Pepper’s Ghost

Completed in 1969, the Haunted Mansion maybe one of Disney’s greatest creations. Imagineers spent ten years bouncing around ideas before settling on the final version of the ride. When I was a kid, this was my favorite attraction at Disney World. It wasn’t one of the mountains-Splash, Space, or Thunder. Pirates of the Carribean was only a footnote for this child. These days, my favorite moment (it’s really not an attraction) is the initial walk down Main Street, USA. It’s a nod to Marceline, MO-Walt’s hometown. Nothing kicks off a trip like that walk. The popcorn. The train. Balloons lifting upward to the sky. Seeing Mickey Mouse sign autographs. This is Disney. It’s one of the primary reasons so many travel from all parts of the globe.

Inside the park, many rides have come and gone. Snow White’s ride has been replaced by a roller coaster. Even Mickey’s House has been torn down in the name of progress. Yeah, I took my kid here at age six. He wanted to see Mickey’s TV and Pluto’s house. It was gone. Great job, Disney. How can you tear down Mickey’s House? Sigh. Even though this saddened me, the Mouse House gets it more right than wrong.

There are so many parts of the Mansion that are special. The changing paintings. Statues staring from every angle. Candles floating down the hallway. They even added a recent illusion at the end that’s a bit creepy. Right before the safety bar begins to raise, the narrator warns about hitch hiking ghosts. Behold, a ghost appears holding a sign with the name of my home state. I was a bit baffled. Then, I remembered the magic band around my wrist. They pulled the address from my account. Disney, that was pretty slick. Sometimes, it’s the little things that are the big things.

What is the most spectacular part of the ride? For me, it’s the grand ballroom. It’s an amazing illusion. Ghosts dancing, eating, and having a merry old time. When I was young, I rode the ride over and over because I couldn’t believe my eyes. Real ghosts. At Walt-Disney Word? Childhood magic lasts forever. It’s ahead of its time in many ways.

Yet, it uses an illusion created in the 1860s better known as Pepper’s Ghost. For Star Wars, I’m guessing George Lucas used similar effects for R2D2’s transmission of the Princess’s message, “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”

It’s relatively easy to duplicate at home. To give it a go, my son and I gathered up a few items: (1) piece of glass, (2) flashlight, and (3) a small action figure. Yeah, we used Darth Vader and Obi-Wan. If you hold the glass at a 45-degree angle, stand up your model off to the side, and look straight through the glass, you’ll see a distinct image of a ghost. If you light the beam up, blinding the action figure, it’ll even make it look more ghost like. Think Obi talking from beyond the grave.

Now, what makes the ghosts in the ballroom amazing is that this simple effect is done on a grand scale. To pull the illusion off, the piece of glass is more than immense. It’s at least three stories tall. When it opened to the public, the effect even fooled magicians. There are several videos on YouTube showing the how it’s done, but they take from the magic. Spoilers abound. Oh, the memories.


There are a number of behind the scenes videos, some longer than others. This one gives a shot at the 1.10 mark that shows off how the effect was managed.