Tag Archives: haunted mansion

A Foolish Mortal’s Haunted Mansion Reading List


Find a comfy reading spot, and peruse through some of the newest books for all ages inspired by Disney Parks’ Haunted Mansion. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

Originally ran in GeekMom Aug. 26. 2016.

Disney Parks’ Haunted Mansion has already been giving fans of this classic attraction a wealth recently-released books and comics based on the mansion’s legends, lore, and 999 happy haunts.

These include the start of a young readers’ novel series, a five-issue comic book story arc, and beginning readers’ picture book. For those building their spooky book collections, here’s the some of the latest in this famous residence’s tomes:

Tales from the Haunted Mansion Volume 1: The Fearsome Foursome by the ghostly librarian Amicus Arcane (as transcribed by John Esposito and illustrated by Kelley Jones). This beautifully-designed book tells the tale of four horror story-loving middle schoolers who lose their clubhouse to a freak storm (Arcane may or may not have taken credit for) and just happen to come across invites to an even creepier venue. Once there, they learn they might be the subjects of some new tales. The recommended age range is 8 to 12, so the story and writing level are geared toward that group. It also doesn’t focus on any well-known mansion residents. Older readers may find this an easy afternoon escape, but it would really be nice to see a Haunted Mansion novel geared towards older teens and adults. Those tales could be gothic and potentially terrifying.

Disney Parks Presents The Haunted Mansion picture book is illustrated by James Gilleard, based on both the ride and its well-loved “Grim Grinning Ghosts” theme song with lyrics by Xavier “X” Atencio and music by Buddy Baker. This simple book, accompanied by a CD of the song, is the first of Disney Parks Presents series of attraction-based books. The book gives families with beginning readers a chance to relive the ride and enjoy Gilleard’s eerily adorable drawings. Not only is this a wonderful gift for Haunted Mansion fans, but if upcoming books in this series are as well done as this one, this will be a series worth collecting, whether or not you have young readers at home.

Marvel’s Disney Kingdoms: The Haunted Mansion by Joshua Williamson and Jorge Coelho. This comic book’s story is a pretty familiar scenario, with a young boy being lured into a seemingly abandoned old mansion to help lift a curse on its ghostly residents. The story is a good read for tweens and up, with Easter egg-filled illustrations. Better than the story, however, are some of the variant covers, especially the one by Skottie Young, for those lucky enough to find it.

mansion comics

Skottie Young, Katie Cook and Brian Crosby are among the talents found on variant covers of Marvel’s Haunted Mansion comic series. Covers © Marvel.

For those who want a couple of different comic looks at the Haunted Mansion, there are two other comic series inspired by the attraction.

The first, also a Disney Kingdoms series, is Seekers of the Weird by Brandon Seifert, with illustrations by Karl Moline and Filipe Andrade. The story follows a brother and sister trying to uncover the disappearance of their parents in the setting of a strange, perilous museum. The story itself isn’t that memorable, but the incorporation of some of Disney imagineer Rolly Crump’s original ideas for a never-created attraction Museum of the Weird, precursor to the Haunted Mansion, is worth a look.

mansion books 2

The Haunted Mansion has been a favorite topic for artists and writers well before this latest wave of books. However, you might have to raid a few catacombs to find a couple of these.

Slave Labor Graphics released eight issues of its Haunted Mansion comic book series starting in 2005, featuring individual short stories by various artists based on the mansion’s most famous “happy haunts.” A lot edgier than the Disney Kingdoms series, these tales range from the downright spooky to a witty appearance by Roman Dirge’s Lenore: The Cute Little Dead Girl and a sweet tale of why the cowardly groundskeeper and his pup continue to visit the mansion nightly. The first six issues can be found in a collected edition, Haunted Mansion Vol. 1, Welcome Foolish Mortals, but the final issues might be harder to come by. These are some of my favorite Haunted Mansion stories, and some of the most imaginative. This one is more than worth hunting down.

