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: Imagineering a Disney Classic (NY: Disney Editions; 2015). That's the
re-named third edition of The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY:
Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009). Also essential reading is Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized
Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014; 2nd ed. 2016).

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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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Here Comes the Bride, Part Four: Constance, Hat Boxes, and the Meaning of the Attic

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(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 "middle 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).



Just in case you think I'm imagining things, some concept art for Constance throws subtlety to the wind and takes us directly back to Hat Box Ghost territory.  Oh, and notice how close this Connie is to the finished character:


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.

25 comments:

  1. You don't think the five singing busts were intended to be the five headless husbands, But maybe not, since I would have to see the pics of the wedding portraits next to the singing busts. And as for where the body was hidden near that hatbox, my money was on that trunk.

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  2. The busts are certainly not the husbands. Both sets have official names, and they don't match. And I didn't notice that any of the busts looks Chinese!

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  3. Kudos! Love your perspective of my favorite room in the mansion!!!

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  4. keep up the good work Dan!
    -SmellyO

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  5. Hungry for more posts! Great work~

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  6. What an astonishing piece! I don't think I breathed as I read!

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  7. This is so perfect! Somehow when I try to explain what I dislike about this room to my best friend who was indoctrinated into Disney Park mania in 2007 I have never been able to explain all of this. Of course writing makes it easier to lay out a line of thought but my usual discussion of the attic goes like this:

    Me: "It's wrong."
    Best Friend: "What do you mean?"
    Me: "It doesn't fit, and it is cheap. It is cheating, adding plot that never existed and tricking people into liking it with neat special effects."
    BF: "Um?"
    Me: "I don't like it."
    BF: "I still don't understand."
    Me: "It just makes me sad."

    Then I try to explain how I am not just being one of those Disney fans who will always like the original better even when the plussing has been well executed; it doesn't work, I just sound like I prefer Red-heart (BH is a much better name than the one I came up with as a child, mine sounds like a Care Bear,)because I grew up with her.

    Sad.

    I would prefer a return to a more haunting ambiguous bride, but these updates were expensive and that isn't happening any time soon.

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  8. I agree, and couldn't have said it any better. I was once drawn in by Connie's effects and corny lines, but this thematic flaw is not really acceptable.

    And once again, we come back to the HBG. The simple inclusion of his grinning and taunting ghost would bring back the more lighthearted attitude of "all is well" and yet still include the creepy atmosphere that I suppose they were trying for with Constance. And again, I seriously hope that the rumors are true about HBG possibly returning, or that WDI decides to act on them.

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  9. I don't know if this post will be allowed but I just wanted to clarify what the bible says about who will "get in to Heaven". It has nothing to do with how many good or bad deeds we have. That is a common misconception. If that were the basis of our ticket to Heaven we would all be in trouble (including me!) according to the bible in James 2:10 which says: "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." The bible says the only way to Heaven is through faith in Jesus Christ who took away our "bad deeds" when He died on the cross as shown here in John 14:6 which says:
    "Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father (God in Heaven) except through me." I am not saying this to judge anyone or tell you what to believe (although it would be awesome if you did choose to believe!), but I just wanted to make sure the Bible was represented correctly, and that the path to Heaven was clearly stated. I love the website and I love the dedication to the most minute HM details!

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  10. You know..... with the new attic scene, they could bring back the HBG... I'm just saying...

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  11. Yes! Best post I've read so far! I just discovered this blog as a bored Disney obsessed teenager looking for more information on Museum of the Weird and I am now on a mission to read as much of it as I can! Thank you!

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  12. When I first heard about the changes to the Attic, I was against them, and I'm not the biggest fan of them even now. I gained something of an appreciation for what they did, however, after doing the Disney College Program and going on a private Cast Member-only tour of the Mansion, if not for attempting to tell a coherent story then at least for all the detail they put into it. It's harder to see with the lights off, but walking around with them on, you can see Connie rising through the social/financial ranks of society with her husbands, through her wedding presents--yes, it's clear they get fancier with each one and she gets a new pearl necklace with every husband she offs in the picture, but take a closer look if you can--for every boy/girl figurine set there is, the boy one is always knocked over. There's a bird cage with each husband to prove she's "flown the coop" (except for the one that has the tiger rug and harp, because according to the Cast Members giving the tour he was a big game hunter and wasn't fond of animals), and like every set of presents, they get bigger and fancier until the last one, which is huge. Also, according to the CMs, Tokyo's Haunted Mansion and the Hollywood Tower Hotel from the Tower of Terror are also linked to Constance's fourth and fifth husbands respectively (I don't really remember how, through the fourth husband does have a lot of Asian theming to his presents and the fifth one's birdcage looks sort of like the Tower Hotel). Anyway, in regard to the post I really liked how you go really deep into what the big joke of the Mansion is, and how this major alteration adds a big "but" on to it that really isn't needed (Hey, I said I appreciated what they tried to do, it doesn't mean I like it). I just discovered your blog, and being a Mansion fan, I think I'm going to be here a while. Can't wait to read more!

