What is it About The Hatbox Ghost?

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A few of the Haunted Mansion’s Hatbox Ghost-themed images that haunt my home year-round. Although this figure hadn’t set his ghostly foot in the attraction for 45 years, he remained a fan-favorite. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

One of Disneyland Park’s most mysterious residents returned home this month, as part of park’s 2015 Diamond Celebration.

On the weekend of May 9, the newly re-imagined Hatbox Ghost was installed in the attic of the Haunted Mansion, appearing just before guests’ DoomBuggies make the backward descent into the ride’s raucous graveyard.

Dressed in full Victorian cloak and top hat, like a non-lethal Jack the Ripper, the grim grinning figure leers menacingly at guests as his head disappears from his shoulders and into the large transparent hatbox in his outstretched hand. The head then disappears from the box back onto his shoulders.

That’s pretty much all there is to him; the concoction of a basic lighting effect that didn’t seem to work the first time… and we Haunted Mansion fans just love him!

Walt Disney Imagineering Producer Jeff Shaver-Moskowitz announced the ghost’s long-anticipated return to the mansion in a Disney Parks podcast that same weekend.

“The Hatbox Ghost was one of the original 999 Happy Haunts in the mansion,” Shaver-Moskowitz said in the podcast. “Sometime around the opening, he disappeared and has been missing from the mansion for the past 45 years.”

Shaver-Moskowitz noted this ghost is one of the mansion’s most popular figures ever, and it didn’t even exist there… at least not since the attraction’s opening in 1969.

This means, no one my age or younger had ever even seen this ghost in person until this month. The majority of Disney visitors older than myself have never even seen the original ghost, although many have claimed to have “sighted” him that first year. There is only one video I know of, released on the fan site Disney History Institute (unaffiliated with the Walt Disney Company), that even proves this original ghost appeared in the ride at all. No one seems to even know where he went.

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One of the many fan-art creations celebrating The Hatbox Ghost. Artwork by Chris Mason, courtesy of the artist.

I find myself among those admirers of the Hatbox Ghost. He has made his way into my Haunted Mansion decorations, many of which are displayed year-round, plastered on my file cabinets with homemade magnets and clippings, living among my Halloween models, and hidden in the images of our New Orleans-themed guest bathroom (if you know where to find him).

It is as if I know him as well as any of the other Haunted Mansion ghost visitors that I’ve seen again and again.

I’m not the only one. This ghost has had his own fan page on Facebook, and director and author Guillermo del Toro wanted to use him as the focus on a motion picture based on the attraction. Whether that film ever sees the flickering light of the silver screen remains a mystery in itself. The fan artists and cosplayers love him, as well. One of my favorites is a portrait by pop culture artist Chris Mason.

The marketing geniuses at Disney have done their best to keep this ghost in people’s minds, whether or not he has been in the park for more than four decades. He’s been featured in postcards, T-shirts, books, as the mascot for a past “Haunted Holidays” campaign where he talked about haunted sites around the world, pin-trading events, and as a costumed character. Families can even download their own Hatbox Ghost paper model from the Disney Family site.

The Hatbox Ghost’s return is such a little thing in the grand scheme of the park—practically no changes were needed to add him to the attraction. However, his presence is so significant to Haunted Mansion lovers, as he is the amalgam of the original, old-school classic design from Imagineers like Yale Gracey and Marc Davis, and today’s advancements in animatronics and computer animation.

He’s elegant and graceful. He’s eerie. He’s relatively simple in concept, but apparently complex in design. He’s classic. He’s humorous and weirdly friendly. Most of all, however, he’s very, very, Disney. I’m not talking about the overly tech-savvy, yet nonetheless impressive, Disney style of today. The Hatbox Ghost is the picture of early-stage Disney Imagineering at its finest.

I think it’s appropriate the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland Park is in New Orleans Square, because there’s a word of French and Spanish origins often associated with the spirit of the city: lagniappe, or “a little something extra.”

An early promotional photo Imagineer Yale Gracey and the original Hatbox Ghost. Image: flickr commons.
A circa-1969 promotional photo of Imagineer Yale Gracey and the original and long, long gone, Hatbox Ghost. Flickr commons, from the collection of Tom Simpson.

