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).

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fan site dedicated to critical examination and historical review of the Haunted Mansions.
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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Here Comes the...Never Mind, She's Here: Constance and the Hatchet Man

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Updated May 10, 2014 with new artwork (an illustration from The Reader, 1904)


(photo: Jeff Fillmore)

Like I said last time, the Constance addition is an ambitious attempt to expand the Mansion's backstory and solidify it.  The attic bride now has a name (Constance Hatchaway) and a definite story.  She's a "black widow" bride, marrying five men in succession (or at least five) and beheading each on their wedding night (Sigmund Freud, call your office).  Each man is more wealthy than the last, and Connie's accumulating fortune is symbolized by the addition of a new string of pearls around her neck in each successive wedding portrait.  Her junk now clogs the attic.  Mostly wedding gifts.  There are some cute items amidst the clutter, like this porcelain couple with the man fallen and with his head broken off.

"Oh my goodness!"

Here's the grim tally:
  • 1869:  Ambrose Harper
  • 1872:  Frank Banks
  • 1874:  The Marquis de Doom
  • 1875:  Reginald Caine
  • 1877:  George Hightower
There are official mini-bio's for each man (cf. Surrell 2nd ed., p. 84); the most interesting fact is that George is expressly said to be a former owner of the house, implying that Connie inherited it.  Evidently, before it became a retirement home for ghosts, the Haunted Mansion was Connie's residence.  As if to emphasize the point, the widow portrait in the stretching room is now officially recognized as a portrait of Constance.  The resemblance between it and the last wedding portrait in the attic is obvious.


Objection, your honor:  The Constance ghost is clearly still a young woman, while the stretch-room widow was just as clearly a senior citizen before she died.  In addition, isn't the plot simply too far-fetched?  You're saying there were five identical and sensational murders on Connie's successive wedding nights, and no one caught on?  Were the latter suitors such dolts?  And were the police brain dead?  There are limits to our suspension of disbelief.

I'm no fan of the Connie thing, but I will say that these objections hold no water.  The notion that ghosts appear as they appeared at the time of their death is not the only popular notion out there.  There is also the idea that ghosts haunt because there is unfinished earthly business that must be resolved before they can "cross over," and perhaps they appear as they appeared at the time of that unfinished business, which may have occurred well before death.  In Connie's case, it's an unavenged murder spree from her youth. That too is a concept not unknown to ghost lore:

From The Reader magazine, 1904 (hat tip Craig C.)

Interestingly enough, Ken Anderson invokes this ghost theory in one of his 1957 scripts:

"... our house had a tragic and bloody history of unlucky owners who died sudden and violent deaths, which resulted in their unhappy ghosts remaining behind to fulfill the uncompleted missions of their lives."

As for the preposterousness of the plot, it all becomes plausible when we throw money into the equation.  Bribe the police, bribe the judges, remove any public record of the crime or its investigation, falsify death certificates, and presto: a clean slate for the next victim.  Sure, she would have needed a good missing-and-presumed-dead story the first time (a teary-eyed Constance describes how Ambrose fell into the river on their honeymoon), and the second time would have demanded a cop or judge who could be bought pretty cheap (perhaps she used, er, other assets as well?), but after that she probably had enough wealth piling up to cover her tracks easily.  As for how suitor #4 or #5 could be foolish enough to marry a widow whose previous husbands managed to disappear so quickly after the wedding, well...she's got a pretty face, see, and a certain wiggly-wag....

Objections overruled.

How did they cook up such an idea in the first place?  To begin, mad female ax murderers are nothing new on the radar screen of public cultural consciousness.  Lizzie Borden and all that.



Closer to home, once again we find an interesting changing-portrait concept in the huge pile of unused material left behind by Marc Davis.  He came up with a macabre version of a famous portrait by Thomas Gainsborough.  So popular was "The Honourable Mrs. Graham" in its day that Gainsborough did several versions of it, including an etching:




It doesn't take much imagination to see inspiration for Constance in Davis's spoof:

(Artwork ©Disney.  Animated gif by Captain Halfbeard)


Another inspiration for Constance hidden in the WDI vaults is the long-forgotten "Mr. Meaker," a character concept unknown until the recent discovery of a crude notebook sketch by Dick Irvine (VP of Design at WDI from '52—'73) . . .


. . . and this accompanying description:  "Mr. Meaker was a very simple man who lost each of his five wives in a very tragic manner.  They died in bed—apparently of natural causes.  Mr. Meaker's only compensation was that his wives were all insured.  He smothered them with affection."  Here the tour guide throws a switch and the canopy of a nearby bed descends.  The tour guide continues:  "One night he was testing the mechanism while his cat was sleeping on the bed.  When Mr. Meaker found out that he had killed his pet, he was heartbroken.  He hanged himself."


