Disney’s iconic Haunted Mansion attraction has attained cult status among park patrons in the years since its opening because it so seamlessly melds together playful humor and scary spooks with painstaking attention to detail. As many times as I’ve ridden this personal favorite, I still catch glimpses of unknown characters, objects, or story fragments with each repeat experience. The original Imagineers wove mystery into the fabric of the attraction to begin with, and fan lore turned official canon has only deepened the well of secrets.
Let’s Go Inside The Best Secrets of the Haunted Mansion
Some of these Haunted Mansion secrets are fun bits of spooky trivia or references to characters scrapped during development, and others are a bit more sinister. All of them add to the many layers of this storied attraction and make it one that guests are eager to revisit!
The Dread Family Busts
Continuing the legacy of busts that appear throughout the Haunted Mansion, the Dread family greets guests with varying expressions of malice, suspicion, disgust, and disdain as they enter the cemetery at Disney World. This 2011 installation presents guests with a murder mystery to unravel by examining the character details and epitaphs on each bust. Wealthy Uncle Jacob ran the family until he was presumably poisoned by one of his greedy relatives. Guests who can solve the mystery might even be able to spot a reference to the storyline inside the ride itself.
A Haunting Presence
One of the most recognizable characters in the Haunted Mansion, Madam Leota appears as a disembodied head inside a floating crystal ball, speaking incantations to conjure spirits. These invisible haunts acknowledge her summons by levitating musical instruments and other objects around the séance room.
Madam Leota was named for Disney Imagineer Leota Toombs who allowed fellow Imagineers Roly Crump and Yale Gracey to record her likeness and use it to experiment with the projection technology they were developing for the character. They liked her demo reel so much, they decided to use it for the ride.
Eleanor Audley (Maleficent and Lady Tremaine) provided her haunting voice for Madam Leota to replace Toombs’ softer one, but when “Little Leota”—the doll-sized version of Madam Leota on the ledge of the exit crypt at the end of the ride—calls, “Hurry baaaack… Hurry baaaack… be sure to bring your death certificate,” it’s Toombs’ voice guests hear.
Madam Leota has an expanded presence at Magic Kingdom, where her tombstone resides just outside the ride entrance in the family plot. Guests who watch carefully will see the bronze face of Leota on the stone open its startlingly realistic eyes to peer at guests!
During her “corruptible mortal years,” the Disney World version of Leota fled the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, and settled in the Hudson River Valley (Liberty Square), where she opened the Memento Mori shop before taking up residence in the mansion. There is a large portrait of her in the shop, and on occasion, guests can hear her knocking from the other side of the portrait. She also makes occasional appearances in the mirror on the wall.
Haunted Mansion Secret: Was Going to Feature Nevermore
Originally, Imagineers planned for a raven tour guide to narrate the attraction as a nod to Edgar Allan Poe, but during development, they realized the little bird was so inconspicuous that it was getting lost amid the various other design elements. They invented the disembodied “Ghost Host” character instead and invited Disney legend Paul Frees to voice the script.
An animatronic raven still appears as a silent character in the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World four times: cawing at guests from its funeral wreath perch in the conservatory, as Madam Leota’s companion in the séance room, on a tree outside the attic balcony, and atop the crypt at the end of the ride. When the interactive queue for the Liberty Square version of the attraction at Walt Disney World opened, Imagineers designed a large raven figure to adorn the front of the organ in the queue area, introducing guests to the character before they entered the mansion.
Meet Your Ghost Host of the Haunted Mansion
“When hinges creak in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls, whenever candlelights flicker where the air is deathly still — that is the time when ghosts are present, practicing their terror with ghoulish delight!”
These are the frequently recited opening lines of the Haunted Mansion’s “Ghost Host,” voiced by Paul Frees in menacing, but familiar tones. This unseen specter reveals his fate to guests during the infamous stretching room sequence, as lightning flashes in the dark to illuminate his corpse dangling from the rafters above.
There has always been a bit of mystery surrounding the Ghost Host character, and even many Disney regulars may not know a discreet full-length portrait of him hangs in the Corridor of Doors. Portrait details have evolved over the years, but the current image depicts a tall, thin man with pale blue skin and longish white hair, wearing a knotted rope around his neck and holding an ax down by his side. Imagineers intended the latter details to clue guests into his identity.
Look for his portrait after you pass the skeletal arm trying to pry the casket lid open in the conservatory, just before your Doom Buggy rotates to face the grandfather clock.
Constance Hatchaway is a more recent moniker for the infamous Bride character, who has been a fixture at the Haunted Mansion in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World since opening day. Guests first encounter her as the subject of a painting in the stretching room, where she appears as a gray-haired woman posing for a seated outdoor portrait, holding a single red rose. When the room “stretches” to reveal the bottom portion of the painting, guests see she is sitting upon the tombstone of her late husband, George, and has plunged a hatchet into his bust.
Later in the attic scene, she manifests among portraits of all five of her late husbands as a homicidal ghost bride brandishing a disappearing ax in her hands. If you look closely at each of the portraits, you’ll see that Constance acquires a new string of pearls with each of her marriages, and her spectral form is wearing all five.
There are family cemetery plots in the queue areas outside the Haunted Mansion at both parks, featuring headstones that pay tribute to many of the artists and Imagineers who worked on the attraction. Here are some of the epitaphs on the stones and the respective Disney legends they honor.
