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Disney's Haunted Mansion Hat Box Ghost

By: NLogan

The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland is my favorite ride in the park.

The Haunted Mansion is found in the New Orleans Square section and is haunted by 999 ghosts. The mansion opened in August of 1969. Guests are given a tour of the mansion and the grounds with cemetery by riding in a doombuggy with a ghostly host as a guide.

My personal favorite ghost from the mansion is the most mysterious because he has been at the mansion for the shortest amount of time.

The Hatbox Ghost was one of the original ghosts for the mansion. He was found in the attic of the mansion across from the ghost of the bride. He appears as an elderly ghost with a gaunt skeletal face dressed in an inverness cloak and cape with a top hat. He holds in his hands a crooked cane and a large hatbox.

Here is a concept art sketch by Marc Davis.

The design concept was simple.

The Hatbox Ghost's head would disappear in time with the beating heart of the bride only to reappear inside the hatbox he was holding. The mechanics allowed his hand to shake and the vanishing head was accomplished by turning out the spotlight on the head while simultaneously lighting the head inside the hatbox.

The original prototype figure was designed by Yale Gracey.

It was photographed for promotional materials that were to be distributed prior to and contemporaneously with the public opening to advertise that the mansion's ghosts were about to be welcoming visitors.

The clothing was made from transparent plastic that fluoresced under a black light. The pale face also fluoresced but vanished when the black light was turned off and the head in the hatbox became visible when a black light was shown through the sheer material of the hatbox.

The prototype was perhaps deemed too scary and was changed slightly before the opening of the mansion.

The Hatbox Ghost also appeared in some Haunted Mansion memorabilia that was released right before the opening of the Mansion in the park. I was lucky enough to have found a used copy of the original Story and Song from the Haunted Mansion Long Play Record Album with storybook from 1969. I have tried to photograph the pages as my scanner isn't big enough.

Right on the cover front and center is the Hatbox Ghost looking directly at the viewer as he heads inside the gate.

The story written in the book and the narration heard on the record are slightly different. The record is narrated by Thurl Ravenscroft (who sang You're a mean one Mr. Grinch from How the Grinch stole Christmas) and features a young Ron Howard (later from The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days fame) playing Mike, and Robie Lester (Mrs. Clause from the Rankin and Bass Santa Clause is Comin' to Town) playing Karen as they try to escape the weather in a dilapidated old mansion only to encounter the mansion's ghostly inhabitants. The record has spooky sounds and plays the theme of the mansion, Grim Grinning Ghosts in several versions throughout Mike and Karen's tour through the house.

A Ghoulish executioner opens the door as a raven watches intently as we enter.

Skeletal hands pry up the lid to a crypt as the disturbed owner awakes.

The head of a disenbodied spirit appears in a crystal ball and gives an eerie reading of the future.

In the Great Hall a birthday feast is attended by many spirits reveling and celebrating in dance and libations while being accompanied by a spectral organist.

Banshees howl from the pipes of the Wurlitzer organ coaxed forth by the talented fingers of the spectral organist.

It was here in the attic that the public gets one of its first views of the Hatbox Ghost. The illustration was based on the concept art.

The cemetery caretaker and his dog watch trembling in fear and disbelief as the interned ghosts materialize to socialize and form a band.

As we escape the graveyard ghosts try to follow us home.

Spirits, wraiths, apparitions, and ghosts of all kinds beckon us to join them.

There was also a simplified children's version available as a See, Hear, Read storybook from Walt Disney Presents The Haunted Mansion. It is narrated by Robie Lester on a 33 1/3 record who read along to the book.

Again spectral figures bid us to enter.

The executioner and other ghostly residents greet us.

We see the stretching portraits in a ghostly gallery.

We watch as the pictures change before our very eyes with each flash of lightning illuminating the hall.

Again we disturb the eternal slumber of occupant of a crypt.

The disembodied spirit makes the furnishings of the room float and fly about during the seance.

A celebration was taking place in the Grand Hall.

Here we find another early glimpse of the Hatbox Ghost.

Spooky happenings under the moonlight in the cemetery.

Ghosts abound singing.

Some of the ghosts would like to come and live (pardon the expression) with us.

This is the Hatbox Ghost as he appeared in the employee preview on August 7th and 8th and also during the soft opening during the following days. A midnight press review was held on the 11th and the mansion officially opened to the public on August 12th, 1969. The Hatbox Ghost was there to greet them.

