Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that readers are already familiar with basic facts
about the Haunted Mansion. If you wanna keep up with the big boys, I suggest you check out
first of all the website, Doombuggies.com. After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY: Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009)
and Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014).

This site is not affiliated in any way with any Walt Disney company. It is an independent
fan site dedicated to critical examination and historical review of the Haunted Mansions.
All images that are © Disney are posted under commonly understood guidelines of Fair Use.

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Happy Haunts Materialize: The Hat Box Ghost Returns

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Let's cut right to the chase. I think he's good.


pix above and below from Disney Parks Blog 


Here are some 3D's in different sizes. Find your "magic eye" comfort level.






On May 9, 2015, the legendary Hat Box Ghost reappeared after a nearly 46-year absence. When it was announced that no, really, this time for sure, no foolin', the HBG was going to return to the HM, and a temporary construction wall went up to prove it, there were not a few among us more worried than excited. Hatbox is a cult figure, one for the true blue doombugs, and among them there is a solid consensus that when it comes to the Haunted Mansion, the track record of Walt Disney Imagineering over the past decade has left something to be derided. You can review the bullet points below if you want particulars, or you can skip them if you'd rather bask in the 100% positive vibes currently washing over the Long-Forgotten blogsite.


Why We Were Weelly, Weelly Worried
  • Floating Leota (2005) has never gotten anything more than a lukewarm response. The change felt, and still feels, wrong. Here's where treating this thing like a work of art proves its worth. What had always been the calm, stabilizing center of the ride was now simply another floating object. Everything about her—her chronological placement in the show flow, her pivotal position in the three-act play that is the Haunted Mansion, even her physical location in the room—announces that "here is the center, the eye of the storm." Nothing was gained and something was lost when she took flight.
  • The marked improvement in the way the changing portraits work (also 2005) and the gratitude from traditionalists for returning the presentation to its original lightning-flash mode was spoiled somewhat by disappointment over the removal of the beloved April-December portrait. Some of us have never forgiven them for that. I think she is missed more than they figured she would be. I think there are Imagineers who miss her more than they thought they would.
  • Constance (2006) is intensely disliked by the hardcore fans. Not only is the effect poorly done, but we all resent having a story shoved down our throats. The attic has been turned into a tedious interlude between the ballroom and the graveyard. In fairness, there is some nice special effects work with the five wedding portraits, but I'd take a single blast-up spook over the whole lot of them any day.
  • On the other hand, the 2007 "Rehaunting" of the Orlando Mansion was for the most part a smashing success, especially the Escher-like staircases. The sound system and augmented soundtrack in the stretching gallery have also been well received. The ghostly eyes that segue into the wallpaper upstairs are imaginative and appropriate. The only real sour note here has to do with the baffling Disneylandification of the Orlando Mansion, watering down its unique personality in a pointless attempt to make it more like the Anaheim original. The Disneylandish changing portrait hall (goodbye "Sinister 11" and their watchful eyes) and the redecoration of the COD are probably the chief offenders here. Foxxy simply wants to know why, and others among us do too.
  • The 2011 interactive queue at WDW remains the worst thing that has ever happened to any of the Mansions in their entire history.  Bring on the bulldozers. The CG mirror hitchhikers are marginally better but still inferior to what they replaced. In a haunted house, "Oh, they just do that with computers" cannot compare with, "Wait. How do they do that?" And there is still no possible excuse for a CG Ezra that doesn't even look like Ezra.
So you can see why May 9 was anticipated with anxiety and suspicion. What were we going to do if they totally screwed up the Hat Box Ghost? We'll never know, because they didn't.

There is a vast amount of great videography and photography out there. (HERE, HERE, HERE for video; HERE, HERE, HERE for photos, and there's plenty more where that came from.) There is an official Disney video HERE.


Random Observations

He's not inside the attic, in his original position, but a few yards away, just outside the exit. Not much was there previously:


Thanks to friends in low places, I know that they've been seriously considering that location for the HBG since at least 2009. The reason is that they can control the lighting better in that location than they can inside the attic. In fact, I'm told that a HBG figure was actually installed and tested in 2009. There were problems, but they were still going ahead with the project, hoping to have him ready for the Mansion's 40th anniversary, but the plug was pulled at the last minute.

