Gracey Hollow: A Proposal for a Haunted Mansion Land

The Disney Park Bench
The Disney Park Bench
Published on November 1, 2022

ℑ, like many Disney Parks fans, am obsessed with The Haunted Mansion, and I have been for more than three decades. I was terrified of the idea of the ride before I first visited Disney World, my only exposure being the photos in my brother’s souvenir books and the brief montage from Disneyland’s 30th Anniversary Celebration. I distinctly recall crying in line as we waited to enter the Mansion’s foyer and stretching rooms, and covering my eyes for much of the first half of the ride itself.

Then, upon my second ride-through a few days later, still frightened, I forced myself to keep my eyes open and take in everything. I spent the whole 20+ hour car trip home reliving the experience in my brain. I got home and rummaged through my brother’s collection of books, magazines, and videotapes, looking for everything I could find about the attraction. I visited my local library and checked out books and records from all over the region. I watched the opening of Disneyland’s 35th Anniversary Celebration, wherein Woody Boyd of Cheers tells a story of his first visit to The Haunted Mansion, over and over again. By the time I revisited Disney World a few years later, I knew almost everything I had thought I could know about The Haunted Mansion.

The internet changed all of that.

Starting with the ever-popular, I discovered more and more secrets and information. I found more audio, video, and print documentation that I never knew existed. I collected books, records, and CDs I found on eBay. Napster and YouTube provided even more material for my collection. Most recently, I purchased both the official Disneyland Haunted Mansion LEGO set and an unofficial MOC Bricks set of the Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion.

I make sure to ride The Haunted Mansion every time I’m in the Magic Kingdom, and while it continues to be my favorite Disney attraction ever, I can’t help but think that it could be more. The Haunted Mansion has a fanbase bigger and more devoted than any other theme park attraction in the world, and it seems a shame to waste this potential on a single five-plus-decade-old ride with minimal modern enhancements.

I’ve been thinking about this for years, but with the recent D23 Expo’s Blue Sky presentation about potential expansions to the Magic Kingdom, I decided it was the perfect time to propose my own Blue Sky concept:

The Haunted Mansion should be a land.

The first question would be where — and by extension, how — could Disney build a Haunted Mansion land in the already crowded Magic Kingdom? Well, if we look at an overhead view of the area around The Haunted Mansion, we can see the possibility for an expansion:

Including the Haunted Mansion itself, there are currently about 7 acres of mostly unused land just north of Liberty Square, nearly twice as big as the rest of the land, which I estimated at approximately 3-4 acres. That’s roughly half the size of Pandora or Galaxy’s Edge, and a little bit bigger than Disneyland’s Critter Country — plenty of space for a themed land.

Now, of course, this space poses a few logistical problems. For one thing, it exposes the show building for the Mansion ride, as well as possibly “it’s a small world” and the Tangled restrooms. These would need to be painted and/or covered to hide them from or theme them to the new land. I’m thinking something like colonial-style row house façades built onto the sides. There are also a handful of back-of-house facilities buildings and parking spaces that would need to be removed. Lastly, in order to use all the available space, there would need to be a separation between the land and the cast entrance bus loop, as well as the retention pond to the northeast and the Indian Village to the northwest.

One possible option would be to reroute the Rivers of America. The north end of Tom Sawyer Island does not hold much beyond Fort Langhorn and may be able to be reduced to accommodate a land expansion across the banks, and the Indian Village could be moved farther westward, closer to Frontierland and Big Thunder Mountain.

To the south, within the current guest areas of the park, Memento Mori would obviously be a part of the land, but it may also be a good idea to retheme the Colombia Harbour House and fold that in as well. Liberty Square already has Liberty Tree Tavern and Sleepy Hollow for food options, so losing one quick service restaurant wouldn’t be a huge loss, and it would help ease the transition from Fantasyland, as a ghost-story-themed area makes a little more sense than a realistic colonial area when coming from a space populated with Peter Pan, Rapunzel, and the singing dolls of “it’s a small world”.

Then again, there may be another possibility…

If Disney were to dig down to the ground floor of the Magic Kingdom (outside the Utilidors), they could enclose the entire land in a show building twice the size of Rise of the Resistance, yet no taller than “it’s a small world”, annexing the current Haunted Mansion show building within its walls. Leaving enough trees around the perimeter and painting the outer walls a pleasant shade of go-away green should hide the building from the most conspicuous angles. A fully enclosed show building would allow Disney to control the scenery better, such as having it always be a dark and stormy night within the land. After all, “it’s always night at the Haunted Mansion.”

So what would be inside this new land?

