We can experience it in person, live, every time, not on a recording or a facsimile. The world should be so lucky. Pirates opened in 1967, only a few months after New Orleans Square itself and Walt’s passing, and is probably the most visited and successful theme park attraction in history. It is little wonder why many fans consider Pirates of the Caribbean to be the greatest attraction of all time.


Haunted Mansion Finalization, 1965-1969

The Mansion, like its previous history, had a slightly more convoluted path to realization once the Imagineers returned from the World’s Fair. Since Ken Anderson had gone back to animation, Marc Davis and Claude Coats were chosen to be the artistic leads, with the help of Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey (still working on those effects). They would eventually be joined by X. Atencio after his work on Pirates, who was recruited to write the script. The new Imagineering team set to work to revamp the Mansion idea.

The problem was, they were all pushing and pulling in different directions. Claude Coats predominantly created background art for the walk-through, scarier Mansion experience, with dark scenes and creepy horror movie atmosphere. Yale Gracey, taking a cue from Pirates and the Operations team that kept pushing for more capacity, started working on plans for a boat ride through a submerged and flooded Mansion, which was sinking into the bayou due to the curses of Captain Blood. Marc Davis ditched the tour guide idea (similar to what he did on Pirates) and instead came up with the “Ghost Host” concept, where a disembodied ghost voice would take Guests around the house and set up the story for each scene. Marc also gave the Mansion a much lighter tone. He drew an endless amount of humorous ghost scenes that were far closer to the Mickey, Donald, and Goofy Lonesome Ghosts cartoon than they were to Ken Anderson’s haunted horror house.

After a while, Walt was fed up with the time being wasted on making so many versions of the Mansion and challenged the Mansion’s lead artists to pitch their best ideas for what should be included. The best ideas would stay in, the others would be tossed out. But from that day on, the entire team would have to work together toward making the Mansion a reality, like they did on Pirates. Walt liked Marc’s Ghost Host idea, as well as Yale’s effects. But the team couldn’t decide on whether the Mansion should be more of a spoof, as Marc Davis championed (which he said would make the ride “more Disney,” like Jungle Book or Winnie the Pooh), or more like the iconic “dark house,” the one glimpsed in the Hollywood horror movies, which Claude Coats supported and that Ken Anderson had developed. And then came Rolly Crump’s idea. Which came out of absolute nowhere.

Rolly didn’t think the Mansion should be funny, or scary. No, he said, there was a third option. He thought it should be…strange. Just flat-out strange. Like Salvador Dali/Pink Elephants on Parade strange. He wanted the Mansion to be different. He thought the funny Mansion would be too similar to the Marc Davis-inspired Disney attractions and the Mickey Mouse cartoons. He thought Guests would have seen 1,001 haunted house movies and didn’t want to see another. He told Walt Disney right in front of the entire team, “if we don’t do something different, then Haunted Mansion is just going to be the same old thing.”

So Walt asked what exactly he had in mind. That’s when Rolly came up with his weird designs. His REALLY weird designs. Like to the point where I can’t even describe the designs, they’re so weird.





So this one is like…a mirror fish with a…okay, you know what, screw it. I’m not even going to try.

So they were out there. REALLY, REALLY out there. Walt absolutely loved the designs, but didn’t know what to do with them. He didn’t want the attraction to be covered with these sorts of designs, yet he wanted them SOMEWHERE. Walt went home that night, and stayed up most of the night thinking about it. He roared into Rolly’s office the next day. “You son of a gun, that stuff drove me crazy all night long, but I finally know what to do with it!”

Thus was born Rolly Crump’s Museum of the Weird. Walt explained to Rolly that the Museum would be a pre-show area for the Mansion walk-through experience, sort of Adventurer’s Club on steroids. It would be the first room Guests encountered when they walked through the entrance, before they were led on the tour. Guests could spend as much time as they wanted in the Museum (someone even took the concept into overdrive and suggested, similar to Pirates, that there could be a restaurant experience attached before Guests entered the attraction, sort of a haunted Blue Bayou). Some of the figures would come to life and talk to the Guests, or just be static effects. For example, Rolly had a concept for a gypsy wagon that would spring to life every few minutes, and various heads and miniature figures on the wagon would move and talk.

