My love affair with the Haunted Mansion began when I was a little kid. Our family was no stranger to spooky stories and macabre tastes. I remember once when I was six or so my father suggesting that Scooby Doo might be the cause of some of my odd dreams at night but it didn’t stop my mother from letting me watch old reruns of Night Gallery and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
My grandfather, a man of true Irish blood and imagination, was from England and he had steeped my mother’s upbringing in fantastic tales and would read to her the stories of M.R. James at night. In the 1930s my grandmother and her sisters lived in one of Pittsburgh’s most infamous haunted houses and I loved to hear the stories of the goings-on in the old Victorian mansion on Burgess Street (the house’s reputation was so tarnished that it was eventually torn down). Needless to say, ghosts are in my blood.
I can’t remember how old I was when I first visited the Haunted Mansion. I can still see the attraction posters that lined the entrance to Main Street (as they still do today). The one that struck me the most showed a towering mansion on a hilltop with three grinning ghosts in the foreground, thumbs stuck out as if hitching for a ride. “They’ve Been Dying to Meet You at the – Haunted Mansion” the sign said. Wow! I couldn’t wait.
I don’t remember being scared by the ride but I do remember thinking that everything I was seeing was real. Where was the voice of the Ghost Host coming from? Surely he was in the vehicle with us. And upon seeing those vividly transparent ghosts for the first time, as the Doombuggy rounded that dark corner leading out of the seance room and made its way down the long gallery overlooking the ballroom, I thought for certain that I was looking at real ghosts!
After that very first visit, my family and I were leaving the park. It was late and dark as we entered the tunnel that opens out onto the plaza where the monorails depart and I looked up and saw that poster again. Suddenly I heard Paul Frees, the voice of the mansion’s “Ghost Host”, in my head, “Beware! A ghost might follow you home!” To this day the spectacular ending to the tour of the Haunted Mansion, where a ghost appears in a mirror sitting next to you in your seat, thrills visitors. You can only imagine what that did to the perception of a little boy.
I think my mother must have been holding my hand when she realized that I had gone silent as we were leaving the park and that I kept looking back over my shoulder. “What’s the matter?” she said. I told her that I was looking to make sure we weren’t being followed by the ghosts. In hindsight, I wish I’d kept my mouth shut because I think I was about thirty before my family stopped repeating that story, which they still find to be the height of hilarity.
Everyone has their favorite Disney ride. Mine will always be the Haunted Mansion. It has never bored me and never ceases to fire my imagination. It is one of those timeless rides that will no doubt fire the imaginations of little boys and girls for many years to come.
This post is an edited version of one that was previously posted on my main site theantiquehare.com.