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    1. Hey, thanks for the added data. Very interesting. And welcome aboard.

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  13. Just started reading your blog a little more intensely - I love it so far! Many of your "purist" arguments on things such as the new queue, HitchHikers, & Constance are very well thought-out, well-reasoned, articulate, & somewhat humorous.

    As a side note, I've also heard that opening day Constance at Disneyland originally had blood on her outfit & possibly hatchet too, but they came back like a day or so later, & it's what we see now. Do you know if there's any truth to this?

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    1. Sorry, but I disagree. The hatred and over those things is unwarranted and unjustified.

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  14. Wonderful analyst ! But, I've read somewhere an alternate reading of the original Attic, in wich the Bride was somehow the victim (of course, talking about the original brides, those identified as Emily, not Constance), along with the Hatbox Ghost: the day of the wedding of Emily (shortly before the ceremony), her husband (which could be Master Gracey, leading to an epilogue that I'll tell at the end, or the scrapped Captain Gore — you know, the husband of the Bride Priscilla in the walkthrough concepts) caught her in the attic with a young man — Hatbox. Believing that she was already betraying him with that man, he took a sword that was there in the attic (which is normal if he is Capt. Gore) and beheaded the young man, turning him into the Hatbox Ghost. Then, he somehow killed his wife. But actually, well, the Hatbox Ghost was a normal hatter, and LITERALLY a suitor: a suitor as the was who sews suits. He had come to make some last-minute changes to the Bride's dress, which the husband didn't know… EPILOGUE IF WE ADMIT THAT HE'S MASTER GRACEY/HATCHET MAN/GHOST HOST: And, then, learning what had actually happened, and as he otherwise loved his fiancee, he hanged himself.

    However, this sounds like jokes from the early walkthrough versions for the HM, and I don't know if it was still considered canon at the time the Mansion was opened.

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  15. This is perfect now that the HBG is back, and it still makes sense! Perhaps his modern incarnation lends more evidence to this theory than the older one. Even if he wasn't a personal victim of Connie's, there seems to be a greater emphasis on the whole idea. Now, he's out of her sight on the balcony but still visible to the audience, and he even laughs and looks at his hatbox while his head is inside it, as if suggesting that either he and/or the husbands were killed in this way. Perhaps justice will be served once more...
    (yes, I know this article is old, but it'll still be nice for first-time readers to see this.)

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  16. Something else I realized: The Hatbox Ghost's role now is to tell visitors what's in the hatboxes around the Attic, not just what Constance did. This is incriminating evidence that could posthumously bring Constance to justice and free the spirits of the husbands, and possibly the HBG himself. He still works in very much the same way. Riders see the boxes and know that Constance decapitated her husbands, but until they see the Hatbox Ghost, they don't put together the pieces.
    Amazing. After decades, the HBG and the Bride are filling their original story roles, the Bride of the murderer with a secret, and the Hatbox Ghost as the informer/exposer seeking mortals' help in finding justice. This was definitely planned to mirror the original concept for the attic scene, and it turned out well.

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  17. Really good piece on how the attic scene doesn't work. It's like a train wreck of bad ideas.

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  18. Back again to raise another point: While Constance is much darker than the overall mood, she's far more in tone than the original bride, who people generally prefer. This bride does inject some humor into it, although the gag does indeed seem unfinished, whereas the older Bride has no humor at all, though the HBG would have provided a necessary punchline had he worked.
    Anyhow, the Attic has always been sort of out-of-place in terms of the ride's tone, but attics are mysterious and scary, so perhaps it's just a remnant of the darker vision proposed for the ride.

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    1. You're right that the new HBG resurrects the old dynamics of the attic to some degree. It's hard NOT to associate the HBG with Connie, of course, what with the beheading motif. What's interesting with the new HBG is that it is now all but certain that he is NOT one of the five husbands depicted in the attic. (Previously, "HBG = George" was one possible option.) He could be a sixth (and presumably final) husband or part of another layer to the story (a jilted lover? someone betrothed but not married? a relative?). The hatbox motif, reinforced not only by the piles around him but the new ones in front of each husband's portrait, ties him in with them and her in some way, but the fact that he's outside the attic, even though necessitated by practical concerns, still suggests nevertheless a different storyline for him. I remain convinced that they intend to tell us more as time goes on. I wish they wouldn't.

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  19. Thanks for your work! I'm struck by a certain juxtaposition between your displeasure with the on-the-noseness of Connie and your implication that the bride having murdered her husband being present from the beginning. As I thought on your early summarization in this post: "The point of the joke, the moral of the story, the message of the Mansion, is that fear of death is overblown." I feel that there may be an additional phrase to add and an additional moral to take home. I would pose that perhaps a more accurate moral to take home is this: "Fear of death is overblown, but fear of evil in the outside world is something you should take with you." Or, perhaps in a more pun-ish version, "Don't lose your head over something natural when there are still those who would take it from you unwillingly." Thoughts?

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    1. I'm not sure I understand what you're saying.

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