Chess Men at the Haunted Mansion

Gary Cruise banner

Here’s another little tidbit of Disney lore that Carol and I were told by a cast member during a behind the scenes tour . . . it explains those odd objects on the roof of the Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

The story the guide told us began in California back in the late 1960’s. Disney had just purchased the land needed for “The Florida Project” and all hands in the Imagineering Department were busy designing attractions for the new park.

Imagineer Marc Davis, one of Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men, was not only a gifted artist; he was also a skilled draftsman. He had designed the Haunted Mansion which opened to rave reviews at Disneyland in August 1969. It was only logical that he design another version, adapted to the geography and climate of central Florida.

So in the late 1960’s Davis was hard at work generating sketch after sketch of the Florida mansion. Before long he was drafting specific plans and had a number of small scale models built to test his plans and experiment with materials, textures and color schemes.

Marc Davis was also an avid chess player and always had a chess board set up in his office. He would often use the chess board to clear his mind during stressful times, playing a game against himself or replaying a classic game played by a chess master.

Often, while Davis and some of his fellow Imagineers were out having lunch an unknown prankster would sneak into his office, pick up a few of the chess men and put them on the model of the Haunted Mansion. A pawn on the corner of a gable, a rook on a chimney, etc. Of course, Marc had a keen memory and was able to put every piece back into the proper place on the board. A few days later the pieces would migrate back to the model during lunch . . . it happened again and again! And Marc Davis always put them back in place on the chess board.

After many months of work the design was nearing completion, the process was almost complete. But Davis couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing . . . something was wrong.

Rather than go back to the drawing board, he went back to the chess board. He put some chess men back in the places where the prankster had left them, switched them around a few times and soon found the perfect look. His work was done!

Haunted Mansion Chess Men

Click on the image to see a larger version

I snapped the picture above in November 2013. Can you spot the chess men? You should see Pawns, Bishops, Rooks and Queens.

Gary hails from Canada and he’s a lifelong Disney fan. In the 1950s he watched the original Mickey Mouse Club and The Wonderful World of Disney on a snowy old black-and-white television. Gary was mesmerized by the Disneyland that Walt introduced to the world during those Sunday night shows! In 1977 he took his young family to Walt Disney World for the first time and suddenly that Disney magic he experienced as a child was rekindled. Since then Gary and his wife Carol have enjoyed about 70 trips to Walt Disney World, 11 trips to Disneyland and 11 Disney Cruises.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 Replies to “Chess Men at the Haunted Mansion”

  1. I thought the story was there was no knight on the roof of the HM because it is always ‘night’ inside?

    [Gary writes: Hi James. I hadn’t heard that twist on the legend, but it sounds like a little quirk that Mark Davis might have enjoyed building in. Thanks!]

  2. While I don’t have first hand knowledge of this particular piece of lore in theory it could be true, Marc Davis was an avid chess player.

    He actually set up the board with the 2 pirates playing chess in the queue at Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. The board was initially setup so that it was in a stale mate of check. No matter which way the players move it will just be a loop of the same moves.

    The joke was that they “died” playing their chess game lol.

  3. Cleverly done. Hope you have had a good trip.

    [Gary writes: Thanks Jan, yes we had a great trip, but as always it’s good to be back home.]