Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Hatbox Ghost Returns to Disneyland

By Keith Mahne

After 46 years of waiting in purgatory, the Hatbox Ghost has finally returned home! The Hatbox Ghost is a character that appeared originally in The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland but was removed shortly after the attraction's debut. Located formerly in the attic scene, the figure is described as "an elderly ghost in a cloak and top hat, leaning on a cane with a wavering hand and clutching a hatbox in the other." The idea behind The Hatbox Ghost was for his head to vanish from atop his shoulders and reappear alternately inside his hatbox, in time with an adjacent bride figure's beating heart. Let's have a look at some brand new footage of the Hatbox Ghost's return and also see some old footage and history of this cherished, legendary character...

The Hatbox Ghost was installed inside The Haunted Mansion and in place for cast member previews on the nights of August 7 and 8, 1969. Almost immediately, it became apparent that the effect had failed, as ambient light in the attraction's attic scene prevented the specter's face from disappearing fully, despite the turning off of its designated spotlight. According to Imagineer Chris Merritt in an interview with, the effect was never completely successful due to the illusion's close proximity to the ride vehicles:
"The gag was based purely on lighting. The ghost's head was illuminated by black lighting. A light inside the hatbox he held would rhythmically illuminate and hide the head in the hatbox, while, in tandem, the actual head on the ghost's shoulders would be hidden by extinguishing the black lighting."

Attempts were made to remedy technical problems, but the effect wasn't convincing enough, and the ghost was decommissioned after a few months. A photo of the original figure can be seen above.

A number of press photos with Yale Gracey were taken with the Hatbox Ghost, and could be seen in papers as early as May 1969.

The Hatbox Ghost was featured prominently in early artwork and narration for popular Haunted Mansion record albums sold for many years at Disney parks. Because Disney continues to market the ghost's image, he has never been forgotten and has become somewhat of a legend, complete with cult following.

After opening day, a number of merchandising materials started to appear. One of which was this story record, with the Hatbox Ghost pictured in the center.

Close up of the Hatbox Ghost from the record.

While it is unknown what became of The Hatbox Ghost, there are speculations as to his fate. One report claims Marc Davis stated that its parts were recycled into one of the Eagle Sam audio-animatronics used in the America Sings attraction which opened at Disneyland in 1974.

A second Hatbox Ghost was produced for but never installed in Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion. The whereabouts of this figure remain a mystery as well. However, the head on the pop-up ghoul that is seen as guests depart the Disneyland Haunted Mansion's interior cemetery scene is identical to that of the original Hatbox Ghost.

Below is Haunted Mansion Reference Manual used by cast members to maintain and repair the effects in the mansion displaying the schematics for the Hatbox Ghost:



Below is some wonderful home video footage showing the illusive Hatbox Ghost in his original location:


Finally, with modern technology, Disney Imagineers were able to resurrect the 999th happy haunt for Disneyland's 60th anniversary diamond celebration! While Disney never clarified how the Hatbox Ghost would return, the below video shows that he’s been reintegrated back with his 998 supernatural buddies. Fans of the iconic Haunted Mansion can now catch him after the iconic ballroom scene, as you make your way around a corner into the graveyard set. After 46 years, the Hatbox Ghost is now back home:


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four.

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.
You can find all of Keith's articles here.

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