It's not hard to see a male version of Constance in certain details of this outline.  It's curious that he hanged himself, because if the HM's hanging man was already considered the Ghost Host at this point (and he probably was), then this backstory identifies the Ghost Host with Mr. Meaker.  This opens up a can of interesting worms, but we'll tackle that one a little further down.  (Actually, I've never tackled a worm and would decline any invitation so to do.  The unfair weight advantage, for one thing, would take all the joy out of it for me.)

One of the most important factors shaping the creation of Constance, however, was inspiration drawn right from the existing ride.  I have no doubt whatsoever that the Imagineers involved would respond to the criticism of Constance as an unwanted intrusion by pointing out that, on the contrary, they are zealous traditionalists with the highest possible respect for what the original Imagineers created.  In expanding the backstory, they definitely wanted their addition to stay true to what was already there.

And they have a good case, so far as it goes.

First, Connie is a throwback to the original, scarier bride, skipping over and ignoring the forlorn 1995-2006 models in favor of their darker predecessor.   On our own analysis, the original attic scene gave you just enough clues to conclude that the bride killed her groom via decapitation.  The Hat Box Ghost goes topless to the tune of her lub dub, lub dub, remember?

Secondly, the Constance narrative seizes on the two items from the original HM that indicate a history prior to the "retirement home" story and it weaves the two together into a single story, so you could argue that the Connie story tidies things up a bit.  I'm talking about (1) the Ghost Host's ambiguous tie to the house on the one hand (actually, it's his neck, but let that slide), and (2) the attic's tale of some kind of nuptial homicide on the other.  Everything else in the HM is part of the three-act play taking place on the stage of "this ghostly retreat."

The Ghost Host connection is largely unspecified at this point, but there is every indication that it is waiting in the wings, ready to be rolled out as time and funds permit.  That's right, people, there is another shoe waiting to drop.  There are more chapters to the Constance saga up WDI's sleeve, so you had better get used to her.  If her role is destined to change at all, it is only in order to expand it further.  Do I have an inside line on this undisclosed sequel?  Nope, but I can tell you that it will involve a character sometimes called the "Hatchet Man."

The Hatchet Man

A creepy portrait of a man with a noose around his neck and a hatchet in his hand has been in the DL Corridor of Doors since the place opened.


Do not doubt the word of your blog administrator.  Here is Hatch in a rare 1969 photo:


The Orlando HM has had Hatch since the day it opened, but as one of the "Sinister 11" portraits rather than in the Corridor of Doors:


This guy is the Ghost Host.  First, the concept art for this character reportedly identifies him explicitly as the "Ghost Host," and second, the hanging corpse in the stretching gallery is scrupulously dressed so as to match the Hatchet Man, and of course the hanging man is the GH ("there's always my way").  This is a good example of WDI overkill for the sake of "making it real," since guests can't possibly see this.


Oh, and incidentally, the Hatchet Man is one of those rare cases where you can point your finger directly at a piece of outside art that inspired it.  Davis modeled him on "The Old Witch" from Tales From the Crypt comic books.  Betcha didn't know that.  Sheesh, Marc, this one isn't even subtle.

 

There are at least three indications that WDI is preparing to raise the profile of this character considerably.  First, his face is showing up elsewhere.  Reportedly, when the Constance attic makeover took place at DL, plans included alterations to the Séance circle as well.  The faces of Connie's husbands would be seen materializing around the perimeter, or something like that.  It didn't happen.  Either the report was false, or this part of the project was postponed for one reason or another (funding? technical feasibility? manpower? scheduling?).  We did get a new effect in there, however, as the wandering Ectoplasm Ball began making faces at us.  There were more than one, but one of them was Hatch:


Why him?  Secondly, some guys from WDI just showed up one day and put a Hatchet Man portrait in the Corridor of Doors at the WDW Mansion.  According to my sources, it was a complete surprise to the Florida folk.  Bam.  Now Orlando has a portrait similar to the one at DL.  Hatch was already represented there as one of the "Sinister 11," so why this one as well?  Not only that, but a dimension has been added to his character.  Previously, you could say that his hatchet was simply the implement by which he cut his ties to the house.  But now, he's wielding it as a frightening weapon—note the shadow.


Thirdly—and this one is more subtle—WDI has apparently adopted a zero-tolerance policy toward any identification of the Ghost Host with any other character, specifically, a certain Master Gracey.  Among Mansion fans there's a very popular belief that the character in the following painting is named "Master Gracey" and that he is the Ghost Host.  Neither of these is official; it's purely fan-generated Mansion lore.


For years WDI has looked upon this with a certain bemused tolerance, and in fact the name "Master Gracey" has risen to the level of, I dunno, what you might call semi-official sanction.  But any suggestion that he is the Ghost Host has been ruthlessly suppressed in recent years.  When they put up a construction sign at the WDW Mansion during the massive refurb of 2007 that identified the Ghost Host as "Master Gracey"—dude, somebody got a stern email from On High, because they had to go to the trouble and expense of fixing the sign to eliminate this boo-boo.  We're talking about a temporary construction sign here.


