The photo above, from today’s USA Today, shows you just how close the Grand Floridian Resort is to the Magic Kingdom.

The beach at the Grand Floridian, of course, is the site where an alligator snatched a two-year old from his father’s hand while the family walked just inside the waterline.


USA Today

The attack occurred roughly forty or so minutes after sunset, and the gator pulled the child under after briefly tussling with the frantic father.

You’ve probably already absorbed all of this from cable or online news sources, so I won’t rehash any more of it.  So I’ll say something unexpected:

Statistically, this should have happened long ago.

I do not think this is Disney’s fault.  Signs were placed along the hotel’s beach warning guests not to enter the water.  You have to ask yourself why those signs are there.  It’s a man-made lake; there are no riptides or undercurrents; and not much of a danger.  Unless there’s something in the water.

This editorial in the New York Daily News gets a lot of things wrong.  Writer Shaun King, an admitted Disney World fan and frequent guest, along with his family, to Disney’s forty-square mile property admits that they had never once thought there would be dangerous alligators anywhere on Disney property.  How could there be?  This is Disney, for god’s sake!  Nothing bad ever happens here!  (Really?  Read this, this, and this.)  And then, to find five alligators in the lake?  That’s simply horrendous!

I can’t speak for the powers-that-be at Disney World, but after working at a major theme park and by studying Disney Parks for four decades, I can make some educated guesses about the signage along the beach.  First, they want you safe, so they clearly tell you that you shouldn’t go in the water.  Second, they don’t want to scare the bejesus out of you, so they don’t even whisper the word alligator to anyone.  They want you to keep coming back,  and frequently; not too scared to never come back.  This is PR basics.

The big secret is that there is no secret at all.  Alligators were already on the Florida swampland that Walt bought up in the mid-’60s, and they’re still there now–and they’re plentiful.

final map

ABC News Online

In summer of 1986, I watched from the deck of the Empress Lilly (at the then Walt Disney World Village) as tourists threw bread from their dinner tables at a three-foot long gator waiting to be fed.

Shortly before Christmas in 1991, I took the monorail from the Grand Floridian to go Christmas shopping for my wife in the Magic Kingdom.  The monorail track can be seen starting right above the upper right corner of the Grand Floridian box in the map above, leading to the station almost directly below the D in Walt Disney World.  See that star you passed on the way?  I placed that on the map.  I was standing in the monorail and happened to look down through the window.  That man-made canal is where Disney docks the Electrical Water Pageant, and that star is where I saw a gator basking in the shallows along the shore, its tail curled in a black question mark.

My wife and I both saw a gator in 1992, when Disney’s Coronado Resort first opened.  As annual passholders we were invited to tour the property, and an employee warned us away from a shallow pool only feet away from us in the grass.  “It’s a gator,” he said.  “We’ve already called to have it removed.”  All we could see were the ridges of its eyes just above the surface.  We crept around it.

On the road that guests drive to get to Fort Wilderness, there used to be a guardhouse less than a quarter mile past the camping resort.  It was customary back then to have the doors open on each side of the guardhouse so the guard could wave to the drivers as they passed by.  One night, an employee told us, the overnight guard heard a noise close beside him, and a gator stood in the road, hissing at him.  He exited through the other side of the guardhouse, and when the gator followed him–and entered the guardhouse–the guard slammed the door shut, then ran around and shut the other door, trapping the gator inside.

Consider this: Remember, the land area of Walt Disney World currently stretches (they sold some land a few years back) about 40 square miles.  To get a grasp of how big that is, look at it this way: It’s the size of the city of San Francisco.  There simply is no way Disney or anybody could build resorts and theme parks on top of forty square miles of Florida swampland, the natural habitat of Alligator mississippiensis, and get rid of gators entirely.  Florida is known for these monsters, so I find it naive that anyone would not expect that, even though they may not see any, alligators are always somewhere close by in the mid-Florida scrublands.  I mean, are visitors to the Serengeti shocked that there are lions roaming wild?  Hell, the Everglades still has panthers, not to mention a host of non-native Burmese pythons breeding out of control.  The wild is alive, and Florida is ground zero for the unexpected.

I don’t blame Disney, and I don’t blame the parents, either.  What happened is the clash between nature and civilization.  The gator did only what it would naturally do (even though they rarely attack humans); and who could fault a family, walking along a man-made beach on a lovely night, for not going in the water, but merely wading at the edges?

No matter.  A boy is dead and a family is broken.  Lawsuits will be filed, I have no doubt.  Money will be passed and settlements made.  Then corporate lawyers will order more signs, more fences, and perhaps even walls built around the resorts to insure that this never happens again.

It was bound to happen eventually.  I just don’t know why it didn’t happen sooner.

The Haunted Mansion, With Love


Because I struck up a new friendship with Jeff Baham, Dark Webmaster Chef Mayhem at the impressive and gorgeous, and the author of the equally impressive and gorgeous The Unauthorized story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion, a single note on Jeff’s Facebook page has led to more than 1600 hits–in about 19 hours!–on my most recent blogpost about the Haunted Mansion (which is here).  Thanks to Jeff for the mention, and thank you readers and fans of the Haunted Mansion.

In that post, I suggested that Imagineers had looked at the EC Comics horror titles from the ’50s for inspiration for the Haunted Mansion, and Jeff pointed me to the Long-Forgotten website, where blogger HBG2 conducts


Late in 2010, HBG2 posted about a LOT of possible inspirations, including one I caught myself, and one I didn’t.  Here’s the one I didn’t, and HBG2’s explanation.

