This post was written before the return of the Hatbox Ghost in 2015. An additional paragraph has been added to deal with that.
(Photo by Jeff Fillmore)
Warning label. We're going to get pretty heavy here before we get light, but you'll get no apologies from me. I happen to believe that people always and everywhere keep talking about the same old things, whether they're writing big, thick theology books or scripts for situation comedies. Stupid jokes or philosophical systems—it doesn't matter. We are all natural born theologians and moralists, and darn it, we just can't help ourselves; everything we discuss with each other echoes into and out from something vast and serious. No matter how trivial and superficial we think we are being, Deep calls to Deep (Ps 42:7). Connie will show up some paragraphs down, but if what goes first is not your cup of tea...well, no doubt there's a blog out there dedicated to hidden Mickeys in the Haunted Mansions. Google, and go in peace. Rest assured that there will be another installment of "Here Comes the Bride" to deal with some of the interesting inspirations for Constance and even some intimations of her future.
It's all good.
The current incarnation of the attic bride is a unique and ambitious attempt to swell the Mansion's cast of characters and expand and solidify its backstory. No longer is the HM simply a retirement home for ghosts from all over the world, brought here by invitation but getting stuck in the fabric of the house itself until Madame Leota fixes the snag so that they can materialize and start schmoozin' and boozin'. Until now, this basic plot has been the only backstory to the HM that could claim official sanction, and indeed it accords with what the Ghost Host tells you and accounts for most of what you see. But it has never completely covered the phenomena presented. For example, the Ghost Host has a further tie to the house. (The other end is tied to his neck.) What's with that? Was he an owner at one point? That would explain why the hosting duties fell to him, and perhaps the retirement home idea was his, but it suggests that the house had its own haunted history before that.
The other thing that suggests a previous history is the attic. Attics are places of concealment, of hidden horrible secrets. Moreover, the attic has always functioned as the asterisk on the big Marc Davis joke. The first thing to do is make it clear what that joke is, because that joke accounts for 90% of the HM. That joke is the broad, firm base from which other, smaller things may deviate.
As we saw in an earlier post, at first you think the ghosts are malevolent and out to get you, but it turns out that "they pretend to terrorize" and really don't care about you at all; they just want to get to a state of comfortable materialization so that they can enjoy themselves. Ha ha, the joke's on you: you thought they were hostile, and you were wrong.
The point of the joke, the moral of the story, the message of the Mansion, is that fear of death is overblown.
That's it in a nutshell. I mean, you really don't know if it's a chamber of horrors on the other side of the veil, do you? No one really knows, right? Perhaps the scary hauntings you hear about are just naughty pranks, perhaps all is forgiven and all is well and everyone's having a jolly good time over there. So long as you don't know which is the case, you might as well take the optimistic view. That's the vision presented to you by Mr. Davis. In his portrait of the afterlife, the executioner and the knight he dispatched are now best buds. There is no revenge, no bitterness, not even any residual hierarchy of power on the other side of the grave—kings and queens are playing like children! Yeah, there are those two duelists still going at it, but it's more a matter of both of them being humorously stuck in a cycle of irresolvable earthly business than a tragic vision of implacable hatred. You almost suspect that they're doing it as a game now. After all, what happens when a ghost shoots a ghost? Is he going to die or something? See? Joke! Ever'body laugh.
Without going even deeper than we need to, we might briefly note that there is a certain resonance between this joke and traditional Christian theology, wherein Death is defeated and rendered harmless ("where is thy sting?"), and ultimately the story of the universe is told as a comedy and not a tragedy. In this sense, the Haunted Mansion is simply expressing an optimistic hope firmly rooted in Western culture. "All shall be well."
Okay, now the asterisk, now the "yes, but." Equally part of the Western and Christian worldview is the notion that the afterlife is also the place where justice is finally served (it sure as hell ain't on this side of the veil, in case you hadn't noticed). Justice implies judgment, and judgment is bad news for the bad. That happy optimistic vision hopes that enough mitigating circumstances will ultimately be found so that everybody, or almost everybody, gets off, but if the wisdom of the ages is given any weight, there remains a residual pool of those who choose evil without any possible excuse for it and put themselves beyond the reach of even the most generous of post-mortem visions.
