photo of Haunted Mansion Dining Room in Disneyland attraction showing ghostly apparitions seated at long formal dining table in a great hall

Summoning Memories of The Haunted Mansion’s Opening Night

Welcome, foolish mortals, to a tale told about The Haunted Mansion.

So many facts behind the Mansion have materialized over the years, so we thought it would be a chilling challenge to find a true story that has been little heard by mortal ears.

black and white photo of young Shari Bescos Koch posing with Goofy in front of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion

Since 1965, the Disney parks have always had an official Ambassador. The first Ambassador, Julie Reihm Casaletto, was personally chosen by Walt Disney to represent Disneyland, the Studio, the Company and Walt himself. Today, with Walt’s passing and with the addition of theme parks around the world, the role of the Disneyland Ambassador has seen some change, but the Ambassadors are still involved in all the major events of the resorts… including The Haunted Mansion‘s press “viewing.” So I wanted to establish contact with Disneyland’s 1969 Ambassador to the World, Shari Bescos Koch, who played Ghost Hostess to the press for the Mansion‘s immortal press event on August 11th, 1969.

What could be a better press opening than to gather the bodies at Club 33 . . .

“I had been in high school watching the Mansion being built,” she recalls. ” It sat there empty. Walt had passed away and the Mansion still sat there so the fact that I got to open it was kind of exciting.” Shari says attendees to the press event were given their information packets which included their “Press Ghost Skeleton Key” to The Haunted Mansion. Shari recalls, “We did a press opening at Club 33 in New Orleans Square and that night we walked at midnight along the river in front of the Mansion and then went in and officially opened it.” What could be a better press opening than to gather the bodies at Club 33, presumably with “spirits” served, and slowly and solemnly escort them down by the river, before permitting them to enter the Mansion . . .  at their own risk, of course.

photo of interior of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion attraction showing ghostly couple dancing in great hall

For the first time in 40 years, Shari let the black cat out of the bag as she shared the true story of this midnight spree, and how “pranky spirits” may have played a role. “At midnight we were supposed to be over in front of the Mansion, so we left the club, probably at a quarter of… I was to actually lead them over there and then we did some kind of a “cut the ribbon” and then walk them into the Mansion for the first time. As I was walking out of the club, whoever was the ops guy, told me that a third of the cars didn’t have any sound, and as you know on the Haunted Mansion, that’s where the sound is coming from, is the individual cars.

“So I kind of took them down by the river and we did a leisurely walk along the river, looking at the Mansion from all angles, then I took them past the Mansion and back in front of it, and I stopped a couple of times and talked about it, because I was trying to stall. I would stop and we would talk about the fact about how long it had been there . . .

. . . and that Walt had gathered ghosts from around the world . .

. . . and there were some problems after his passing, and so it’s taken us this much longer to get the number of ghosts we needed to get it open. It was just like talking, and keeping moving, stopping, we’d look at the angle and how it looked in the dark at midnight… a perfect opening.

“Finally, we went in and it happened to be that whatever the problem was, they got it resolved. The team was great. So we were a little after midnight, but that’s because they told me to stall it as long as possible. I don’t know how much you can stall in a slow leisurely walk from New Orleans Square to The Haunted Mansion, but I did my best.”

black and white photo showing Shari Bescos posing with Mickey Mouse, Pluto and friends in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland

For more than 45 years, it has always appeared that the long walk had been carefully constructed, but perhaps it had been planned from beyond. Why did those speakers go dead so mysteriously and why did they so eerily resume operation right at the moment that Koch approached with her procession? We don’t mean to frighten you, but perhaps the key to the perfect unveiling of The Haunted Mansion was actually due to help from 999 happy haunts from beyond.