Finally, for those wanting a behind-the-scenes guide, author and imagineer Jason Surrell’s books include The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic released in 2015. This is actually the 3rd edition of his The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies, originally published in 2003. I recommend the latest edition, as there are plenty of updates.

There is also the rarer The Art of the Haunted Mansion version by Surrell in 2003, the same year the forgettable Eddie Murphy movie hit the screens. I’ve even seen prices for this hardback edition range from just over $100 to $700. The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic, on the other hand, is about $15 on Amazon.

One non-Disney publication, The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion by Jeff Baham, is available, but it does get a ghostly hitchhiker-worthy thumbs up from imagineer Rolly Crump, who provided the forward for this book.

Hopefully, there will be more to come of Haunted Mansion reading material in the near future, so be sure to clear out a shelf in the library.  This shouldn’t be a problem, as book lovers and Haunted Mansion permanent residents agree: “There’s always room for one more.”

mansion insert

Image © Marvel.


Why Do We Love The Hat Box Ghost So Much?


A few of the Hat box Ghost items we’ve created in in the past couple of years. The Haunted Mansion just isn’t complete without him.

One of Disneyland Park’s most mysterious residents returned home this month, as part of park’s 2015 Diamond Celebration.

On the weekend of May 9, the newly re-imagined Hatbox Ghost was installed in the attic of the Haunted Mansion, appearing just before guests’ DoomBuggies make the backward descent into the ride’s raucous graveyard.

Dressed in full Victorian cloak and top hat, like a non-lethal Jack the Ripper, the grim grinning figure leers menacingly at guests as his head disappears from his shoulders and into the large transparent hatbox in his outstretched hand. The head then disappears from the box back onto his shoulders.

That’s pretty much all there is to him; the concoction of a basic lighting effect that didn’t seem to work the first time… and we Haunted Mansion fans just love him!

Walt Disney Imagineering Producer Jeff Shaver-Moskowitz announced the ghost’s long-anticipated return to the mansion in a Disney Parks podcast that same weekend.

“The Hatbox Ghost was one of the original 999 Happy Haunts in the mansion,” Shaver-Moskowitz said in the podcast. “Sometime around the opening, he disappeared and has been missing from the mansion for the past 45 years.”

Shaver-Moskowitz noted this ghost is one of the mansion’s most popular figures ever, and it didn’t even exist there… at least not since the attraction’s opening in 1969.

This means, no one my age or younger had ever even seen this ghost in person until this month. The majority of Disney visitors older than myself have never even seen the original ghost, although many have claimed to have “sighted” him that first year. There is only one video I know of, released on the fan site Disney History Institute (unaffiliated with the Walt Disney Company), that even proves this original ghost appeared in the ride at all. No one seems to even know where he went.

I find myself among those admirers of the Hatbox Ghost. He has made his way into my Haunted Mansion decorations, many of which are displayed year-round, plastered on my file cabinets with homemade magnets and clippings, living among my Halloween models, and hidden in the images of our New Orleans-themed guest bathroom (if you know where to find him).


The Hatbox Ghost has been the subject of several pieces of fan art, like this one by artist Chris Martin.

It is as if I know him as well as any of the other Haunted Mansion ghost visitors that I’ve seen again and again.

I’m not the only one. This ghost has had his own fan page on Facebook, and director and author Guillermo del Toro wanted to use him as the focus on a motion picture based on the attraction. Whether that film ever sees the flickering light of the silver screen remains a mystery in itself. The fan artists and cosplayers love him, as well. One of my favorites is a portrait by pop culture artist Chris Mason.

The marketing geniuses at Disney have done their best to keep this ghost in people’s minds, whether or not he has been in the park for more than four decades. He’s been featured in postcards, T-shirts, books, as the mascot for a past “Haunted Holidays” campaign where he talked about haunted sites around the world, pin-trading events, and as a costumed character. Families can even download their own Hatbox Ghost paper model from the Disney Family site.

