Monsters on Main Street: The Horrifying Masks of The House of Magic

Terror Lurked in the Magic Kingdom

Fathers stroll down Main Street hand in hand with their daughters, mothers wrangle the brood keeping everyone on schedule. It’s opening time at The Magic Kingdom and nothing could be more charming or innocent. Yet once there was something much more sinister at play here. Not long ago The House of Magic was a literal house of horrors. Tucked behind a tidy turn of the century facade was a lurid marketplace filled with a macabre menagerie of ghouls, psychopaths and miscreants while peddling visages of the tortured and damned.


The House of Magic

Gone but never forgotten

Inside the House of Magic

The House of Magic was closed in 1995 in order to create more generic retail space. It closed before video recording became accessible to the masses and therefore there is precious little in the way of photos or video documenting this mysterious place but it lives in my mind as vividly as it did some 35 years ago.

The store was broken roughly into three zones: jokes and gags off to the side filling an entire wall with little shrink wrapped packs of Adams branded whoopee cushions, faux dog poo and joy buzzers. Next to that was another wall populated by a myriad of magic tricks and packaged magic sets. However as one wandered deeper into the store things took a decidedly sinister turn.

(Watch the embedded video… it offers a rare glimpse inside)

Plaster skulls and tombstones (made by the Randotti company and only available here and at Disneyland) filled the lower shelves, some with glow in the dark eyes or snakes menacingly wrapped around them. Finally there was the pièce de résistance, the main attraction for many and perhaps one of the most bizarre things ever sold within the confines of the park: glorious and often quite gruesome masks, an entire display of them, shelves upon shelves filled with them. These were “movie quality” prosthetics — many fit over the full head and were complete with manes of thick werewolf hair or slimy reptilian scales. They portrayed a rogue’s gallery of the weird, ugly and grim. Victims of grisly wounds, shocking deformities and terrifying creatures of all sorts were on display for all to see.

Magic and jokes are nice, but the MASKS were special

The masks took a place of honor housed within a decorative turned wood Victorian shelving system and kept mostly behind the counter out of reach of sticky hands. These were not inexpensive often costing upwards of $50 or $60 1980’s dollars. On occasion one would break into the triple figures. For a 10 year old that $40 mask might as well have been $4,000.

Horror Masks

Ghoulish Delights

It’s hard to explain the allure of such things. Maybe it is the same as the allure of the park itself — an escape from reality, a fantasy, hiding from what can be a big scary world for a little insecure kid. One of my favorite parts of a trip to Walt Disney World was stopping at the House of Magic to inspect the latest additions to their assemblage of masks. I doubt they sold very many of these (no doubt why they were replaced with sweatshirts) but I know that I was not alone in my fascination with them. On every visit I would have to push past many other drooling kids in order to pay my respects to the lost souls represented before me.

Dreams do come true

I never bothered asking my parents to buy me one. There was no chance that after flying us all to Orlando and putting us up on property that they would even entertain the idea of purchasing an elaborate monster mask that costs 3 times as much as admission to the park!

On an early trip however my dad did agree to buy my brother and me one of the lower end masks that the store also sold. These were not displayed on fancy carved shelves and did not feature hair or other embellishments. These were simple thin latex masks with one or two crudely applied paint colors for the hair and maybe the lips.

They were manufactured by Don Post Studios and carelessly tossed into floor standing bins near the plaster skulls. Don Post Studios was quite well known. They advertised in magazines like Fangoria and even had the original Star Wars license to create reproductions of Darth Vader and Stormtrooper helmets. On the low end of their range were these cheap rubber masks, maybe $3 or $4. They were mostly generic characters like “Clown” or “Witch”. On this memorable day the 10 year old me chose “Old Man” while my older brother chose “Goof”.

Don Post Studios 150 Line Masks

Goof looks just like I remember him but Old Man did not age well

“Old Man” was just that, a wrinkled, bald old coot (had I realized that I would slowly age towards this in real life I may have chosen “Clown” instead). The mask was skin-tight with small slits for the eyes and mouth. It was a suffocation hazard by today’s safety standards for sure (this was the time of Jarts after all).

I wore it all day in 95-degree Orlando summer heat. I wore it on Pirates and on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. This was before Thunder opened and I was afraid to ride Space Mountain or I would have worn it on those as well. It was worn throughout the entire original long form version of the Country Bear Jamboree. I loved the reaction that people gave us. I loved that no one really knew what was under those masks. I loved that not only was the world around me not real but I was not even the real me. There were so many layers it was like a Christopher Nolan screenplay.

