I don't knooooowwww...
Something big has happened at the DL Mansion, so we must needs weigh in on it. The graveyard that occupied the berm at the Disneyland Mansion for nearly thirty years and has been gone for sixteen reappeared in late August of this year. (You can read all about the old berm graveyard HERE and the original "family plot" that preceded it HERE.) Both of those old posts have been thoroughly updated as of November 2016.
I've been given to understand (albeit from watery, second-hand sources) that the fact that the new graveyard debuted with the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay signifies nothing. The thing was ready to go and would have gone in earlier if they had had the time.
Jeff Baham explains: "Trees needed to be removed because their roots were too dense for the minimal amount of soil atop the faux hill, and a new retaining wall had to be constructed before new trees could be planted" (The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion [2nd ed;Theme Park Press: 2016] 81).
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The Good: "The Great Eight"
All eight of the stones that occupied the original family plot in 1969 have been reproduced (plus four new ones, discussed later). Those eight originals have been affectionately known as the "great eight" for some time ("for some time" = since 10 o'clock yesterday morning). The new epitaphs are identical to the old and the designs are similar.
This move can only be greeted with applause by HM purists. It echoes the respect for tradition that made the new Hat Box Ghost last year such a tasteful and welcome addition (for most of us, anyway). Unlike the wretched 2011 queue in WDW, this one does not keep nudging you and squealing about how cool the HM is. It is simply putting back something that never should have been removed in the first place (the berm graveyard), and it goes one step further by bringing back the tombstones that were eclipsed by that same berm graveyard. Here is a good example of a shout-out to HM fans that is contextually justified, fully in keeping with the imaginary world of the ride. It makes complete and immediate sense even if you know nothing of the berm's previous history or have no prior acquaintance with the ride at all. Compare this to, e.g., the raven on the organ pipes at the end of a crypt in the Orlando queue. There is no contextual justification for the raven to be there; it's only there because it's a "Haunted Mansion icon."
This team gets high marks for efficiency, restoring at one stroke and in the correct place both a missing thing and the thing it replaced.
I figure the best way to review the new iterations of the great eight is in a side-by-side display of old and new, an approach greatly facilitated by Mr. Gregg Ziak. Bless his heart, Gregg did the following two things recently, and at almost the same time: (1) he published a glorious set of old photos he had of the original 1969 family plot, and (2) he took some fine new photos of the new graveyard and posted those. You will note a heavy debt to Mr. Z in much of what follows.
Greene's grandkids have been hoping for a long time to see a really good photo of this tombstone, and now their patience has been triply rewarded: Two old photos and a new headstone in the park.
The new stone is a good example of how the overall designs faithfully reflect the contours of the originals without slavishly reproducing them. It also displays prominently a feature common to every stone in the new set but never seen in any outdoor HM graveyard previously: they're designed to look old. They've got cracks and gouges and worn, ragged edges. In this, the new berm graveyard conforms more closely than any of its predecessors to what is seen in the graveyard inside the ride, whether or not this was done intentionally. (And before someone says it; yes, I know, it also happens to be closer to the Phantom Manor approach, but big whoop, I doubt that means anything.)
This could be kind of a big deal, conceptually. The stones of the original great eight looked new, in keeping with (1) the graveyard's placement and (2) the familial language used on them (Grandpa Marc, Cousin Victor, Brother Claude), both of which unmistakably identified that little graveyard as a private burial plot tied directly to the house's history. The berm graveyard that replaced it, on the other hand, was more ambiguous in this regard. Was it also supposed to be seen as the Mansion's private family plot? The persistence of familial vocabulary pointed in that direction (Cousin Huett, Brother Dodd, Brother Dave), but in spite of that, it's probable that many people saw it as part of some random old graveyard that happened to be nearby, like the public cemetery "back there somewhere" that provides the venue for the show's climax. Indeed, I expect some people assumed the berm tombstones were part of that very cemetery, spilling over the top, as it were. Whatever the case may be, it must be admitted that the decrepit look of the new berm tombstones is more congenial to such a reading than anything that preceded it. This interpretation also makes good sense of the new fence on top of the wall: it's part of the perimeter fence of the graveyard that is mostly located on the other side of the hill.
In fact, both forms are correct. "Requiescat In Pace" ( = Rest in Peace, R.I.P.) is the usual formulation, but on occasion "Requiesca" is also used. According to reader Ann-Kathrin Wasle in the Comments, it's simply the imperative form ("Rest [in peace], bud, and that's an order"). Whoever it was that convinced X his stone was irregular or ungrammatical was simply mistaken.
Along with the great eight come four new stones, deferentially located two to the left and two to the right. Forgetting their placement for the moment, let's decode what's on them. As you might expect, they are new tributes to new Imagineers, members of the team responsible for the overall project high-fiveing each other. On the far left:
The tombstone was too short to squeeze the last word of the epitaph on to it, get it? Anyway, this is a tribute to Julie Bush, a WDI landscape architect. Julie is, and I quote, "responsible for design and site construction oversight for all Disneyland Resort area development capital work and rehabs." [I typed it, but don't ask me what the hell it says.] "She led the Area Development design of Disneyland's 10-year Resort-wide paving plan, New Tomorrowland and the Rivers of America projects. Julie also works closely with the on-site Horticulture and show maintenance teams on show quality issues."