Disney traffics heavily in traditional fairy tales, correct? You'll note that the villains in fairy tales are often very villainous indeed. It might sometimes be possible to understand them, but you cannot excuse them. They have made their alliance with Death. You cannot redeem them; what you do is, you kill them. In truth, the world of traditional fairy tales is pretty stark and grim, and Disney has always faithfully represented this fact. Fairy tales are also a good place to check out the aforementioned wisdom of the ages. It's not surprising that Davis's warm bath of good feeling has a sober asterisk attached.
The HM is just complex enough to give a nodding acknowledgment to this darker truth while celebrating the rosier vision. This could have been accomplished in a number of ways, but the route the Imagineers chose (by intuition—don't ever think I'm claiming that they sat around and thought about all of this consciously), is the detective mystery. What is it that motivates the sleuth in all of those whodunnits? Bringing the criminal to justice. Making sure the guilty party doesn't get away with it. You don't associate Sherlock Holmes with forgiveness, do you? Now ordinarily, writers of detective fiction banish the supernatural from their pages. That's because the readers are supposed to be able to figure out who did it based on clues dropped along the way. If you throw angels and demons and ghosts in there, it spoils the whole thing. No one can reasonably be expected to anticipate a deux ex machina resolution to a mystery. But the reverse is not true: crime and detection are not absent from ghost lore. Too many ghosts busy themselves with revealing where the body is hidden, or where the knife was buried, or by terrorizing the guilty into confessing their crime. These ghosts, at any rate, are not in a forgiving mood. They want justice.
In our discussion of the Hat Box Ghost, we showed that the whole attic scene originally was held together by the head-in-a-hatbox symbol, which hails from the world of crime mystery. You're in the attic, which is one of the two places in an old house where horrible secrets and crimes are hidden (the other is the cellar, of course). You see that hatbox, and you have a dreadful suspicion that there's a severed head in it, and when your suspicion is confirmed, you realize you're looking at a murder, and you wonder what happened and who did it. Like a good murder mystery, the attic gives you just enough clues to conclude that the bride is the guilty party, as we saw. What's the Hat Box Ghost up to, anyway? He's showing you what happened. Got his noggin whacked off and hidden in a hatbox. The murderer evidently got away with it, but now the victim's ghost has come back to reveal the awful truth to the world. The crime is illustrated before your eyes and it is linked to the bride via the synchronized heartbeat. Very efficient storytelling—this all takes about a second and a half. These guys are GOOD.
Note that the question of justice enters in here—you wonder who committed the crime—whereas when you see the knight in the graveyard, who is just as beheaded as the HBG is, you don't ask any such questions. The perp is right there, after all, and neither of them care any more, and you don't even know which was in the right and which was in the wrong. And you don't care either. You regard the two beheading victims in completely different ways. Creepy atmosphere + a hatbox in the attic = bingo, you're in murder mystery land.
Oh, all right, I hear those fingers drumming on the tabletop. You've been good, so here. Here's a few more Connie shots by Jeff Fillmore (aka ~Life by the Drop~ at flickr). She's miserably hard to photograph, and I don't know how he does it, but IMO Mr. F. has got the best Connie shots on the Web.
From beginning to end, the attic scene has never been free of the grisly-hatbox symbol. It is just as fundamental as the bride herself. We noted how the two blast-up ghosts were skullish heads popping from hatboxes. They were there from 1969 until 2006. You can go back earlier. Here again is a shot of the scale model, which we've seen before:
Let's pan to the right and see what got cropped out. Well looky there. I see two hatboxes, and one of them is suspiciously isolated. You look inside, I just had dinner.
Next up, some Claude Coats concept art for the attic:
Well, I'm not so sure that it isn't an innocent hatbox in this case. But this is an attic. No doubt something horrid is hidden there. Any guesses where the body is? Possibly the trunk, but if you didn't think, "Maybe walled up in the brickwork of that chimney," you really need to read more books and see more movies. See how it works? They know that you just know these things.
When they were kicking around ideas for a New Bride in the mid-2000's, there was a range of ideas put out there for consideration. One widely-reproduced sketch that passes as "concept art for Constance" actually stayed very close to the then-current bride. Still has the candle, still has the beating heart, still has the bouquet, and still has the blank white eyes. Just a coked-up version of the previous, "blue-faced" bride, really.
