(photo: Jeff Fillmore)
Here's the grim tally:
- 1869: Ambrose Harper
- 1872: Frank Banks
- 1874: The Marquis de Doom
- 1875: Reginald Caine
- 1877: George Hightower
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:
"... 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....
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:
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 predecessors. 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.
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.
UPDATE (March 2015)
It's been several years now, and the second shoe has yet to drop. It may never. You see, the man I am sure was behind the implementation of this backstory is no longer in the position to do so. He's transferred to somewhere else in WDI now, and so far there is no evidence that the new boss is interested in developing the master plan of the old boss. Alas, the glowing face effect in the Séance Circle has fallen into neglect and disrepair, and merchandise identifying the Ghost Host with "Master Gracey" appeared on the shelves in conjunction with the Mansion's 45th anniversary. It's true that Merchandising tends to do its own thing and thumb its ignorant nose at WDI, but I'm pretty sure the previous guy would have put the kibosh on such heretical items.