Don Post Studios 1982 catalog

The Don Post line started with the lowly “150” line, home of both “Old Man” and “Goof”. It went all the way to the “1100” series, a kid could always dream.

After hours of being mummified inside this latex veil I was nearing the point of heat exhaustion, but I didn’t care. I can still smell that particular mix of cheap rubber and sweat. I held on to my mask (as well as Goof) for many years and felt sad every time I would come across it and noticed its slow decay.

Entering the big league

As I aged my love of the Disney parks oddly did not waiver and neither did my fascination with the masks. I think I identify as a 14-year-old and always will. I continued to take trips to Disney with my family and on a couple occasions just with my dad (if he had a business trip to Orlando) and eventually with my friends.

Monster Masks

Family Fun

During one such trip with my friend Tom I was maybe 16 years old, of course I was eager to visit the House of Magic and was stunned to lay eyes on a mask I had never seen before. It was huge, maybe three feet tall. It was a somewhat comedic take on some sort of gremlin king. Once it was fitted on the wearer’s head the mask’s mouth hung down at chest level. It was crazy cool. The entire thing had a flocked texture like velvet and was intricately painted. His mouth dangled open revealing a wet looking tongue and teeth. A small gold crown was perched on his horned head and a tuft of black hair poked through it. It was perhaps the most amazing mask I had ever seen.

The Gremlin King

This is my actual mask. I painted ping-pong balls for eyes and took this “spooky” picture while in high school.

I wanted it badly. Of course it was the least practical or necessary thing ever created and I had to have it. We visited and re-visited the store. We debated the purchase of such a thing, we contemplated how our parents might react, we counted our money and calculated how much was needed to complete the trip. I think it was close to $100. That was serious money for me. SERIOUS MONEY. I eventually broke down and bought it. Tom bought some insane thing as well. Together we were the kings geeks of the park. I relived my earlier “Old Man” glory years but this time turned up to 11.

A sad demise

It was a chore wearing it and even getting the monstrosity home was problematic. I hung it in my room on a custom made mount (a wig stand glued it to a board to make it look like a stuffed game trophy). Later he went to college with me. Nothing attracts college co-eds like a giant monster mask from a theme park hanging in your room. I loved him, he was part of me, the geeky poor decision making part.

After college the mask was stored at my parent’s house. Eventually they retired, downsized and moved away, all my old stuff had to go.  One late night while clearing things out I was confronted by this aging rubber reminder of my youth. What to do with it? Should I bring it with me back to my city apartment or try and find another home for it? I was about thirty by this time, I was trying to make a living and I was newly married. There was no room for mammoth monster masks yet I could not bear to see it go to someone else so I did the only thing that I could… I destroyed it.

Don Post Studios 1982 Catalog

As sweet as the deluxe “1100” line was they could not hold a candle next to my mask.

In a spontaneous sleep deprived spat I ripped it in half and in doing so ended any debate as to where it should go or what should be done with it. I almost instantly regretted doing it. Little bits of gray fuzzy rubber lay shredded in my hands, his ping-pong ball eyes (which I painted for display purposes) were strewn to the corners of the room. Like George sparing Lennie the indignities of life, if you love something you must set it free.

A little bit of my youth that night was lost but ultimately “stuff” does not make us who we are. I will always have my memories of him but more importantly I will have my memories of dreaming as I stared up at those beautifully grotesque masks. I can never forgive Disney for shutting down the House of Magic but they can never take that away from me.

Today throngs trudge past what was once my favorite spot in all of Walt Disney World oblivious to the magic, both literal and figurative, that it once held. Housed within the confines of The Happiest Place on Earth was an even happier one, one that ultimately led to heartbreak but also was the genesis of my fondest memories.

Make sure you SHARE this with any hard core Disney fans you know. It is a throwback to the past that is sure to make them smile.

Zombie Mask

Me on the night I had to let go of “The Gremlin King”

Comments (28)

  1. Hi. I thoroughly enjoyed this. It was our band trip to Disney in 1988. I bought a Tor Johnson mask. My friends bought a Freddie Kruegar and a Myers Mask. I was always wondering how the Myers mask was made and I am into that and am making my own version of it. I’m 5 years into the sculpt but a YouTube collector purchased an 75 kirk mask there around the late 70’s or 80’s at the House of Magic. It would of been great to see an original live. This was a great article. Thanks.

    • Awesome. Thanks for the kind words.