Oh, and if you come across a less-severely cropped version...well whaddya know:
Here's the Frank tableau in the finished make-over at Disneyland:
Nice. And here's a piece of concept art for it. (Nudge nudge: lower left, atbox-hay on the oor-flay).
Ewww. That'll put you off your Eggs Benedict.
Reportedly, there were plans to put a stack of five hatboxes across from Constance in the HBG's old spot, with the names of her five husbands on them. Hatbox city. One report even suggested that they would light up and glow from within. That didn't happen, but they did put a hat-rack there, with hats on it matching Connie's hubbies in the portraits. Heh heh. When they put Constance into the WDW attic in 2007, they too got a hat-rack, but they also got the stack of hatboxes. No name tags or lights though.
Wouldn't want to be in there on a warm day. Notice the swords laying around. You don't suppose that means anything, do you?
With the grisly-hatbox symbol, you've got CRIME looking for PUNISHMENT. You've uncovered something deliberately hidden. There's a murderer out there somewhere, a score to settle, a vengeance yet denied. Question: How has the attic bride always been different from most of the other ghosts you see? Answer: She's not happy. No socializing for her. Even Constance is only experiencing the lunatic glee of the criminally insane. If you insist on calling it "happy," then it's kind of a Charles Manson happy, you know? I wouldn't say she's happy. She's not forgiven or forgiving, not within the embrace of any resolution. But is justice being served? Well, if she wasn't so utterly wacked-out, she'd realize that she's exposing herself and being exposed. Hattie with his damning heart-beat box is gone, but now we've got five haunted wedding portraits with the husbands' heads disappearing. Those portraits are five ghostly fingers from beyond the grave laying accusation. And yet, those guys aren't happy either, and they don't even get the relief of being too crazy to care. You don't see forgiveness, but you don't see just deserts either. The ghostly revelations inspire no remorse in Connie, and she's suffering no reprisal. Her madness has taken her to a place without punishment, but also without love.
This is a very sour note in the HM, and it may well be a thematic blunder. The Connie addition is seriously flawed. Unlike the knight and executioner, there has not been any post-mortem reconciliation in this case. They're grim ghosts without the grinning part. If there were a way to show the husbands yukking it up with Connie, all of them laughing at the silly fuss their earthly crime drama stirred up, then they'd be part of the Marc Davis all-is-now-well joke. Or, alternately, if the hubbies were allowed to show some sense of satisfaction that at last the murderer has been caught out, putting their spirits to rest, avenging them, giving them something to grin about like the old Hat Box Ghost, then they would fit into the traditional role of the attic as the "justice must be satisfied" asterisk added to the otherwise merry universalism of the Haunted Mansion. As things stand, the message of the attic is, "the Devil wins," however lightly and humorously expressed. Yes, you will survive death and live forever; but no, there is no guarantee that you will find either justice or forgiveness on the other side. That's a common enough stance in modern horror, of course, but it is utterly foreign to the Mansions. Or it was, until May 2006.
Now that we've arrived at the current incarnation of the attic bride, here would be
the place to place two handy murals, showing the character down through the years.
At Disneyland, the Corpse Bride version of Beating Heart was the original, lasting from Aug 1969 until the late 70's. Black-faced Beating Heart replaced her and lasted until 1995. Then it's the blue-faced bride, unveiled or veiled (1995—May 2006), and Constance (May 2006—now).
At WDW, we started out with a somewhat milder version of the Corpse Bride (Oct 1971—1973), followed by a black faced version until 1997. Blue face, with wild hair, lasted from 1997 to 2007. Constance debuted in the fall of 2007.
Now that the Hatbox Ghost has returned, what are we to make of the attic? Not only did he return, but oodles of hatboxes came with him. He's got three stacked on his left and five on his right. Not only that, but one conspicuous hatbox has been added to each of the five tableaux featuring the husband portraits. Obviously the latter detail is supposed to raise the horrifying suspicion that Connie has kept each head as a souvenir. But I don't know what to make of the piles of extra hatboxes that came with HBG2. Egads, are we to think they too contain heads? Or if that seems improbable, are they there perhaps to tease us? to tell us, "You know, sometimes a hatbox is just a hatbox" and cast doubt on our suspicions? I don't know.