Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that readers are already familiar with basic facts
about the Haunted Mansion. If you wanna keep up with the big boys, I suggest you check out
first of all the website, Doombuggies.com. After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (NY: Disney Editions; 2015). That's the
re-named third edition of The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY:
Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009). Also essential reading is Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized
Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014; 2nd ed. 2016).

This site is not affiliated in any way with any Walt Disney company. It is an independent
fan site dedicated to critical examination and historical review of the Haunted Mansions.
All images that are © Disney are posted under commonly understood guidelines of Fair Use.

________
.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Hatbox Ghost that Never Was

We've had two of them. First of all, there's the original 1969 model, the legend, he concerning whom there is still a lot of misinformation bruited about. Here are the facts. Clip and save: 

  • He was there for the soft opening on August 7th, seen only by Cast Members.
  • He was immediately pulled out because you could still see his face after it had "disappeared."
  • He was still missing two days later at the unofficial official opening on August 9th, which is why so many people who rode the Mansion on that first day reported later that he was not there, and that's why the story got set in concrete that he was never seen by the public. It took a long time and a lot of jackhammering for that concrete to get broken up, but the claim still crops up now and then.
  • There is a credible report that he was already reinstalled by the very next day, the 10th. Whether he remained there over the next few days we don't know, but he was certainly there on Thursday the 14th. (That's the day I saw him, kids.)
  • For the next several weeks (not days) Hattie either stayed in continuously or was in-and-out while they tried to get him to work successfully, unsuccessfully. (I think the latter scenario is the more likely.) No one knows for sure when the plug was finally pulled for good, but probably in September.


And then there's the brilliant 2015 rediscarnation. Of course, we know all about him.

(Since ghosts are not incarnate to begin with, having no flesh, they technically can't be reincarnated, can they? Now, if you're not incarnate, what you are is discarnate. That's the correct term. So if you're a ghost and you cease to exist but are subsequently brought back into existence, you've been rediscarnated.  Don't look at me like that. You think I don't know what I'm doing?)


Jolly good, but what about the Hatbox Ghost that almost, but never, was?

Ah, how quickly we forget. *puffs pipe wistfully* It's a historical episode that for some of us seems almost too recent to merit a Long-Forgotten post, but when I consider that (1) these things need to be chronicled before memories start turning hazy (which doesn't take long) and that (2) there are oodles of young doombugs running around and chattering away at the HM fan sites, some of whom were in kindergarten when this all happened, it becomes obvious that someone needs to put together a record for posterity.

Because yes, we came THISCLOSE to getting a new Hatbox Ghost at Disneyland in 2009.


2004—2005

We could begin the story back in the 90s, when the whole "bring back the Hatbox Ghost" movement felt its first stirrings, especially with the publication of photos of the original HBG in 1999, but the real beginning of this particular chapter in Mansion history is in 2004, when the first plans were being drawn up for Disneyland's 50th anniversary the following year. Among the ideas proposed at WDI for enhancements to the Haunted Mansion was bringing back the Hatbox Ghost. This was also when plans for Constance and her five hubbies were in development, and originally Hattie was going to be George, Connie's fifth husband, the poor sap with the hatchet in his head on the widow's stretching portrait. (I have to wonder how they intended to deal with the fact that the HBG has no handlebar mustache.) As if to test the waters, a Hatbox Ghost "big fig" was released by WD collectibles in 2005 and was a smash hit. If you're a HM fan at all, you've no doubt seen these figures or pictures of them. They command high prices these days, if you can get one at all.

One particularly interesting feature was the certificate of authenticity that came with the figure.

It including some tantalizing tidbits of backstory information about this particular ghost.

Other Disney souvenirs featuring the Hatbox Ghost trickled out over the next few years, and he sometimes

appeared in Disney artwork in various venues. Hmmm. Were they trying to tell us something?