The Hatbox Ghost’s return is such a little thing in the grand scheme of the park—practically no changes were needed to add him to the attraction. However, his presence is so significant to Haunted Mansion lovers, as he is the amalgam of the original, old-school classic design from Imagineers like Yale Gracey and Marc Davis, and today’s advancements in animatronics and computer animation.

He’s elegant and graceful. He’s eerie. He’s relatively simple in concept, but apparently complex in design. He’s classic. He’s humorous and weirdly friendly. Most of all, however, he’s very, very, Disney. I’m not talking about the overly tech-savvy, yet nonetheless impressive, Disney style of today. The Hatbox Ghost is the picture of early-stage Disney Imagineering at its finest.

I think it’s appropriate the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland Park is in New Orleans Square, because there’s a word of French and Spanish origins often associated with the spirit of the city: lagniappe, or “a little something extra.


Yale Gracey with a promo shot of the original ghost, circa 1969.

The Haunted Mansion is filled with these kinds of extras. The wild-eyed faces in the hallway wallpaper, the dueling gunmen portraits in the ballroom, the one broken singing bust head, and the seductively creepy nose wrinkle of the “Little Leota” farewell bride. All of these little “lagniappes” add to the ride, and are as good effects, if not better, than the Hatbox Ghost’s little head trick.

So why is the Hatbox Ghost so popular? I think people love a good mystery, a good reason for speculation, and “where is he now” conspiracy theories.

For me, the Hatbox Ghost represents my own growing up with the mansion. Never mind the fact the ghost and I are the same age—I think I look considerably younger, though—the Haunted Mansion is one of my favorite attractions, second only to Pirates of the Caribbean. This ride also scared me so much my first time on it, I never even made it past the stretching room. It was 1973 or 74 and I was just a toddler. The rules were a little more lax then, and I was perched atop my father’s shoulders as we entered the room. While everyone else was huddled safely together, I was exposed and alone over everyone’s head as the walls begin to stretch. I panicked and begin clutching the scalps of random victims. Long story short, they stopped the stretching room elevator and let us out.

The next year, I muscled up some courage and made my way through the ride, looking through a cage of my own fingers. The year after that, however, I started seeing the imagination behind each ghost and haunted hallway, and I fell in love with the ride. So much so, my youngest daughter’s first venture on the ride last year was, “I want to go again!”

This summer, there is just one more reason for riders to “go again,” and I’m sure many will make a few repeat runs through the ride just to see the ghost’s head grimacing up from his hatbox.

I predict the glamour around the ghost will settle now that he is back home, and he will become just another familiar favorite for most guests. For those in on the folklore, however, he’ll be that special “something extra.” He’ll be that mystery that still isn’t quite solved.

After all, that original ghost model has to be out there somewhere, doesn’t it? The logical explanation is the ghost just wasn’t working properly, and it was eventually scrapped for parts.

That’s both sad and not particularly fun. I like to think he’s still out there somewhere, perhaps roaming from attic to attic, looking for a suitable home. Judging from the flood of YouTube posts excited about seeing the new ghost, there are plenty of folk willing to take him in.

Achieving the Hollow Face Effect


dragon kissWe like to call it the Haunted Mansion Effect in our house.

This is the eerily fun illusion of having the seemingly inanimate facial features on a statue or bust follow your movements across the room; up and down, side-to-side, or pretty much everywhere.

One common term for this is the Hollow Face Effect, and even though its most famous usage can be seen by millions of Disney Park visitors each year from the hallway busts in the Haunted Mansion, this effect has been used for several years in cathedrals, galleries, and science centers.

One reason it is so fascinating is it is an extremely easy concept, and it’s all about perspective.

Here’s how it works. The moving face in the hollow face effect is merely a concave sculpture, like a mold or bowl. When looked at in the right lighting, and at the right angles, it appears to be a normal, convex bust or statue. Your brain wants to see a regular statue, so it tricks your mind into thinking it is.