The entire area out there has been beautifully redesigned as a large porch with a pergola, including (faux) wrought ironwork similar in design to what the HM has out front.  Behind the HBG are double doors partially open. There is a group of fanged and red-eyed bats inside, hanging upside down and extremely difficult to photograph. Here's the best I've seen so far:

pic by Macro at Micechat

Some think that possibly this is a nod to an unused piece of Marc Davis concept art we've posted more than once:


There are hatboxes everywhere. Each of the five wedding portraits inside the attic now has a hatbox nearby, there is a stack of three more in front of the HBG to his left, and there's another pile of five on his right, some of them stacked on a hand truck. Since hand trucks are not exactly stereotypical haunted house paraphernalia, one suspects that a story item will eventually emerge involving the arrival or retrieval of gobs of hatboxes. Presumably, this will tie the new guy back into the attic scene. Not really looking forward to that, but at least for now it's a mystery.


So, What's Not to Like?

According to some, plenty.

Some Mansion fans don't like the new avatar, predictively enough, and I suppose some of them may wonder why yours curmudgeonly truly seems so satisfied with the new HBG. For whatever they're worth, here are my responses to some of the objections that have been raised.

The number one complaint is that he's got a computer generated face that wriggles and smirks. Everyone knows that's what it is, so there goes all the mystery. "Oh, it's done with computers" = no magic, remember? The CG hitchhikers at WDW are horrible. The HBG isn't as bad as they, but can't we keep the cartoons out of the Mansion?

In response, let me point out that Madame Leota, Little Leota, and the Singing Busts also have CG faces that wriggle and smirk (let's leave Connie out of this for now). Hmm? What's that? You say they're not CG? They're film of actual faces? You're right, of course, but I wonder what percentage of new riders under the age of 30 or so unthinkingly assume that those faces are CG images. Our thorough knowledge of the difference between the two ways of projecting a face may keep us from seeing how similar the results have become. Mansioneers, we'd better face the fact that the days are gone when the "Leota Effect" inspires gasps of surprise and wonderment as to how it's done, even if the way these Millennials think it is done is wrong! "Oh, it's CG" is the new "Oh, it's a hologram."

There isn't that much wriggling and smirking anyway. His eyes blink and his pupils move. I find it hard to believe that Yale Gracey would not have incorporating those features in the original figure if he could have found a good way to do so. So far as I can tell, the only other animation that takes place is when his eye sockets squint angrily. I find it easy to accept this bit of cartooning because it is consciously designed and directed toward the creation of a particular effect that cannot be done otherwise. Several riders have noted how downright creepy it is when Hattie seems to make direct eye contact with you at one point and gives you a fiendish scowl. Well, his face has to react in some way for such an effect to be achieved. Add to this how surprisingly close the new HBG stands to the doombuggies, and we're told you can get a real chill from the new HBG, going right down your spine. In pursuit of such a worthy purpose, a bit of animation is absolutely necessary. I say huzzah and congratulate them for their remarkable restraint in this area.

We are all grateful that the face itself is scrupulously faithful to the original.



We were worried that the art direction for the project was going to hark back to the original Marc Davis concept sketches,
or try to find a "happy medium" between the two approaches. This pseudo-animation cell has been out there for a year or so.



(Note that the doorway and the bats from this concept sketch have been adapted and incorporated.)


By the way, I suppose it's heresy, but I've always thought the face in that second sketch is weak. Even the great Marc Davis didn't give us the Sistine Chapel every time out, and in my opinion this simply isn't one of his best.

Here's another point. With the CG hitchhikers, you watch them like you'd watch a cartoon show. In contrast, the face of the HBG isn't really the show itself; it's more like an element in a show. The HBG is a solid, fully-dimensional AA figure, much praised for its fluid and yet restrained movement (there's that word again). It's just enough to say, "Yes, I'm alive" without saying, "Look, I can dance!" It serves as the stage for a show, and not just any show but a magic show.


