I'm reluctant to blog on this topic. It's strictly an Orlando story, and I usually leave WDW history to someone with direct experience of that park, like Foxxy. Nevertheless, the Man in the Web, as he is usually called, is exactly the sort of thing this blog is about. Many of you have probably never heard of him, and for those who have, you may discover that some of what you thought you knew is wrong. At a minimum, it may be convenient to gather into one place all that is currently known about him, plus a wee bit more.
Very Long-Forgotten Indeed
I'm going to call this character "Webster" for short, and "Web" for shorter. Web is a bona fide Mansion mystery, far more obscure than his Disneyland twin, the Hatbox Ghost. Here's the skinny: Webster either was or was not in the WDW Mansion when it opened. If he was, he was quickly removed, leaving behind no photos, and if he was not, he almost was. Sources disagree over whether he was ever seen by guests, or even whether he was installed. Some say he was canceled (or removed) because he was too scary. That description, down to the last detail, could have been applied to the Disneyland Hatbox Ghost prior to 1999. That was when Imagineer Chris Merritt published archived photos of the HBG in The "E" Ticket magazine. Unlike Webster, however, the HBG had never been completely forgotten, since he appeared in the narrative and artwork for souvenir record albums and in prototype photos used by Disney for publicity purposes. Nowadays, we even have film footage and maintenance records proving once and for all that the HBG was in the ride for a brief time. But Webster has never enjoyed any such luck and remains today an enigmatic figure.
Since the WDW Mansion opened in 1971, there have been two significant discoveries about Webster. First, it was long-rumored that a piece of concept art by X Atencio existed, but the sketch was not published until 2009. You'll find it in the second edition of Jason Surrell's The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies. Thank you, Jason.
We owe the second discovery to Brandon Champlin, a Mansionologist of standing. While looking through an old WDW maintenance manual, Champ discovered a reference to Webster in a diagram of the Grand Staircase area (i.e. right after the music room). Brandon posted his findings at his now-defunct Ghost Relations Department blog in 2006. It was the first hard evidence that Webster once existed.
Web's figure number and location are on the diagram. He's P(6).
There is, unfortunately, some faulty data about Web floating around. There are two quotes from former WDW Butlers that have been widely circulated. The first is from "Shawn Potts":
Long ago, when the Magic Kingdom first opened, there was a man trapped in the spider web to the right of the Doom Buggy path, near the Grand Staircase. However, it was felt that this effect was too scary, which was probably due mostly to the fact that there was a hideous screaming sound that accompanied the effect. The man's figure was stashed under an Omnimover motor in the graveyard and was often used to scare maintenance men. By the way ... scaring each other was a very common pastime for Cast Members at the Haunted Mansion.
The second is from a former Butler who goes by "Robotwolf." On the Doombuggies.com chatboards he claimed that the Man in the Web ...
... did indeed make it to the grounds at WDW, but according to my trainer he was never installed. He was still there when I worked there - circa '86, stashed in one of the concrete pits beneath an Omnimover motor. A neat bit of trivia, to be sure. But I, personally, am glad that he was never used ... wrong type of gag for a Disney attraction.
You may now purge at least some of this from your memory banks.
First, Shawn IS Robotwolf, so there's only one voice speaking here, not two. Second, Shawn tells me that he is now certain that whatever his trainer showed him, and whatever the trainer thought it was, it wasn't Webster, so kiss that story goodbye. The other details are also "misinformation and conjecture" passed down from trainer to trainee, according to Shawn. He feels that the only real takeaway from his Butler experience (ca 1987) is that the figure was remembered and discussed, and something genuine must have inspired this to begin with. Webster existed, in other words.
Edit, Aug 2016: We can add here testimony from another former WDW butler, Ken Harrington :
I worked at the WDW Mansion and Magic Kingdom West attractions from '81-'85. When I learned the HM, my trainer took us on a grand tour underneath the Doombuggy track. Between the Grand Staircase and Seance Circle, there were a lot of square pits. Not really sure why they were there. My trainer said that the man in the web was stored in one of the pits for a long time, and they used to try to spook new butlers and maids by handing them a flashlight and saying, "Look in there." My guess, by my trainer's 5 year pin, was that he [the figure] was finally taken away from storage between '76 and '80. No idea how long he was on the ride itself.
According to Foxxy, the person most responsible for keeping the memory of Webster alive was Ginger Honetor (passed away Feb 7, 2019: RIP). She worked at the Studio in Walt's era and was around for the opening of WDW and Epcot, and she was a Maid at the Mansion for over 30 years. It was she who nicknamed the hitchhiking ghosts Phineas, Ezra, and Gus, names that eventually received official sanction. Ginger routinely mentioned the Man in the Web during her walking tours with new employees.