This is coupled with another slightly more difficult concept, called pareidolia, which is, in simple terms, the mind’s ability to see faces in patterns.  A face, of course, is normally convex. For example, the tip of the nose is closer to the viewer than it’s ears and cheekbones.

dragon shots

How a concave “hollow face” is (left) and how it appears (right) is all a matter of perspective.

When you look at a hollow face sculpture, the outer edges of the mold become hidden as you move your own head, causing your mind and eye to think the head is turning towards you, rather than being slightly covered up. A simple diagram and more detailed explanation of how the effect works can be found on BrainFacts.org.

Now, here’s the best part; you can make your own moving sculpture in a matter of minutes. Thanks to a recent viral video of a T-Rex illusion that has gathered more than 3.5 million views, people have rediscovered something called the “Gathering for Gardner” dragon, created for an event celebrating the late scientist and mathematician Martin Gardner. The pattern for this dragon can be found on several educational and science sites, such as Grand Illusion.

It’s easy, all ages can participate, and it can be a quick after-school or lunchtime project.  Plus, who doesn’t want their own very, very attentive pet dragon.

Halloween Three-Step Tip #3: Pumpkin (or other) Stencil Fashion Tees


Quick disclaimer: I’m a jack-o-lantern freak, and I tend to go overboard each year trying to make geeky, elaborate art, especially since there are some great pumpkin stencils out there to be had.

I have been politely confronted on this obsession in past years by my husband who (for the sake of space and sanity) told me to tone down the number of glowing orange things in our home.  I love my family and will try to be good….but I HAVE TO USE SOME OF THESE STENCIL PATTERNS!  Ergo, here’s a great use for them…in just three steps!

Step 1: Print out, laminate and cut out that stencil. If you don’t have laminate, go with the “poor man’s ” version I like to use…clear packing tape. I do recommend this before cutting it out, so you can re-use the patterns, especially since those complicated ones that may take some time. I use an X-acto knife for the more detailed patterns, but easier ones can be done with just plain scissors. Since I talked to Ray Keim earlier this month, I used his fantastic “Haunted Mansion Wallpaper” stencil as an example (find it at haunteddimensions.raykeim.com/index250.html).  Hint: for “floating” elements in stencils (eye pupils, etc.) attach a thin strip of tape from it to the rest of the pattern to keep it in place. You can fill in any flaws later, if you need.

Step 2: Place it on the shirt where you want it and lightly sponge some cloth paint over it. If you have a black or dark-colored shirt, take a spray bottle of half bleach/half water and gently spray the pattern instead…you’ll be pleased with the results. Do this outside, away from things (and pets and people) you don’t want to soil or destroy. For the bleached shirt, rinse with cool water and let dry.

Step 3: For a little extra design, take a handful of a different-colored cloth paint, stand back and flick it on the shirt for a splatter effect.

Wow, that’s pretty much all there is to it, and you got yourself some wearable art.


Want to find more patterns? my top three Pumpkin Stencil site picks (for today, at least) are:

Zombiepumpkins.com. Around 275 patterns. Some are free, but the rest are worth the site’s subscription price. There are whole sections dedicated to superhoroes  and movie icons including Marvel characters, Batman, Hellboy, The Crow, Star Wars,  Alan Moore’s “V” (from “V  for Vendetta”), Rick Grimes from “Walking Dead,” Ash from “Army of Darkness” and plenty of zombie and Halloween classics. Mucho kid-friendly choices, too like Tim Burton images, Monster High, Paranorman, Harry Potter and video game icons. Go crazy.

Starwars.com. The “official” Star Wars blog has a pdf for 11 pumpkin stencils of varying difficulty from easy sillhouettes to some pretty challenging portraits (Tusken Raider…yikes). My favorite is the Mandalorian symbol, but the Rebel and Empire emblems are both cool and easy. Download them puppies here: starwarsblog.starwars.com/index.php/2011/10/24/star-wars-pumpkin-stencils/.