It's Magic!

It took us all of two days, I think, to figure out how the trick is done. I won't spoil it for you. (There's probably a "spoiler" cloaking device somewhere around here at Blogger, but pthh, I'll just put the Forbidden Knowledge in a Comment.) Suffice it to say that the trick involves scrim, a two-way mirror, clever misdirection, a basically simple mechanical gimmick, a "black art well," and strategically placed lighting. In other words, we're essentially back in front of a 19th century magic show, the main difference being that the rabbit popping in and out of the hat is a dummy rabbit with a modern, inner-projected face. The official Disney video for the debut of the new HBG refers to the use of "fundamental tricks and illusions" already pioneered by Yale Gracey. It's already the case that guesses as to how it's done generally make it more complicated than it is. In my book, that's one of the signs of a good magic trick. All of this warms the heart, let me tell you.

Reportedly, the Imagineer responsible for finally figuring out how to make the vanishing head effect work is John Gritz. He's been called a present-day Yale Gracey by colleagues, which is high praise indeed. Other Imagineers involved include Jeff Shaver-Moskowitz (show producer) and Daniel Joseph (special effects).

pic from Laughing Place

You're a keen one, Mr. Gritz. Since virtually every explanation of why the original effect didn't work says that the figure was just too close to the track for the face to convincingly disappear, I have to wonder if the placement of the new figure right in your effin' face bespeaks a certain triumphalism after so convincingly licking the problem. Fun to think so, anyway. A little end-zone dance would be fully justified.

gif from Tumblr

There have been some other quibbles about the new figure. The main one is his laugh. Throughout the Mansionariat there is uniform agreement that the chuckle is too robust. We all think it should be a scratchy, nutty, old-man cackle, not this deep rumble that could be a Paul Frees Ghost Host outtake. Though I agree with the criticism, it's not a deal breaker for me. Maybe I'm too grateful that a simple chuckle once per cycle is all they put in there. We had nightmares of him chattering away like Connie's fraternal twin.

Another quibble: they didn't bring back the quivering hand on top of his cane (which is the one feature I remember most vividly from the original HBG). This too makes him seem less the old man that he was. But here again, I can't get too worked up. Quick, violent vibrations are sheer hell on machinery. Eventually it shakes things to pieces. If you want proof, just look at this well-known and unique shot of the original HBG in situ. It's a few weeks old at maximum, and his wrist is completely shot.



The End of the Quest

Like any long journey, when it finally ends there's a bit of a letdown. We've all been bellerin' "Bring back the Hat Box Ghost!" for so long that it's hard to believe it's happened. And now that's done. Cheer up, you Mansionites, there's always Miss April!


Start beating the drum...

Post Script: The Beginning of the Quest

It occurs to me that no one has ever documented the "Bring Back the Hat Box Ghost" movement that led us finally to May 9, 2015. In our previous post on the HBG, I was content with explaining in some detail why and how he became a legend, but I touched only briefly on the public discus-sions which generated the "put him back in the attic" fanatic fan antics (say it ten times real fast). Now might be a good time to take a look back.

It all began in the letters section of E-Ticket Magazine.  Issue #16 (Summer 1993) featured a long article on the Haunted Mansion, which inspired the following letter from Michelle Hill in the next issue (#17, Winter 1993-94):


And so the opening shot is fired. Note that she not only remembers him, she misses him. The editors (Jack and Leon Janzen) answered her letter with the following: "We were aware of your headless ghoul as we prepared the Haunted Mansion story. We've seen original ride layout plans which indicate his exact location in the Attic, opposite from the Bride and to the left [sic] of the vehicles. He's not the Groom...early written treatments say that's the corpse hanging by the neck in the 'stretching room.' Our best information prior to printing #16 (we did ask around...) was that this figure never made it into the ride as opened. Can anyone else confirm Michelle's memory...?" 

