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The Inside Jokes of WDW: The “Haunted Mansion®”


It’s October and while that means Epcot® International Food and Wine Festival Presented by Chase® to most Walt Disney World® fans, for me it means Halloween and haunted houses (or hotels). The Haunted Mansion® boasts some of the most quintessential inside jokes in the World – the Imagineers’ tombstones.

While working on the mansion, the Imagineers created tombstones to put in the graveyard outside with witty epitaphs to celebrate their fellow Imagineers. In the spirit of Halloween, let’s go through the graveyard and quickly look at each epitaph.

“Here rests Wathel R. Bender – He rode to glory on a fender”

Wathel Rogers was an animator who worked on films from Pinocchio all the way to Sleeping Beauty. He also helped Walt create ‘Project Little Man’, the grand-father of audio-animatronics. Wathel continued helping the company create some of its iconic figures, including Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin in The American Adventure at Epcot®.

“Here lies good old Fred – A great big rock fell on his head”

Fred Joerger was a set designer and model builder. Interestingly, he was best known for his rock-work designs around the Park.

“Rest in peace cousin Huet – We all know you didn’t do it”

Cliff Huet was one of the lead interior designers for the Haunted Mansion® and also worked as an architect for WED (WED was the original name for what is now Walt Disney Imagineering).Haunted Mansion 2 - CF

“Requiescat Francies Xavier – No time off for good behavior”

X. Atencio worked on many of the animated movies, but he is best know for his work with WED. He worked on attractions like Pirates of the Carribbean®, Adventure Thru Inner Space, and, of course, the Haunted Mansion®. He also co-wrote ‘Grim Grinning Ghosts’, which is one of my favorite songs from the parks.

“Dear sweet Leota beloved by all – In regions beyond now, having a ball”

Madame Leota’s tombstone is the newest one in the graveyard, and the only one that has a special effect to it. Stare at it long enough, and she just might stare back.  Leota Tombs was an artist at WED. It is also her head that you see in the crystal ball in the seance room.

“Dear departed brother Dave – He chased a bear into a cave”

Dave Burkhart was a model maker with Disney. He worked on the Haunted Mansion® as well as the Swiss Family Treehouse and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. His tenure with Disney includes working in the parks on both coasts as well as Tokyo Disneyland®.

“Here lies a man named Martin – the lights went out on this old Spartan”

Bill Martin helped design and build Disneyland®.  He would regularly walk through the park with Walt to see how they could improve it. He was also responsible for the design of the Utilidors under the Magic Kingdom® Park and for designing the Admiral Joe Fowler and Richard F. Irvine riverboats.

“R.I.P. Good friend – Gordon – Now you’ve crossed the river Jordon”

Gordon Williams worked on audio-animatronics. He was also an audio designer. Many of the sound effects in the Haunted Mansion® are his work.

“In memorium Uncle Myall – Here you’ll lie for quite a while”

Chuck Myall was an art director and project designer for WED. For Disneyland®, he worked on Sleeping Beauty Castle, the Monorail, and Pirates of the Caribbean®.

“R.I.P. Mister Sewell – the victim of a dirty duel”

Bob Sewell was in charge of show installations at Disneyland®, and was head of the Model Shop at WED.Haunted Mansion - CF

“In memory of our patriarch – Dear departed Grandpa Marc”

A whole post could be dedicated to Marc Davis. In animation, he is one of Disney’s legendary ‘Nine Old Men’. In the parks, his concept art is well-loved by many Disney fans, especially for Pirates of the Caribbean® and the Haunted Mansion®.

“At peaceful rest lies Brother Claude – Planted here beneath this sod”

Claude Coats workded as a background artist for the animated films before becoming a show designer for WED. He was responsible for designing the interior of the Haunted Mansion®.

“Master Gracey laid to rest – No mourning please at his request”

Yale Gracey workded with Rolly Crump to create the special effects and gags for the Haunted Mansion®.

(Photos from the author’s personal collection.)

What is your favorite moment in the Haunted Mansion®?

Chris grew up during the Disney renaissance of animation and took his first trip to Walt Disney World® when he was ten. Even though he has loved Disney his whole life, his obsession didn’t start until he began planning a trip for his honeymoon. Right now, his primary job (at least the one that doesn’t pay the bills) is to indoctrinate his daughter with his love of Disney while at the same time convincing his wife to move to Orlando so he can become a tour guide in the parks.