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, and for part 3, about the rumors that persisted after the Hatbox Ghost was removed, shriek your way here. For more otherworldly stories from the Haunted Mansion, check back all week. In today’s installment, we look at the Hatbox Ghost’s reappearance in the Mansion.
The Hatbox Ghost Returns
In January of this year, after the annual Haunted Holiday Mansion overlay came down, the official parks blog teased that there would be something new “hiding inside” the Haunted Mansion. A few months later, on April 10, they would reveal that the Hatbox Ghost would be returning to the Haunted Mansion as part of the park’s 60th anniversary diamond celebration. He would make his grand debut on May 9, just ahead of the big 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration kick-off.
And if you’re lucky enough to visit the Haunted Mansion this summer, just know that the wait for the Hatbox Ghost was very much worth it. The ghostly figure stands almost where it was when it was originally installed. Of course, it’s not an exact approximation. The Hatbox Ghost needed to be reintegrated into a storyline for the attic that has gone through a number of changes since the attraction opened, and he also had to be in a spot that could accommodate the annual Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay (when the denizens of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas invade the Mansion). Still: he’s there almost where he was to begin with and he is eerie.
What’s great is that the appearance of the Hatbox Ghost is one that is steadily built throughout the attraction, with anticipation building from almost the moment you step into your doom buggy. You see his portrait in the gallery, several times. (It’s a head-on sketch of the Hatbox Ghost and it is repeated a few times.) Then you get to see his silhouette playing the piano in the attic, thanks to some ingenious new projection effects. (Seeing an animated two-dimensional shadow in a 3D physical environment is pretty unbelievable.) Then, as the tour through the Haunted Mansion continues, you see that all of the grooms (the ones who were decapitated by the murderous bride) have their own hatboxes. This detail, while lovingly crafted and totally awesome, doesn’t exactly clarify the theory that the Hatbox Ghost was the Bride’s beloved.
And then … there’s the Hatbox Ghost himself, in all of his glory. This figure looks smaller and more nimble than the promotional images supplied before the Mansion’s opening in 1969 but the design is classic. (You can practically visualize Marc Davis’ sketchy ink drawing coming to life.) This is the Hatbox Ghost that you’ve heard about and read about and seen on mugs and sweatshirts and posters for the past few decades, the ghost that is discussed endlessly online and at fan conventions. Only he’s real and he’s incredible. His devilish face grins and mugs at you before disappearing in a whoosh. His head then reappears in a hatbox that the ghost is holding. Our favorite flourish is how the head in the box blinks and then looks back to the shoulders where he was once perched, almost longingly. It’s a dazzling, unforgettable effect and if your Doom Buggy catches the Hatbox at the right moment, you can see it all play out flawlessly. (The effect is so quick, however, that seeing the Hatbox Ghost in all his ghoulish glory might take you a few rides.)
The rest of the ride plays out as it always has (brilliantly). But that added shock and thrill from seeing the Hatbox Ghost adds a glow to the rest of the attraction. It’s like being jolted by a tiny electrical charge, one that leaves a toothy grin on your face for the remainder of the ride. What’s so great about the Hatbox Ghost is that even though he’s been brought to life using cutting edge technology (that grin and those blinking eyes come courtesy of next-generation projection mapping), he feels like a character that has been there for more than 40 years. Maybe it’s the fact that the Hatbox Ghost was there, very briefly, before being removed or maybe it’s that he’s been so closely associated with the attraction for so many years, but Hatbox Ghost in his current form is 100% Haunted Mansion. His presence isn’t obtrusive or loud. It’s not like he’s a 2015 character that has been dropped into a 1969 ride. His insertion is seamless, his presence giving the Haunted Mansion yet another devilish kick. This is New Magic that feels like Old Magic in the best possible way. We’re very glad the Haunted Mansion had room for one more and that the one more is the legendary Hatbox Ghost.