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The History of the "Heart" of Disney's Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion's Attic Scene's evolution through the years.

By Sean CallaghanPublished about a year ago Updated 9 months ago 6 min read
Montage by Dan Olson of the iterations of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion Attic Bride.

Change is supposedly one of the foundational principles of the Disney Parks. However, one attraction, The Haunted Mansion remains largely as it did when it opened over 50 years ago on August 9th 1969. That is except for one scene The Attic, which has seen several drastic changes over the years while retaining basically the same premise.

In August 1969, the scene started with a view of an open hatbox as you entered the attic. Suddenly a banshee-like face popped up out of the hatbox with a blood curdling scream. As you turned a corner to your left was yet another hatbox with another head popping out of it. right behind this was a figure dressed as a Bride with a corpse like face, holding a candle and a bouquet of flowers. A glowing red heart beats from her chest, the sound of her beating heart reverberates through the entire scene in addition to the screams from the pop-up ghosts of which three more pop out of trunks.

finally toward the end of the scene another spirit beckons on the right hand side near the attic's exit stood a hunched-over man wearing a top hat with a similar skull-like visage as the Bride. his head supposedly would disappear with each beat of the bride's heart and re-appear in the hatbox he held in his hand. In his other hand he held a cane which shook. I say supposedly because the effect never truly worked on the actual ride. It was a simple lighting effect that while looked good at the warehouses of WED Enterprises (Now known as Walt Disney Imagineering) never looked truly convincing from the ride vehicle.

The only known photo of the Hatbox Ghost as he appeared in the attic scene in 1969.

It can be inferred from the way the scene was originally set up that the Bride was responsible for beheading the Hatbox Ghost and the others. due to the staging. This carefully staged premise was sadly gone within a few weeks, when Imagineers pulled the Hatbox Ghost from the ride after failing to make the effect look convincing. The Bride was moved to The Hatbox Ghost's original spot in the attic as the conclusion of the scene. When the Walt Disney World version of the scene opened two years later most of the hatbox imagery was gone with the pop-up ghosts popping out of trunks with only a solitary red hatbox on a dresser next to the Bride who debuted in the spot where the Hatbox Ghost would have been. Things stayed pretty consistent until the late 70s when both Brides were given a slight tweaking from their original skull-like visage to a completely darkened face with glowing eyes. Without the Hatbox Ghost there to provide context to the scene many people wondered what the Bride's purpose was considering her prominent staging in the scene.

In 1995, Imagineer's decided to revamp the attic scene at Disneyland to further solidify the Bride's purpose. The Pop-up Ghosts were changed from screaming to shouting "I Do". A piano was added playing "The Wedding March" in a minor key and the Bride herself was given a make-over turning her face a ghostly blue. A year later at Walt Disney World, Imagineer's went a different way with their attic. The original screams of the pop-up ghosts were kept but the trunks they popped out of were removed and they were dressed as groomsmen. The Bride was also given a re-do with a rather wild white hairdo and glowing yellow eyes in addition to ghostly blue skin. Fans were installed underneath the Bride to make her appear to be floating.

As the internet got going in the late 90s, More and more people with memories of the few weeks the Hatbox Ghost spent in the mansion came forward with their stories. The Hatbox Ghost started to become a cult figure among die-hard Haunted Mansion fans.

After the first Haunted Mansion Holiday in 2002, Disneyland's Bride was given another makeover changing her eyes to pale blank ones and covering her face with her veil. More drastic changes were to come. In early 2006 Online blogger Al Lutz posted a story that the Attic Scene would be completely re-worked with portraits of aristocratic gentlemen replacing the pop-up heads. Their heads would disappear from their bodies. At the end of the scene would be the Bride, now instead of a candle and flowers she would be yielding a razor sharp axe. The Mansion re-opened from it's holiday version in early 2006 with the old Bride still there but the pop-up ghosts were indeed gone. over the next few weeks Imagineers re-arranged the attic scene to better fit the new narrative hiding their overnight work with purple sheets which became a popular early meme on micechat.com.

Finally in May 2006 the new scene was revealed. There were portraits of five grooms, Ambrose Harper, Frank Banks, The Marquis De Doom, Reginald Caine and George Hightower, each one richer than the last, their heads slowly disappear from their bodies.( All are portrayed by various Disney Imagineers) Finally we see the Bride now known as Constance Hatchaway who had returned to the left side of the track but closer to the exit than the original Bride. Rather than being an audio-animatronic like all the previous Brides, Constance uses an updated version of the "Leota effect" found elsewhere in the Mansion. The character is projected onto a veiled mannequin. She is visually portrayed by actress Julia Lee and voiced by voice actress Kat Cressida. Constance lacks the beating red heart of her predecessors though the beating heart sound remains. She also now talks, reciting mock wedding vows. (In sickness and in wealth.) Across the track in the Bride and Hatbox Ghost's old spot stood a hat rack upon which the hats of the various husbands hang. In addition to the original Attic Scene, Imagineering also neatly tied the new scene to one of the stretching portraits earlier in the ride. That of the widow on top of the grave of her beloved George which features a bust with an axe in his head.

Montage by Dan Olson

Over a year later, In September 2007, The new Attic Scene was brought over to Walt Disney World. The scene is virtually identical (minus the piano which was never added to the Walt Disney World Version because it would be too similar to an effect in the rides music room. a scene not present in the Disneyland version) Though the sound of the mournful wedding march did make it's way east with Constance. Speaking of Constance, the effect looks much better in the Walt Disney World incarnation. In addition to the hat rack in the Bride's old spot there lays a pile of hatboxes. Now there has been some criticism of the new scene but I think the scene is the natural evolution of the original scene restoring the context that was lost when the Hatbox Ghost was removed. Also Disney attractions have become more and more story driven in recent decades. (for better or worse.)

The Reginald tableau in the revised attic scene at Walt Disney World photo by David Lee Thompson.

This naturally set the stage for the return of the Hatbox Ghost which came close to happening in 2009 but had it's funding pulled at the last minute.

In 2015 after returning from the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay, a temporary window effect appeared after the attic scene. A few weeks later the Disney Parks Blog announced the return of the Hatbox Ghost. On May 9th 2015, The Hatbox Ghost officially returned to the attraction in Disneyland. He was not placed in his original spot in the attic, rather in a specially built balcony overlooking the graveyard scene immediately after the attic. In addition a hatbox was added to each of the groom tableaux in the attic. The new Hatbox Ghost was perfected by WDI Illusioneer Daniel Joseph.

Since the debut of the new Hatbox Ghost, very little has changed in the Attic Scene at Disneyland. In 2021 a dollhouse shaped like the Disneyland Haunted Mansion appeared in the Ambrose tableau. The Disneyland incarnation of Constance continues to look worse and less convincing every year. Mostly due to the constant state of being un-installed and re-installed for the yearly Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay. Meanwhile at the 2022 D23 Expo it was announced that the Hatbox Ghost would debut at the Walt Disney World Mansion. At Destination D23 in 2023 it was announced the Hatbox Ghost would debut in November of 2023, Stupidly placed in The Endless Hallway scene earlier in the ride, voiding the long-established "Leota rule". (No ghosts can appear before Madame Leota summons them in the Seance Circle Scene.) This will be a topic for a future article. While The Haunted Mansion Attic Scene is the scene in the attraction which has evolved the most over the years. It will always be the dark heart of the attraction throughout it's evolution. With the return of the Hatbox Ghost (in Disneyland) The scene has come full circle.

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About the Creator

Sean Callaghan

Neurodivergent, Writer, Drummer, Singer, Percussionist, Star Wars and Disney Devotee.

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