Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Disneyland - Haunted Mansion - The "Real" Ghost

I was a Sweeper in 1985. Late one summer night I was assigned to Haunted Mansion in New Orleans Square on a closing shift. This meant I was responsible for a final sweep of the Mansion queue and to clean out its bordering flower beds.

Now when Disneyland closed the guests were slowly, but surely, escorted from the back areas of the Park and herded toward Main Street by Security. As closing hour approached, most guests had long headed for the exits anyway, but the few stragglers were evenutally walked out (encouraged no doubt by the closing announcement: "Disneyland has now ended its normal operating day...").

It was dark.
The area music was still on, but there was a strange quiet nonetheless.
The other sweepers in New Orleans/Bear Country were far off doing their own closing routine.
I was alone.

There I stood in the large bullpen near the east side of the Mansion, with my ever-present pan and broom in one hand and my trusty black flashlight in the other.

A breeze lifted the branch of a nearby tree as I stooped over a flower bed in search of old napkins, cigarette butts, guidebooks, cups and other such castaways. The tiny leaves of the branch ran along the back of my neck like fine fingers. I started and stood up straight.

Then I saw it.
I had been going to Disneyland for umpty years and had been working there for almost two.
I had never seen it before.

My eye caught what looked like a yellowish ball of light bobbing gently past the inside of one of the upper story windows of the Mansion. As soon as I saw it, it was gone.
I blinked, looked away, then glanced back up.

Well...I decided I'd better finish up my flower bed, sweep the queue and get out of there. I didn't even have a radio with me.
Just me.

And the Mansion.

I directed the beam of my flashlight back into the dark flower bed and gingerly picked out more debris with my pan and broom. I was pretty sure I had seen something, but tried to push it away as the reflection of an airplane in the window panes, or maybe one of my fellow cast members had shined their flashlight up there.

Needless to say, I picked up the pace of my work. I looked forward to heading back to the area locker. I was working near the brick wall of the queue and meandering along the bullpen (that's what we lovingly call the area where guests line up) toward the porch of the Haunted Mansion. As I dumped my pan into one of the trash cans of the queue, my eye wandered up the Mansion's facade toward those upper windows again.
There it was.

The ghost.

A flickering light moved across the inside of one of the windows again.
There was NO mistaking it this time!


...it moved on to the NEXT window!

When it proceeded to pass in front of the NEXT window, then I knew.

Darn Imagineers!

This special effect was clearly an intended part of the attraction and could only be seen in the dark of night. What appeared to be the ghostly light of a candle moved along inside each of the windows, as though the widowed bride were marching around inside her home, waiting for the return of her captain.

The effect was well done, with a slowly bouncing, flickering light moving past the opaque curtains of the windows. It moved slowly from window to window, with a slight pause in between.
When I had first glanced up, the light had reached one of the corner windows, so that it proceeded around the corner to the next window (where I couldn't see it). That is why I caught a glimpse and then it had appeared to vanish.

Another smart part of the illusion was that the "walking light" paused for some time between cycles, so that the windows would return to their darkened state and, if you didn't stare up at them for a few moments, you might not notice the light when it began moving again.

Now I'm not saying that there aren't ghosts in the Mansion, but I almost became a true believer on that summer evening! I kept that little effect under my hat, sharing it only with a few family members on evening trips to the Park. I have not been out there after dark at any time in the recent past. I wonder if the haunted candle is still pacing around the old house's windows...

Check it out for yourself next time you're there. I will close by sharing with you this excerpt from The Haunted Mansion album:

"It's a house that people avoid walking past at night. Strange sounds come from within the walls, and it's said that eerie lights have been seen both in the attic windows, and in the graveyard at the side of the house."

Hurry Baaack. Hurry Baaa-AA-aack!