"What's that, mommy?"
"Nothing honey, probably just another pointless prop for Goofy's Candy Company"

Unfortunately, the creative momentum of these meetings would not last. Walt passed away soon after. Now that the orchestra had lost its conductor, there was a great deal of uncertainty as to how to proceed, until Roy Disney got Imagineering back on track and focused on the Florida Project. At Disneyland, their main priorities were to finish Pirates and NOS proper, as well as the Tomorrowland renovation. Haunted Mansion was put on hold once more.

But once these attractions were completed, the Mansion began life again. And this time, it came with a unique (and very lucky) spark of inspiration. While the Mansion was in a holding pattern, the Imagineers had designed the Adventure Thru Inner Space attraction in Tomorrowland. Taking a cue from the Ford Magic Skyway/Peoplemover means of conveyance, mechanical genius Bob Gurr invented the Omnimover system, where an unbroken chain of ride vehicles would be linked together and constantly moving in unison throughout the attraction. The omnimover cabs were like shells, framing the action in front of the Guests, and the mechanical stand underneath the vehicles could swivel the Guests a full 360 degrees to view different show scenes, allowing for a full panoramic yet still cinematic experience. The idea was perfect for the Mansion. The shells were painted black and the Doom Buggy was born.

In an incredible lightning in a bottle sequence of events, all of the opposing factions of the Mansion’s design not only worked together, but somehow ludicrously managed to fit in segments of everyone’s design ideas into the finished product! The fact that the Mansion still works brilliantly as a singular product is a testament that the Imagineers were all geniuses, not just Walt Disney. Despite their different opinions, everyone worked together to make what they considered to be the best Mansion possible. Claude Coats’s horror house atmosphere dominates the first half of the attraction, with horror movie images such as the hanged man above the Stretch Room, the floating candelabra, and the corridor of (knocking) doors. Marc Davis includes many of his designs in the second half of the attraction, where the ghosts come out to play. Marc’s sequences also make it appropriate to introduce X. Atencio’s ghostly theme song, “Grim Grinning Ghosts.” (One of the unsung heroes of the Mansion was composer Buddy Baker, who not only composed the theme song but the background music throughout the entire attraction. Buddy at the time was composing music for Winnie the Pooh, and would eventually compose the music on many classic Disney attractions, including If You Had Wings and much of EPCOT Center. Buddy’s music somehow fit in to both Claude’s dark Mansion and Marc’s lighter Mansion. The guy was brilliant)

Ken Anderson’s elevator platform preshow was brilliantly resurrected to become the Stretch Rooms, the ingenious way the Imagineers get the Guests underneath the Disneyland Railroad tracks and into the show building beyond the berm (the hitchhiking ghosts sequence gets them back into the park proper). Ken Anderson’s Séance Room and Graveyard ideas were also kept in the final product (though with many Marc Davis changes).

And, last but not least, even Rolly Crump’s Museum of the Weird made appearances throughout the attraction, as hard as it is to believe. Whenever you see a surreal item in the Mansion, such as the “Donald Duck” chair in the candelabra sequence, the disembodied arms as torch-holders in the Unload area, or the demon clock perpetually striking midnight, these are Rolly Crump originals inspired by similar designs for Museum of the Weird.

A Rolly Crump addition to the Unload area


And so the two most mind-blowing attractions in theme park history were born, thanks to the brilliance of Walt Disney and his Imagineers. It just goes to show their eternal respect for artistic inspiration: both of these attraction ideas were conceived before Disneyland even opened. Yet Walt and his artists continued to pick at them, a little at a time, because they knew the concepts were right, and were just waiting on the proper execution. It is so satisfying to study them today, because they were true artists, unhindered by real-world problems, like a team of world-class chefs preparing an ultimate feast with all the ingredients in the world at their disposal. And yet, because of the nature of the theme park, we can devour these artistic expressions right now, again, and the experience is almost exactly the same as when the attractions opened 50 years ago. Here’s to 50 years of thrills from these two monoliths of artistic expression. And here’s to 50 more.

**Send Jeff a line at HamGamgee@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @Parkscopejeff.