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, May 23, 2015

Happy Haunts Materialize: The Hat Box Ghost Returns

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Let's cut right to the chase. I think he's good. (Our post on the original HBG is HERE.)


pix above and below from Disney Parks Blog 


Here are some 3D's in different sizes. Find your "magic eye" comfort level.






On May 9, 2015, the legendary Hat Box Ghost reappeared after a nearly 46-year absence. When it was announced that no, really, this time for sure, no foolin', the HBG was going to return to the HM, and a temporary construction wall went up to prove it, there were not a few among us more worried than excited. Hatbox is a cult figure, one for the true blue doombugs, and among them there is a solid consensus that when it comes to the Haunted Mansion, the track record of Walt Disney Imagineering over the past decade has left something to be derided. You can review the bullet points below if you want particulars, or you can skip them if you'd rather bask in the 100% positive vibes currently washing over the Long-Forgotten blogsite.


Why We Were Weelly, Weelly Worried
  • Floating Leota (2005) has never gotten anything more than a lukewarm response. The change felt, and still feels, wrong. Here's where treating this thing like a work of art proves its worth. What had always been the calm, stabilizing center of the ride was now simply another floating object. Everything about her—her chronological placement in the show flow, her pivotal position in the three-act play that is the Haunted Mansion, even her physical location in the room—announces that "here is the center, the eye of the storm." Nothing was gained and something was lost when she took flight.
  • The marked improvement in the way the changing portraits work (also 2005) and the gratitude from traditionalists for returning the presentation to its original lightning-flash mode was spoiled somewhat by disappointment over the removal of the beloved April-December portrait. Some of us have never forgiven them for that. I think she is missed more than they figured she would be. I think there are Imagineers who miss her more than they thought they would.
  • Constance (2006) is intensely disliked by the hardcore fans. Not only is the effect poorly done, but we all resent having a story shoved down our throats. The attic has been turned into a tedious interlude between the ballroom and the graveyard. In fairness, there is some nice special effects work with the five wedding portraits, but I'd take a single blast-up spook over the whole lot of them any day.
  • On the other hand, the 2007 "Rehaunting" of the Orlando Mansion was for the most part a smashing success, especially the Escher-like staircases. The sound system and augmented soundtrack in the stretching gallery have also been well received. The ghostly eyes that segue into the wallpaper upstairs are imaginative and appropriate. The only real sour note here has to do with the baffling Disneylandification of the Orlando Mansion, watering down its unique personality in a pointless attempt to make it more like the Anaheim original. The Disneylandish changing portrait hall (goodbye "Sinister 11" and their watchful eyes) and the redecoration of the COD are probably the chief offenders here. Foxxy simply wants to know why, and others among us do too.
  • The 2011 interactive queue at WDW remains the worst thing that has ever happened to any of the Mansions in their entire history.  Bring on the bulldozers. The CG mirror hitchhikers are marginally better but still inferior to what they replaced. In a haunted house, "Oh, they just do that with computers" cannot compare with, "Wait. How do they do that?" And there is still no possible excuse for a CG Ezra that doesn't even look like Ezra.
So you can see why May 9 was anticipated with anxiety and suspicion. What were we going to do if they totally screwed up the Hat Box Ghost? We'll never know, because they didn't.

There is a vast amount of great videography and photography out there. (HERE, HERE, HERE for video; HERE, HERE, HERE for photos, and there's plenty more where that came from.) There is an official Disney video HERE.


Random Observations

He's not inside the attic, in his original position, but a few yards away, just outside the exit. Not much was there previously:


Thanks to friends in low places, I know that they've been seriously considering that location for the HBG since at least 2009. The reason is that they can control the lighting better in that location than they can inside the attic. In fact, I'm told that a HBG figure was actually installed and tested in 2009. There were problems, but they were still going ahead with the project, hoping to have him ready for the Mansion's 40th anniversary, but the plug was pulled at the last minute.

The entire area out there has been beautifully redesigned as a large porch with a pergola, including (faux) wrought ironwork somewhat similar in design to what the HM has out front.  Behind the HBG are double doors partially open. There is a group of fanged and red-eyed bats inside, hanging upside down and extremely difficult to photograph. Here's the best I've seen so far:

pic by Macro at Micechat

Some think that possibly this is a nod to an unused piece of Marc Davis concept art we've posted more than once:


There are hatboxes everywhere. Each of the five wedding portraits inside the attic now has a hatbox nearby, there is a stack of three more in front of the HBG to his left, and there's another pile of five on his right, some of them stacked on a hand truck. Since hand trucks are not exactly stereotypical haunted house paraphernalia, one suspects that a story item will eventually emerge involving the arrival or retrieval of gobs of hatboxes. Presumably, this will tie the new guy back into the attic scene. Not really looking forward to that, but at least for now it's a mystery.


So, What's Not to Like?

According to some, plenty.

Some Mansion fans don't like the new avatar, predictively enough, and I suppose some of them may wonder why yours curmudgeonly truly seems so satisfied with the new HBG. For whatever they're worth, here are my responses to some of the objections that have been raised.

The number one complaint is that he's got a computer generated face that wriggles and smirks. Everyone knows that's what it is, so there goes all the mystery. "Oh, it's done with computers" = no magic, remember? The CG hitchhikers at WDW are horrible. The HBG isn't as bad as they, but can't we keep the cartoons out of the Mansion?

In response, let me point out that Madame Leota, Little Leota, and the Singing Busts also have CG faces that wriggle and smirk (let's leave Connie out of this for now). Hmm? What's that? You say they're not CG? They're film of actual faces? You're right, of course, but I wonder what percentage of new riders under the age of 30 or so unthinkingly assume that those faces are CG images. Our thorough knowledge of the difference between the two ways of projecting a face may keep us from seeing how similar the results have become. Mansioneers, we'd better face the fact that the days are gone when the "Leota Effect" inspires gasps of surprise and wonderment as to how it's done, even if the way these Millennials think it is done is wrong! "Oh, it's CG" is the new "Oh, it's a hologram."

