Dateline: Disneyland 1969. The Haunted Mansion opens it’s doors for the first time on August 9th, six years after construction of the facade had been completed in 1963. The Haunted Mansions boasts 999 happy haunts, but were there 1,000 haunts when it first opened?
If you were lucky enough to ride the Haunted Mansion in 1969, you may have seen a ghost whose stay in the mansion was brief: the infamous Hatbox Ghost. Ol’ Hatty would have lived in the attic, and stood opposite of the Bride. The effect was that his head would disappear and then re-appear inside of the hatbox he was holding:
As opening day to the Haunted Mansion approached, a number of merchandising materials started to appear. One of which was a story record, with sounds from the mansion and a story of kids going through the mansion.
In the record, the kids encounter the hatbox ghost, whom the narrator describes… “He was a cloaked figure with an evil, grinning face. A hatbox hung from his hand. With each beat of his bride’s heart, his head disappeared from his body and appeared in the hatbox.”
Upon closer inspection, a famous visage appears on the cover:
He also even had his own page in the included 11 page booklet:
There was also a souvenir kids record that contained a picture of Mr. Box:
So as a kid in the 60’s, looking forward to the opening day of the new Haunted Mansion attraction, you would have been familiar with the character of the Hatbox Ghost. Imagineer Marc Davis even drew this mock up of the character:
A number of press photos with Yale Gracey were taken as opening day approached:
Pictures courtesy of doombuggies.com
Here’s what the Hatbox Ghost looked like inside the attraction:
Picture courtesy of doombuggies.com
So what happened? Where did this haunted resident go? One rumor circulated that he as so scary, Disney received so many complaints they had to remove him from the attraction. While this makes for a great story, sadly, that was not the case. The real truth was that the disappearing/reappearing head effect just didn’t work well enough, and because of this, the Hatbox Ghost was taken out of the mansion for good. But what was his fate?
On a recent article on Jim Hill Media, Imagineer Marc Davis claims the Hatbox Ghost was re-purposed as one of the eagles in the attraction America Sings:
However, I do not believe this is the case. The Hatbox Ghost was not a complex animatronic, and an item that recently went up for sale on eBay proved this theory.
Early in 2009, a Haunted Mansion Reference Manual went up for sale on the auction site eBay. This manual was used by cast members to maintain and repair the effects in the mansion.
The following are the schematic pages for the Hatbox Ghost (click to enlarge):
As you can see, there really wasn’t a whole lot to him. The main effect was just a matter of lighting, and the only real moving part was his trembling hand on his cane. I highly doubt he was stripped down and used as the eagle in American Sings, since he was mainly just some metal tubing in the first place.
Since the Hatbox Ghost’s now infamous exodus from the Haunted Mansion attraction in Disneyland, his mystery and legend has grown over the years. He became an instant favorite character of doombugs (Haunted Mansion fans, named after the “doombuggy” ride vehicles) everywhere. In the last few years, Disney has noticed the buzz concerning our mansion’s favorite ex-resident.
Offical Hatbox Ghost merchandise has been available for the first time since the records in the 60’s. A “Big-Fig” was released in 2005, designed by Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily:
He has also been on a number of tombstones:
As well as several pins:
But perhaps the most exciting bit of merchandise was the recently revealed one of a kind full size Hatbox Ghost to be auctioned off at Disney’s D23 Event. Designed by Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily:
There are currently rumors circulating that the Hatbox Ghost might make a return to the Haunted Mansion for the 40th Anniversary Event, taking place on 9-9-09. It would make sense, since his merchandising has definitely hit critical mass. The public definitely want to see the return of this famous dearly departed ghost.
Will we see him returned back to his corner of the attic? Only time will tell.