  2. As a kid in the late 70’s, my favorite spot was the House of Magic…they could’ve left me there all day. Over the years, I collected masks, different sized skulls, & my all -time favorite was collecting the Universal Monsters action figures (AHI, Remco & Bend ’ems). I would’ve been content spending the entire day only visiting the House of Magic, the Haunted Mansion & Pirates of the Carribean (original). The smell of House of Magic & the dark rides are tattooed on my brain lol.

    • Absolutely! We feel exactly the same.

  3. Enjoyed your story! My family made the trip to the Magic Kingdom in 1973 from Northern Michigan during our Easter break. My dad was a HS Math teacher and had the same time off as us kids. Anyway, I purchased a cheapo Frankenstein mask from the Magic Shop. I was 13 and paid $5 for it. I had fun wearing it in our station wagon on the way home up I-75 and waving to other motorists as we cruised up the freeway. I got a lot of laughs and strange looks and still remember that rubber smell. Thanks for sharing!

    • You can never un-smell that rubber!

  4. I remember buying a mask from a hearse cart outside the Haunted Mansion on our senior trip in 1983.

    • Yes! They had a little offshoot there that sold many of the same types of things… we miss it as well!

  5. I used to work there and sold many of those masks…and even more invisible dogs. On my last day, my fellow cast members and I tried on all of the masks and took pictures with our Main Street costumes. Sadly, I never got to show my children the amazing store that I worked in, but at least I can entertain them with my magic tricks!

    • That’s fantastic! We woild love to see the mask photos!

    • Do you have any photos of the interior of the magic side? I worked there in the late 70’s as one of the magicians and wore a tuxedo.

      • I wish we did but unfortunately photos of the interior are very hard to find. If you have any we’d love to see them!

  6. I lived in Tampa as I child, so we went to WDW every couple of years or so. The first time was in 1972, about a year after it opened. I was in third grade.

    I haven’t been in ages, but am sad to find out that the magic shop is no more. To me, it was as big an attraction as the Haunted House or Space Mountain. I bought my souvenir in that shop almost every time we went. I still have a magic card deck and a Randotti skull, but lost the devil mask a long time ago. I can still smell the rubbery thing, though.

    • Thanks for sharing Mark. I totally agree with you; the house of magic was every bit of an attraction to me as any E-ticket. I think Disney has lost sight a little of the fact that it’s EVERYTHING combined that creates the experience. A kid dreaming of masks and magic is just as powerful as a runaway mine train or jungle adventure. Sadly it’s been gone 15 years already.

  7. i share your fond memories and appreciate the fine story (by the way, your last picture reminds me of one of the trademark mascots from famous monsters of filmland magazine) – disney just isnt the same without the house of magic – i recall staring at the masks behind the counter for what seemed like hours and being fortunate to get the lower priced frankenstien, wolfman, dracula and mummy masks (now all sadly gone) as a youngster during the early 1970s – i read that the facade is back, but not the masks, shrunken heads or skulls – one way i have found to enjoy the monster memories are vintage horror movie facebook groups – if you havent located them it might be worth a try (plenty of don post and jack pierce discussions) – thanks for sharing your thoughts – take care

  8. I believe the “Gremlin King” is a mask of the “Great Goblin” from the Rankin/ Bass animated “The Hobbit”. Such a great design! I remember seeing this mask and really coveting it!

    • That’s great info! I need to look into this!

    • I checked it out. The designs are unmistakably similar. My guess is that the mask is based on the Great Goblin but perhaps was not licensed so it is more an homage than an exact recreation? Not sure but regardless great info, thanks!

      • Thank you greatly for your article. I loved the House Of Magic at the Magic Kingdom as well. I was a bit too young for the masks, but my brother loved them. I ended up getting things like magic tricks and magic books.

        And I think the “Great Goblin” suggestion from John is correct. It looks to be exactly this costume mask shown here

        • Great! I
          Love hearing comments like this. Thank you for sharing and yes, it’s the Great Goblin for sure.

  9. As I read this, I can smell–like it was yesterday–the old man mask from the magic shop and wearing it on the monorail when I was about 8 years old. Thanks for bringing back the memories!

    • We had the exact same experience Darin! Old man mask lovers unite!

  10. Great story! Sad ending… surely your now old enough to start buying weird masks again?

    Random note. Is the 1100 line of the gorilla the same mask used in the Trading Places film? I think Jim Belushi wore it.

    • *you’re*

    • Ha! I think you may be right Suzy, it was super familiar looking and I bet you nailed it, the timing is also perfect.
      I think I may finally be TOO old to buy weird masks… well maybe not.

      • Nah, once you’ve got a house sorted and a car I’m sure it’s the done thing to start buying random stuff again. Priorities, right?!

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