Monday, June 29, 2009

The House on the Hill

As a young lad, I grew up listening to stories about a certain haunted mansion... no, not THE Haunted Mansion, but the Harry Packer mansion in Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania. It was a spooky old place on the side of a very steep hill overlooking a very beautiful valley not far from where my father grew up.

You have heard of Mauch Chunk, haven't you? What do you mean you can't even pronounce it? How do you think I feel? My Dad grew up in Nesquehoning, so just learning how to spell and pronounce Mauch Chunk and Nesquehoning put me way ahead of the other kids at the spelling bee. :0)

ANYWAYS... Dad used to sneak into that spooky old place long before it became a Bed and Breakfast, and well after it was abandoned to the elements. Upon crawling through a basement window he said that the walls still had huge dusty wall hangings, and crumbling furniture, and apparently the world's first air conditioning unit, composed of an ice house and a big fan that blew cool air up into the house.

So, imagine my excitement when I read in an old Ripley's Believe it or Not cartoon that said that Disney's Haunted Mansion was modeled after the Harry Packer mansion! Coolness!

As I grew older, I realised that the Harry Packer mansion is one of two mansions on that hill in Mauch Chunk, and that The Mansions in Disney World and Disneyland were different, so it took a while for me to piece it all together. Yes, it was the Harry Packer mansion, and not the neighboring Asa Packer mansion The Mansion was modeled after, and it was the Disney World Mansion that was modeled after it. The original Disneyland Mansion was modeled after a place near Baltimore, MD.

Those familiar with Disney World's Mansion can see the resemblance... that fantastic turret on high, and those brick walls with that thick painted trim. Oh, it's not an exact match, but The Mansion in Florida was definitely inspired by the Harry Packer Mansion, and walking by it you can really see why. The Harry Packer mansion sits HIGH on that hill, and as you can see in some of the photos it looms over you. This is the idea the Imagineers wanted to capture when they created the two wings of Florida's Mansion that loom over visitors to Disney World.

I'm not going to go over all the architectural details, but the resemblance is strong not just in appearance but 'feel'. There's a lot of layers and details to the Packer Mansion, and even not in it's current overgrown state, it has a presence. Not seen in the photos is the tall leaning black iron gate that runs up the path to the mansion and all along it's front. Disney doesn't have that black gate, but it sure adds a spooky air to the place.

Today I saw some people talking outside, and lots of large lights around the place, and what appeared to be a van full of Actors. My guess is there is a commercial being filmed here, but who knows? Maybe Disney is revisiting the HP mansion? I did see some shovels leaning against a wall, and a creepy pumpkin standing beside them. Maybe this mansion is getting a Halloween make-over?

The Asa and Harry Packer mansions are neat places to visit, but after all these years of walking around outside, I still haven't been inside the place. My timing has been bad, but so far seeing the outside alone has been inspiring, and has certainly added to the magic of The Mansions at Disney, and to those stories from my childhood. As long as I remain outside, the inside is still quiet and covered with cobwebs, and long tall faded tapestries stil hang from the walls, and the crumbling furniture covered with dustcloths remain as ever ghostly images in the filtered light spilling through that broken basement window.

Cheers, and "hi" to my friends at DoomBuggies! JOHN :0)

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