When you step into the famous octagonal room, your first stop at the Haunted Mansion, the disembodied ghost-host asks: “Is this room actually stretching? Or is it just your imagination?” Well it’s not your imagination. It is stretching, but in which direction?
The answer to that question actually depends on which Haunted Mansion you’re visiting. Both rooms do stretch. However in Disneyland over in California guests are lowered down as the room stretches while guests over in Disney World in Florida remain put as the ceiling stretches upwards. So why is that?
Well the original design was born out of necessity. You see, Disneyland isn’t a very large park, and so Disney always had to be careful with how they used the space they had. When it came time to designing the Haunted Mansion, the idea was to place the bulk of the ride building on the outer edge of the park, outside of the Disneyland Railroad which acted as a border. The ride’s facade and entrance, however, would remain on the inside of the park, creating the problem of getting guests onto the other side of the railroad tracks.
That’s where the stretching room comes in. By lowering everyone underground on the open air elevator disguised as a room, guests would be able to easily and safely make their way to the doom buggies where they could experience the ride on the other side of the tracks.
Over in Florida size wasn’t an issue so they didn’t have to employ the same solution. In fact, it would have been hard to do even if they wanted to. Because the waterbed in Florida is so shallow, Disney can’t dig too far down into the ground. It’s the same reason why the famous underground tunnels known as the utilidoors aren’t actually underground. They were built first on the surface level of the land, and the rest of the Magic Kingdom was built on top of it.
Even though they didn’t need to lower guests underground in Disney World, the stretching room was still a key part of the Haunted Mansion. So instead, the room was designed such that the upper half would raise up when stretching while guests stood in place.
That said, there is one similar instance of that trick being used in the Magic Kingdom. Because the main building for Space Mountain sits outside of the Walt Disney World Railroad, guests need to somehow get onto the other side of the tracks. That’s why the queue for Disney World’s Space Mountain requires descending a few gradual ramps before eventually ascending back up into the main queue room.
The Haunted Mansion’s stretching room is a wonderful example of Imagineering ingenuity. When faced with a problem they found a creative solution that not only solved the issue, but made for a memorable part of an even more memorable ride.