The next issue featured a great many letters in response (#18, Spring 1994, pp 34-35). Sometime in the interim it apparently became customary to refer to him as "the Hat Box Ghost" (or "the Hatbox Ghost"). The editors opened the section by noting that Michelle Hill's letter had "spurred additional comment from readers. We were challenged to find a photo of him, so here's a rare shot of the ghost with his mentor, Yale Gracey, and some of your opinions regarding the existence of the 'Hat Box Ghost' in the original Haunted Mansion..." According to Michelle Hill, they got the photo from Tony Baxter. It was one of the publicity photos of the prototype figure with Yale Gracey that we discussed in the earlier HBG post. No one yet realized that it was not the actual figure but a prototype.


The letters that followed were interesting.

"...In response to Michelle Hill's letter re: the "Hatbox Ghost" in the attic, I have a few bits of information about that long-vanished spectre. A composite photo featuring this character was included in the old Disneyland hardcover souvenir book (pg 89 of 'The First Quarter Century'). Confusion as to this character's identity is due in part to the sound track album in which Thurl Ravenscroft describes the evil figure and then identifies the female spook as his bride. I hope I've either added some light, or some enshroudment" - Brent Swanson, Idaho Falls, ID.

"I can provide some corroborating evidence on the Mansion's 'Hat Box Ghost' legend. Indeed this ghost was planned to appear in the attic with the bride, and according to the Disneyland LP record based on the attraction, he is indeed her groom. His photo appears on page 89 of the DL souvenir book with the white cover. Whether this ghost actually was in the Mansion or not, I seem to remember him but I was barely seven years old when the Mansion opened (and no doubt I spent most of the ride with my hands over my eyes). If they built him, they must have used him at least for awhile. I've seen a ride layout used to familiarize new workers with the show, and it shows the 'Hat Box Ghost' to the right of the Bride and the track. Hopefully another reader will provide a definitive answer, because I'd like to know myself" - Scott Weitz, Burbank, CA.

Both these letters refer to this page in the Disneyland: The First Quarter Century book:


We mentioned this in the previous HBG post. The same page appeared in subsequent editions of the book (...First Thirty Years, ...First Thirty-Five Years). The most significant thing is that this was probably the first reuse of one of the old publicity photos in the more permanent format of a book rather than in ephemeral publications like newspapers and magazines.

The next letter is especially interesting:

"To answer your question about whether the 'ghoul with the hat box' made it into the Haunted Mansion, the answer is yes! He appeared in the attic to the right of the exit, where the Bride is now. A photo of him appears on pg 2 of the 1968 WDP Annual Report, where WED designer Yale Gracey adjusts him for his appearance. It was one of my favorite figures in the ride. I also remember his face was later blacked out (showing only his other face in the hat box) before he was removed. I missed him and wished they would put him back in the ride" - Brett R. Thompson, Pasadena, CA.

The descriptions of the figure and his location are accurate. The reference to a 1968 publication indicates that the Yale Gracey publicity photos had already been taken by then, and so the HBG character was obviously planned for the attraction by then. (In my first HBG post I reported erroneously that the photo session dated to early 1969.) Most interestingly for our purposes, this is the first time we hear anything like a plea to bring back the Hat Box Ghost. It will be 21 years before it happens.

"I can confirm Michelle Hill's Haunted Mansion nightmare. The ghoul in the attic was definitely in place when I first rode the Haunted Mansion on August 10, 1969 (my 23rd birthday). He was positioned approximately where the Bride is now located, so as to be one of the last things you saw before exiting to the graveyard scene. The bride was located on your left as you passed the first set of leaping heads (just to the right of the door to the doombuggy storage area). Another change from day one is a shortening of the Ghost Host's narration in the hall area. He used to talk virtually the entire length of the hallway and therefore was a bit distracting. I'd love to see a copy of the original script as I don't remember what he said in that area" - Chuck Nathan, Tucson, AZ.