Hatchet Man from the Mansion, vs. EC's Old Witch

One inspiration that we have previously pointed out is “The Old Witch,” an EC comics “host” character who graced the covers of Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and Haunt of Fear comics in the early 1950’s.  “The Old Witch” obviously served as the model for Marc Davis’s Hatchet Man:

But once we know that Davis was flipping through these old comics, one can’t help wondering about other items that come up…

Well, we know that the hanging-man gag goes back to Ken Anderson (’57-’58), and the stretching portrait gallery goes back to Yale and Rolly (’59-’61), all of this being before Marc Davis came on board (’64), so even if you’re suspicious, it’s hard to know where this one fits in.  It’s old enough (1954) to have been an influence on Anderson, theoretically.

So, that at least answers my questions.  Yes, EC’s terror tomes certainly did inspire elements inside the Haunted Mansion, and probably a few created by Marc Davis and Ken Anderson, if not others.

Thanks to Jeff and HBG2 for the research!

And, speaking of the Haunted Mansion…

Everybody who’s ever been to Disneyland or Walt Disney World has a favorite attraction. Mine has always been and will probably always be the Haunted Mansion.


Like the ancient and wizened geek I am, I’ve always been interested in the origins of the Mansion, both in terms of its special effects and whatever sources were influences to its designers. I covered most of the FX in two articles I wrote for Storyboard Magazine way back in 1989 (under my real first name, Howard).  Specific influences, however, have been harder to confirm. I guessed years ago that the Hallway of Doors was based on a scene in Robert Wise’s 1960 film, The Haunting.  But it wasn’t until 2009 (that I know of) that one of the Mansion’s designers admitted they studied The Haunting for ideas.

For Christmas, my wife gave me a copy of The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion by Jeff Baham.  (You can order it here.)  It’s the book I’ve been waiting for, and I say that not because my articles from 1989 were used in its research (and, thank you, Jeff!), but because it’s as exhaustive as it could possibly be.  This is the Haunted Mansion book I’ve always wanted: no Disney-approved fluff.  Just pure, unadulterated facts and interviews all about my favorite house of dark shadows.


In 2009, I stumbled upon a couple of possible influences from the ’50s that, before, I never would have guessed the original designers ever saw. In hindsight, they make perfect sense, especially since we’re talking about Imagineers who had been pimply-faced comic readers only a very few years before when these comics had been published…and perhaps their children were reading them, too.

Here are some covers from EC Comics, the highly-influential and notorious publishers of the sui generis Tales From the Crypt.  I can see the Imagineers in the 1960s, looking for inspirations on which to design gags and rooms for the Haunted Mansion.  As far as I know–and I haven’t finished Jeff Baham’s book yet–these possible sources have never before been mentioned by Imagineers.  And if you’ve ever read any of the comics or seen the HBO show that was based on them, you’ll know that they embody the same combination of humor and horror as does the Haunted Mansion.

You be the judge:

Did this inspire Madam Leota’s seance?



Photo art by ladycodex on

Was this the original caretaker at the graveyard?



Was this layout the inspiration for the mirror alcoves and their respective Hitchhiking Ghosts at the end of the attraction?


Did this cover inspire the coffin scene?


And was this the inspiration for the Ghost Host and the Stretching Room?  Note the elongated angle, and the portraits on each side.  It’s almost exactly what you see from below as lightning strikes high above you in the Mansion.


In 2009, I wrote a post on my old blog about the Haunted Mansion.  I’ve revised and repurposed it here.

THE ROGUE BIBLIOHOLIC: Once Upon a Time – Behind the Magic



The bar was set high in 1968.  Since then, very few books about individual television shows have come close to the standards set by Stephen E. Whitfield’s groundbreaking title, The Making of Star Trek.  Its combination of behind the scenes action and in-depth analysis of the original Star Trek series has never been paralleled.


But there are other ways to create a tv show book, especially if you’ve got a lot of photos, art, and large pages to fill.  That’s what makes Once Upon a Time: Behind the Magic so fun.  With photos, illustrations, trivia, interviews, and assorted factoids and sidebars, this is a very crowded book–and one that is perfect for fans of Disney’s weekly storybook fantasy.

Once Upon a Time: Behind the Magic is a solid companion to the show, covering its production and storylines through Season 2.  And although the creators try to emphasize that they came up with the original premise for Once Upon a Time, I strongly suggest that the show’s true genesis came from the success of Fables, a DC comic book series that took classic fairy tales and placed them in the modern world.  Fables began in 2002…coincidentally, the same year that the creators left their then-current show, Felicity, and started thinking about a new series that would take classic fairy tales and place them in the modern world.

fables-covers-james-jean fairest2 fairest3-adam-hughes

The book offers a highly detailed episode guide and a lot of fascinating sidebars–for instance, I had no idea a Season 2 episode was inspired by Universal’s classic Frankenstein films.  There are interviews with the cast members and the creators, and the book really goes in-depth with production designs and special effects, including looks at the ornate props and costumes.

1Costumes 2costumes closing photo

The photos and art included here are visually stunning.  Once Upon a Time: Behind the Magic is indispensable for true fans.  No, it’s not as insightful as The Making of Star Trek, The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book, or The Twilight Zone Companion, but the wealth of photos and the creative graphic design make up for it. 

Once Upon a Time is a fun show that’s pulled in a lot of Disney fans–or have made tv viewers new fans of Disney’s magical kingdoms.  Now, if only Disney would develop a Haunted Mansion series that is a little bit funny and a LOT scary…



Order Once Upon a Time: Behind the Magic.  Amazon.  Barnes & Noble.