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Daffy Stardust takes on Haunted Mansion theories

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It’s just a few days after Christmas, so obviously the natural thing to do is to compose another post about Disney’s Haunted Mansion. The topics I’m going to cover here were touched on a bit in last year’s tour of the Walt Disney World version of the Mansion, but since I’m still finding these fan theories lingering I thought I’d talk about them in a little more detail than before. I’ll be asking three central questions, with a little bit of crossover. Who is Master Gracey? Is he the Ghost Host? Do you die on the ride? Some fans will give you a “yes” to those last two questions, but I’m not so sure. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Who is Master Gracey?
This is really a question that very few casual guests to the Mansion would even think to ask. After all, the name isn’t referenced during the body of the actual ride. So why has the name become so central to Haunted Mansion mythology? Well, let’s start with where the name originated from to begin with.

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Yale Gracey was the name of a prominent “imagineer” who worked on the creation of the Haunted Mansion attraction. The photo above is a promotional shot used by Disney to advertise the coming spook show before it opened at Disneyland in 1969. You may notice that it shows Gracey working with the original notorious Hatbox Ghost. This figure, although it was featured significantly in surviving Haunted Mansion product, including the two “Story and Song” records, was removed very soon after the attraction opened and remained a bit of a mysterious character until earlier this decade. The character was finally re-inserted into the Disneyland version of the ride in 2015 shortly before my trip west to Anaheim.

But of course that’s a totally different story than what we’re intended to cover here. When the original Haunted Mansion attraction was being prepped for introduction to guests, the imagineers decided to include a series of half-serious tombstones in the queue area where riders would wait for their turn to board a doombuggy. As an inside joke, they used their own names on these morbid throw-away gags.

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This tombstone uses the name of imagineer Claude Coats…

 

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…and this one mentions Xavier Atencio, who wrote the script for the ride.

Over the years, visitors to the Disney parks have stood in line and enjoyed reading these tombstones, most of them with no idea the names referred to real people.


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As an important member of the team, Yale Gracey got a tombstone in the queue as well. Unlike the others, however, it has garnered a bit of special attention due to the formal title that was placed before his name on it. “Master” was a term used in Victorian times (which the architecture of the Mansions can be argued to reflect) at least as often to refer to a young boy who was not yet old enough to be called “Mister.” But of course the word has been widely used in later years to refer to anyone who is in charge. It is this second way that most Haunted Mansion fans have interpreted the inscription on Gracey’s tombstone even though it is unclear whether the imagineers intended it this way. There were clearly other imagineers who might have been more appropriately given this distinction. Once this assumption had been made, the presence of the portrait of a memorable upper-class figure inside the Mansion proper led to a connection between the two.

This changing portrait appears along with some others in the Disneyland Mansion, but it takes a place of honor on its own above a fireplace in the very first room of the Florida Mansion. It didn’t take imaginative fans much effort to link the two and decide that the changing portrait was the aforementioned “Master Gracey” even though there was no clear reference to this in the attraction. Disney appears to have gotten behind this theory, as they are wont to do at times. The iconic hitchhiking ghosts shown at the top of this article were named by fans and those names have ended up in official Disney product and on new tombstones when the Disney World queue was expanded a few years ago.

So when a live action film adaptation of the ride was produced some time ago, Master Gracey was made the tragic hero of the piece. Heck, they even went to the trouble of casting an actor who bore a pretty good resemblance to the figure in the portrait.

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Therefore, although the theory that the character shown in the changing portrait was named “Master Gracey” was a fan invention, I’m going to shrug and support it too, in part because Disney has supported the idea by making it part of the movie. Unfortunately, such an endorsement from this source will not always stand the scrutiny it will fall under. Remember how bad the movie was? I’m typically going to put more weight on other sources, especially if that source is the attraction itself. This leads us to our second theory.

Is Master Gracey the Ghost Host?

If you lean completely on the terrible Eddie Murphy movie that was released in 2003 you’re also going to go along with this one. After all, that’s exactly what the Disney-produced movie tells you to believe.

But who exactly is the Ghost Host anyway, and why would there be any doubt cast on this Disney-endorsed identity? If you have been on either of the Haunted Mansion attractions in the United States you are probably familiar with the Ghost Host as the formless spirit who welcomes you into the old home and talks to you along the way. He was voiced by successful voice actor Paul Frees, who is also known for his work on The Shaggy Dog and The Absent-Minded Professor. He greets you as you arrive and then exhorts you further in to the building and to the famous “stretching room,” where he then taunts you by pointing out that there are no doors or windows  there to provide a way out. He then leers ominously, “Of course there’s always my way!” and we are immediately treated to the biggest scare of the attraction, as the lights go out and we hear thunder and lightning, which reveals the presence of a corpse swinging from the ceiling of the tall room on a noose, followed by a scream and a sickening crash.

