Lasting Obsessions: 20 Years of Revisiting Phantom Manor

When hinges creak in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls – whenever candlelights flicker where the air is deathly still, that is the time when ghosts are present, practicing their terror with ghoulish delight. Welcome, foolish mortals, to the Haunted Mansion.

Vincent Price as the “Ghost Host”

Did I just write down those lines from memory?


Do I have a hyperfixiation with everything that says Haunted House in big decaying letters?

Totally. And it all started in Spring 2000 – exactly 20 years ago, when my mum took me to Disneyland Paris. Which, back in the day, was still called Eurodisney. To put into perspective how long ago that was, the Small World ride still consisted of dolls representing ethnically-diverse kids instead of the ever-present Disney charactes Goofy & Co. and the Pirates of the Caribbean experience didn’t feature a scarily accurate animatronic rendition of Johnny Depp.

We went to Disneyland for one weekend. Got bitten by plush snakes in the Rainforest Cafe, ate Turkish honey at the miryads of candy shops. Did the Frontierland ride, seeing Phantom Manor lurking in the distance, beckoning to be explored.

Exit Light, Enter Night

I had been into gothic things before – raised on watching both the Canadian and German TV series of The Little Vampire, I would always dress up as witches and vampires for Halloween and our German dress-up festivity Fasching (or Karneval, as it’s called beyond the south).

Legend has it that my favourite movie at five years old was The Nightmare Before Christmas. My mother, who travelled often since she worked as reporter, took me to see the H.R. Giger museum in Greyerz when I was eight (which was definitely too scary, and I’ve subsequently never watched any installment of the ALIEN franchise).

For someone who wanted me to grow up normally, she sure fuelled my obsession with the macabre and decaying wherever possible. In retrospective, it is no wonder I turned out goth in my years of teenage angst and beyond.

But when I entered Phantom Manor, stood in the foyer, saw the changing projections in the foyer mirrors, entered the stretching portrait room and was released into my first and only ride in a Doombuggy, I was hooked. The lights, the sounds, the spooky, misty atmosphere, the singing of the bride, Madame Leota bellowing from her crystal ball, the three-dimensional ghosts swirling around in the ballroom while chandeliers flew through the air, the music – it hit a part in my brain that said this is it. This exact aesthetic of fallen opulence and decay will forever be my jam.

I have been chasing that high ever since.

Here’s what the ride looked like in those days:

My kid self can confirm that the colours in this are pretty accurate. Careful: may induce motion sickness.

Couldn’t see a thing? Here’s is what the ride looked like last year and in 4K after its refurbishment:

This is a how the ride looked last year – if anyone can dig up a vintage edition from around 2000 – hit me up!

Lasting Impressions

Three years later, when most kids would have moved on to other pursuits involving boys and makeup, I had finished writing my first actual book – basically a fanfiction about a house strongly resembling Phantom Manor and its inhabitants, that even got printed in the local newspaper as a weekly column around Halloween.

By the time the ingenuinely-titled Ghost Mansion got published (I was 12 when I wrote the thing, cut me some slack), I had been diagnosed with a learning disorder, my home had crumbled after my parents had had a breakup, and I, bookish, quiet, bad at sports, was relentlessly bullied for being much more interested in gothic novels and dictionaries than in giving handjobs. My Phantom Manor-inspired mind palace was one of my last resorts of peace in a world that felt more and more hostile. Then I discovered that I could use that imagery to make myself feel better – wrapping myself in clothes that mirrored an aesthetic I associated with safety helped in regaining myself some confidence.

I took to wearing black velvet and chiffon dresses – in other words, Goth fashion. These clothes became my armour of safety that I could use to endure school long to eventually move on into higher education. My goal: to study animation. Somehting strange happened as soon as I did that: the bullying stopped. I had embraced my weirdness and carved myself an identity, which made me, as one of the actually popular glam girls of my school put it at the time, seem “ballsy as hell” . Granted, I was still a weirdo, but arguably one that was somewhat well-respected by most.

Becoming Oneself, and Sticking with it

I finished school as best of class in English and German (while still doing ridiculously bad at Maths – learning disorder all the way, some things really can’t be changed by even the brightest of glow-ups) and eventually went on to study animation as planned. I have recently been awarded a jury’s choice nomination for my aesthetically familiar project Carmilla – The Animation – and like many others in the Arts, I’m currently unemployed and will be scraping by on support lecturer jobs for a while. But it is the only way my atypically-wired brain can operate. It needs the dark and fantastical just as it needs sunshine.

Keep your interests, kids. They are trying to tell you something about yourself, and even though my life may never be simple nor easy, it taught me to follow through on the things I really wanted: to create worlds of dark and cozy.

And that keeps me going, which is why I am thankful that my mother fostered my weirdness by – among other things – taking me to Phantom Manor.

I wasn’t able to obtain a rendition of the musicbox theme that didn’t sound as if it had been recorded in a bucket, so I took a MIDI file I had downloaded sometime around 2002, that has survived the time on a very persistent harddrive, combined it with a little bit of DAW magic and remastered it. The result can be listened to below:

Hurry baaaaack… for Part 2 – in which we dive into the actual history of Phantom Manor and The Haunted Mansion – and the things that spawned from them.

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