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).

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, July 10, 2010

Gus, the 2000-Year-Old Man

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I've just about run out of decapitation jokes and puns, so let's move a head to our next destination, which is only a few feet away.  This is yet another in our series of probes for the ultimate inspirations and cultural roots of the Mansion residents.  This one seems like a slam dunk, or is it your imagination, hmm?


Seems like a pretty good match, doesn't it?  Of course the "chain" detail is slightly different, but otherwise that sounds a lot like "Gus," as the little prisoner is known.  ("Gus," "Ezra," and "Phineas" were names given to the hitchhikers by a veteran Cast Member at WDW, and they've stuck, climbing to the level of official Disney sanction.)  Anyway, the description comes from an almost 2000-year-old ghost story,
well-known and often cited
 in surveys of beliefs about ghosts and spirits throughout history.  The story is in a letter by Pliny the Younger (ca. 62—113 AD).  You can read it HERE.  It's in a stuffy, Edwardian English translation (the only one in the public domain), so take your time, or else you can make do with this synopsis.

Pliny wants to know his friend's opinion about whether ghosts exist or not.  He relates several examples he has heard of supernatural visitations purported to be genuine.  The longest and most interesting is about a haunted house in Athens.  A chain-rattling ghost, as described above, terrified the owners so much that they abandoned the place, and no one would live there.  It was put up for rent, and a Stoic philosopher, curious as to why such a nice house was renting so cheap, learned the story and decided to take the place.  He stayed up late, alone, writing, and sure enough the ghost appeared, rattling its chains.  The philosopher pretended to ignore it, but the ghost only rattled louder and closer, beckoning the man to follow him.  The philosopher obliged, and after reaching a certain spot, the ghost vanished.  The philosopher marked it, and the next day he had the police dig it up.  They found the skeleton of a man chained like the ghost, had him properly buried, and the hauntings ceased. 

Pliny the Younger.  No, it doesn't sing.

For our purposes, the main point here is that Pliny's famous letter would likely have been part of the research into ghost lore that the Imagineers did when they were working on the Haunted Mansion.  Considering how well Pliny's ghost matches dear old Gus, we might be tempted to conclude that we have found Gus's archetype.  But it's not that easy.

It's true that the Gus we see in the ride today looks a lot like Pliny's ghost, and he always has.  Gus has changed very little over the past 40 years (unlike some others who have had noticeable hair and costume alterations), and he looks the same in both of his HM appearances, as part of the headsman trio and as one of the hitchhikers.  Here he is in 1969 (left) and today (right).

Heh.  Notice that somewhere along the line they quietly fixed the original costume discrepancy?
In 1969 he was long-sleeved in the headsman trio and short-sleeved as a hitchhiker.  Quelle horreur!

The problem is that the further back you go from this finished Gus figure to his origins on the drawing board, the less he looks like Pliny's ghost.  That's the opposite of the case we have seen with others, where the original inspiration is unrecognizable by the time it reaches the ride (The Raynham Lady —> the Attic Bride; the Tedworth Drummer —> the Graveyard Band).

Gus started out as a pudgy blob, chained at the neck.




That evolved into the character we know so well from Marc Davis's sketches:



By the way, here we have an example of how good Marc's instincts were.  It's obvious today that the hitchhiking ghosts are THE iconic characters of the HM, but how obvious was it in the beginning?  There were a lot of candidates, but Davis somehow knew that Gus was the best choice for Mansion mascot, and he gave him that role right off the vampire bat, as we have seen in the early ads he drew.

.                            I like this ad.  It's snotty.  And look at the acts they had back in the day...

Anyway, he looks like an avocado wearing a Barney Rubble costume.  He's still this odd-shaped, pudgy-looking character.  When Collin Campbell painted his interpretation of Gus, based on Marc's sketch, "emaciated" clearly wasn't in the job description as far as he could see.


With the maquette figure, we can see that Gus has acquired a real skeleton and is now on his way to scrawny, although he isn't quite there yet.