There isn't that much wriggling and smirking anyway. His eyes blink and his pupils move. I find it hard to believe that Yale Gracey would not have incorporating those features in the original figure if he could have found a good way to do so. So far as I can tell, the only other animation that takes place is when his eye sockets squint angrily. I find it easy to accept this bit of cartooning because it is consciously designed and directed toward the creation of a particular effect that cannot be done otherwise. Several riders have noted how downright creepy it is when Hattie seems to make direct eye contact with you at one point and gives you a fiendish scowl. Well, his face has to react in some way for such an effect to be achieved. Add to this how surprisingly close the new HBG stands to the doombuggies, and we're told you can get a real chill from the new HBG, going right down your spine. In pursuit of such a worthy purpose, a bit of animation is absolutely necessary. I say huzzah and congratulate them for their remarkable restraint in this area.


We are all grateful that the face itself is scrupulously faithful to the original.



We were worried that the art direction for the project was going to hark back to the original Marc Davis concept sketches,
or try to find a "happy medium" between the two approaches. This pseudo-animation cell has been out there for a year or so.


Marc's original sketch has been published and posted many times. Here's a close-up:


(Note that the doorway and the bats from this concept sketch have been adapted and incorporated.)


By the way, I suppose it's heresy, but I've always thought the face in that second sketch is weak. Even the great Marc Davis didn't give us the Sistine Chapel every time out, and in my opinion this simply isn't one of his best.

Here's another point. With the CG hitchhikers, you watch them like you'd watch a cartoon show. In contrast, the face of the HBG isn't really the show itself; it's more like an element in a show. The HBG is a solid, fully-dimensional AA figure, much praised for its fluid and yet restrained movement (there's that word again). It's just enough to say, "Yes, I'm alive" without saying, "Look, I can dance!" It serves as the stage for a show, and not just any show but a magic show.


It's Magic!

It took us all of two days, I think, to figure out how the trick is done. I won't spoil it for you. (There's probably a "spoiler" cloaking device somewhere around here at Blogger, but pthh, I'll just put the Forbidden Knowledge in a Comment.) Suffice it to say that the trick involves scrim, a two-way mirror, clever misdirection, a basically simple mechanical gimmick, a "black art well," and strategically placed lighting. In other words, we're essentially back in front of a 19th century magic show, the main difference being that the rabbit popping in and out of the hat is a dummy rabbit with a modern, inner-projected face. The official Disney video for the debut of the new HBG refers to the use of "fundamental tricks and illusions" already pioneered by Yale Gracey. That's true enough:


Sketches by Yale Gracey

It's already the case that guesses as to how it's done generally make it more complicated than it is.
In my book, that's one of the signs of a good magic trick. All of this warms the heart, let me tell you.

Since virtually every explanation of why the original effect didn't work says that the figure was just too close to the track for the face to convincingly disappear, I have to wonder if the placement of the new figure right in your effin' face bespeaks a certain triumphalism after so successfully licking the problem. Fun to think so, anyway. A little end-zone dance would be fully justified.

gif from Tumblr

The magician most directly responsible for pulling this thing off is Special Effects
Designer Daniel Joseph, seen here (right) with show producer Jeff Shaver-Moskowitz (left).


I understand that calling Mr. Joseph a great admirer of Yale Gracey would be quite the understatement, and the opportunity to pick up one of his master's projects that couldn't work in 1969 and getting it to work in 2015 is something he has described as "a project of passion and a dream. Something I've dreamt of working on since I was a boy. We hope you are proud Yale, you will always by my idol!"


More Quibbles

There have been a few other complaints about the new figure. The main one is his laugh. Throughout the Mansionariat there is uniform agreement that the chuckle is too robust. We all think it should be a scratchy, nutty, old-man cackle, not this deep rumble that could be a Paul Frees Ghost Host outtake. Though I agree with the criticism, it's not a deal breaker for me. Maybe I'm too grateful that a simple chuckle once per cycle is all they put in there. We had nightmares of him chattering away like Connie's fraternal twin.

Another quibble: they didn't bring back the quivering hand on top of his cane (which is the one feature I remember most vividly from the original HBG). This too makes him seem less the old man that he was. But here again, I can't get too worked up. Quick, violent vibration is sheer hell on machinery. Eventually it shakes things to pieces. If you want proof, just look at this well-known and unique shot of the original HBG in situ. It's a few weeks old at maximum, and his wrist is already shot.



The End of the Quest

Like any long journey, when it finally ends there's a bit of a letdown. We've all been bellerin' "Bring back the Hat Box Ghost!" for so long that it's hard to believe it's happened. And now that's done. Cheer up, you Mansionites, there's always Miss April!


Start beating the drum . . . MAY APRIL MARCH!



Post Script: The Beginning of the Quest

It occurs to me that no one has ever documented the "Bring Back the Hat Box Ghost" movement that led us finally to May 9, 2015. In our previous post on the HBG, I was content with explaining in some detail why and how he became a legend, but I touched only briefly on the public discus-sions which generated the "put him back in the attic" fanatic fan antics (say it ten times real fast). Now might be a good time to take a look back.

It all began in the letters section of E-Ticket Magazine.  Issue #16 (Summer 1993) featured a long article on the Haunted Mansion, which inspired the following letter from Michelle Hill in the next issue (#17, Winter 1993-94):


And so the opening shot is fired. Note that she not only remembers him, she misses him. The editors (Jack and Leon Janzen) answered her letter with the following: "We were aware of your headless ghoul as we prepared the Haunted Mansion story. We've seen original ride layout plans which indicate his exact location in the Attic, opposite from the Bride and to the left [sic] of the vehicles. He's not the Groom...early written treatments say that's the corpse hanging by the neck in the 'stretching room.' Our best information prior to printing #16 (we did ask around...) was that this figure never made it into the ride as opened. Can anyone else confirm Michelle's memory...?" 

