Disney’s Museum of the Weird

Many fans of Disney who are familiar with Disneyland and Disney World tend to particularly remember the Haunted Mansion as one of their favorite rides. It’s popular enough to have spawned many souvenirs, merchandise and artwork, a poorly-received film adaptation back in 2003 and a film reboot that was announced at Comic-Con in 2010. What many fans of the Haunted Mansion do not know however is that there was an addition to the Haunted Mansion entitled the “Museum of the Weird” that had been cancelled while in development, although certain influences and art have persisted throughout its cancellation and may possibly make a return in the near future.

Concept art for the Haunted Mansion
Concept art for the Haunted Mansion

The first image of a stereotypical haunted house appeared in an illustration by Harper Goff in 1951 which depicted a “haunted house” infested with bats that overlooked a graveyard and country church. However, actual development on the Haunted Mansion didn’t begin until 1957 when Disney Animator Ken Anderson was asked by Walt Disney to begin designing a haunted house for Disneyland. Because the attraction would be located in an area of Frontierland known as New Orleans Square, Ken designed it to be reminiscent of an 1800’s-era southern mansion. This illustration (as could be expected) depicted the mansion, referred to as “Bloodmere,” as a kind of run-down dilapidated house, but to the surprise of Ken and everyone else, Walt wanted the mansion to look clean and pristine rather than abandoned. According to Imagineer Claude Coats, Walt wanted the mansion to look new and clean rather than dirty and unkempt, which was contrary to what the others were envisioning; however, the reasoning for this turned out to be that Walt wanted the inside of the mansion to be more unexpected because of the outside’s appearance. According to Walt, “We’ll take care of the outside, the ghosts can take care of the inside.”

Imagineer Rolly Crump
Imagineer Rolly Crump

Like many rides at Disneyland, the Haunted Mansion went through many iterations before the final result was realized, particularly what the inside of the Haunted Mansion would look like. The major reason behind this was because some involved in the development process were unsure as to the direction that the Haunted Mansion should take: should it be dark and scary like an average haunted house, or should it be more lighthearted and humorous, like everyone would expect of something at Disneyland? Plus the idea of a “spook house” had been on Walt’s mind since before Disneyland even opened, so Walt had multiple artists working Another factor was how for much of development, the Haunted Mansion was planned as a walk-through ride, and it was these two factors that would lead to the development of the Museum of the Weird.

LizardIn 1958 two Imagineers, Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey were commissioned to develop the special effects and illusions that would be used in the Haunted Mansion, but afterwards there was a period of time when most of the Imagineers at Disney were involved with the 1964 World’s Fair and thus work on the Haunted Mansion was put on hold. Eventually work resumed, and some of the concepts for the attraction were shown on an episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in 1965. During the episode, Imagineer Marc Davis displayed some ideas for the mansion such as a changing portrait of Medusa and the paintings from the stretching room. After Davis’ presentation, Rolly Crump displayed several concepts for an attraction called the Museum of the Weird.

So how exactly did development of a traditional spook house create something like the Museum of the Weird? A major part was how, as stated earlier, the Haunted Mansion never had one single vision throughout its development, and multiple artists and Imagineers had brought their own ideas to the attraction. So when Rolly Crump began to work on concept art for the Haunted Mansion, he had free reign to design props and furniture without any preconditions.

PlantIn particular, one key influence that Crump stated affected his work was the 1946 film adaptation of Beauty and the Beast by Jean Cocteau. As anyone familiar with the story already knows, the estate of the Beast is full of appliances that come alive. However, this particular film depicted a castle with features such as hands in the walls which held candles, faces in the sconces near the fireplace, etc. Crump was very fond of the human features of the Beast’s castle, and believed that such features would be great for the Haunted Mansion.

Crump’s work was not very highly praised by the other Imagineers though. According to Crump, “I did the original concept sketches for the stretch room, and Marc Davis told me that he was going to redo them because mine were no good!” Marc Davis wasn’t alone; apparently all the other Imagineers involved didn’t seem too favorable towards Crump’s work not because it wasn’t imaginative or visually interesting, but because it simply seemed too out-of-place for what was still supposed to be a spook house. Oddly, there was one individual who seemed very fond of Crump’s artwork, and it was none other than Walt Disney himself.

