When hinges creak in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls. Whenever candle lights flicker where the air is deathly still — that is the time when ghosts are present, practicing their terror with ghoulish delight!
— Your Ghost Host, Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion
This year, Disneyland Park has been celebrating “50 Years of Retirement Unliving” as the classic Haunted Mansion attraction turned 50 this month. There have been exclusive parties and celebrity well wishers, as well as specialty merchandise. This year’s D23 Expo annual Design Challenge will even focus on the best chilling fan art based on all the Haunted Mansion attractions at Disney Parks worldwide.
Yes, we Foolish Mortals love the Haunted Mansion, but part of its charm is its residents, the 999 Happy Haunts who dwell within its walls, hosting their “Swinging Wake” day after day for half a century.
In honor of this grand old home turning 50, I found some fun and geeky facts — some official, and some more fandom created — about just a few of the spirits gathered from Disney history blogs, comics, shows, movies, and the Ghost Gallery, a notebook of unofficial tales of the ghosts created and shared by many Disney cast members:
1. Longtime fans of the attraction may notice the familiar voice of the Ghost Host is sometimes a little different. In the original version, he is voice actor and comedian Paul Frees, but when the ride changes during the holiday season for Haunted Mansion Holiday, the narration is by popular voice actor Corey Burton. There have been other Ghost Hosts in used in records, films, and special events, including British actor Tony Jay. When director Guillermo del Toro teased his still unmade Haunted Mansion movie at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, the Ghost Host’s voice was Ian McShane. Please, Mr. Del Toro, make this movie, or at least let Mr. McShane occasionally narrate the ride.
2. Everyone who has been on the original attraction can figure out the Ghost Host is the man hanging from the Stretching Room rafters, but to get a good picture of what he looks like, his portrait is seen in the hallway, as the skinny, grinning man with one large eye, and a hatchet. In the Eddie Murphy movie he can be seen in the graveyard portrayed by creepy makeup artist master Rick Baker, who provided the ghosts’ look for the film.
3. The quintet of singing busts, who harmonize to “Grim Grinning Ghosts” (aka “The Screaming Song”) in the graveyard form a group called “The Phantom Five.” They are Rolo Rumkin (based on imaginer Rolly Crump and played by Verne Rowe), Cousin Algernon (Chuck Schroeder), Ned Nub (Jay Meyer), and Phineas Pock (Bob Ebright). The tombstones of at least three of these singers can be found in or near the ride queue. As for lead singer Uncle Theodore, the broken bust, he is often incorrectly said to be the likeness of Walt Disney himself, but is actually baritone voice actor, Thurl Ravenscroft (“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”).
Check out a Capella group VoicePlay harmonizing, singing bust style:
4. Disney trivia and attraction fans love to point out the ghost organist in the original Haunted Mansion’s ballroom is the actual organ used from the 1954 Disney movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but how many know the organist’s name is Herr Victor Geist? He plays “Grim Grinning Ghosts” and other Mansion themes, but some guests listen closely to catch him playing a macabre version of “Pink Panther Theme.” Kids in the 1970s who had a copy of the Story and Songs from the Haunted Mansion record remember that the spirits coming from his pipes while he plays are banshees. Banshees’ wails are heard when there’s a death coming to a household. Uh-oh.
5. The stern old woman bust that follows visitors with the hollow face effect is known as “Aunt Lucretia,” a character who later found her way into the queue in the Florida Haunted Mansion. She was originally intended to be one of the singing busts. In some fan lore, the staring busts who follow guests’ gazes are referred to as “Edgar Allan” and “Elizabeth Barrett” as a nod to the famous writers and poets.
6. One of the Mansion’s most famous residents has spent less time there than the rest of his fellow haunts, the Hatbox Ghost. This spook’s whereabouts was a fan theory favorite as his presence in the mansion disappeared not long after the attraction opened, creating speculations of where and why he dematerialized. The short version: the effect just wasn’t working well. Thanks to updated technology many years, later the Hatbox Ghost joined the mansion once more in for Disneyland’s Diamond Jubilee in 2015.
7. The eerie, distinct appearance of the Hatbox Ghost was possibly inspired by actor Lon Cheney’s lurking “Man in the Beaver Hat” from the 1920s horror, London After Midnight, but what happened to the actual Hatbox Ghost’s original frame? One of the common theories is he never really left, he was only transformed into another character, “Sam the Eagle” from the Tomorrowland attraction, America Sings. Since most of those characters had been recycled for use the Haunted Mansion’s neighbor, Splash Mountain, it is completely possible the original ghost is still very close by his original home, but in another form.
8. The trio of ghosts most associated with the attraction are the Hitchhiking Ghosts who “follow you home,” Ezra, Phineas, and Gus. Disney has a back story for all three. Ezra Beane, the tall skinny ghost, “lived his life as a vagabond”; Phineas, who is seen carrying a bag, was a traveling “snake oil” salesman; and poor Gus was serving time “for a crime he did not commit,” although we’re not sure what it was.