The next issue featured a great many letters in response (#18, Spring 1994, pp 34-35). Sometime in the interim it apparently became customary to refer to him as "the Hat Box Ghost" (or "the Hatbox Ghost"). The editors opened the section by noting that Michelle Hill's letter had "spurred additional comment from readers. We were challenged to find a photo of him, so here's a rare shot of the ghost with his mentor, Yale Gracey, and some of your opinions regarding the existence of the 'Hat Box Ghost' in the original Haunted Mansion..." According to Michelle Hill, they got the photo from Tony Baxter. It was one of the publicity photos of the prototype figure with Yale Gracey that we discussed in the earlier HBG post. No one yet realized that it was not the actual figure but a prototype.


The letters that followed were interesting.

"...In response to Michelle Hill's letter re: the "Hatbox Ghost" in the attic, I have a few bits of information about that long-vanished spectre. A composite photo featuring this character was included in the old Disneyland hardcover souvenir book (pg 89 of 'The First Quarter Century'). Confusion as to this character's identity is due in part to the sound track album in which Thurl Ravenscroft describes the evil figure and then identifies the female spook as his bride. I hope I've either added some light, or some enshroudment" - Brent Swanson, Idaho Falls, ID.

"I can provide some corroborating evidence on the Mansion's 'Hat Box Ghost' legend. Indeed this ghost was planned to appear in the attic with the bride, and according to the Disneyland LP record based on the attraction, he is indeed her groom. His photo appears on page 89 of the DL souvenir book with the white cover. Whether this ghost actually was in the Mansion or not, I seem to remember him but I was barely seven years old when the Mansion opened (and no doubt I spent most of the ride with my hands over my eyes). If they built him, they must have used him at least for awhile. I've seen a ride layout used to familiarize new workers with the show, and it shows the 'Hat Box Ghost' to the right of the Bride and the track. Hopefully another reader will provide a definitive answer, because I'd like to know myself" - Scott Weitz, Burbank, CA.

Both these letters refer to this page in the Disneyland: The First Quarter Century book:


We mentioned this in the previous HBG post. The same page appeared in subsequent editions of the book (...First Thirty Years, ...First Thirty-Five Years). The most significant thing is that this was probably the first reuse of one of the old publicity photos in the more permanent format of a book rather than in ephemeral publications like newspapers and magazines.

The next letter is especially interesting:

"To answer your question about whether the 'ghoul with the hat box' made it into the Haunted Mansion, the answer is yes! He appeared in the attic to the right of the exit, where the Bride is now. A photo of him appears on pg 2 of the 1968 WDP Annual Report, where WED designer Yale Gracey adjusts him for his appearance. It was one of my favorite figures in the ride. I also remember his face was later blacked out (showing only his other face in the hat box) before he was removed. I missed him and wished they would put him back in the ride" - Brett R. Thompson, Pasadena, CA.

The descriptions of the figure and his location are accurate. The reference to a 1968 publication indicates that the Yale Gracey publicity photos had already been taken by then, and so the HBG character was obviously planned for the attraction by then. (In my first HBG post I reported erroneously that the photo session dated to early 1969.) Most interestingly for our purposes, this is the first time we hear anything like a plea to bring back the Hat Box Ghost. It will be 21 years before it happens.

"I can confirm Michelle Hill's Haunted Mansion nightmare. The ghoul in the attic was definitely in place when I first rode the Haunted Mansion on August 10, 1969 (my 23rd birthday). He was positioned approximately where the Bride is now located, so as to be one of the last things you saw before exiting to the graveyard scene. The bride was located on your left as you passed the first set of leaping heads (just to the right of the door to the doombuggy storage area). Another change from day one is a shortening of the Ghost Host's narration in the hall area. He used to talk virtually the entire length of the hallway and therefore was a bit distracting. I'd love to see a copy of the original script as I don't remember what he said in that area" - Chuck Nathan, Tucson, AZ.

Again, the descriptions are all accurate. The extra dialogue Chuck refers to is, of course, the "All our ghosts have been dying to meet you..." and "Perhaps Madame Leota can establish contact..." lines, which were there in the beginning and have been in and out several times since then. More importantly for our purposes, this letter solidifies the chronology of events in those first few days: the HBG was there for the CM "soft opening" August 7-8, he was removed for the quasi-official grand opening to the public August 9, and from this letter we know that he was already reinstalled by the 10th. We don't know about the next few days, but I saw him on Thursday the 14th.

"I too have considered the Haunted Mansion an all-time favorite attraction. The mystery of the elusive attic Groom figure (or lack of such) has mystified me. I specifically recall seeing a photo of the finished Audio Animatronic figure in a circa 1970 issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland in an article about the attraction. This same photo appears in Walt Disney's World of Fantasy by Adrian Bailey, and appears to have been photo-graphed in the ballroom setting. I would be curious to know exactly why it was retired from the cast of 999" - Brian Follansbee, Concord, NH.

The photo in the "Famous Monsters" article was none other than the one printed on that same page of E-Ticket, the publicity shot in which Yale is on the left holding the head down in the hatbox.

The editors then introduce the last letter. (The elliptical punctuation is original.) "...our final comment on the enigmatic Hat Box Ghost comes from Walt Disney Imagineering's Tony Baxter..."

"Dear Leon and Jack ... I'm including a general show set plan which may help to enlighten the Haunted Mansion Mystery. It clearly and accurately describes the location of the hat-box ghost and also calls out the original location of the bride (just ahead of the current placement and on the opposite side.) My guess is the bride is currently in the exact location of the hat-box ghost as their [sic] would be a hole in the floor for the base frame of the figure that would be usable at this point." 

"During the pre-opening week, August 1st through 7th, employees were invited to ride, and during the test for ride durability, we were able to ride two to four hours at a time without getting off. The hat-box ghost was installed and running during this period. It is possible that guests also rode the attraction in this time frame and saw the figure. The gag was to have his head become invisible and then appear in the box and constantly reverse back and forth. Unfortunately they couldn't get the head on the body to vanish effectively in this location. My theory is that it was designed to work in the same way as the ballroom and they tried to adapt the effect to this more conventional location and it wasn't convincing. The bride stood in front of a bunch of props that were also later removed. It seemed like a lot of drapery material made from transparent plastic."