Unfortunately the illusion of the vanishing head did not function as well as was envisioned by the imagineers because of the ambient lighting in the attic, even when the black light spotlight on the head was extinguished the head was still faintly visible. Because of this the Hatbox Ghost was only in place for a very short time possibly a few weeks before it was removed altogether. Here is one of the only photos in existence of the Hatbox Ghost in situ inside the mansion.

This is the only currently known video taken in 1969 of the Hatbox Ghost during the ride operation. His head may not have disappeared correctly but the Hatbox Ghost managed to vanish completely from the Haunted Mansion to remain hidden for decades.

While his original stay in the mansion was short lived the Hatbox's influence is felt throughout the mansion. His original prototype sculpt with an altered now open mouth was reused for a pop-up ghost in the graveyard that appears from behind a gravestone.

The same ghost appears again on the last page of the record story.

The prototype and the finished Hatbox Ghost image are also represented in the Corridor of Doors family portrait gallery as various ghosts.

The prototype mold was even used for another famous mansion ghost, one the the three Hitchhiking Ghosts sometimes known as the Skeleton or Ezra.

Even though the Hatbox ghost was gone his influence was felt in another vintage piece of merchandising in a 1970 Ben Cooper children's costume with a vinyl smock and vacuformed mask with elastic band.

On the box they call him Mr. Spooky.

On the actual costume it says Mr. Skeleton. It is an amalgamation of the Hatbox Ghost and the Hitchhiking Ghost Ezra or Mr. Skeleton that is based on the Hatbox Ghost. Hat and hair from the Hatbox Ghost with the name on the smock from the Hitchhiking Ghost.

The Hatbox Ghost was and is unique to the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland California only.

The Haunted Mansion in Disney World Florida has been there since 1971 and is only slightly different than the one in Disneyland. This was the mansion that inspired the look of the one in the Eddie Murphy Haunted Mansion movie. There was a prototype Hatbox Ghost built for the Haunted Mansion in Disney World but it was never installed, and its whereabouts are unknown.

The Haunted Mansion in Disneyland Tokyo has been there since 1983 and is similar to the Disney World version. There is no Hatbox Ghost here.

The Phantom Manor has been at Disneyland Paris since 1992 and is very different having been based off an old school house with a western theme it is found near Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It is also not as kooky spooky with a more sinister creepy theme. There is no Hatbox Ghost to be found here.

Mystic Manor in Disneyland Hong Kong is not like any of the others because of Chinese culture they don't reference the dead. Instead it is about an explorer and a magic item that brings everything in the house to life. Not only is there no Hatbox Ghost, there are no ghosts at all here!

In 2009 at the D23 Expo celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland a special statue paying tribute to the most famous ghost not in residence at the mansion was created by Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily to be auctioned off.

Ghostly whisperings and hints of rumors swirled around that the Hatbox Ghost may return to the mansion after all.

On April 10th, 2015 Disney announced they would have a homcoming for a returning ghost at the mansion with an image of an unmistakable silhouette.

With the design concept perfected by Daniel Joseph, the Hatbox Ghost was now ready to return.

On May 9th, 2015 after nearly 46 years the most mysterious and infamous ghostly resident of the Haunted Mansion finally came home.

With an evil laugh the illusion is complete.

This last Halloween I even dressed up as my version of the Hatbox Ghost!

Special thanks to these wonderful sites where you can go and learn more about the Hatbox Ghost and the Haunted Mansion.

It is time for me to vanish but before I do I'll leave you with the Haunted Mansion theme song. Happy Halloween.

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NLogan Posted on Dec 12, 2016 at 03:23 AM

Only 2 people knew who I was supposed to be. Lots of people thought it was a mask and were surprised to find out it was make up. If you look very closely at the maxilla region above where my upper lip would be near the philtrum, you can see the line of the bottom of my nose. The nostrils are actually painted clear up on the bridge of my nose to try for more of a likeness to the character.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Dec 10, 2016 at 12:46 AM

I totally missed that photo of you as The Hatbox Ghost during my original read through, you continue to impress. How many people recognized the character?

vkimo Posted on Dec 07, 2016 at 03:58 PM

Fitting that a Halloween Article should be raised back from the dead!

Rick Ace Rhodes Posted on Dec 07, 2016 at 03:58 PM

It's nice to see these article back up. A good chronicle of the history behind a character from one of Disney's most popular rides.

Vaporman87 Posted on Dec 07, 2016 at 03:46 PM

This was really one of the more interesting backstories I've read anywhere on any subject. Glad to get it back up on the site once more!

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