On This Day In 1994 - 'The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror' Dropped Into Disney-MGM Studios History

Today, it's time to celebrate the anniversary of one of the most iconic attractions throughout of all of Disney Parks – The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which opened July 22, 1994.

The attraction’s storyline is this: On Halloween night in 1939, a thundering storm descended on Hollywood hills, trapping several guests in the lobby of the star-studded Hollywood Tower Hotel. A party of five entered the elevator – a couple, a bellman, a child actress and her governess – and with one crack of lightning, each of them vanished. Now, on a night “much like this,” guests are welcome to follow in their footsteps and take a ride in a service elevator that leads “directly to … The Twilight Zone.”

Here's 13 Facts to celebrate the anniversary of this iconic attraction:

13. Inspiration

One of the main inspirations for the exterior appearance of the Hollywood Tower Hotel was The Mission Inn in Riverside, California. On the inside, sections of the lobby were inspired by the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

12. A real hotel?

From the front of the hotel, you can see a window with a light in it. This is just a dummy room to add to the impression that this is (or was) a real, working hotel. In his autobiography, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner reveals that he suggested that the Hollywood Tower Hotel be an actual hotel, as well as hosting the Tower of Terror. This proved to be impractical.

11. A Moroccan tower

The Tower of Terror is a very tall structure, and the back of it is visible when looking at the Morocco Pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase. Decorations have been added to ensure that it blends in when viewed from Hollywood Studios' sister park.

10. Just tall enough

The Hollywood Tower Hotel stands at 199 feet tall. If it were just one foot taller, the Federal Aviation Authority would require it to have a flashing red light on the top.

Photo Credit: Disney

Photo Credit: Disney

9. The opening date

The sign at the attraction's entrance indicates that the Hollywood Tower Hotel opened in 1917. The ride itself opened in 1994.

8. Too many diamonds

On the wall next to the concierge's desk in the lobby, you can see a plaque that awards the Hollywood Tower Hotel 13 diamonds from AAA. In reality, the AAA system tops out at 5 diamonds.

7. Broken glasses

As you walk through the lobby, look out for a pair of glasses with the lenses broken. This is a reference to Time Enough at Last, an episode of The Twilight Zone. The glasses belong to Henry Bemis, played by Burgess Meredith, who loves books, yet is surrounded by those who would prevent him from reading them. When a nuclear war devastates the earth, he suddenly has all the time in the world to read them...but his glasses fall off and shatter, leaving him virtually blind.

6. Just enough dust

Disney's cleaning staff have to be careful not to keep the Tower of Terror spotless. Imagineers have specified exactly how dusty and cobweb-covered the different areas and items in the Hollywood Tower Hotel should be - but, of course, modern litter does need to be removed.

5. Repurposed footage

The footage in the pre-show video for the Tower of Terror, featuring Twilight Zone host Rod Serling, was taken from the episode It's a Good Life. The opening lines from the TV show are spoken by Serling himself. However, an impersonator named Mark Silverman narrates the remainder of the video. He was handpicked by Disney's Imagineers and Serling's widow, Carol.

The Imagineers spent many hours lining up the lip sync with the footage of Serling, and degrading the digitally recorded dialogue to match the 1960s analogue sound quality of the original show.

4. Autonomous vehicles

The Tower of Terror actually employs more than one type of vehicle in order to enable riders to leave the elevator shaft and pass through the Fifth Dimension. Guests sit in Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs), which rise up to the corridor scene in a Vertical Vehicle Conveyance (VVC). When they reach the Fifth Dimension corridor, the AGVs come into their own.

Rather than riding on a track, the AGVs are guided by wires under the floor. When they reach the far end of the corridor, they lock into another vertical motion cab, which handles the actual drop sequence.

The AGVs are powered by onboard batteries, which are charged while riders are unloading. At any one time, up to eight of these vehicles could be circulating around the Tower of Terror's ride system.

Photo Credit: Nick Barese

Photo Credit: Nick Barese

3. Pepper's Ghost

The corridor scene employs the Pepper's Ghost trick, which is famously used in the Haunted Mansion's ballroom scene. The images are projected via a mirror onto a pane of glass, to give the impression that the ghostly characters within are right in front of you. The corridor is made to look longer than it really is using a forced perspective technique, with the elements at the far end of the corridor being smaller than those that are closer to riders.

2. Two into one

There are two drop shafts on the Tower of Terror, as you may have noticed if you watch the ride from the outside. However, there are actually four elevators that lift the AGVs up to the Fifth Dimension scene - two of these merge into a single corridor scene. This enables the ride to have an increased capacity.

Photo Credit: Eddison Esteban

Photo Credit: Eddison Esteban

1. Faster than freefall

When you plummet downwards on the Tower of Terror, you are not, in fact, freefalling. The AGV vehicles lock onto platforms in the drop shafts. These are connected by cables to two enormous motors, which are 12 feet tall, 35 feet long and weigh a massive 132,000 pounds. These are used to move the platform up and down at rapid speeds - faster, in fact, than the speed that would be achieved through gravity alone. You'll hit a top speed of 39 miles per hour.

Want to test this out? Place a penny in the palm of your hand. When you drop downwards, it will float a few inches above your hand, because it is falling merely at the speed of gravity.

Source: Theme Park Tourist

Banner Photo Credit: Cory Disbrow