Skipping across to the other side, on the right, we have a double tombstone:
"M. Dibjib" is Michael Dobrzycki, a Concept/Graphic Designer at WDI. This guy has an impressive resumé: “Michael Dobrzycki is an accomplished painter, carpenter, puppet maker, and sketch artist whose work has been featured in more than a dozen children's books and small press publications over the last few years. In 2001, Michael was inducted into the Disneyland Entertainment Hall of Fame. He received a master's degree in illustration from California State University, Fullerton, and holds bachelor's degrees in both art and history from Whittier College. He is currently a visiting professor at Whittier College. Michael lives in Whittier, CA.”
This is obviously for Disneyland Art Director Kim Irvine, already familiar to many of you as the daughter of Leota Toombs and daughter-in-law of Dick Irvine, Imagineers heavily involved with the original HM, of course. Kim has herself done some HM work over the years. She was involved in the pet cemeteries, and she generously loaned out her face for use in producing new Madame Leota mask models, since her facial planes are uncannily close to her mother's. Her resumé is a long one. (She founded the DL Imagineering office in the early 80's, worked on the updated Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and It's a Small World refurb, et cetera. Google if you want more info on Kim.
they're meh. The stones aren't terribly objectionable per se, but I've got two complaints.
Well, even that lame explanation won't work this time. There is literally, quite literally, no possible place where a body could be buried beneath or adjacent to either the Julia Bush or Bradford Clemente stones. They are mere inches from the wall in front of them and mere inches above existing concrete crypts that are already occupied.
You want irony? In the case of Julia Shrub, this absurdity is intended as a tribute to a landscape architect! As they say, you can't make this stuff up. Gad. I'm choking on my spittle here.
And there is a similar problem with the new Cousin Victor stone. It's inches from the wall in front of it. Where's the body? THE VICTOR STONE NEEDS TO BE PUSHED BACK. (I'm withholding judgment on some of the others since photos can be deceiving and I can't yet be positive that some of them are also too close to the wall.)
Look, you WDI guys. You're going to have to pull out the Clemente stone anyway to fix the spelling error, so FIX THIS. Please. Pretty please? With buckets of sugar on it? It's embarrassing.
PS: The easy fix? Put big urns on them.* Shrub already has a design that would easily modify to allow it, and Clemente has to be redone anyway.
The Ugly: What a Sorry Sight
Some of what follows is WDI's fault, but a lot of it isn't. Let's just say it: the new berm graveyard is visually unappealing, to put it as kindly as possible. All you have to do is compare it with a photo of the old graveyard and the argument is over, QED.
Says it all, says it all.
Well, the bothersome HMH decorations are cluttering things up. Maybe it would all look better without the pumpkins and lanterns and dead vines evidently put there to conceal the wiring. The problem is, we DO know what it looks like without those, since the first photos of the new berm were taken by people peeking over the fence before the HMH decorations went in, and it really doesn't look that much better.
The real culprit is all that new fencing and the brick wall ruins. But that's not WDI's fault. The fences are there for safety reasons—not the public's safety but the safety of Disney employees. (It's the same kind of thing that gave us that horrible new outside track on the Alice in Wonderland ride.) The brick walls are necessary retaining walls, as explained above. I'm sure that aesthetically, the Imagineers can't be happy about the way it all looks compared to what was there before, but they had to make lemonade out of the lemons handed to them.
But thank heaven, the nightmare is over. No more parade of grisly news reports of employees injured or killed on the HM berm. In recent years the total number of serious injuries here has risen to a number just barely less than one. Obviously, something had to be done.
Okay, WDI is blameless with regard to the walls and fences. I wish that were all there is to say, but it isn't.
Micechat reader sourdough made a good point a few weeks ago. The Imagineers missed an opportunity here to use forced perspective effectively. The tombstones in back should have been smaller, to give an illusion of size and spaciousness. To which I would add: ALL the stones seem too big to me. Compare the "Good Old Fred" stone in the old photo with the Pock stone in the new. They're similarly designed and in roughly the same location. Isn't Phineas noticeably larger, and in fact too large? Did the team's concern for legibility override their basic aesthetic sense here? Not good.
A real mixed bag, sorry.
By the way, before I crawl back into my cave, I should note with appreciation the large number of new readers the blog suddenly picked up a few months back. Ironically, since the blog went into a state of hibernation, traffic has never been higher. The last post celebrated our millionth visit, a point reached after six years. Only nine months have gone by since then, and already we've added almost 700,000 new hits.
It seems only fair to include at this point, a year or so later, a newer photo of how the berm looks after the vegetation has filled in, especially for the many of you who will never have a chance to see it in person. As one might expect, it looks better. I especially like how the wall ruins are being overwhelmed. Good riddance, visually.
*If by some chance Disney decides adding urns would be a good idea, I do here state that I do not ask nor will I seek any future remuneration for the idea. I'm offering the suggestion freely.