The History of the Haunted Mansion Hatbox Ghost
Have you ever browsed through Haunted Mansion merchandise and saw a creepy ghost in a top hat? Did you rack your memory, trying to remember where he is on the ride? He’s in the graveyard…no he’s in the library? Are you still unsure? If you’ve only been to Disney World, you’ve never seen the Hatbox Ghost in person. Just his merchandise. If you’ve visited Disneyland, there’s still a good chance you’ve never encountered him. Crazy, right. But this ghastly ghoul has resurrected himself to haunt New Orleans Square once more. And now it is time to tell the tale of The Hatbox Ghost and his mysterious disappearance.
The Vanishing Ghost
The Hatbox Ghost is an animatronic figure designed by one of Disney’s Nine Old Men, Marc Davis. The Hatbox Ghost is an elderly man in a top hat with a devilish gleam. He leans against a cane and in his spare hand, he holds a hatbox. When the ride first opened at Disneyland in 1969, he resided in the attic next to the Ghost Bride. As the Doom Buggy approached, his head disappeared from his neck and reappeared in his hatbox. As the guests rode past him, his head returned to his body once more, waiting to spook the next guest. The Hatbox Ghost worked in harmony with the Ghost Bride. His disappearing head trick synchronizing with her beating heart.
During the pre-opening week, the Hatbox Ghost was functional. Disney cast members rode the attraction with him inside. Some park guests saw him during the ride’s opening month. However, the special effects weren’t as effective as the Disney Imagineers had hoped for. The disappearing head trick relied on lighting, but the Doom Buggies were too close to the figure. Riders could see that the Hatbox Ghost’s head never completely disappeared. The effect wasn’t convincing.
Disney decided to remove the Hatbox Ghost from the mansion. Imagineers developed a second figure for the Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion. It was never used. The Hatbox Ghost never joined his Floridian brethren as one of the 999 happy haunts.
The grim, grinning ghost was no longer out to socialize.
What Happened to the Hatbox Ghost
Disney never released a statement about the fate of the original Hatbox Ghost. Some believe that Imagineers recycled and reused his parts for another animatronic. Others say he disappeared, along with his Walt Disney World counterpart. Many argued that he never existed at all. The internet long ago disproved that theory. The Hatbox Ghost was a mystery in the mansion that prided itself on the mysterious.
Though the Hatbox Ghost was gone, he was never truly forgotten. The Hatbox Ghost became known as a cult figure. He made a brief cameo in the direct-to-video film Mickey’s House of Villains. In 2009, the Hatbox Ghost was featured on merchandise celebrating the Haunted Mansion’s 40th anniversary. His reappearance ignited rumors of his return to the mansion.
His resurrection occurred May 9, 2015, to help Disneyland celebrate its 60th anniversary. The current animatronic isn’t the original, but his design resembles the original haunt. He no longer resides in the attic but dwells in the hallway after it.
Just as the Hatbox Ghost had done once before, his head disappears from his body and reappears in his Hat Box. However, technology has bestowed him extra effects. His eyes look back and forth and can narrow. His head disappears into the mist and he chuckles as his head leaves his body. He is the Hatbox Ghost the original Imagineers wished they could’ve developed.
The Hatbox Ghost Lives On
The Hatbox Ghost doesn’t appear in any of the international Disney Parks, but his molding does. Phantom Manor was an original attraction when Disneyland Paris opened in 1992. Phantom Manor is the European version of the Haunted Mansion. It has a different story and darker tone but retains many of the original elements. Within the Manor is an evil, lurking animatronic called The Phantom. The facial features of The Phantom are very similar to the Hatbox Ghost. Fans have speculated that this figure is a reincarnation of the Hatbox Ghost. That the Phantom and the Hatbox Ghost are the same spiritual being. Disney has never confirmed the theory.
In July 2010, director Guillermo del Toro made an announcement at Comic-Con. He was developing a film based on the Haunted Mansion. The film was going to have a darker tone than the previous Haunted Mansion film. In the panel, he said the Hatbox Ghost would be a prominent figure in the movie. There have been no updates on the project.
Renewed interest in the Hatbox Ghost has revived an old, legendary figure. I just hope the mysterious ending of the first Hatbox Ghost isn’t fated for the new one.
Special thanks to Brittni Sutter for writing this article! As a lover of all things Disney, I’ve made it my life’s mission to learn about the history and artistry the House of Mouse. I’ve vacationed to half of the resorts and plan to complete the Disney Parks mecca in the coming years. I fill my life with as much magic as Disney can muster and I love encouraging others to do the same.
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