Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that readers are already familiar with basic facts
about the Haunted Mansion. If you wanna keep up with the big boys, I suggest you check out
first of all the website, Doombuggies.com. After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (NY: Disney Editions; 2015). That's the
re-named third edition of The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY:
Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009). Also essential reading is Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized
Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014).

This site is not affiliated in any way with any Walt Disney company. It is an independent
fan site dedicated to critical examination and historical review of the Haunted Mansions.
All images that are © Disney are posted under commonly understood guidelines of Fair Use.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Weird Glows Gleam Where Spirits Dwell

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[Great new video added June 1, 2015]

Many of you will recognize this quotation from the "Story and Song from the Haunted Mansion" souvenir album:  "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."  I've actually been asked to do a post on the eerie light effect, and I think it deserves one.

Wait, there's an eerie light effect?  Yes, there's an eerie light effect.  Furthermore, it is in my opinion one of the most beautifully economical effects in the Haunted Mansion, and yet it's also the least noted, or darn close.  So modest it is, that even people who know about it tend to forget that they know about it.  Not a word about it can be found at Doombuggies.com or in Surrell's Haunted Mansion book, or anywhere else in print that I can recall at the moment.  I guess it's not thought aught worth commenting about.

It's known as the Traveling Light effect.  I love it.  It's probably been there since the ride opened, and it's still there now; nevertheless, even among Mansion fans, it's surprising how many have never seen it or even heard of it.  If that sounds like you, know that there is a mysterious light which appears in an upper-floor Mansion window and moves across to other windows before disappearing.  After a short interval, it does it again. That sure doesn't sound like much, does it?  But this seemingly feckless effect effectively affects folks, and that's a fact.


Walt Disney World

WDW has the Traveling Light, but the context there is not like Disneyland.  The façade of the HM, by its very design, spreads out its wings and forms a sort of IMAX screen for the effect.  Consequently, the Traveling Light is far more conspicuous in Orlando than it is in Anaheim, and it consists of seven separate lights in coordination so that the light travels quite a distance and even moves through the Conservatory, where you can hardly miss it.  I don't know for sure, but I think that the Tokyo Haunted Mansion has the same set-up.

A video from 1992 showing the light in the upper left window can be seen HERE
A second video from 2012 showing the effect can be seen THERE

Good old Foxxy (she of Passport to Dreams Old and New fame) has published a long-exposure photo showing most of the path of the WDW Traveling Light.  When it's firing on all cylinders, the light begins in the upper window on the left side of the building (around the corner, on the end), it moves across the face of the house through upper left and right windows, goes through the conservatory, and moves across the face again in the lower windows, right to left, ending in the lower window on the left side.  A big loop.  Runs every four minutes or so.


As I said, by design the WDW light is not and cannot be very shy.  You can even see it during daylight hours, although it's possible the light was dimmer originally. The only element of real-world mystery stems from the fact that the light was non-functional for many years.  The motors and bulbs burned out and the effect was largely forgotten.  By the early 90's only one window light was still working.  Older guests would sometimes wonder if their recollection of the traveling light was accurate, and younger ones were either skeptical or envious.  Happily, during either the 2007 "Rehaunting" refurbishment or the 2011 interactive queue installation, the effect was repaired and restored to its original glory.  (Our thanks to Foxxy for much of this information.)

(pic from Lonesome Ghost)

Update July 2013:  I did not know this either.  There are silhouettes of plants
and bottles in the Conservatory that the Traveling Light reveals as it sweeps by.


Disneyland

I much prefer the Disneyland version, because it's harder to see, which means it's easy to miss, which means it's more mysterious.  It has only ever been visible at night in the windows of the second floor. Originally, it moved right to left across the front and around the corner, continuing along the south side toward the berm.  Nowadays it's confined to the last window closest to the berm on the south side. From many vantage points, the view of the light on its original, fuller path was partially obscured by trees.  The light was orange, mimicking a candle flame or an oil lamp.  The first photo of it I ever saw was taken by Jack Wixom in 2007.

(The lower photo is just to show which window is in Wixom's shot.)


For some people, so many years passed before they finally notice it, that they assumed it was a new effect, when in fact it goes back to 1969, if the date on the schematic means anything. Furthermore, like its WDW counterpart, the Anaheim Traveling Light has often been out of commission for long periods.  The story I'm told is that it's a low priority item, so when it breaks, it can take a long time for maintenance to get around to fixing it. Unlike other effects, no one lodges complaints about its absence. And after it's gone missing for awhile, it's easy for both guests and staff to forget that it ever existed. Such, my friends, is the humble profile of our Traveling Light effect.

The earliest video of the DL Traveling Light that I've seen is THIS ONE from 1990.  It can be seen near the beginning, from 00.32 to 00.38.


On that same video between 00.42 and 00.46 you can glimpse the light in the front left hand window.


In May of 2015, at the instigation of our Foxxy friend, Andy Castro took some excellent video of the effect. As we said, it is
currently seen in only one window on the south side. Check it out, and be patient. The video is a minute and forty seconds long.