"The original sound track from September, 1969 shows tracks that have later been removed and others that are currently buried by noise. Most memorable to me during that first August preview week was the complete 'Toccata & Fugue' as in Fantasia played throughout the graveyard queue while waiting to enter. This did a lot to build anticipation. The crow played a bigger role, but it was very damaging to the eerie nature of the show and has been minimized." Tony discusses some unrelated matters and concludes with, "I hope this helps clear up some mysteries of the Mansion, sincerely..." - Tony Baxter, Walt Disney Imagineering, Glendale, CA.

Most of this letter has been previously available at Doombuggies.com for a long time. The note about the original location of the bride as "just ahead of the current placement and on the opposite side" is peculiar, and the original props around her subsequently removed have been discussed elsewhere. It is well known that Tony's theory here to the effect that a "Pepper's Ghost" technique was used with the HBG was likely inspired by the Yale Gracey publicity shots and is incorrect.


Enter Chris Merritt

There things lay until E-Ticket Magazine #32 in the Fall of 1999. Most of you have never seen and never will see the actual article, so in the interest of making historical documents available, here 'tis.




The wide circulation of these photos and the information in this 1999 article probably did as much as anything else to fuel an informal campaign to bring back the HBG, which—to be frank—was mostly just fans moaning on chatboards about how much they'd like to see him returned, how technology surely must exist that would enable it, and so on. This sort of talk appeared regularly at the fora of Doombuggies.com, at Micechat, and elsewhere—all of which sources were and are monitored by WDI. Imagineers like Chris Merritt and Tony Baxter had felt the love right away and eventually started lobbying for the project, but without the 1993-94 discussions in the letters section of E-Ticket, I don't suppose any real awareness of him would have surfaced, and the snowball may never have gotten rolling.


62 comments:

  1. Huh. I'm willing to bet that that field trip into the archives on Tony's part is why the CoD narration returned at Disneyland in '95. It's also nice to know that it did indeed play during the first few days of operation, for no other reason than that it strengthens my argument that the narration was removed for good reason.

    Oh, and great article. :) Yay Hatbox Ghost! I hope they don't bring him to Florida. He is a Disneyland-specific character and belongs to that legacy.

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    1. Thanks! Glad you dropped by; I had forgotten to put in the link to your plea for Floridian integrity. It's there now.

      It's always been known that those COD lines were there at the beginning. One of the August '69 newspaper reviews quotes them (from memory, inaccurately, which means not from some random Disney publication but from experiencing them on the ride).

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    2. Very selfish of you to want him to remain exclusive to Disneyland.

      I hope the imagineers don't share your elitist attitude.

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    3. There's a rumored refurb that's supposed to occur at the WDW Mansion at the beginning of 2016, and I'm almost certain he'll be added then.

      Also, he's not a "Disneyland-specific" character at all. An identical HBG was made for WDW's Mansion but never used. I've seen photos of it with my own eyes.

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    4. It has long been claimed that the photos I think you are referring to (four of them, two of which are seen in the Merritt 1999 article above) are actually photos of the WDW figure and not the DL figure. That report is wrong. Those photos are indeed of the DL figure. It is a 100% certainty. Also, while it's true enough that they made two of everything while creating the DL HM, knowing that the WDW HM was coming, it's also true that the duplications were NOT all done simultaneously, as counter-intuitive as that sounds. Hard evidence exists for dating when the behind-the-scenes footage in the 1970 Osmonds special was shot, and believe it or not it was filmed well after the DL ride was up and running! Those are in fact the still-incomplete WDW props and figures they're working on. One scene shows them using a very incomplete HBG figure in a comic pose, holding the water cup used by a painter as he works on a ballroom figure. That, my friends, is the only known photography of the WDW HBG figure. Not only is it incomplete, but by the time that footage was shot, the DL figure was history, a failed effect. Which means the WDW figure would never have been completed, and that explains why the unfinished figure was just sitting around and available for use as a comic cup holder. Alas, at that point it was nothing more than a discarded prop.

      Which doesn't mean there are no plans for putting the HBG into the WDW HM. They don't care if he has a traditional association with the Orlando ride; they only care if he's a popular draw in Anaheim. If he is (and it sure looks like it), you can bet there will be a push to put him in WDW too.

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    5. He's not coming to Florida, at least not anytime soon. The art director for their Mansion wants to make a version that's supposedly a bit more true to the original, with less of the "cartoonish" look that Disneyland's has. Word was that he would use a CG face similar to that of their Ezra figure.

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    6. That's very confusing. The CG face of WDW's Ezra is FAR more cartoony than either the new DL figure or the original figure.

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    7. Well, that's subjective. Some would say that the scrunched-up face of DL's Hatbox Ghost (which had a tendency to turn purple in the first few months of its operation) is more cartoonish than WDW's detailed Ezra figure. Opinions aside though, you have to admit that the new figures at WDW look far superior to their pre-2011 counterparts. If it's a hasty job, they could always just duplicate the Hatbox figure from California and then render a CG version of Ezra's face that they'd then project onto there.

      To draw a similar comparison for a moment, look at Constance. The Floridian version is far superior to Disneyland's. Partially because it's a different video file with different footage altogether. My guess is that was the art director's call.

      ALSO... To go back to your bullet point about her in the beginning of this post, I feel like a lot of her naysayers would be singing a different tune if California's looked as good as Florida's. The effect is done much better and the HD video file is simply a thing of beauty.

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    8. I'm treading carefully here because you sound as if you have insider status and if so no doubt know many thing I don't, but I'm still a little confused. I agree wholeheartedly that the new Ezra animatronic at WDW is great (except maybe the hair, but that's a different matter). No, when I say "cartoonish" I mean the CG guy hopping around in the mirror. He's inexcusable. He doesn't look much like the figure at all. The hands alone are cause for consternation. As for the DL HBG2.0 having a scrunched-up face, again, I'm confused. The story is that Joseph et al strove to do the very thing you describe: do a CG version of the original head and project it onto a mask with the same contours as the original. These guys worked from the original HBG mold. So far as I'm able to see from all the photography, they did a good job of faithfully duplicating the original head, said purplish trend notwithstanding.