Obviously, The Haunted Mansion would be a part of the land in some form (more on what that means in a future post). Memento Mori and Colombia Harbour House would be included as well, or they could be relocated to a space within the land north of the Mansion. Behind the Mansion show building, I picture a town square-like setting that resembles Halloweentown from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, with a cobblestone road and a fountain surrounded by elegant-yet-ominous-looking buildings, although more realistically proportioned in keeping with the colonial America setting and the Haunted Mansion façade.

A toned-down version of The Nightmare Before Christmas’ Halloweentown would be a good compromise between the land’s spooky elements and Liberty Square’s 18th-century architecture — image source: The Bradford Exchange

The Colombia Harbour Haunted House could be rethemed with its own collection of spooky effects to entertain guests as they dine, such as portraits that change, move, or stare; objects that appear to float around the room; ghostly images appearing in the windows and/or mirrors; etc. The standard, much-beloved menu could also be slightly modified to give the same foods a more sinister appearance, shape, or color.

Memento Mori can be expanded into a much larger store, positioning it as the Emporium of the land’s Town Square, with more park-exclusive merchandise, including Mansion merch from Anaheim, Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong. Speaking of Tokyo and Hong Kong, this might be a great opportunity to tie the Haunted Mansion in with the Society of Explorers and Adventurers by including references to, or appearances by, the likes of Lord Henry Mystic and Harrison Hightower Ⅲ — or, even better yet, incorporate Master Gracey and Madame Leota into the S.E.A.

A Greek revival Town Hall would be host to a stage show of some kind; preferably Audio-Animatronic, à la Carousel of Progress or The American Adventure, but let’s face it, Disney would rather pay live actors than build and maintain mechanical ones. (Although with the extended hiatuses and contract disputes the COVID-19 closings brought about, a fully automated show with performers who don’t require hazard pay or sick time may be looking increasingly attractive.) This show could focus on one of several things: Master Gracey and the Mansion’s history, the Hitchhiking and/or Hatbox Ghost(s), or — if they want to implement a Disney IP — Jack Skellington and his mob of macabre miscreants.

With the colonial setting and spooky surroundings, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow would also be a great addition to the land in some form, maybe in the form of a classic, Fantasyland-style dark ride. Those are cheap, small, still popular, and with Disney’s modern projection effects, could actually be pretty impressive, as well as fill a void left by the closings of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Snow White’s Scary Adventures.

Imagine getting to meet and interact with Madame Leota herself — image source: Haunted Mansion Wiki

Meet-and-greets in the land would be centered around characters found in the aforementioned movies/attractions, like the Hitchhiking Ghosts, Jack and Sally, Icabod Crane, and maybe some of the Haunted Mansion characters who currently only make appearances during special events like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. I’d volunteer the Headless Horseman, but it might be tricky to have a horse riding through such a small area. Some of the more supernatural villains could also make appearances. I am also envisioning a Madame Leota face character meet-and-greet where some clever special effects can create the illusion of a living disembodied head in a crystal ball on a table.

The background music loop would need to fit with both the Haunted and Liberty Square settings. I think colonial-era instrumentations of music from The Haunted Mansion attractions and movie(s), interspersed with musically matching versions of songs and themes from other suitably spooky sources: Here’s my proposed playlist (in no particular order):

  1. Grim Grinning Ghosts (from The Haunted Mansion attractions)
  2. Mystic Manor Theme (from Mystic Manor in Hong Kong Disneyland)
  3. Ichabod Crane (from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)
  4. The Headless Horseman (from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)
  5. This Is Halloween (from The Nightmare Before Christmas)
  6. Jack’s Lament (from The Nightmare Before Christmas)
  7. Oogie Boogie’s Song (from The Nightmare Before Christmas)
  8. Haunted Mansion – Opening Title (from The Haunted Mansion movie)
  9. Hocus Pocus – Main Title (from Hocus Pocus)
  10. Sarah’s Theme [Come Little Children] (from Hocus Pocus)
  11. I Put a Spell on You (song by “Screamin'” Jay Hawkins, featured in Hocus Pocus)
  12. The Witches are Back (from Hocus Pocus 2)
  13. Halloween – Halloween (from Disneyland Paris)
  14. Lonesome Manor (from Epic Mickey)
  15. (Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend (song by Stan Jones, featured in The Country Bear Vacation Hoedown)
  16. Friends on the Other Side (from The Princess and the Frog)
  17. Theme from HalloweenTown (from HalloweenTown)

I’m sure Disney has written and used several other spooky tunes over the years that would also fit the theme of the land.

Unfortunately, unless the upcoming Haunted Mansion movie is a huge success, I don’t foresee this ever happening. Disney is laser-focused on synergizing their intellectual properties across all mediums: movies, TV/streaming, theme parks, etc., so theme park exclusive updates are almost never green-lit, least of all on this scale.

But wouldn’t it be fun to have a land entirely devoted to The Haunted Mansion and its related characters?

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