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Clearly we are being told that the Ghost Host ended his mortal suffering through suicide and that the corpse hanging there from the rafters is his. And the movie seems to support that this is Master Gracey, showing his body hanging from a very similar ceiling.

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I’m not sure if this is Disney or just a piece of fan art, but I also found a picture of a lapel pin which expressly links the portrait that has been identified as Master Gracey with the title “Ghost Host.”

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Surely this is iron-clad evidence supporting this identity. Well…not entirely.

While I agree that this is strong evidence, there is a lot of other conflicting information, too. First of all, let’s consider that the changing portrait, which has so firmly been established as Master Gracey, goes through a long series of changes as the character ages. Notice how I emphasize that last word? Movie Gracey never ages past his resemblance to the young adult version which is most associated with the changing portrait. The Gracey of the attraction, on the other hand, progresses to a gnarled old state before finally turning to a skeleton. You saw this in the above video. Don’t try to tell me you didn’t. It should be re-iterated here that I consider the attraction to be canon and everything else to be suspicious or maybe just at the level of fan fiction. Either way, the moral of the changing portrait gag is that everything fades. Everyone gets old and dies, no matter how vital and proud they are at any point in their life. Suicide, as a subversion of this ideal, is often considered sinful. The character featured in the Master Gracey changing portrait does not succumb to this failure.

But the Ghost Host does. How do we reconcile these facts? Well, let’s consider what we know about both the Ghost Host and the figure hanging in the stretching room. The very first thing we know about the Ghost Host is that he greets us as we enter the mansion. He then acts as our guide through its corridors, including the room where he shows us his own dead body hanging from a noose. Let’s take an up-close look at that body.

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This corpse appears to have mildly long hair, but not to the degree that it would rule out the Master Gracey we know if he had gone to seed just a little before doing the deed  Focus instead on the clothes it is wearing. Hmmm…they are badly faded and degraded, but we definitely know that we’re looking at pinstriped pants, a dress shirt and vest, and a coat with tails and a two-tone collar. Very little of that matches with what Movie Gracey is wearing when he hangs himself (but since we’ve pretty much proven that the attraction’s version of Master Gracey did not commit suicide, let’s stop focusing on that). And of course we know that he’s on the business end of a rope. Who else does that remind us of?

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How about this guy?

The Hatchet man actually has two different portraits in the Mansion, first in the loading area where you wait for your Doombuggy, and then a full-length version in the corridor of doors deeper into the attraction. The character closely resembles traditional horror comic book characters from the post-war era before the comic book companies were forced to self-regulate for more family friendly content. The resemblance between the corpse hanging in the stretching room and the Hatchet Man has been noticed by other Mansion fans before, but as I’ve said, I continue to see claims that Master Gracey is the Ghost Host. Dan from the Long Forgotten Haunted Mansion blog put together the below image, noting the similarities. I find this to be pretty convincing.

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Another bit of interest in connection with what the corpse and the Hatchet Man are wearing is that it’s not that different from the uniforms that the attraction’s butlers wear. The dark green coats have tails and two-tone lapels and the vests are purple. The primary difference is that the pants of the butler’s uniform are a plain dark green rather than blue and pinstriped.

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Is it possible that the Hatchet Man, who is probably also the Ghost Host, was a member of the house staff? I don’t think that’s much of a leap. Remember that he is there to meet us at the door and shows us around the place. That sounds like the job of a butler to me. So is Master Gracey, the real Gracey from the attraction, actually also the Ghost Host? No, I don’t think that can be effectively argued when put up against the above evidence. I believe Gracey died of old age, while the Ghost Host ended his own life.

But what about you? Do you survive your experience in the Haunted Mansion?

There is an interesting theory among some Haunted Mansion fans that suggests that you don’t. Here’s how it goes: During most of the ride, most of the ghosts don’t pay any attention to you. In fact, many of them seem to outright ignore you or be incapable of seeing you at all. But then when you encounter the Bride in the attic, you fall out of the window there. To your death. This theory identifies the shift of the doombuggy to travelling backwards as a part of the indication that you are falling. You then gain wide recognition from the ghosts in the cemetery which is because they can all see you now that you are also a ghost. It’s a clever little theory, and there are elements that to it that I do find appealing.

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But it’s wrong.

Let me tell you three, count ’em three reasons why this theory doesn’t hold up to the information we’ve got. For the first, I’m going to seemingly break one of my own rules. I’m going to present info from another source. While I certainly don’t consider such information to be canon, I do think it can be called on in support of other good evidence, especially if it’s a relatively strong source with ties to the original imagineers. This one is pretty good.