* In memory of our patriarch – dear departed Grandpa Marc. – Marc Davis originally worked in animation on characters like Maleficent and Cruella DeVil. He did all the paintings for the Stretching Room and the portrait hallway and was one of the two primary imagineers for the Haunted Mansion. He wanted the attraction to be silly and light-hearted, and scenes like the ballroom and graveyard reflect his influence.
* At peaceful rest lies brother Claude. Planted here beneath this sod. – Claude Coats was a background artist who worked in the animation department. Disney brought him into the project to work on developing the interior environment of the attraction. He was the other main Imagineer for the ride and argued for the inclusion of the spooky/scary elements.
* Requiescat Francis Xavier. No time off for good behavior. RIP. – X Atencio was originally an artist who first tried his hand at songwriting for Pirates of the Caribbean (for which he also wrote the script), and then he wrote the lyrics for “Grim Grinning Ghosts” as well as the script for the Haunted Mansion.
* Master Gracey laid to rest. No mourning, please, at his request. Farewell. – Famed Imagineer Yale Gracey was one of the “special effects wizards” who worked to develop the illusions for the attraction. Based on the epitaph eulogizing the character named after him, guests began to assume Master Gracey was the proprietor of the Haunted Mansion, and because this theory was so widely accepted, Disney decided to make it canon.
*First lady of the opera, Our haunting Harriet. Searched for a tune, But never could carry it. – Harriet Burns was the first female Imagineer at Disney, and she worked on the initial models for Haunted Mansion, as well as the character finishing.
*Dear Sweet Leota, beloved by all. In regions beyond now, but having a ball. – Leota Toombs (Madam Leota) was an Imagineer who worked on the New York World’s Fair, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
*Rolo Rumkin. Lived and Died a Friendly Bumpkin. Roland “Rolly” Crump was a concept artist who designed a variety of figures and creations intended to appear in an extension of the Haunted Mansion called “Museum of the Weird.” Although the museum never came to fruition, his designs inspired many of the scenes in today’s attraction, including the eye-conic purple wallpaper.
Be sure to look for another familiar resident among the tombstones in the pet cemetery at the end of the ride. A statue of Mr. Toad, whose “Wild Ride” closed permanently in 1998 to make room for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, stands in this fenced area.
Eerie lighting and candlelit windows give off some especially spooky vibes during the nighttime hours at the Haunted Mansion. If you keep a watchful eye, you may also see something even more chilling illuminate the attraction’s exterior. From time to time, the orange glow of an oil lamp slowly creeps past a window, and guests can use their imaginations to guess which of the 999 happy haunts is on the move! This effect appears in the top left window at the front of the Disneyland mansion and is visible in four separate windows at the Magic Kingdom.
Searching For Clues
It’s well-known that Disney often embeds story details into the concrete on the ground at the parks–Fantasyland, for example, is littered with horseshoe prints and carriage wheel treads. In the Magic Kingdom cemetery queue area, you can find the groundskeeper’s footprints and his dog’s pawprints treading a path toward a doggie door into the mausoleum.
One of the most well-known Haunted Mansion fan legends came from a small scrap of metal left in the cement after the removal of a gate post. Because the shiny circular object looked uncannily like a wedding ring, cast members and guests began to speculate about where it came from, and the story of Constance Hatchaway hurling it from the balcony after murdering one of her husbands became popular fan lore. During a ride refurbishment, the ring was removed, prompting an outcry from guests, so when Imagineers designed the interactive queue, they added a real engagement ring. Be sure to look for it on the ground as you wait to enter the attraction in Walt Disney World.
If you look closely at the organ in the interactive queue at Disney World, you’ll see the name Ravenscroft etched above the keys, which is a reference to Thurl Ravenscroft, a voice actor and singer in several Disney films, who is also part of the Haunted Mansion attraction as the lead singing bust in the graveyard scene.
Another little-known secret on the “Composer’s Crypt” is a reference to the organ in the ballroom. The spirits that adorn the pipes in the queue appear to be the same translucent ones that rise from the pipes on the ballroom organ.
The Sea Captain
Sea Captain Culpepper Clyne, whose name is a nod to the glass reflection technique used to create the dancing ghosts in the ballroom (called Pepper’s Ghost, after the scientist who popularized the illusion), is entombed in the Magic Kingdom cemetery, where he can sometimes be heard singing sea shanties and sneezing sprays of water, or even bubbles, from his crypt. His character is a tribute to a concept Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey envisioned years ago for the Haunted Mansion. They imagined an encounter with a sea captain surrounded by water during which his ghost would fly out of a portrait at guests.
The portrait of “The Mariner” hanging in the loading zone for the ride is another element inspired by the sea captain character – his hat sits on top of Clyne’s tomb, implying the two characters are actually one and the same.
Ashes Have Been Spread in the Haunted Mansion
Perhaps the most disturbing Haunted Mansion secret that goes beyond the details of the attraction is that numerous people over the years have attempted to become the final ghost in the Haunted Mansion.
In the ride, there is a classic line: “We have 999 happy haunts here, but we have room for a thousand….Any volunteers?”
Over the years guests have attempted to bring ashes into Walt Disney World and Disneyland to make the Haunted Mansion their final resting place. The Wall Street Journal has even reported that this is attempted monthly and that there is a special custodial code for when this happens. Disney is very strict on this and will immediately escort guests off the premises for even attempting this.
There are plenty more compelling secrets like these all over the Disney parks, which is one of the many reasons we keep going back. Discovering new and interesting story details in the attractions is all part of the fun!
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