Welcome, foolish mortals, to the third part in our weeklong exploration of the Hatbox Ghost and his gloriously ghoulish return to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. For part 1, detailing the history of the Haunted Mansion attraction, drag your body here, for part 2, which looked at the removal of the Hatbox Ghost, move into the dead center of the internet. For more otherworldly stories from the Haunted Mansion, check back all week. Today’s installment discusses the rumors that swirled after the Hatbox Ghost shuffled off this mortal coil.
The Legend Grows
Part of what made the Hatbox Ghost’s legacy intensify over the years was the fact that, even though he was gone from the attraction, the character remained on countless articles of merchandise, most notably the 1969 album The Story and Song from the Haunted Mansion. This vinyl record, a collectable released in 1969 and timed to the opening of the Haunted Mansion, is a 30 minute tale follows the narrative of a pair of doomed teenagers who take refuge inside the Haunted Mansion and subsequently get menaced by the Mansion’s various inhabitants. The album was narrated by Disney theme park staple Thurl Ravenscroft and, while somewhat creaky (it was recently re-released and is available to purchase from the little cart outside of the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland), provides major clues to the Hatbox Ghost’s function in the overall story of the Haunted Mansion (he also appears on the album cover).
The narration on the album seems to reinforce the idea that the Hatbox Ghost really is the Bride’s husband. As the album states, “With every beat of his bride’s heart, his head disappeared from his body and then reappeared in the hatbox.” This bit of narrative is interesting for a couple of reasons, most notably because few people explicitly talk about the connection between the Bride and the Hatbox Ghost, but also because it gives us a clue not only to what the original Hatbox Ghost looked like but also what it sounded like. We can practically hear the beat of the Bride’s heart now. And while it seems weird to think that the Hatbox Ghost was ever the Bride’s intended, especially now after the storyline for the Mansion’s attic has evolved over the years and included more explicit references to her spouse, it is conceivable that this was what the initial storyline for those characters.
Following the installation and quick removal of the Hatbox Ghost, rumors spiraled as merchandise featuring the character continued to be churned out. Some suggested his appearance was so frightening, even for journalists who toured the Mansion before its official opening, that just glimpsing him could trigger an adverse medical condition. This rumor quickly spread and became the prevailing thought as to why the Hatbox Ghost was removed: he was just too scary. What’s more, the fact that merchandise was being produced and people were still talking about the character created a weird distortion of reality for guests—did you ride the Haunted Mansion but just miss him? Did you ride it and see him but just forget? Were you a Haunted Mansion guest all along?
In 2010, when Guillermo del Toro first announced his intentions to make a new Haunted Mansion movie, he handed out teaser posters that said “999 Haunts” and contained a single image of a grisly, smiling ghoul: the Hatbox Ghost. Speculation was that del Toro would focus on the Hatbox Ghost, a character who the filmmaker described as “one of the scariest images created for the ride” but also one who was “incredibly whimsical.” (This tone would be represented, presumably, in the final film, which has yet to be released but, according to del Toro, remains a possibility.)
In the last few years, verifiable proof of the Hatbox Ghost’s original placement in the attraction have surfaced, in a blurry home movie uploaded to YouTube and in a single still frame that was donated to a Haunted Mansion fan site. They were confirmations of the Hatbox Ghost’s existence; his place in the Mansion is now irrefutable. But what nobody imagined was that work was quietly being conducted to insure the Hatbox Ghost’s return to this mortal realm.