This is a series of interviews with the people who make haunted houses, horror movies, and more what they are today.
Today we interview Mr. Haunted Mansion, Jeff Baham. He is the Web guru behind Doom Buggies4, the ultimate Disney Haunted Mansion tribute archive. The Haunted Mansion is credited with being one of the best haunted houses in the nation and one of the original purveyors of the whole idea of haunted houses.
Why did you first become interested in the haunted house/horror business?
I created DoomBuggies.com in 1997 as a piece for my web design portfolio, actually. But I chose the subject matter because of my deep admiration for Disneyland and the classic "E" Ticket attractions from my childhood. I think people could tell I really loved the Haunted Mansion, and responded to my website because of that.
I've always loved haunted houses, and used to build them with a friend in various locations throughout the South Bay area in California. Our largest one took over two spaces in a strip mall in Fremont, California for two nights. It was clearly just a hobby, but we would donate the proceeds to homeless aid charities, so it was worth our efforts. My interest in Halloween, haunted houses, and special effects all plays into my reasons for creating DoomBuggies.com as well.
What previous jobs have you had?
I’m a graphic designer, and my very first job in high school was in the art department of a local classified advertising paper. I’ve been in art departments ever since.
What job do you do right now? Is the haunted house/horror job your full time gig?
I’m the art director for a group of Silicon Valley newspapers by day, and an archivist of Haunted Mansion memories by night. Although I’ve spoken about Disney’s Haunted Mansion at horror conventions and authored a book about it, I can’t say that the dark industries are my full time gig – at least, not yet!
What’s the scariest haunted house you ever attended?
I used to visit the Young Life Haunted Houses out here in the San Francisco Bay Area as a child, and those would scare the pants off of me – but then again, even the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland gave me the chills as a child. The Pirates of Emerson out here in the Bay Area is a pretty good show. I wouldn’t say it’s the scariest thing around, but it has loads of great atmosphere, which is what I prefer to outright shocks.
What inspires you to create?
Being surrounded by creativity pushes me forward. That’s why I like the Disney parks. I think one of Walt Disney’s strengths was finding good people to put on a project, and those people knew enough to put the story, scene, or gag in front of the technology; and I find that inspirational as well. I’m impressed by the way they put the story first, and the technology or “know-how” second; I find that to be an inspiration toward putting first things first.
First they’d dream up a cool gag, and then they’d figure out the best way to carry it out. The best way to handle a “ghost” effect is to use “Pepper’s Ghost” (which is the art of blending lighting and reflection to form a three-dimensional transparent form), even though the effect was created around the turn of the last century.
Do you ever get scared anymore?
Sure I do. The inhumanity that man can show to man never ceases to amaze and horrify me. To hear a current head of state call for the destruction of another state in this “modern” world is almost too much to believe. However, on the other side of the coin, I volunteer as a keyboard player for a band that goes into prisons to inspire the inmates, so I also can see firsthand how people society might consider “bad” can definitely make decisions to turn their lives around when they encounter God. I find that to be very encouraging. There’s hope for anyone.
Do you believe in real haunted houses, ghosts, etc.?
I’ve never had a paranormal encounter myself, and would have to consider myself a skeptic – although I did have a second cousin who swears he had a close encounter of the second kind in his family’s vineyard in the Napa Valley back in the late ‘70s. I don’t think he was crazy or lying, so I’ll leave that door open. But as far as ghosts are concerned, no, I don’t believe in them – at least, not in the sense that people can die and stick around haunting the rest of us on earth.
What is fear?
Not being able to predict what’s around the corner is 95 percent of “fear” to me.
Who’s your average customer?
Wow – DoomBuggies’ guest list is really diverse. I’m glad to have found there are so many like-minded boils and ghouls out there! I think Disney’s Haunted Mansion attractions have a lot of crossover appeal to different fan bases – the haunted house fans, the Disney park fans, the Goths, the Nightmare Before Christmas fans, the special effects fans, and stage magicians – there’s a lot of common ground to be found in this attraction.
What are your 5-year goals?
To keep on providing people a great archive of memories, facts, and media from Disney’s fantastic Haunted Mansion, of course! Beyond that, who knows? I also operate a fan site for Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean attraction called TellNoTales, and have a website dedicated to Halloween fun called YourHalloween. Next year, I hope to put a little attention into YourHalloween to make it a fun destination for fans of spooky stuff. But I have all sorts of irons in the fire, and sometimes I even surprise myself by what comes next!