Now you see it...now you don't.

(photos by Pickwickgrl)


Sheesh, that's tight.  "Who told them to change it?"  "Top men."  "Yes, but who?"  "TOP.  MEN."

And consider this dismaying observation.  Jason Surrell had a loosey-goosey attitude about this whole business in his first edition (2003) of The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies.  Speaking of the WDW Mansion, Surrell says:

"As guests enter the Foyer, their attention is drawn to a formal portrait of the master of the house hanging on the wall above the fireplace.  The master is the Ghost Host himself, or Master Gracey, if you go by the name on one of the tombstones in the family plot, although that is not the official story."

But between that edition and the second edition (2009), some Top Men evidently had a little clarification session with Mr. S.

"As guests enter the Foyer, their attention is drawn to a formal portrait of the master of the house hanging on the wall above the fireplace.  Contrary to another popular theory that has made the rounds over the years, the Ghost Host is not the master of the house—Gracey or otherwise—but merely one of 999 happy haunts."

And Jason—no fool he—gets to keep both kneecaps.

The most obvious reason for the crackdown is that the real Ghost Host is going to make a more formal entrance sometime in the future, and he's the sinister-looking Hatchet Man, not some dandy named "Master Gracey."  How all this will tie into the Constance saga is unknown at this point, but they do make a charming couple with their mutual hatchet fetish, and I find it curious that a previous concept for the Ghost Host (Mr. Meaker) is in some ways a mirror-reflection of the future bride Constance, although I'm probably better advised to put that one down to coincidence.

One way or another, it appears that WDI is preparing to tie together the Ghost Host and the attic bride in a single backstory that tells the history of the HM before it became a ghostly retreat for wandering spirits from all over the world.

22 comments:

  1. Are you calling me a "Dandy"?!
    Just Kidding, great post.

    -MG

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  2. "Previously, you could say that his hatchet was simply the implement by which he cut his ties to the house. But now, he's wielding it as a frightening weapon—note the shadow."

    There was also the DL painting that had the hatchet dripping blood.

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  3. The dripping-blood version was the handiwork of Steve Fink, who made a number of bold and not-really-authorized additions to the HM during his tenure in the "Staff Shop" at DL. His bloody Hatchet Man was tolerated because at the time there probably were no ambitious plans for the character. Since his version of Hatch was replaced at the next major refurb, in my opinion it's an aberration with no lasting significance.

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  4. Now that's a blog post. Well done.

    I've been hanging out over at Snow White's Scary Adventures for quite some time now, but I swear on occasion I can hear the howling of some beast off in the distance. At first I thought it must be coming from the dark forest where the trees like to grab at your cape and floating logs snap at your legs like alligators.

    But now I'm not so sure. That howling I hear could be coming from you HM guys because you've got a good thing going over there at the mansion.

    Keep up the good research.

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  5. Why would Disney go so far out of the way to discredit the theory that the Ghost Host is Master Gracey? I know the film doesn't exactly take the attraction verbatim, nor does it represent the ride's official story, but that's no reason to pretend it doesn't exist. This is a serious contradiction here, and it'll only serve to confuse fans of the film. And what's the point, anyway?

    If the Ghost Host isn't the dapper fellow in the portrait, then why should he be so prominently displayed when the Ghost Host's voice appears? Are we to really believe that our Ghost Host isn't as graceful and as stately as his voice suggests? Are we instead expected to believe that a skinny bag-of-bones based on a witch has that voice?

    I understand the connection regarding the noose and costume, but I also find it extremely odd that someone who is NOT the master of the house should be one of the husbands of a rich woman. So is this confirmation that the Ghost Host is indeed a former husband of the bride and committed suicide for whatever reason?

    Personally- and this is purely fan theory here- I see enough resemblance between the Hatchet Man's and the handsome fellow's costume to see a connection, but I admit the difference between their faces has me frustrated.

    I'd just be sorely disappointed if the Ghost Host turned out to be a skinny weirdo rather than a handsome devil like his voice has always suggested to me, even before the film came out and I learned about the portrait. I wish Disney was clearer about this...

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  6. Besides the Hatchet Man, there are at least two other male characters that will probably need to be incorporated into the Constance backstory at some point. One is the Hat Box Ghost, and the other is "Master Gracey," whose identification as master of the house is left intact in Surrell's book. I doubt if these will be left as loose ends, so don't worry, some accounting for "Master Gracey" will eventually be presented.

    Let me re-emphasize that I wish they wouldn't do any of this. It makes the ride more boring over time.