It is only with the final show figure that Gus is unambiguously a skinny old bloke.  So if Pliny's ghost is laid under contribution, it would be interesting to learn how it influenced the final design.  Maybe we should look over the shoulder of Blaine Gibson or someone like that to see what they were reading.

More Gus Talk

Just for fun.  How many of you have never noticed that the Gus of the headsman trio is holding a file, just as he is in one of Marc Davis's sketches?  Thanks to the railing in front of him, the file is hard to see, even in many photos.

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I don't know if it's a coincidence, but all three members of the headsman trio are holding cutting tools appropriate to their professions.  "I'm a knight, and with this sword I vanquish evildoers."  "I'm an executioner, and with this axe I mete out justice to criminals and enemies of the state."  "I'm a prisoner, and with this file—I escape! HA!"

Gus is also the most fleet-footed ghost in the graveyard, zipping from the headsman trio to the hitchhiking trio with lightning speed—too fast to see—and from there into your buggy (33.3% chance) with the same velocity.  Speed, he is speed.  So...the fastest ghost around is the one wearing a ball-and-frickin-chain.  How droll is that?
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11 comments:

  1. Gus wasn't my favorite HHG until the 40th HM anniversary when he joined me in my DoomBuggy every single time (and I rode it at least seven times)!

    Thanks for the great information on this little fellow.

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  2. You're welcome, and thank you for the 1980's photo of the berm graveyard that will soon make an appearance on Long-Forgotten.

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  3. I wonder if Gus was in any way inspired by Cousin It, or vice versa.

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  4. Ever since the new HHG referb, Gus is slowly becoming my favorite (I like his "insane" look).
    Also, Isn't it odd how his shackle has switched legs since 1969?

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  5. Disney Parks Blog has referred to the HHG as Gus, Ezra, and Phineas recently, so I believe that these are their officially official names now.

    -Mel

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    Replies
    1. Yes, and there are now headstones at WDW with the names, so it's safe to call them official.

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  6. I'm honestly not too sure the prisoner and Gus are actually meant to be the same character. There are similarities between the two figures, but also a number of differences, so I kinda lean more towards thinking it's a case of reusing models, like the caretaker's dog and the ghostly one by the mummy, or Ezra and Hatty.

    Admittedly though, it is funny to imagine Gus must be the fastest ghost in the whole place in spite of his ball-and-chain.

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  7. Gus can be heard both before and after he's materialized at Disneyland. I think he's probably the most "attached" hitchhiker. Voiced by Candy Candido, he can be heard hiding behind a crypt laughing near the Teeter-Totter and Swing vignette, and again as guests leave the crypt heading back into Disneyland. At least I always assumed that it was him laughing as he follows you home.

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  8. In the Marc Davis sketch that you cropped (https://image.jimcdn.com/app/cms/image/transf/none/path/saab7b36f205eb402/image/ib8a258c5d885e46f/version/1463909836/image.png), on the far left, there is a character who did not make it to the final ride (unlike the other three, namely the -- then hatbox-less -- Hatbox Ghost, the Executioner and Gus): a strange dwarf-woman holding a bomb and a lit match, who for some reason has chicken, claw-like feet. I'm very intrigued by this character. The only other HM character with claw-feet is Rolly Crump's Mistress of Evil from the Museum of the Weird (http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/disney/images/a/a2/Mistress_of_Evil_Concept_2.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20150413200541, more visible in the version presented in the "Seekers of the Weird" comic http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/disney/images/0/03/Seekers_of_the_Weird_5_Imagineer_Variant.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20150413200256). So, could this character be a MoW leftover that stuck a little longer than the rest? If you can uncover more than that, there might be matter for a post. At least, your thoughts in an answer?

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    Replies
    1. The chicken-foot thing comes from folklore and urban legends about the Devil.
      http://www.snopes.com/horrors/ghosts/devil.asp

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    2. From the site: "Numerous venerable legends describe encounters with witches or other diabolical beings whose identities are realized only once onlookers catch sight of the dancers' horse-like hooves or chicken feet."

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