Again, the descriptions are all accurate. The extra dialogue Chuck refers to is, of course, the "All our ghosts have been dying to meet you..." and "Perhaps Madame Leota can establish contact..." lines, which were there in the beginning and have been in and out several times since then. More importantly for our purposes, this letter solidifies the chronology of events in those first few days: the HBG was there for the CM "soft opening" August 7-8, he was removed for the quasi-official grand opening to the public August 9, and from this letter we know that he was already reinstalled by the 10th. We don't know about the next few days, but I saw him on Thursday the 14.

"I too have considered the Haunted Mansion an all-time favorite attraction. The mystery of the elusive attic Groom figure (or lack of such) has mystified me. I specifically recall seeing a photo of the finished Audio Animatronic figure in a circa 1970 issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland in an article about the attraction. This same photo appears in Walt Disney's World of Fantasy by Adrian Bailey, and appears to have been photo-graphed in the ballroom setting. I would be curious to know exactly why it was retired from the cast of 999" - Brian Follansbee, Concord, NH.

The photo in the "Famous Monsters" article was none other than the one printed on that same page of E-Ticket, the publicity shot in which Yale is on the left holding the head down in the hatbox.

The editors then introduce the last letter. (The elliptical punctuation is original.) "...our final comment on the enigmatic Hat Box Ghost comes from Walt Disney Imagineering's Tony Baxter..."

"Dear Leon and Jack ... I'm including a general show set plan which may help to enlighten the Haunted Mansion Mystery. It clearly and accurately describes the location of the hat-box ghost and also calls out the original location of the bride (just ahead of the current placement and on the opposite side.) My guess is the bride is currently in the exact location of the hat-box ghost as their [sic] would be a hole in the floor for the base frame of the figure that would be usable at this point." 

"During the pre-opening week, August 1st through 7th, employees were invited to ride, and during the test for ride durability, we were able to ride two to four hours at a time without getting off. The hat-box ghost was installed and running during this period. It is possible that guests also rode the attraction in this time frame and saw the figure. The gag was to have his head become invisible and then appear in the box and constantly reverse back and forth. Unfortunately they couldn't get the head on the body to vanish effectively in this location. My theory is that it was designed to work in the same way as the ballroom and they tried to adapt the effect to this more conventional location and it wasn't convincing. The bride stood in front of a bunch of props that were also later removed. It seemed like a lot of drapery material made from transparent plastic."

"The original sound track from September, 1969 shows tracks that have later been removed and others that are currently buried by noise. Most memorable to me during that first August preview week was the complete 'Toccata & Fugue' as in Fantasia played throughout the graveyard queue while waiting to enter. This did a lot to build anticipation. The crow played a bigger role, but it was very damaging to the eerie nature of the show and has been minimized." Tony discusses some unrelated matters and concludes with, "I hope this helps clear up some mysteries of the Mansion, sincerely..." - Tony Baxter, Walt Disney Imagineering, Glendale, CA.

Most of this letter has been previously available at Doombuggies.com for a long time. The note about the original location of the bride as "just ahead of the current placement and on the opposite side" is peculiar, and the original props around her subsequently removed have been discussed elsewhere. It is well known that Tony's theory here to the effect that a "Pepper's Ghost" technique was used with the HBG was likely inspired by the Yale Gracey publicity shots and is incorrect.


Enter Chris Merritt

There things lay until E-Ticket Magazine #32 in the Fall of 1999. Most of you have never seen and never will see the actual article, so in the interest of making historical documents available, here 'tis.




The wide circulation of these photos and the information in this 1999 article probably did as much as anything else to fuel an informal campaign to bring back the HBG, which was mostly just fans moaning on chatboards about how much they'd like to see him returned, how technology surely must exist that would enable it, and so on. This sort of talk appeared regularly at the fora of Doombuggies.com, at Micechat, and elsewhere—all of which sources were and are monitored by WDI. Imagineers like Chris Merritt and Tony Baxter had felt the love right away and eventually started lobbying for the project, but without the 1993-94 discussions in the letters section of E-Ticket, I don't suppose any real awareness of him would have surfaced, and the snowball may never have gotten rolling.