Walt Disney World opened on October 1, 1971, but all through September there were previews which were open to company employees, executives, and construction crews. Webster may well have been in the HM at that time and therefore was seen by many people, but he was probably removed before opening day and in that case would not have been seen by the general public. (Edit 1-19-17: Another credible eyewitness testimony from opening day tells me he saw no Man in a Web, that he certainly would have remembered him if he had been there.)
Why was he removed? According to Ginger, he was taken out at someone's insistence NOT because he was too scary but because he looked "stupid." Foxxy is of the opinion that this "someone" may well have been Dick Nunis, who was in charge of both Disney parks at the time and who had a reputation for this sort of thing. For example, he ordered the removal of these frogs from the Jungle Cruise ride just because he thought they looked dumb:
Similarly, Nunis may have decreed the removal of Webster during the September preview period. That's a conjecture, but it's the only theory I know of that accounts neatly and plausibly for all the data.
The gang over at the old LF Thread on Micechat (still going strong after more than 15 years!) has alerted us to a fascinating tweet from Dave Ensign, who worked with Lee Nessler, the guy who reportedly was told to remove Webster "right after opening." Dave says that Lee told him that Operations at WDW thought it was too gruesome, while Lee himself thought it looked corny and was glad to remove him. The body was later given a different head and ended up in the guard house (jail) at Fort Sam Clemens on Tom Sawyer Island (the name was changed to "Fort Langhorne" in 1996).
So there you have it. Strange as it seems, it appears that both motivations ("too scary looking" and "too stupid looking") may have been in play.
If you were ever in the WDW Mansion before 2007, you've at least seen the "Web" part of "Man in the Web." The Man was removed, but the roughly triangular web in which he had hung was spared. I'm told that usually you could barely see it, so dimly was it lit, but it was there.
Then and Now
Inspirations, Parallels . . . The Usual LF Stuff
The Man in the Web has ample precedent in pop culture. Everyone who has ever seen the film remembers the ending of The Fly (1958).
And here's a nice example from 1952:
Hey, look. There's even a skeleton in the web. It took awhile before I noticed it.
Foxxy points out to me a tableau in the now-extinct Snow White ride at WDW that contains
all of the individual elements of the Webster tableau. The resemblance is stronger, of course,
if we assume that Web had a spider right there with him, but that's something we don't know.
The difference, of course, is that the skeleton is chained up, not trapped in the web. The spider did move downward in this scene, but nothing suggests that he is responsible for the poor sap's demise. That is generally what happens if you're chained up somewhere and then forgotten. Nevertheless, Foxxy could have a point when she says that this Snow White tableau may have made the Webster tableau seem a little redundant, particularly, one supposes, to people like Dick Nunis.
What is Waiting for You Behind the Wall?
There were actually three related tableaux in the original Grand Staircase scene: The Man in the Web on the left, a large web with a giant spider in it on the right, and a second web with a second large spider on the left, past Webster, hidden from view by a wall jutting out between it and Webster, so that this second web was only revealed as you came up to it.
That wall is today cleverly mirrored on one side so as to visually expand the complex of staircases. Before 2007 it was "invisible" (painted flat black). The idea was apparently this: You see the grisly remains of a victim in a web on the left and slowly pass by another such web on your right. Just as you think you're in the clear, you swerve leftward toward yet another web + spider previously unseen, momentarily threatening you with the same fate as poor old Webster.
The second spider web in 2003. Tokyo still has theirs.
Coming out of that speaker below were the kinds of noises spiders make.
Coming out of that speaker below were the kinds of noises spiders make.
This whole area serves as a sort of counterpart to Disneyland's load area. There, the chain of empty
doombuggies descended through a giant spider web (complete with spider) from 1969 until 2000.
Someday, perhaps, someone will come forward with a photo of the Man in the Web, and hopefully it will also settle once and for all whether he was ever seen by the general public. But you know, it won't bother me too much if such evidence never materializes. With the crass commercialization and nauseating overexposure of the Hatbox Ghost that we've seen in recent years [Edit: plus the fact that he has returned in style, with much fanfare], I take comfort in knowing that there is still a genuinely mysterious haunt far back in the mists of Mansion history, an unsolved riddle, a ghost known today only to a few. We have to ask . . .
Is the Man in the Web the new Hatbox Ghost?