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Cory Doctorow

Episode 16, Disney’s Haunted Mansion

It’s a dark and stormy night—the hairs on the back of your neck rise, a flutter of adrenaline tingles down your spine. There is a thrill in the anticipation of being spooked—a delicious dark thrill that author and Disney aficionado Cory Doctorow believes Disney has perfected with its classic Haunted Mansion attraction.

A Sonic Journey

by Nelda Sue Yaw with Steve Roach | Nelda Live!

He was six years old in 1977 when he first experienced Disney’s Haunted Mansion in Florida. From the foreboding butler in the stretch gallery and the cold moving stares of the portraits to the spectacular waltzing ghosts in the cobwebbed ballroom—it’s etched in his memory. The revelation of the attraction sparked a lifelong love of Disney Theme Parks and the Haunted Mansion in particular. Science fiction author and technology journalist Cory Doctorow is intimately knowledgable about every eerie inch of the Haunted Mansion and the history behind it. From his early days working at the themed entertainment giant to his successful and prolific career as a writer, Disney has imprinted itself on it all. Even his first novel and literary success is centered at Disney World. Down and Out in The Magic Kingdom realizes the boyhood dream of its protagonist to live in the theme park. It’s a secret allure that captured this author early.

The Mansion was magnificently spooky in the moonlight. I was half-scared, half-delighted, and entirely hooked. Disney had created this knife-edge tension that stays with you.

To Doctorow, the level of detail at Disney and the mansion is infectious. He contends that “People start craving that level of detail in the parks and the stores. As Disney fans, we’re almost unsatisfiable.” It’s a standard of experience that came about through well-known creative clashes between Walt Disney and the designers of the mansion. The attraction was crafted by two warring creative designers who also had to spar with Walt over the level of authentic creepiness. Walt promoted a cleaner and brighter tone while the designers envisioned something darker, more haunting. The result is a dual experience of humorously themed afterworld characters surrounding the mansion paired with darker dioramas inside the structure. The original Haunted Mansion in California premiered after Walt’s death, and as a result says Doctorow, the creatives won the battle of design. Thank spookiness they did! The attraction has been among the most popular and central experiences at all of the Disney Parks.

As an austere mansion butler states when you first enter, “Master Gracey requests more bodies,” and apparently he gets them. Doctorow has been stalking the depths of the mansion ever since. Take a tour with Cory Doctorow as he reveals to me the secrets and stories behind Disney’s Haunted Mansion.

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What you’ll learn

  • What makes Disney’s Haunted Mansion so special (3:13)
  • How Walt Disney impacted the design (7:25)
  • Doctorow takes us on a walking tour of the Haunted Mansion (8:45)
  • Some of the fun subtle details you might not notice (18:04)
  • How Walt Disney’s death influenced the final design (19:50)
  • The differences between the Haunted Mansions globally (21:19)
  • Doctorow’s favorite Haunted Mansion (26:04)
  • The first time he experienced the Haunted Mansion at six years old (29:48)
  • The 1977 mansion souvenirs he lost and is still searching for (31:24)

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