"Tower of the Four Winds" attraction, also designed by Rolly Crump
“Tower of the Four Winds” attraction, also designed by Rolly Crump

During a meeting to present to Walt Disney what the Imagineers had accomplished after months of work, there was a long table which Walt sat at the end of. Claude Coats’ material was on the right of the table, Marc Davis’ material was right in front of Walt, a group of architects had some material on the left, and Rolly Crump’s work was placed on a table behind Walt in a corner of the room. After a four hour presentation, Walt inquired as to what was behind him. The Imagineers told him it belonged to Crump, which led to a discussion between Walt and Crump over his material. Crump described the film that influenced his work, and went in-depth about how such anthropomorphic features could be used to create illusions for the attraction. After having it described to him, Walt said “This is kind of weird… Yeah, this is really weird.” After roughly five more minutes discussing the material, Walt left the room and the other Imagineers told Crump that they didn’t expect Walt would’ve liked Crump’s work since it was so weird. Crump on the other hand told them he didn’t mind, and that he was having a great time anyway working at WED (as Walt Disney Imagineering was originally called).

A sketch entitled "Candle Man"
A sketch entitled “Candle Man”

The next day, Crump returned to his office at 7:30 A.M. and was surprised to find none other than Walt Disney sitting in his chair wearing the same clothes as yesterday! Walt said to Crump “Rolly, you son of a gun! I didn’t get an ounce of sleep last night because of all those sketches and concepts you showed me yesterday… They were so weird!” Crump apologized, but Walt said that he’d come up with an idea. There would be the Haunted Mansion, but then as people were exiting they would be led into a next area where it would be advertised that they had gone around the world and collected numerous weird items to be put on display. After that, there was another meeting with the six individuals from the meeting before and Walt spent forty-five minutes describing to them how the Museum of the Weird would work, what it would be like, and how it would be built. When the meeting was over, Walt went home to get some sleep while the other Imagineers told Crump “We really knew you had something there, Rolly.”

Walt Disney and Rolly Crump in 1965
Walt Disney and Rolly Crump in 1965

With Walt’s direction, work began on the Museum of the Weird, which would serve as an addition to the Haunted Mansion. It was during this period that Crump drew some truly amazing artwork for concepts to be displayed at the attraction, such as a lizard candlepiece or a clock designed as a coffin. Many of these concepts were very surrealistic, and blended the line between living creature and furniture. It was also at this time Crump describes having a wonderful time working at WED, and in particular having an incredible relationship with Walt Disney. “What can I say about working with Walt Disney? Oh god, well… It was heaven! I just loved him and got around beautifully with him. There was something about Walt that I felt really comfortable with.” Crump also described how he often sat next to Walt at meetings, and while others may have felt intimidated to ask him questions and pretend to understand what Walt meant, Crump stated that he would ask Walt for information if he was unsure, and Walt would be more than happy to spend however much time was necessary explaining things.

A gypsy wagon which eventually became a souvenir stand
A gypsy wagon which eventually became a souvenir stand

Unfortunately, Walt had been sick for longer than many, including most of the Imagineers were aware of, and Walt Disney eventually died on December 15th, 1966. Amid his death, many of the Imagineers were unsure how to continue on development of the Haunted Mansion and Marc Davis had to take over. While there were already numerous ideas for the Haunted Mansion’s direction, the Museum of the Weird (which had never been popular with the other Imagineers) was cancelled. Crump stated in an interview that there were a lot of reasons why the attraction was cancelled, but particularly that the Museum had been Walt’s idea, and nobody had wanted to mess with it.

Seekers of the WeirdAlthough the Museum of the Weird was never completed like the Haunted Mansion (which opened in 1969), there were certain elements that survived. For example, one gypsy wagon that was featured in Crump’s artwork became a souvenir stand outside of the Disney World’s Haunted Mansion. Another feature was the faces in the wallpaper that was later incorporated into the Haunted Mansion. Recently, a new comic series was released by Marvel entitled Seekers of the Weird, which incorporates most of the concept sketches from the cancelled attraction and has received high praise from Rolly Crump. Also, in 2010 it was rumored that the Museum of the Weird could possibly be the basis for a new film. Since then, nothing has surfaced regarding a possible film, although Marvel editor Bill Rosemann has stated that its always a possibility that the Museum could receive a film adaptation after the comic series concluded. After all, Disney has recently released Tomorrowland, is currently working on a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean film, a Haunted Mansion reboot, and a Jungle Cruise film, so it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

But what about the final result of the Haunted Mansion and all the work that went into it and was cut? Rolly Crump stated “When I think of the Haunted Mansion, I truly feel that what we had designed was fine and worked out great… I wouldn’t change anything about it. We all did a beautiful job, and I don’t think it could get any better than that.”

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