2006

The Constance version of the attic debuted in May of 2006 with Hattie nowhere to be seen, but a month earlier, at the beginning of April, word had already begun leaking out that the Hatbox Ghost may be coming back. Something must have happened 'round about April 24th, because a number of reports came out over the following couple of days confirming that a new Hatbox Ghost was definitely on the drawing board. According to one source, an early prototype was rumored to have already been built in Glendale. At this point he was still identified with George, Connie's fifth husband.

2007

In 2007 a completely different concept was proposed, and according to a reliable source it almost made it to reality. The idea was to forget about the attic and bring back Hattie somewhere else in the Mansion, like the Ballroom or Graveyard. He would be hidden in the darkness somewhere and would only make a sort of cameo appearance when briefly lit up. No time for the vanishing head gag. Not only that, but only Annual Passholders would see him, and even then only once per visit. During the regular part of the year, when the HMH was gone and the Fastpass area was idle, a special sticker on a Fastpass ticket would be dispensed for AP holders only. The sticker would be read by a sensor as they got in their buggies, telling the ride to light up the HBG when that buggy went by. Whether this idea survived into 2008, I can't say, but needless to say it was scrapped. The one good thing about it was that it would have preserved a sort of mystique about the character. He'd still be "missing" to most people. On the other hand, it smelled like a dirty trick to get more people to shell out $$$ for the AP.

2008

In preparation for the Mansion's upcoming 40th anniversary, the Merchandizing division and WDI began working in coordination with each other. This is EXTREMELY rare. Normally these guys can't stand each other, but sources are adamant that this time they did indeed work together. In truth, I don't think the input from Imagineering went much beyond tipping off the Merch guys that they were planning on bringing back the Hatbox Ghost for the 40th, and that it was a big deal. That was enough. The Merch guys went bonkers, especially the Pin people. When 2009 arrived, they were ready to pounce.

2009

And pounce they did! Suddenly, Hattie was everywhere. The overexposure was nauseating. They made him a "real estate agent," the host and mascot for the whole 40th celebration.


Pins, pins, and more pins . . .

Note the triptych, with Hattie on left and Connie on right. And these are just some of them. A box set of pins was marketed with Hattie standing right in the doorway of the Mansion, and he's even listed as one of the characters "found inside the attraction," as if his comeback were a fait accompli. Subtle as a hand grenade. 


They even had the poor guy writing copy for them:


One thing that came out of all this was a clue that the storyline had been changed. It seems the Hatbox Ghost was no longer George but apparently was going to be introduced as a sixth husband (or fiancé). It's not explicit, though.


Haunted Holidays

As if all of this weren't enough, Disney put together a "Haunted Holidays" website featuring a CGI Hatbox Ghost, voiced by Cory Burton, doing his best Paul Frees "Ghost Host" impersonation.  Say what? So...the Hatbox Ghost is now the Ghost Host? Never mind. Once Merchandising gets ahold of things, nothing needs to make sense. He isn't the GH any more than he's Cousin Huet (see that gravestone prop above). Some of the Connie pins jumbled characters around in impossibly silly ways, too. This sort of thing is why I suspect the "coordination" with WDI was rather limited.





Enter Kevin and Jody

Another big deal during 2009 was a project by model-builders and Disney artisans extraordinaire Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily. They created a replica of the original Hatbox Ghost to be sold at the D23 auction on September 9th. The figure was remarkably accurate in every way and put on display before the auction for several days.

Kevin&Jody

Ricky Brigante


It sold for $9400, which was less than I expected, actually. Today, I'm sure it would fetch a lot more.

But that's not the most interesting part of this story. It occurred to someone that it would be fun to install the Kidney-Daily figure in the attic of the Mansion for the big event on September 9th, as a surprise to Mansion fans riding that evening. Just think of it. You would see an exact replica of the original Hatbox Ghost in his original spot! And think of the enhanced value to the figure as an auction item. Kevin and Jody thought it was a great idea.