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    9. You needn't be confused, I am indeed referring to the Ezra animatronic. As far as the mirror effect goes, I agree with you, it can go eat a dick. If/when the art director would make his own Hatbox, it would be more so based on the face of the ANIMATRONIC of Ezra, and not as much the 2D mirror ghost. I think, more than anything else, it's just him (the art director) wanting to give his own take on Hatbox. After all, he is a protegé of Blaine Gibson, who sculpted the original face for both Ezra and Hattie.

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  2. Okay, here's the SPOILER comment I promised, explaining how the effect is done. Here's your warning: proceed no further if you don't want to know.

    The head on the shoulders is a molded face, like a mask, with a rear-projected image and real hair on the two sides. As the projector switches off, the face drops down and back between the shoulders, turtle-like. It's too dark inside his collar there to see anything once it's down, as everything's painted black (the "black art well" trick). Some of the youtube videos are in slow motion, and you can plainly see the head shooting back. As it does so, a spotlight comes on that plays down the front from the shoulders to the knees (approximately) before breaking up. If you happen to detect the face's withdrawal (or even if you don't), the face and that spotlight seem to be one and the same thing, giving the illusion that his face mysteriously transports through his body. It's ingenious that if perchance you notice the face withdrawing, it looks like it's part of the show.

    The hatbox is classic Yale Gracey-type trickery. Most of the front is taken up with a window composed of scrim (?) or something like it. A two-way mirror bisects the interior. What looks to the eye like the back half of the interior is simply the front half reflected. The face is right behind the mirror, and when it lights up, you can see it (exactly like the original HHG mirror gag). Because outside of the lit-up face the mirror is still functioning as a mirror, it looks for all the world like the head is floating in three-dimensional space in the center.

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  3. Wait, so the "Perhaps Madame Leota can establish contact..." line has been taken in and out of the ride multiple times before? What the heck for? It's been bugging me for the past few years that it's not currently there. Madame Leota gets no proper introduction now! As the only named character on the ride I can't help but feel like we lose a bit of her that way. The Average Joe certainly has no idea who she is now. I think that should take its place in the next "Bring It Back!" movement right alongside April. This is of course the nit-pickiest of fanboy grousing, though, I admit.

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    1. People ask about them all the time. "All our ghosts have been dying to meet you. This one can hardly contain himself....Unfortunately, they all seem to have trouble getting through. Perhaps Madame Leota can establish contact. She has a remarkable head for materializing the disembodied." People ask about them all the time. They were in very briefly at the very beginning, then taken out for 26 years. In 1995 they were restored, and stayed in for 11 years. In 2006 they were taken out and stayed out for six years, except for a brief reappearance in January 2008. Since 2012 they've come and gone, usually for less than a month, and more usually out than in. The switchover from HMH and back again seems to trigger it.

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    2. HBG2, you are right about the physical head's disappearance - but I have seen the figure up close out of show conditions on multiple occasions. The head inside the hatbox is a projection onto a transparent sheet. There are no mirrors involved. The projector is located inside the box. While it looked great on the 9th, the projection inside the hatbox is already starting to have problems. It is getting dimmer every day making it easier to see for what it is.

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    3. I was basing my analysis in part on what you see in the official video, where there appears to be a mirror inside the box. Also, if the face is only a projection onto a transparent sheet, how does it manage to be three dimensional?

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    4. I should have been more descriptive, the transparent sheet is vaguely curved into the shape of a head. Whatever the material is, its not glossy. Another scrim perhaps? The one thing for sure though is that there is a projector at the base and there is no physical head in the box.

      This should be of some interest to you: In the event a guest or object attempts to get close to the ghost the animation will cycle until the part where the head disappears. The head will then stay inside the torso, turtle style with all body movement stopped. No head in the box either. It is as if the ghost disgraced by your intrusion just ups and leaves the building. Maybe that's what happened back in '69.

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    5. A mask-like, semi-transparent face with a rear-projected image is exactly what I had in mind, so there's no contradiction there. The question is, how does it completely disappear? In the video you can plainly see that there's a mirror in the box. A two-way mirror directly in front of the face would/should work beautifully. It would reflect the empty front half of the interior, giving a perfect illusion of emptiness. The scrim across the front of the box would prevent any reflection of anything out in front of the figure, where we are. That part of the illusion takes advantage of the scrim effect going both ways. If you're on the dark side looking through a scrim at the bright side, and there's a mirror over there, the reflection will only show the opaque surface of a scrim as seen from the light side looking at a scrim with darkness behind it.

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    6. If there is no mirror, and the hat box ghost is projected from the front, rather than from behind, then the illusion of an empty hatbox is a projection as well. Seems possible, and originally I thought this was the illusion.

      Seems complex, yet with a pretty good video mixing board, dialing in the proper shading and lighting perhaps. But then there's that hair!

      Could it be possible though? Are we just watching a projected image of the inside half of a hatbox, then a highlighted ghost on an indentated scrim?

      Wild!

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    7. I'd call that a good example of postulating a solution to a trick that is much more complicated than the truth. Again, you can see the mirror plain as day in the video, and there's good evidence that it's there in the finished figure: In flash photos of the new HBG (by naughty guests), the hatbox is a brilliant white blank, exactly what you would expect when you photograph a mirror with a flash.

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    8. lol, yeah that's the Oliver Stone in me.

      I'm just taking Anonymous and his statement that he had seen the "Hatbox" off show several times to be true. And his statement of "There are no mirrors involved" which opens room to postulate.

      Scrims can be highly reflective, just as many cinema screens have reflective qualities to enhance the projected images. With Walt Disney Company buying out Pixar for $7.4 billion dollars back in 2013 I can easily see this illusion being a front projected illusion, basically the whole hatbox show is a continuous image, including the empty hat!