Why am I so fond of the Traveling Light?  Because it scares people.  It preys upon jittery imaginations and sparks rumors. Best of all...

EYEWITNESSES REPORT IT IN MUCH THE SAME WAY AS THEY MIGHT REPORT SEEING A REAL GHOST.

Pardon my shouting, but that, friends, is a mighty fine thing.  Pull up a chair and listen to a strange tale or two.

I was a Sweeper in 1985.  Late one summer night I was assigned to Haunted Mansion on a closing shift.  This meant I was responsible for a final sweep of the queue and to clean out its bordering flower beds. [....] It was dark.  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 trust 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. Nothing. 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. Nope. 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 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! Then...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 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...

.                                                                                                                                 Mike Kelly, "Jungle is 101" blog post, 9-16-08


When I was a kid...I thought I remembered something like [the traveling light] at Disneyland's mansion.  But I'm never sure if it's an actual memory, something that I made up, or maybe a memory of one of the many dreams I've had about the Haunted Mansion throughout my life.

I do know that for years, whenever I was at Disneyland, I would look for a moving light in the windows of the Haunted Mansion, and over the course of those years I never (again?) saw it.  I have never seen it mentioned anywhere, though, so I have no idea if I'm remembering it correctly.

.                                                                                                                                 Kenny Vee, "The Disney Files" blog post, 9-12



How Do They Do That?
The Traveling Light effect has inspired some elaborate explanations, like this one from a chatboard post at a popular Disney website several years ago:
Actually, it's more than just a wandering candelabra.  The effect is this:  A harsh, reddish orange glow begins to flicker brightly in the window, the flicker glow growing brighter, filling up the window.  Then, as the glow reaches the height of its brightness, a shadowy figure moves from the right side of the window towards the light, putting out the light.  The effect repeats itself every several minutes and is quite unnerving when you see it.  The way the figure moves across the window - it's not like it's walking past the window - it's gliding past it.  
Not bad for a light bulb inside a revolving coffee can. Really, there wasn't much more to it than that when they first created it. The tear-away portion of the drawing below was actually there on the can, and the bulb (not shown) was a flickering bulb, with a mirror behind it (also not shown). They hung black material on the framing behind the whole thing so that when the hole was facing that way you didn't see anything.

It's probably a Yale Gracey creation.  You look at that schematic, and you read accounts like those above,
and you shake your head in disbelief.  Bloody freakin' genius that is, and no mistake.

That's all history, of course. In its present incarnation it's done differently, and the light passes
back and forth. A projector, one supposes. Hopefully something a little sturdier so it will last.


Somebody's Home
What can one say about a mysterious light in the window of an abandoned house?  It's a horror cliché, of course.  Sometimes there is something visible in the window.  In one of Ken Anderson's earliest Ghost House scripts, he describes an effect seen by guests as they look at the exterior of the house: "First at one upstairs window and then another, a girl's face appears momentarily, screams and is throttled by a large hairy hand which draws her back into the darkness."  One decade later, Dick Irvine, then the executive VP and Chief Operations Officer at WED (=WDI), came up with a rude sketch based on Anderson's idea.


"An annual pass is now HOW much?  Tell Mickey he can kiss my mmmphh..."

Even though they didn't use this, creepy figures sometimes appeared
in the windows of later concept art, like this Collin Campbell painting.


These Andersonian spooks are suitable for a shutter-flapping, dilapidated house of horrors, but they are obviously out of place in the pristine, innocent-looking mansion Walt insisted on.  On the other hand, how about a fleeting, mysterious light in the windows, leaving you in doubt as to whether you saw anything at all?  Now you're talking.

To say the motif is well known would be a whopping understatement.  Just by way of illustration, it's hard to count how many books, short stories and poems are titled or subtitled "A/The Light in the Window," and a lot of them seem to use the image to raise goosebumps.


Same goes for artwork.  It's as much of a fixture in
haunted house illustrations as bats or thunderstorms.


Disney uses it in Mansion-inspired artwork, perhaps consciously referencing the actual
effect, but I would think more likely by pure coincidence, so pervasive is the cliché.



On the most mundane level, the unexpected light in the window is evidence of occupation.  Someone or something has taken up residence, here where no one supposedly resides.  Storywise, it creates a tension.  On a dark and stormy night, the light welcomes you to come in and find shelter, and yet it scares you away at the same time.  The situation calls for discretion: Would it be bravery or stupidity to go in?  Would it be prudence or cowardice to keep away?  At this point in the story, it is always the case that you can still choose which path you will take.

There IS turning back now.  Later, not so much.

That point of tension is so pivotal in so many scary tales that it is no wonder that the light in the window cliché continues to be heavily used, since it introduces that moment so well.  "Drawn like a moth to a flame..."

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It's appropriate that we find ourselves here on the second floor at the Anaheim Mansion, because in the next two posts we'll be running all around the front yard, and before we're finished we will spend quite a lot of time on this upper balcony, the place where the weird glows gleam.