9. In 2012, photographer Annie Leibovitz brought the Hitchhiking Ghosts to life for her Disney Dreams ad campaign, with the help of comic actors Jack Black as Phineas, Will Ferrell as Ezra, and Jason Segel as Gus.
10. No other ghosts can actually be seen until Madame Leota, the spirit in the crystal ball, summons them. Leota’s face is taken from imagineer Leota Toombs, who had a perfect look for the character. Toombs was actually a soft-spoken person, so Leota’s powerful voice was supplied by actress Eleanor Audley, the voice behind both Maleficent and Lady Tremaine in the original animated versions of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Toombs’s daughter, Kim Irvine, is the face for Leota during the Haunted Mansion Holiday.
11. Leota Toomb’s face, and actual voice, pops up again in another happy haunt, the Ghost Hostess who gives guests a haunting send off when they depart the attraction. She is affectionately known by fans as “Little Leota.” Because of her white, flowing dress and the sprig of dark flowers she is carrying, she can easily be mistaken for a bride. Instead, imagineer Marc Davis was partly inspired by the funeral hostess played by Anjanette Comer in the 1965 dark comedy, The Loved One.
12. For the most part, Haunted Mansion’s friendly ghosts just want to come out to socialize, but there is one ghost that it would be best to avoid: Constance Hatchaway, the homicidal “Black Widow Bride.” Constance wasn’t given an official name or back story until 2006, when the faceless bride was given an upgrade. How dangerous is she? Ask her five husbands, Ambrose Harper, Frank Banks, the Marquis de Doom, Reginald Caine, and George Hightower, who all — literally — lost their heads over Constance when she promised to “live happily ever after…Till death… do us part.”
13. Not all the haunts are human, and the pet cemetery has been part of the Haunted Mansion grounds for sometime. This includes the frog “Old Fly Bait,” who croaked, Freddie the bat, the resident cat (surrounded by its bird victims), dogs Buddy (a “Friend until The End”), Fifi, now Sparky of Frankenweenie fame, a snake, skunk, bunny, and Rosie, who was “a poor little pig, but bought the farm.”
14. There are plenty of imagineers who found a final resting place tribute in the mansion, long before they departed in the real world. Tombstone tributes include:
In memory of our patriarch, dear departed grandpa Marc (for Marc Davis).
Dear sweet Leota, beloved by all. In regions beyond now having a ball (for Leota Toombs).
Here lies good old Fred. A great big rock fell on his head (for Fred Joerger).
Requiescat Frances Xavier. No time off for good behavior. RIP. (for Xavier “X” Atencio)
15. The imagineer’s name that haunts the mansion the most is effects expert Yale Gracey, for whom the fictional Master Gracey is named. There have been plenty of stories behind this character, and he is a prominent character stories from the comics, movie, and fan fiction. Some stories say he was a pirate, others he may have been the one who hung himself in the Stretching Room as the result of a broken heart. The mansion itself was even called Gracey Manor. Whatever is true, speculations of Gracey are popular. On his tombstone at the mansion, a butler or main picks a fresh rose each morning to place on the grave.
16. The ghost Duelists, forever locked in a pistol duel in the Ballroom, were given an unofficial story in the Ghost Gallery. Their names are Etienne Lalaurie and Antoine Germaine, lifelong friends until they were both seduced by Madame Leota, and challenge each other to a duel. Neither of them missed their target.
The 2005 Haunted Mansion anthology comic series from Slave Labor Graphics had some wonderful origin stories for many of the popular ghosts. Here are some favorites:
17. Although not a ghost, the poor frightened Groundskeeper and his faithful dog, Boney, is a mansion regular. Why would he want to care for the ghosts in that frightening place each night? So he can have dinner and tea with his wife each night, one of the dear departed residing in the mansion.
18. The “Tightrope Girl” from the stretching room portraits has been given several names such as Sally Slater or Lillian O’Malley, but in the SLG comics, she is a voodoo witch named Daisy De La Cruz, who has turned her former lovers into the alligators seen circling her.
19. Also in the stretching room are the three men sinking, totem pole style, in quicksand. They are (top to bottom, Big Hobbs, Hobbs, and Skinny Hobbs), notorious gamblers on the run in the bayou. They assume they are trying to cross some deep mud, which turned out to be quicksand. No, they did not make it, and now reside among the haunts in the mansion.
As the Ghost Host reminds us there is “always room for 1,000,” and some people have tried to take him up on the offer.
20. There are plenty of future ghosts wanting their own permanent home to be with the mansion’s spirit, so much so, that people have tried to leave the ashes of loved ones on the grounds of the Haunted Mansion and other favorite attractions, according to a Wall Street Journal article from 2018. Of course, it is strictly forbidden, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying by using everything from plastic pill bottles to make-up compacts just so a piece of their loved ones can join the ghostly party.
Hopefully, all 999 of the Happy Haunts will continue their frightful fête for at least another 50 years, and everyone can get a chance to pay them a visit.
They’ve been dying to have you…