      I know, I know... It's reaching and even after writing this the first thing that comes to mind is an old quote my dad is fond of, Son, in my heart I know your right, but my perfectly functioning mind says your an horses ass!

      And Kudos to a great post, and a fantastic blog. If the naysayers at Big Mouse central have scared away their meeces from posting on your blog, that just may be the best compliment you can achieve! Without a doubt though any imagineer wotrthy of their mouse ears is here and has been here, reading it. That is FOR SURE!


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  4. [This silly rule of the 4096 letters wants me to break it in half, so here's part I:]

    A thing I'm interested in is the possible backstory of the Mansion. Then, the return of the Hatbox Ghost creates a few questions:

    — You said that his chuckle resembles the Ghost Host; yes, that's what I immediately thought. And in the answer to the first letter by this "Michelle", they say that blueprints have it being the same character as the Hanging Corpse. Then think a bit. It is already established that (despite the Silence Politic about that in these days) the Ghost Host is Master Gracey, and that Host Gracey is also the hanging corpse and the hatchet man. Soooo would hattie be Gracey ? Yes but really how does it make sense ? The hanging corpse has a ghosts which seems… beheaded ? Oh my head ! And also, notice that the Hatchet Man (that's what his name came from) holds a hatchet. Would that be the hatchet THAT KILLED HIM instead of the hatchet THAT HE USED TO KILL ? (in which case at some point Constance's ghost took it back). But that is too complex… Seriously, if all that story was cooked up by the guy who answered Michelle's letter, then I'd like to know what he was thinking…

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  5. PART II:

    — Formerly, he was coupled with the Heart-Beating Bride whose role was unclear (was she the murderer of the HBG, or a victim too ?). And most important she was anonymous (if we don't care about the comics' "Emily de Claire"), and the HBG too. But now he's with Constance. Is he meant to be one of the 5 deceased husbands ? Probably. But then, which one ? And if each portrait has a hatbox near it, why would one of them have two hatboxes at the same time ? To the "which one" question, I guess the most interesting answer would be George Hightower: a.k.a. the last husband, the one of which Constance inherited the house.
    Wait a minute, the owner of the house… The owner of the house is the Hatbox Ghost… HEY ! DOES IT REMIND YOU MY FIRST POINT WITH MASTER GRACEY ? But then, there's time to wake up: George Hightower is a fat man with whiskers. Neither has the HBG one or the other of these features. Phooey, it worked so well otherwise ! But then why would only ONE of the husbands haunt the room PHYSICALLY if he hasn't got anything special ? Maybe he's the first one ? Or perhaps he is not ONE husband, but a mix of the souls of all of them, who have taken an especially frightening form ? Or maybe we must assume that he's nothing to do with Constance: he's one of the "retired ghosts from all over the world" and only took room in the Attic with Constance because as a beheaded ghost he felt at home with an beheader murderer and the ghosts of the 5 victimes (if we assume the portraits are possessed portraits) ?

    — This backstory is so complicated that I don't know how Del Toro is going to do to do something significant of it. In the "Beware of these Hitchhiking Ghosts" post you said — as an allusion to Pepe le Queue — that "now the Haunted Mansion is Wackyland". Well in one sense now yes (Master Gracet/Ghost Host can't be something else than the former master and owner of the house, can he ? He is hanged, too ? But the Constance backstory has the last owner named Hightower ? So what ?).

    — As I write, what I'm going to say is a possible backstory to make all that consistent: there was first the "Constance" stuff, then Constance aged in the house — as in the stretching portrait —, died, as she had no heir (she had murdered all her husbands before getting any children from them, and I guess these husbands had no real family, otherwise she wouldn't have always got all the money) the house was sold, and a gentleman named Master Gracey bought it. Then, possibilities: he discovers the ghosts and, frightened, commit suicide (not very interesting but why not ?), becoming the Ghost Host; or we have the pre-Constance backstory, in which case both stories exists at the same time ; and why not perhaps the most ancient backstory with Captain Gore and Priscilla could exist too, and for similar reasons the Hightower family would have bought the house around the first half of the XIXth century. What do you think of that ? THAT would explain a lot.

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    1. I think the George Hightower hypothesis is as good as any if we're going to try to fit New Hattie into the Constance Mythos. After all, the only depiction we see of George as anything I'd call "fat" is the bust on his tombstone in the stretching portrait, which is more just puffy-cheeked. And with Hattie's sunken, shriveled, death's-head of a face, I think it's reasonable that he might not looks as fleshy as he may have done in life. He certainly has as similar hat and coat as his attic wedding portrait, although the high-collared cape he wears over the coat covers his shirt and tie so you can't see if they bear the same similarity. And who knows if his whiskers would survive the same dessication process that shrink his face.

      Of COURSE this is all just fanciful speculation. He could be the guy who sold all of Constance's grooms their hats. Or he could have been her intended next victim until she found out he didn't have any money. Or he could just be some guy who doesn't fit into the story they shoehorned into a space that was originally intended to be much more ambiguous. But as long as we're speculating we may as well speculate!

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    2. Honestly, I think maybe he's her accomplice, who she later killed to ensure he'd never spill her secret, or perhaps he was to be her 6th husband-victim but he caught on quick and she had to off him before they could ever marry.

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  6. I honestly suspect that some folks' disappointment with the HBG stems from the fact that he's THERE now, instead of missing. He was always so fascinating to people largely because he had vanished before very many people got to see him. It gave him a legendary status. Now that he's no longer missing, he can't hope to be as fascinating. The reality can't possibly live up to the mystique, to the HBG that the Doombugs (GREAT fandom term, by the way. I am adopting it immediately) collectively constructed in their imagination.

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    1. There's something to that. But I also think that if they had slavishly reproduced the original in the original spot (the only difference being that the illusion work), there wouldn't be much complaining, just some sighs over the loss of his legendary status.

