Featured Image Source: Laughing Place
News broke this week of the passing of Roland Fargo Crump at 93, who goes affectionately by “Rolly” to family and fans alike. His career in Imagineering is impressive, boasting influence on key Disneyland fixtures like It’s A Small World and The Enchanted Tiki Room, as well as the aesthetics of Trader Sams and Tomorrowland.
Too many, his legacy lives most prominently with The Haunted Mansion, ironic as his direct concept art never came to fruition. I invite you to join me in Rolly Crump’s “Museum of the Weird.”
Walt Disney always knew he wanted a spine-chilling attraction in his park, and he was welcoming ideas from the WED team. Crump — alongside another key Imagineer, Yale Gracey — pitched the Museum of the Weird as a vision for Disneyland’s signature spooks. Unlike the slow moving dark ride we have today, this attraction would be a walk through, closer to the vibe of the Haunted Ripley’s Believe It or Not in Gatlinburg.
For his pitch, Crump sculpted and sketched eclectic characters, all of which delighted Walt Disney. Crump’s concept designs were in bright, basic colors with thick black outlines, while his prop sketches had detailed, unsettling smiles plastered onto household objects. Although Disney’s untimely passing put the project itself on pause, and was ultimately scrapped in favor of the Haunted Mansion dark ride — many designs from Museum of the Weird lived on. This includes the aforementioned furniture pieces, such as the menacing chair in the “endless hallway,” and the quintessential black and purple wallpaper that dons the mansion and its merchandise.
The Disney Parks have long had a reputation for being a lighthearted escape, for being somewhere that “the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn together” as Disney famously declared. To some, the Haunted Mansion seems like a direct opposition. The ride is overtly dark, and many of the gags that Crump helped influence go as far as to frighten children — like the seance room that becomes Madame Leota’s lair.
Crump’s work in The Haunted Mansion is a love letter to the kids who are just a little bit different. The black sheep that come to the parks with their family, and want something that speaks to them. Children with a bit of curiosity, told they are either an old soul or ahead of their time. Youth with weird niche interests –mystery novels, stag beetles, splatter paint, you name it. The Haunted Mansion we know today, and its famous cult following, is due largely to the risks Crump took with his art as a young Imagineer.
Thank you, Rolly, for bringing the otherworldly to Disney parks. To remember Rolly Crump is to empower the weird.
Hannah is an accidental internet meme, drummer, loud talker, and proud owner of a purse that functions as a working analog clock. She got the media writer gene from her dad, PF Wilson, another writer for Pop Culture Beast. Her favorite bands come and go on a seasonal rotation, but Marina & The Diamonds and Say Anything are here to say. She’s probably watching The Grand Budapest Hotel right now, but if she isn’t, she’s out photographing rock concerts.