There is perhaps no Disney attraction that has more tales about its development than the Haunted Mansion. The attraction’s long development combined with many iterations has made learning the oral legends of the Haunted Mansion a Disney fan’s rite of passage.
I remember how when I first moved to Southern California to attend UCLA, I had the opportunity to attend a benefit for Ryman Arts. Part of the event was visitng several stops within Disneyland where we heard Imagineering legends tell stories about their time with WED/WDI. Perhaps the most memorable stop was at “it’s a small world” where I met Rolly Crump. I am ashamed to say that at the time, I had never heard of this influential Imagineer and Disney Legend. He told us stories about his work on “it’s a small world,” the Tower of the Four Winds, Enchanted Tiki Room, and the Haunted Mansion.
But one topic has stuck with me after all these years. It was fascinating to hear about his concept of the Museum of the Weird. Rolly described his vision for part of the Haunted Mansion experience, and it was hauntingly memorable. I knew the development of the Haunted Mansion was tumultuous but hearing his first-hand account is one of my most treasured memories.
As the legend goes, the Imagineers were struggling with the tone of the Haunted Mansion. Should it be a conventional scare house? A parody? Or something else? Following the World’s Fair, Rolly worked with master illusionist Yale Gracey on concepts for the Haunted Mansion. Rolly came up with some very interesting ideas. An aquarium with ghost fish, a candle man comprised of melting wax, and a grandfather coffin clock, were all part of the concepts that Rolly presented to Walt.
Walt was impressed with the concepts, but the weirdness caused him to not know what to do with them. Rolly pressed that there should be something different in their version of a haunted house to distinguish it from other haunted attractions that were staples of amusement parks across the country. As the story goes, Walt came to Rolly the next day and said he had a solution. They would create a “spill area” next to the main attraction that guests could enter or exit freely which would be a sister attraction to the main show. Of course, this idea was back when the Haunted Mansion was a walk-through. As the attraction became an omni-mover featuring the classic doombuggies and Walt passed away, The Musuem of the Weird faded into obscurity.
Now fast forward to a new legend. The Walt Disney Company had become the largest entertainment company in the world and Bob Iger continued the organization’s growth by adding additional companies that have Disney’s dedication to storytelling to the family. Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada is at a ballgame with Imagineers Josh Shipley and Brian Crosby. As the game goes on the Quesada, Shipley, and Crosby discuss projects, much like Rolly discussed his ideas to Walt. And while many of the ideas discussed may suffer the same fate as the Museum of the Weird, one of the concepts was willed into existence; Disney Kingdoms.
The idea behind Disney Kingdoms was to have the storytellers at Marvel expand some of the stories at Walt Disney Imagineering, in the same way Imagineers have been expanding the stories from Disney films for years. The first effort under this new imprint was Seekers of the Weird. The Museum of the Weird would finally be built, even if it’s within the pages of a comic book. Written by Brandon Seifer and illustrated by Karl Moline, Rick Magyar, and Filipe Andrade, the comic book series is now available collected in hardcover.
The story features two teenagers, Maxwell and Melody, who are tasked with facing the Museum of the Weird and rescuing their parents from the mysterious forces within the ghostly retreat. Of course they have their Uncle Roland (get it?) to guide them along the way. The story is full of twists and turns so I tread lightly in order to avoid spoilers. The tale begins, much like the classic Haunted Mansion storybook, with two “typical” kids who experience something extraordinary. The Shadow Society captures their parents and their only hope of rescuing requires an adventure in the Museum of the Weird. They must find the Coffin Clock before the Candleman melts or there will be no hope.
My advice to you is to read the book twice. The first time, enjoy the fun adventure of Maxwell and Melody. Reading the book reminded me of riding the Haunted Mansion for the first time. The aura of foreboding seeps through every page, while still being fun and light-hearted at times. The story has some fun twists and turns that end up providing a very satisfying adventure.
The second time you read the book, focus on the artwork. Each page is filled with Rolly’s concepts brought to full-color. Every design choice is a perfect example of “Disney Weird.” Seeing Rolly’s coffin clock, ghost fish, and other concepts being used in a story for the first time is a surreal experience. For decades, we have heard of the Museum of the Weird and now we can see those delightfully bizarre illustrations brought to life for the first time. Disney fans could spend several minutes combing each page appreciating the designs and imagery. Much like any Disney attraction, the attention to detail is astonishing.
As a bonus, the hardcover collection features a gallery of the original comic covers, development artwork, and Rolly Crump’s original Museum of the Weird illustrations. It is neat to see how they translated Rolly’s concepts into the comic illustrations. Rolly even provided an introduction for the collected edition.
While many Marvel fans are Disney fans and many Disney fans are Marvel fans, I implore both of them to read this book. Disney fans will see a story that exemplifies Disney storytelling. Marvel fans will read a comic that keeps all of the fantasy of the genre, but expands it in a way that feels new yet classic. Seekers of the Weird is a must read for anyone who loves comics or Disneyland. The Haunted Mansion finally has the companion story that Walt dreamt of building, but never came to be. I hope we get to visit the Museum of the Weird again, although I am sure other Rolly Crump concepts could inspire other tales. Tower of the Four Winds, perhaps?