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    2. He could regain legendary status if he disappears again in a month and doesn't come back for another 40 years.
      Maybe we're all being trolled! ;)

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  7. by the way John Gritz had nothing to do with the new HBG. Daniel Joseph is the Illusioneer who brought him back from the afterlife

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    1. I see. I understood that Gritz was involved with the 2009 almost-happened HBG and assumed that the projects were in continuity. I'll make some changes and leave that aspect alone until I have better information.

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  8. Daniel is in the Special Effects and Illusions group at WDI and is know both inside and out as a Yale Gracey historian, and even called "Young Yale" within his department

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    1. The scuttlebutt is that LF has been a toxic site at Disney ever since my scathing review of the WDW queue. No one who works at Disney, or hopes to work at Disney, or used to work at Disney, or had a dream once about ten years ago in which they were working part-time at Disney, is going to comment here for fear of reprisal from the Mouse. Whether or not that is so, I sincerely hope that Mr. J sees this post and accepts my thanks for a job well done. I'm sure I speak for many other fans as well.

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    2. If that's true, that's a real disappointment. I would have expected a healthier threshold of criticism from such scrupulous folk. Your assessments over the years have been insightful and the honesty of that queue review showed the respect that the attraction deserved.

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  9. Long time reader, first time poster. If this is indeed your last post for a while, what a way to wrap things up. Thank you for all your fascinating writing here.

    I unfortunately had to cancel my plans to get to Disneyland this summer, but there's always next year.

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  10. My biggest complaint about the new HBG matches the problem I have with Connie: It's too flat. There's no depth to the projection. The head on the shoulders looks better, but the head in the box looks like it's being projected on a flat surface. The same with Connie and her axe. You can tell it's a projection, even without the animation. Leota got away with this by using a real, 3d formed head. The new HBG doesn't have a convincing illusion.

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  11. Younger Haunted Mansion fan here. Now I know I'm nowhere near qualified to comment on this but here goes:
    I think that HBG is Constance's father. She probably saw her mother remove his head and stash it in the hatbox, perhaps over a dispute about money? Boxing up her husbands heads and finding a richer one is just her dealing with some serious mommy/daddy issues.

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    1. Interesting backstory !

      BTW, I saw another one on DeviantArt: the Hatbox Ghost was a famous hatter, friend of Edward Gracey. In that version, Constance was friend of the Gracey family, but had no direct link to it and never lived in the Mansion itself, just around. Subsequently, her backstory is also independent of the HBG's one. LEOTA is the villain responsible for Emily the Bride's death (yes, this consider Emily and Constance as coexistant. Why not ?); she wanted to marry Edward Gracey because… Well she wanted the money. Oh, she wasn't that much like Constance: she never planned to KILL Gracey. Just to marry him and take benefit of their now common money. But Gracey was in love with Emily. Then, Leota managed, before the wedding, to take Emily to the attic of the mansion and from there thew here out by a window (she lost her ring in the process. That's the origin of the "Bride's Ring" in Main Street that had been cited in the "Decadence" post on this blog earlier). But the Hatter was there, holding one of his characteristic hatboxes; he was more clever than Leota thought and he had figured out there was something fishy. Leota took one of the swords that were there — for no reason, but after all are they really explained in the ride ? — and beheaded poor old Hattie. Then, some time afterward, Gracey hanged himself ; Leota turned mad because of her crimes (in a MacBeth way), died and her spirit remained trapped forever in her crystal ball. She had not noticed the change, though, due to her madness; and she continued to summon spirits to the mansion, without ever sending them back. The first to come were the ones who died there (Gracey, Hatbox, the Bride), then came the friends and relatives that died in other ways (the Stretching Portraits characters, Constance Hatchawat), then people buried in the cemetery, and even unrelated ghosts like Julius Caesar started to show up. There is the origin of the Mansion. I mention all that because I find this idea interesting, but I don't buy it as whole and — I repeat it to make it clear — that's not my idea.

      However, your idea is very good too !

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    2. Thank you! It's not very fleshed out but I thought since they're bringing in more hatboxes for the husbands then maybe Connie is related (story or family wise) to HBG in some way, especially with his return.
      And I really like that back story, but I must admit that I prefer Leota as good spirit :)

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  12. Thank you! I was wondering what the light source in the room behind Hatty was -- I would've never guessed it was bats. I love that the area he's in now matches the outside of the mansion really well. If they bring him to DW, I hope they don't accidentally use the same architecture.

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  13. I'm just relieved he looks relatively close to the original design and they didn't go with that version that demoed at D23 awhile back... that one moved very dramatically, sweeping his arms around in a "hey everyone look at how articulated I am!" motion, but the design seemed bland. Whatever happened to that one and do you know why they wouldn't use it after going to the trouble of building and teasing it at the convention? (Note, I'm GLAD they didn't... just curious.)

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    1. I read somewhere that the one they showed was just a basic animatronic that they merely dressed as the Hatbox Ghost (that's why the proportions didn't match).

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  14. I see no reason to have a "backstory" at all! Having things cloaked in mystery suits the mansion much better in my estimation. The mansion should be rooted in emotion and suggestion, like a strange dream. Story? We don't need no stinkin' story!

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    1. I half and half not agree. For me, putting an OFFICIAL backstory would be a mistake that would kill the mystery… But I find that precisely it's part of the fun to try to INVENT a backstory. Which will be different for everybody.

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  15. I am over the moon over how good the new Hatbox Ghost looks and works. After the ridiculous fiasco that was the "updated" HHG, I'm really glad he worked out as well as he did. I showed some of the videos to my mother and she really liked the little mist effect that happens when the head disappears and reappears. I think it's cool as well. Little subtle stuff like that can make something just that much more visually interesting and special. I don't mind that he's outside on the attic balcony/porch. Like you said there wasn't much going on there and until you get to the trees, there isn't much to look at.Maybe it was intended as a place to catch your breath but I felt that it was a little boring. Now there's something or rather someone to keep your interest and I'm glad it's Hattie. P.S. Am I crazy or does the Attic look cluttered to the point where it's difficult to focus on anything? Constance, as much as I dislike her, seems shoved back in a corner. Maybe it's meant to build up to her from the portraits, but it looks like you see her for less time than the older brides. Is this just me?