Thinkgeek.com. Each year, everyone’s favorite geeky catalog hosts a fan-made pumpkin stencil pattern contest, and the results are incredible. The best part is, they keep all the winning stencils from past years available, so there’s is more and more geeky goodness offered each season. I don’t even know where to start; video games, movies and television icons, techy art and even a nice portrait of H.P. Lovecraft for those literary geeks.  I made the double-sided MST3K pattern last year and it turned out nifty. Find them at thinkgeek.com/blog/2012/10/

Try this fashion craft with any of these, or get yourself a giant vegetable orb (or twenty) and dig in.

My Interview with Haunted Mansion Maestro, Ray Keim


“Abandoned,” one of Ray Keim’s free desktop designs from his Haunted Dimensions site.

When I was four-years-old I remember my first venture into the Haunted Mansion, and I imagine everyone else in the ride at the time remembers it as well. I was on my dad’s shoulders so I could see better and we entered the “stretching room” with me a good head taller than the crowd. I was so terrified I began screaming and grabbing the tops of random heads around me and they had to stop the elevator to let me off.

I’ve been embarrassed of that moment until I saw actor Jason Segel, who now makes up one-third of the Hitchhiking Ghost trio in Annie Leibovitz’s Dream Portrait series, talk about having the same thing happen to him (well, maybe not the hair-grabbing) causing him to be allowed to escape mid-elevator drop.

Moving on… the year after my original visit I mustered up the bravery to make it through and I was hooked, especially since the New Orleans plantation-style home was so pristine on the outside and so wonderfully eerie on the inside. I knew I wanted to own that house one day.

A few years ago I ran across Ray Keim’s Haunted Dimensions site after visiting the park with my own daughter, and soon became the owner of my own Haunted Mansion…and then some.

Keim, an artist who specializes in CGI, works as a seasonal member of the Entertainment Art and Design Department at Universal Studios Orlando producing graphics, animations and props for shows and events at the parks. He also serves as a graphic designer for Universal Orlando Halloween Horror Nights events, including art for the Halloween Horror Nights web site.

His Haunted Dimensions site is an outlet for his appreciation of Disney’s Haunted Mansion attractions (and other famed haunted sites), as well as paper modeling, digital design and even gingerbread house building.

With Haunted Dimensions recently celebrating more than 2 million hits, Keim said he has been stunned by the site’s popularity since it first hit the cyber-screen in September 2004.

“It went live on the 27th and by the 30th I was amazed that 57 people had already visited it,” he said. “Nine months later I released my first paper model kit. That month I received 21,603 visits! My desire to have my own haunted mansion model was clearly also the desire of a lot of other people; and still is.”

He said the site still continues to draw new surfers all the time, a success he attributes to three things: the sheer size of the Internet, how universally loved Disney’s Haunted Mansion attractions are by people and the fact that people enjoy the satisfaction of making things with their hands.

“It also helps a little that I occasionally release new models, art and blog posts, but I don’t do it nearly as much as I would like,” he said.

For Keim, Haunted Dimensions is a true labor of love as he created it and maintains it spare time offering his model downloads for free. Despite Keim making no money from the site, it comes across with a professional polish that takes it beyond the appeal of a typical “weekend blogger” or fan site.

The graphics are clean and the paper model downloads are meticulously designed.

In addition to models available for all three Haunted Mansion designs (Disneyland and Magic Kingdom’s designs and Disneyland Paris’s ‘Phantom Manor”), modelers can builds models of popular scare houses from Universal Orlando’s annual “Halloween Horror Nights” and famous “haunted sites” including the Norman Bates House and the Amityville Horror home. Look closely in the windows of all these models for a little extra spine shiver.

Of his designs, his Phantom Manor remains the most popular model, in terms of numbers of downloads, followed by Norman Bates’ “Old House on the Hill” of Psycho fame. He said his best guess as to why these are top hits is the Psycho house’s style may be the most “typical” popular culture’s idea of a haunted house.

“In the Phantom Manor’s case, I suspect it has to do with paper and card modeling being a very popular hobby in Europe,” he said. “My favorite model is Liberty Square (at Magic Kingdom Park). It was the mansion that first inspired me to create Haunted Dimensions.”