But it didn't happen. Union rules stated that items for auction had to be on site two days before the actual event, so the figure had to be at the convention center on the 7th. No, I don't understand it either, but Union rules are Union rules. Too bad! It would have been one of the coolest Mansion events evuh.

photoshop by Darkfairy

What this also shows is that the actual HBG figure WDI had been working on was not going to be ready for the 40th anniversary no how, no way. Plans were quickly changed. The official word now was that he would be there in January 2010 after the HMH overlay came down. They even had the CGI Hatbox Ghost at the "Haunted Holidays" site tell viewers in December that he would "see them again in January."


2010

Oh no he wouldn't. January came and went, and again, disappointment. It was all hush-hush, but already by the time of the convention in September plans for the new HBG had been scrapped. We are told that the cancelation was at the last minute and that the reason given was that they needed the funds for the Space Mountain "Ghost Galaxy." It's true that it was "last minute" (as Al Lutz reported at Micechat in May of 2010), but only if you mean "last minute before the big convention" and not "last minute before the January installation." At any rate, the HBG project was postponed indefinitely. Tony Baxter, who had been shepherding this project all along and who had been an early and enthusiastic Hatbox booster was not happy about this, let me tell ya. He was very much looking forward to seeing the new HBG installed in January, which in itself is evidence that the figure was ready to go or very nearly so.


What Did He Look Like?

The special effects wizard in charge of bringing Hattie back to life (or afterlife) was John Gritz, by all counts the right man for the task.


We know that some of the same technology that had recently enabled the floating Mdm Leota at WDW to go to an inner-projection system was going to be used. As for his appearance, we have one clue, and you will have to judge for yourself how much to make of it.

We saw how the Pin people just went crazy over the Hatbox Ghost when WDI told them about their plans. Well, one of the products they came up with was a limited edition HBG figurine housing two pins, and there's something mighty weird about him.


You immediately notice that stack of stuff underneath the hatbox. Nothing quite like that has ever been seen, before or since. For some reason the Pin people also posted at their blogsite what looks like a schematic drawing of the figure, including front and side views, and it doesn't even show the pins. Furthermore (and not to get too picky), the resemblance to the actual figure, although very close, is not exact.



I may be wrong, but I suspect that the schematic drawing was something given to them by WDI and may actually represent the Gritz figure in production at the time. It is easy to imagine a "Pepper's Ghost" illusion with a tilted glass inside the main hatbox reflecting a head directly below it in the stack, facing upward. We could be looking here at the only publicly-released depiction of the Hatbox Ghost that never, but almost, was.





*******************

7 comments:

  1. I think you're probably right. I also think that merchandising has pretty much killed any mystery the Haunted Mansion ever really had. Unfortunately, it's pretty difficult for me to picture it as any more than a rather bland ride now, especially when I hear new fans blathering on about "Mansion Canon."
    That being said, I wish they would put Hattie in the WDW mansion somewhere. I like the idea of maybe not in the attic...
    Anyway, I guess I'm old and grumpy. I have to go yell at a cloud now...

    ReplyDelete
  2. When I saw those extra hatboxes, I thought perhaps they were there to support the main hatbox; that perhaps the armature was too weak to support it on its own.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or it may be a case of the tail wagging the dog. The new HBG had the luggage stack (according the schematic WDI had given them), and that design made it sturdier, so they made the pin holder thus.

      Delete
  3. Delightful as per usual. Yes, a Pepper's Ghost ... seems very likely.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wasn't there also...somewhere in between Kevin & Jody's full size figure and the one that actually got installed... a "prototype" animatronic that was kind of off-model and moved very dramatically? I think it was exhibited at one of the D23 events?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, there was. That one belongs to the false-messaging and disappointments preceding the 2015 figure (which happened), as opposed to the false-messaging and disappointments preceding the 2009 figure (which didn't). The D-23 figure was in 2013. They were showing off the latest iteration of AA figure technology and decided to dress it up as the HBG figure, just for kicks and giggles, one supposes.

      Delete
  5. The question over the Ghost's status as bridegroom or guest stirred a memory from a 1967 episode of Dark Shadows, in which soon-to-be-vampire Barnabas Collins and his doomed bride Josette receive an anonymous wedding gift - a hat box containing a skull wearing a wig and glass eyes.

    ReplyDelete