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    1. Old photos of the attic are scarce, but yes, it does seem like it's gotten progressively more and more cluttered. Certainly it was much emptier when the HM opened.

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    2. I feel like the omnimover has been sped up also. Everything seems to fly by faster than it used to. Would that depend on which day I visit? Is the omnimover even that adjustable?

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    3. The speed is adjustable. It's common to notice a temporary slow-down at random times as you ride. That usually means they are seating someone who needs extra help and extra time to board. I couldn't say if they've changed the speed overall.

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    4. I also get the feeling that the Mansion now “[flies] by faster than it used to,” I think it’s a side effect of this blog. An art connoisseur can spend hours before a painting that calls to him/her and fell like he/she has spent no time at all, whereas the casual observer can spend a few seconds, snap a photo, and be satisfied. Speaking for myself, as I read more and more post from HBG2 my appreciation for the artistry that went into this attraction grows. I see it less as an attraction and more as a work of art, and as a result, I find myself wanting to spend more time appreciating the work of these Imagineers, studding it the way an artist would pour over every brushstroke. For me, the few minutes spent in the Doom Buggy go faster and faster as there is more to appreciate.

      Thank you HBG2 for five amazing years.

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    5. Your welcome, and thank you for the kind words.

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  16. Hi, I was just wondering if you are getting my comments since I have posted several times and not seen them. Thanks!

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    1. Hi stu. I apologize. Something prevents your comments from triggering a notice in my email. I only ever see them if I actually check for "comments pending moderation" at the blog itself. Maybe something in the numbers of your nic?

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  17. I have all the Ghost Host narration/audio from the DL Haunted Mansion and i have noticed many times that they have cropped down the audio to shorten the length of GH talking while in the walk from the stretching room to the loading area

    Also they do cut down the audio where the GH that Leota "Can establish contact". In some cases they'll have the full audio but mainly they shorten it down so the guests can take in the atmosphere of the ride.

    And with the new HBG i think they've done marvelous job of keeping him as close to the original as they can without over stepping too many boundaries.

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  18. Fascinating stuff; I like the way the HBG looks, but kind of enjoyed the legend. As of late, the Imagineers seem bent on telling more and more back story, not understanding that the mystery is what makes it so great. I love that you traced the campaign to bring Hattie back to that E-Ticket issue; Brett Thompson would be proud! I used to be in contact with Brett; if I can find him, maybe I'll contact him and see what he has to say.

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  19. I want to thank you for remembering my letter suggesting the HBG be put back into the Haunted Mansion. I remember how Jack Janzen would interrogate me about my adamant memory for years before he wrote the story. He never believed me. I told him he was there because I tried build my own at 12 years old that Halloween! I used a pair of my mother's hose for the scrim around the box, a blinking Christmas light bulb, and a borrowed a shrunken head from my brother's collection of the head inside the box.

    I also have an installation blueprint showing every single item and where they should be placed inside the HM. The HBG is clearly labeled on mine, but there is no bride on the opposite side. I took some photos with my Kodak Instamatic that summer of 1969 and I photographed the 2 sets of flying bats in front of the windows opposite the HBG. There is no bride in my pictures from that summer.

    Years later I was very fortunate to work with Marc Davis and he told me the raven that is seen throughout the HM was originally going to be the guide voiced by Eleanor Audley (Madame Leota). I remember Marc had drawings of the raven inside the expanding room. It's amazing how the HM still has a hold on us 46 years later. I was there opening week, and I was so obsessed with the
    ride I went several times that fall just to ride the HM. Seven years later I became a ride operator (RO) in NOBC and got to work the
    HM. Thanks again for acknowledging me and bringing back many happy memories associated with the Haunted Mansion. A toast to the Hat Back Ghost! Sincerely, Brett Thompson

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    1. You're very welcome, and thank you for sharing your memories, Brett! It must be gratifying to the HBG 2.0 team (especially Dan Joseph) that there are witnesses like us to the original character still hanging around and able to offer our congratulations to them for a job well done.

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  20. I'm overjoyed to see his triumphant return. And I think he deserves to be the best special effect in the Mansion. (Although, now that means Connie's in need of an upgrade.)

    I hope they don't try form a far-fetched plot around him, since he already has a role.
    The dynamic between the two Attic denizens is identical to the original/intended roles of the Bride and the Hatbox Ghost. However, here, the secret he's revealing is not that Constance killed people, (Disney. WDI. We got that, okay?) but where the evidence is. Now that he's back, there are some new hatboxes around the attic, so his role is to tell you that the husband's heads are hidden in the boxes, in an eternal effort to bring her to justice. Until you see him, the murders and the boxes have no obvious connection, but when you see him, the pieces come together, just like they would have in the early days.

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  21. Since people mentioned Constance on this post, do you think they will realize their mistake and phase her out hopefully soon or are we stuck with her?

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    1. I think they're pretty heavily committed to her, and she's not going anywhere. Removing her would be admitting she was a mistake, and that's not going to happen.

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    2. Personally, as a huge Mansion fan, I don't feel she was a mistake, and I've seen quite a number of big fans who like her or simply have no major feelings towards the change either way.

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  22. Bit of an oddball question, but do you have an uncropped version of the Marc Davis HBG concept art image in this post? The one you have zoomed in to his face here is the best resolution I've come across, but I am on the hunt for a high res version of the whole piece. Thanks!

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    1. Unfortunately, the close-up shots you see are all I've got in that resolution (and they are simply screen caps from the official Disney video). I've got an uncropped photo of the whole drawing, but it's not anything like "hi rez", and you probably already have that.

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  23. It's funny that you mentioned that April/December is missing from the mansion. She's still in the Florida mansion in the room immediately after the loarding area. Her painting is near the "Grim Couple" painting hanging above the stairs.

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    1. That's "December" only, and not identified by that name either. See the various posts about April.

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