The Haunted Mansion is filled with these kinds of extras. The wild-eyed faces in the hallway wallpaper, the dueling gunmen portraits in the ballroom, the one broken singing bust head, and the seductively creepy nose wrinkle of the “Little Leota” farewell bride. All of these little “lagniappes” add to the ride, and are as good effects, if not better, than the Hatbox Ghost’s little head trick.

So why is the Hatbox Ghost so popular? I think people love a good mystery, a good reason for speculation, and “where is he now” conspiracy theories.

For me, the Hatbox Ghost represents my own growing up with the mansion. Never mind the fact the ghost and I are the same age—I think I look considerably younger, though—the Haunted Mansion is one of my favorite attractions, second only to Pirates of the Caribbean. This ride also scared me so much my first time on it, I never even made it past the stretching room. It was 1973 or 74 and I was just a toddler. The rules were a little more lax then, and I was perched atop my father’s shoulders as we entered the room. While everyone else was huddled safely together, I was exposed and alone over everyone’s head as the walls begin to stretch. I panicked and begin clutching the scalps of random victims. Long story short, they stopped the stretching room elevator and let us out.

The next year, I muscled up some courage and made my way through the ride, looking through a cage of my own fingers. The year after that, however, I started seeing the imagination behind each ghost and haunted hallway, and I fell in love with the ride. So much so, my youngest daughter’s first venture on the ride last year was, “I want to go again!”

This summer, there is just one more reason for riders to “go again,” and I’m sure many will make a few repeat runs through the ride just to see the ghost’s head grimacing up from his hatbox.

I predict the glamour around the ghost will settle now that he is back home, and he will become just another familiar favorite for most guests. For those in on the folklore, however, he’ll be that special “something extra.” He’ll be that mystery that still isn’t quite solved.

After all, that original ghost model has to be out there somewhere, doesn’t it? The logical explanation is the ghost just wasn’t working properly, and it was eventually scrapped for parts.

That’s both sad and not particularly fun. I like to think he’s still out there somewhere, perhaps roaming from attic to attic, looking for a suitable home. Judging from the flood of YouTube posts excited about seeing the new ghost, there are plenty of folk willing to take him in.

Registration for the Star Wars Half Marathon at Disneyland Opens Today!

Image Capture: RunDisney.com
Image Capture: RunDisney.com

I am reminded of those old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials where two things you love are joined together.

For me, the inaugural runDisney Star Wars Half Marathon at Disneyland this January is joining two things I love: long-distance running and the now-Disneyfied Star Wars franchise.

Are you ready to run? Are you ready to make up a half-marathon-in-SoCal-ready costume for the event?

If you’re especially motivated, check out the Rebel Challenge, which awards a special medal to those who complete both the 10K and half marathon races that weekend. There are kids’ races and a 5K to enjoy as well.

Registration opens at 12:00 p.m. EDT TODAY (June 10), so here’s your official warning. At $195 for the half, this might be the most expensive half marathon I’ve ever heard of. Up until this race, the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco (at $180 this year) held the honor.

Act quickly. In March, the just-as-geeky Avengers Half Marathon at Disneyland sold out in less than 2 (that’s two) hours. That race is coming up in mid-November.

Will I be signing up? Unfortunately, I can’t commit this far out. I think my full-time work schedule is going to preclude this from working out in 2015, but I am officially adding this event to my bucket list.

Do you plan to race? Talk about your plans in the comments!

What It’s Like To Meet Other Geek Parents

Geeklings and Parental Units on Meetup.com Photo: Melody Mooney

When my daughter was about a year old, I took her to our favorite local park to hang out, look at the ducks, and play in the sandbox. She was dressed in a cute Captain America shirt that I got in the boys’ section of Target. I must say it took me off guard when another mom asked me if Ella was wearing her big brother’s hand-me-down hero shirt. My reply, as it almost always is, was given with a smile and a wink and a direct message that no, she can like superheroes and wave her tiny geek flag just like her mom does.

It was quickly on the heels of this that I formed a meetup.com group with the intention to gather like-minded parents who speak the geek shorthand and know what it means to be a parent raising a geekling.