In addition to Haunted Dimensions, there are other sites offering Haunted Mansion (or haunted mansion-style builds) including the premier Haunted Mansion tribute site Doombuggies.com, where visitors can download their own “Death Certificate.” Fellow modeler Trader Sam’s disneyexperience.com has models inspired by “Nightmare Before Christmas” (including Oogie Boogie’s dice and Jack’s coffin sleigh) and the mansion’s “Demon Clock” as well as build of another macabre Disney favorite, the Tower of Terror Hotel. Disney’s own “Spoonful” site at Disney Family has stylized models of Hitchhiking Ghosts, Hatbox Ghost, Stretching portrait bookmarks and new builds inspired by “Frankenweenie.”

A non-Disney site for haunted structures is “RavensBlight” with a “Toy Shop” of free downloadable, mansions, monsters, masks, games, weapons, coffins and other darkly imaginative items.

Your own personal mansions. Stock up on card stock, printer ink and good reading glasses for free paper model downloads including the Liberty Square Haunted Mansion and Paris’s Phantom Manor.

Keim is currently taking the site beyond the theme park with his upcoming original design and interactive “progressive model” and story “The Knoll—A Tresspasser at Reeves Hall.”

“As much as I love the Disney haunted mansions and the mansion themes, there is not much left to create that would interest me,” Keim said. “Haunted Dimensions is first and foremost a personal passion of mine and now that I’ve run out of Disney mansions to transform into paper, the logical thing to do is to begin creating my own haunted mansions and themes.”

He said with his extensive experience as a visual online storyteller with Universal, especially in the haunt genre coupled with his propensity to design popular paper model kits, is looking to see this model bring new life into his site. He said The Knoll would be my first attempt at creating an “illustrated environment and back-story” his own haunted house paper model kit.

“My goal is to design several related model kits, which will be released over a period of time via a simple, but spooky illustrated ‘exploration’ of the Reeves estate and house, culminating with
the release of the haunted house model,” he said.

Keim isn’t sure yet how this idea will be received by Haunted Dimension fans, who hail from all over the globe, but he hopes his combination of original design, online storytelling and the thrill of the hunt will be a draw.

“There is no doubt that my own projects will not have the same mass appeal as the Disney mansions and Universal models but there is a worldwide fan base of paper model builders, model train hobbyists, and people who just like new spooky things,” he said. “All I can do is hope that the Haunted-dimensioneers continue to support my endeavors.”

As far as his work with Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is concerned (an event that has been voted again and again on many sites as the nation’s most popular Halloween park seasonal attraction), he is always impressed at the new ways the event has created to give guests a terrifyingly fun time with “lots of passion and craftsmanship.”

This year’s event will even include atmospheres based on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and the video game-turned-motion-picture “Silent Hill.”

“For the last six years I have been extremely fortunate to work with the passionate, talented Art & Design team that creates Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights. The special effects and the use of new technologies are always an exciting part of the attractions but for me the most amazing aspect of the attractions are the spectacular, movie quality environments that are created for guests,” he said. “They start with imagination and a pencil, and end with set builders, scenic painters and décor specialists creating these environments by hand.”

Even in this ever-evolving world of haunted attractions, Keim said the love for Disney’s Haunted Mansions will remain strong for generations due to their universal appeal for guests of all ages and backgrounds.

“The Disney haunted mansions are non-threatening, macabre parties,” he said. “All of the 999 spirits ‘pretend to terrorize.’ None of them are truly scary — OK, the bride is scary — Oh, so is the guy trying to get out of the coffin — And when the Ghost Host screams, but that’s all,” he said. “The effects are brilliantly executed and the mixture of creepy settings and fun-loving ghosts is the perfect mix for a great 5 minute adventure.”

All of Keim’s models, as well as links to his blog and Facebook page, can be found at haunteddimensions.raykeim.com.

Also check out Halloween Horror Night’s online/in-park game “Horror Unearthed” at halloweenhorrornights.com/Orlando.