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  7. First off, I have to say that I absolutely LOVE your blog. I haven't seen so much new (to me) information about the Haunted Mansion in one place since I discovered Doombuggies.com when it was new. Bravo!

    Moving on, I wish wish wish Disney would just leave well enough alone with all this background business. The fact that there is no absolute story line is part of what makes the Mansion so great. There is so much to see and so little explained that the fans get to put the pieces together on their own and come up with their own unique theories. Disney trying to incorporate their own storyline is insulting. Who are they to tell me that my beliefs about the Ghost Host are wrong? And besides, contrary to popular belief, the guests don't always need things shoved down their throats. Stop pandering to us like we're morons.
    Also, I'd just like to say that I don't care for Constance as well and that I'm glad you're in that minority with me. I haven't gotten through all your posts yet so at this point I don't know what your beef is with her, but I just don't think she looks like she belongs in the Mansion. She's too clean cut and digitally pristine. She's in such contrast with the rest of the effects in the Mansion, that she sticks out like a sore thumb. Plus, I don't know what's going on with the way that her head and neck sit on her shoulders, but it doesn't look right. What's with the crooked giraffe's neck? Although, after seeing the The Honourable Mrs. Graham portrait above, perhaps it's not a coincidence. Her neck is just as long and crooked as Constance's. Eh?

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  8. do you think there is a connection between the recently announced haunted mansion movie remake and the hatchet man?

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  9. No one knows what plot elements will be part of the new movie. The script has not even been written yet. However, it is an interesting question whether the WDI powers-that-be will be tipping off del Toro about future developments in the Constance saga that they may have up their sleeves, in order to keep genuinely incompatible story ideas out of the movie.

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  10. Is it possible that George Hightower is any relation to the equally ill-fated Harrison Hightower III of Tokyo DisneySea's Tower of Terror? If so, the last few decades of the 19th century were pretty rough on the Hightower family name.

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  11. Some fans have speculated about that, but (1) Hightower is not a rare last name—I knew a Hightower family once—so it could be nothing, and (2) the characters have dates and locations attached to them, and at best they are different generations and not terribly close relations.

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  12. I suppose the "Master Gracey" portrait could be Hatchet Man as a young man. The nose isn't quite the same, but the chin and cheekbones have a certain similarity.

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  13. Except that we know what "Gracey" looked like as he grew older, don't we? Just move a couple of panels through the MG changing portrait set (he doesn't "die" until the last panel, which gives me an idea for a blog post). Anyway, WDI creates the only "reality" there is in the ride, and they've slammed the door on this one.

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  14. Um.......why does HM need a backstory? It did just fine without one for decades.

    And how is this completely un-fun and stylistically opposed attic scenario supposed to play against the recently-hyped "return" of the Hatbox Ghost, who, along with his original skeletal bride, evidenced much more flair and mastery than the chiffon-draped suppository visitors now have to endure.

    Retconning is for fanboys who write bad fanboy fiction, and, apparently, for a current generation of Imagineers who don't know when to leave the work of their predecessors (aka "well enough") alone.

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  15. In the bottom of the Ghost Host portrait from the '69 photo, is that a word?

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  16. As far as how her next husbands knew nothing about her previous killings, it happened in the 1800's. All she had to do is change towns. Nobody checked to see if you were who you said you were back then. And she had money. She could just make up a new last name and move on.

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  17. So, we've decided Constance was a Black Widow Bride in her youth. However, after George, she stops and grows to become an old maid. Why did she stop after just five husbands if she's so greedy. Obviously, she hasn't had a change of heart (pun not intended). Normally, in horror stories like these, the perpetrator has to be done in by the last one to make it stop. I bet this is where Master Gracey and our Ghost Host will come in.

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    Replies
    1. It's sheer speculation, but it's perfectly possible to come up with plausible reasons why Connie hung up her axe. Maybe she almost got caught by suspicious authorities with the George murder and decided it would be too risky to ever try it again, now that they're sure to keep an eye on her. Or perhaps she was warned by corrupt authorities that they can't keep covering for her forever and she'd better stop it. She had plenty of money now and could go legit as a respectable society lady, and there are less dangerous ways to pile up loot. Maybe it was getting boring after five times around. The thrill was gone. Been there, done that. You're right that there's a considerable gap between George and her death at a ripe old age, plenty of time for story elements to be inserted.

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  18. I was listening to the HM album Disney released in 2009 and noticed Connie sounded a lot like Little Leota, even though I know they are voiced by two different woman. Do you think this was on purpose?


    -Mel

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    Replies
    1. I hadn't really thought about it. On balance, I don't think there was any deliberate attempt to mimic Little Leota, but still, I suppose it's possible that Kat Cressida was trying to do something like that.

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  19. Ah, I see you already went into some detail about the attic and Connie's husbands. Sorry, next time I'll check future posts before going into details that I've learned.

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