Geeklings and Parental Units  was born on February 22, 2012.  We are 188 members strong today, and have quite an active group composed of locals and online-only folks from all across the galaxy. Even though meetup.com has been around for awhile, I had only heard of it from one other extroverted friend pre-parenthood. It sounded cool but I was not into going out and collecting new friends. That all changed when we stepped through the wormhole, undergoing the massive transition from being a couple to being parents. Suddenly, those lazy Sunday afternoons playing Settlers of Catan and Power Grid til the wee hours all went the way of the ill-fated 2007 Bionic Woman reboot. We dropped out, fell from the stars like two Neil Gaiman characters, and found ourselves feeling very out of step with everything.

It was difficult in those first days to get anyone other than myself and maybe one other member to attend. Many of the geeky guild are introverts; it’s not always easy to socialize even at the best of times.  I get it. It’s weird, right? Showing up to interact with people whom you’ve only chatted with online. Hoping that they are cool and do not mind that you’re not current on The Walking Dead because sleep deprivation has turned you into zombie parents. On one of my first encounters with a new mom member, I remember breathing a sigh of relief when I saw her with a Doctor Who shirt and TARDIS ringtone. I felt immediately at home.

As the group grew, members began to share their histories. They shared what they felt about parenting and the last Game of Thrones episode. Bonding happened over mutual fandoms and the feeling that it was sometimes hard to relate to other normal parents. I admit my heart grew very fond of our amazing, talented, brilliant members. Just a bit of communication and seeing new friends meant so much to me. I found the courage to pull myself out of postpartum depression and began to enjoy the sunlight again.

Ella and Melody get super with Iron Man at the LA Zoo Comic book day. Photo: Melody Mooney

When members talked about why they joined the group, many of them echoed how I felt about the mutual respect for their geeky lifestyles. They, too, had a hard time approaching and maintaining friendships with other parents. Some members came from shared social circles, but more found the group through searching on meetup.com. The site has been a good hub and jumping off point. Without asking for donations from the members, the group raised enough money at the geekling garage sale to cover the bi-annual $78 renewal fee for the next two years.

As the organizer and creator, I have tried to let the growth of the group happen organically. I never pressure people to host an event or feel bad if their baby is having a warp core breach day and they have to cancel. There is enough pressure on parents. I wanted to be the Risa of social groups, a place where members could feel comfortable, escape, and maybe wear some tacky pseudo-tropical space outfits if the mood hit us. Being geeks, the group naturally tended to gravitate towards communication through the biggest social site, Facebook. There, members  routinely post funny pictures, articles from GeekMom, and laugh along with George Takei’s daily funny.

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Hanging with The Doctors at the Whimsic Alley craft fair. Photo: Melody Mooney

To give you an example of Geekling awesomeness, just this past Sunday the group gathered Time Lords and nap deprived alike to sample the wares at the Doctor Who Craft Faire at my favorite local place, The Harry Potter store known as Whimsic Alley. They had butter beer on tap, jammie dodgers, and more long scarves and TARDIS blue bow ties than you could shake a Sonic Screwdriver at.

Truth be told, one of my driving reasons to start adding scheduled events to our meetup calendar was to keep pushing me out that door too. Another reason: After I suffered a mini stroke when Ella was two months old, some things like calendaring and numbers had to be relearned and brought into focus again. A year later, the attention I needed to apply to these dates has helped heal these problem areas. I may not be a master at leading us where no families have gone before in a overly organized type A way, but damn it Jim, I got a lot of heart.

I am grateful every day for my tribe called geek, and it is my hope is to see more branches of the group settle in different cities and share just as much fun. It’s a good thing, being geeks and being parents, and the collective flag is waving high.

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Mark and Ella wave their flags high. Photo: Melody Mooney

 

Disneyland’s Steampunk Land That Almost Was

Discovery Bay Concept Art
An early concept drawing of Discovery Bay by Tony Baxter. © Disney

When you think of steampunk, Disneyland is probably not the first thing that comes to mind, but did you know that there were plans back in the 1970s for new land which would have incorporated steampunk themes and even an airship ride?

The project was the brainchild of imagineer Tony Baxter, who will be honored this Saturday as a Disney Legend at an award ceremony at the D23 Expo in Anaheim. Though Baxter was responsible for some of the most beloved Disney theme-park attractions (including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Journey Into Imagination, and Splash Mountain), one of his most imaginative and interesting visions never left the drawing board. A life-long fan of Jules Verne, Baxter incorporated the author’s sense of adventure, exploration, and forward-looking imagination into the designs for Disneyland’s Discovery Bay, an expansion to Frontierland that would have stood along the banks of the Rivers of America. He and fellow imagineer Tom Scherman were so enthusiastic about the idea they even produced a five-minute television pilot called “Discovery Bay Chronicles” and built a 1/20th scale model, which was put on display in the park.