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Two different versions of a story and song vinyl record were released to help promote the attraction, one came out in 1969 and was aimed at a preteen audience, while the other came out a year later and was targeted at a younger audience. Members of the voice casts include both Thurl Ravenscroft and Eleanor Audley, both of whom also appear in the actual attraction.

If you feel like listening to the passage in question, it starts in this version at about 19:22 above (yes, that’s a young Ron Howard). The transcript goes something like this:

“Karen: We’re trapped… there’s no way out!

Mike: Hold the candles… I’ll try to open this window. Come on! We’re in luck! There’s a balcony out here. Watch your step… the rains made everything slippery.

Karen: The candles went out again.

Mike: Just leave them… we’re outside now. Everything’s going to be okay! There’s some steps down at the far end!

Karen: But they lead to the graveyard!

Mike: Come on… it’s the only way!

Narrator: Our adventurous pair descended the steps to the ground level and began their walk through the private burial ground, trying to find their way out of this living nightmare.”

This version of the record flat-out states that the mortals who venture into the Haunted Mansion climb down some stairs to get to the graveyard.

So what about the version from 1970 you say? Well, it’s a little different, but not in any way that helps your argument if you think the guests are supposed to be falling to their deaths.

This time, the record is delivered in first person and the narrator explicitly claims that they climbed out onto a balcony and then down a tree, with no mention of any kind of fall.

Okay, so that’s what they told kids who bought the record way back when the ride first opened. Surely that’s not all the evidence I’ve got. Well, no, it’s not, but since this new evidence is from the soundtrack of the actual attraction and survives to this day, you’ll still have to patiently read some quotes. These are from the attraction’s famous theme song “Grim Grinning Ghosts” which the spirits finally sing shortly after we climb out of that window. Check out these lyrics to the song’s final verse:

If you would like to join our jamboree, there’s a simple rule that’s compulsory.
Mortals pay a token fee. Rest in peace, the haunting’s free.
So hurry back. We would like your company.”

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That’s a big “if” at the beginning there, isn’t it? This verse lays down some ground rules just in case you’d like to join the ghosts at the Haunted Mansion. Why would they be singing this to you if you’d already died on the grounds? It’s haunting 101. Ghosts are traditionally bound to the physical place where they die, either to a building or maybe to its surrounding area. If you had fallen and died you would already have joined them there at the Mansion, and you sure wouldn’t be able to leave in any way that would necessitate having to “hurry back.” There is one standard exception to the rule of a ghost being stuck in the place where they died, and that’s if they bond themselves to a mortal, in effect taking residence in them. It’s a haunting of sorts that allows them to travel.

What does that sound like?

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Ah, yes, we’re right back where we started, aren’t we? Tell me…why would the hitchhiking ghosts bother with haunting another ghost? That would do them no good. They can’t follow another ghost home, because ghosts typically don’t travel. Ghosts stay put. Mortals would be excellent targets, though, wouldn’t they? That’s what you are, and when the hitchhiking ghosts show up with you in those mirrors that’s the implication. They are haunting you, a mortal.

You are not dead.

Does anybody here have any additional thoughts on these theories? Let me know in the comments below!

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Posted on December 27, 2016, in Analysis, Internet Urban Legends, Magic Kingdom, Movies, Nostalgia, theme parks, travel, Walt Disney World and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. This is some really solid analysis. I would expect no less from our Mansion expert, of course. I am not especially friendly to fan theories. I guess they are fun for those who like to play along, but more often than not, they don’t hold up to scrutiny.

    I think I can safely say that fans have put more thought into the backstory of the Haunted Mansion attraction than the Imagineers who made it. The story of the attraction is, there is no story. Guests experience a haunted house with all the gimmicks and gags the Imagineers could conceive of. The fact that the attraction has inspired such speculation just shows how much imagination went into its design. But I really don’t think anyone involved in making the original attraction was concerned with any of these questions.

    Having said all that, I’ll play along. On the question of “who is Master Gracey”, I can accept that he might be the guy in the portrait. I don’t really care what the movie says. As far as I’m concerned, the movie didn’t happen. It doesn’t exist. No one involved understood anything about the Haunted Mansion. Is the Hatchet Man the Ghost Host? You provided enough evidence to me that I could go along with that. Or it could be one of the other 998 inhabitants of the house. There’s a lot of ghosts there.

    Do we die in the ride? I think the song makes it pretty obvious that is not the intent. I’m surprised anyone goes along with this one. Some fans just get carried away with their theories.

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    • I definitely think that sometimes fans spend a lot more time thinking about some artistic decisions which were often made instinctively by the artist. At the same time, there are also lots of decisions that are agonized over by artists which fans then barely take notice of.

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