Discovery Bay Model
This model was put on display at Disneyland while the project was in the planning stages. In the upper right corner you can see part of Dumbo’s Circusland, another proposed area that was never built. © Disney

Although the term “steampunk” wouldn’t be coined for another decade, the retro-futuristic aesthetic is recognizable in the designs and promotional material for Discovery Bay, much of which has survived and found new life on the internet. Set in a fantastical version of San Francisco during the post-gold rush era, the proposed new land would have included some seriously cool themed rides, food vendors, and retail locations. Imagine a Tesla coil, an animatronic collector of oddities, a time machine, a fireworks shooting gallery, and an underwater restaurant inside a submarine all existing within walking distance of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Space Mountain, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

The concept went through several permutations, but the main showpiece was consistent throughout the development process—a massive hangar revealing the front end of an airship, the Hyperion, from the now-forgotten 1974 adventure film The Island at the Top of the World. The hangar would have housed a tie-in ride that would have taken guests on a simulated flight aboard the Hyperion above icy Arctic waters, with spectacular views of a frozen landscape, the northern lights, and the ruins of an ancient city. Contrary to popular belief, the fact that the movie flopped wasn’t the only reason the plans for the land were ultimately abandoned, but it certainly didn’t help.

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The Fireworks Factory shooting gallery. © Disney

A Disney company memo dating back to 1976 proclaims that Discovery Bay would “bring to life a time and place that climaxed an age of discovery and expansion.” There was to be a Chinese settlement incorporating the aforementioned Fireworks Factory shooting gallery, an aerial tramway known as The Great Western Balloon Ascent, and an electro-magnetic roller coaster called The Spark Gap (also referred to at various stages as The Electric Loop, The Tower, and The Spiral). A model of the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea would have been visible off the coast, partially submerged. At various points in the attraction’s development it would have contained a walk-through experience or possibly a Grand Salon, where guests could dine while taking in a colorful underwater view. There was also Professor Marvel’s Gallery, a revolving theater promising “a fascinating visit with the foremost collector of the exotic, weird, and whimsical from all over the world.” And did I mention the Lost River Rapids water ride that would have taken guests back in time to the prehistoric age? Dinosaurs, y’all. I mean, come on.

Which leads us to the obvious question: Why wasn’t this showcase of awesome ever built? The reasons given for this are many, but it all comes down to money and timing. At the same time the Disneyland team was busy putting together the proposal for Discovery Bay, two major ventures were coming down the pipeline which would ultimately take precedence—EPCOT Center and Tokyo Disneyland. Between the two of them, they siphoned off most of the company’s creative and financial resources. By the time the dust had settled, Disneyland executives had moved on to hotter, more high-profile endeavors, including the production of the big-budget Captain EO film starring Michael Jackson, the launch of the kid-friendly Splash Mountain (prompting the transformation of Bear Country into Critter Country), and the acquisition of licenses for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones properties.

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Another view of Discovery Bay. The tall crystal structure in the distance was to be a railroad station. © Disney

Fortunately, the creative concepts for Discovery Bay didn’t die on the vine. Baxter went on to incorporate some of the ideas into other Disney parks and, many years later, into Disneyland itself with the 1998 redesign of Tomorrowland. The animatronic host of Professor Marvel’s Gallery and his pet dragon would later reappear as the Dreamfinder and Figment in EPCOT’s Journey into Imagination, and Disneyland Paris would get its own variation on the Jules Verne theme in a section called Discoveryland. You’ll find a version of the Nautilus walk through there, as well as a model of the Hyperion hanging above a cafe with a decidedly steampunk aesthetic. Considered at one time to be the largest prop ever built for a theme park, the ship’s nose cone can be seen poking out of an open hangar in homage to the original concept drawings.

If you want a thrilling (if bittersweet) read, you can find the full text of that original company memo over at Jim Hill Media, a site devoted to all things Disney. Or check out Disney history site The Neverland Files for more on the various phases of the project and the reasons why we were denied this land of mechanical marvels.

Destination America Plans Week of Disney-Themed Programming

Destination America
Guests enjoy the pool on the upper deck of a Disney Cruise. Image: Destination America.

Planning to visit Disney sometime soon? Before you hit the road, you’d better hit up Destination America. The cable network is planning an entire week of programming dedicated to the happiest and most magical places on Earth.

Destination America’s “Disney Week” will air from Monday, April 29 through Friday, May 3, 2013. Continue reading Destination America Plans Week of Disney-Themed Programming

Get the Most From the Disney Theme Parks With Touring Plans

Epcot  Image: Dakster Sullivan
Epcot Image: Dakster Sullivan

Touringplans.com is a website that claims to have the power to save you four hours of waiting in line in a single day at the Disney theme parks. With touring plans, crowd calendar and a wait time app, Touringplans.com has everything you need to plan out and enjoy your day. The trick is making sure you follow their advice and not wander off. The website offers tools for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but for this review, I will only be looking at the Walt Disney World side of things.

Home to the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland, the website is laid out so that even the most frazzled parent can understand what they are looking at.  The coolest aspect of the website for me are the touring plans. This is where you can find out how to see more of the park, while wasting less time in lines trying to see it all. With over 140 different step by step touring plans for the Walt Disney World resort, there is something for every family.

Continue reading Get the Most From the Disney Theme Parks With Touring Plans

Kinect Disneyland Adventures

Image: http://www.xbox.com/en-US/kinect

I love all things Disney. When given the choice between Las Vegas or Walt Disney World as a honeymoon destination, it took me about a second to decide on Disney. I’m counting the days until we can take my daughter to Walt Disney World for the first time, but that won’t be for a little under three years because we want to take her for her sixth birthday.

 

So when I heard about Kinect Disneyland Adventures for the xBox 360, I knew I had to have this game. While I haven’t been to Disneyland, I’ve read and seen TV specials about it. I hope that I will get to Disneyland someday. It is actually on my bucket list to visit every Disney park in the world.

My daughter, who is only three, is starting to know the Disney characters thanks to TV and movies. So when I fired this game up and got to talk to Mickey Mouse, she was so excited. In the game, one of the fun things you can do is run around the park and meet up with characters. You can give them hugs, take pictures with them, get autographs and more.

The characters will also send you on tasks. Most of the early tasks are to help you get around the game. You can run around the entire park but you can also access the menu to go to the parts of the park that you want. The tasks and riding the rides will give you the opportunity to get coins. You can uses these coins to buy things in the shops around the parks. Much like in real life, you can get clothes, autograph books, pins and more in the shops. You can use these in the game to outfit your avatar, interact more with the characters as well as help you with tasks.

As soon as I finished the beginning tasks, I headed straight to The Haunted Mansion, which is my favorite ride at Disney. The rides in Kinect Disneyland Adventures are mini-games. You are given instructions on what movements you will need to use for each game before you enter it. For The Haunted Mansion, you move through the mansion and you fight ghosts with a flashlight. With the way the mini-game is set up, it is like moving through the actual ride, especially since there is the Ghost Host talking in the background with lines from the ride as well.

Some of the mini-games are more enjoyable than others. My least favorite was It’s A Small World but it was mostly because it was a very active one. You are rowing around the world and stopping to do native dances on the way. I was pretty beat by the time I finished with it.

There are some buggy issues with this game that I’ve found. I haven’t been able to do the arm movement I need to with the characters to get their autograph and it takes a little to get walking when I’m out in the park. There was a part of the Pirates of the Caribbean where I had to row but also had to use my oars to whack alligators. I was doing more whacking than rowing, but it was more funny than anything because it really amused my husband and daughter.

All in all, I love this game. I really makes me feel like I’m in the actual park and the games are really fun to do. It does really make me want to plan a Disney vacation right now, but until my daughter is a little older I can get my Disney Parks fix through Kinect Disneyland Adventures. My daughter tried to play with me, but she didn’t really understand that she had to make special motions to move around. I do think that kids who are a bit older than she is would really enjoy this game. I would recommend it to anyone who loves Disney and wants to experience Disneyland in their own living room.

Note: I received a copy of this game for review purposes.