Welcome, foolish mortals!
The Haunted Mansion is one of Disney World’s most iconic rides. It was an opening day attraction at Magic Kingdom and guests still eagerly (and nervously!) anticipate their tour of this spooky spectacle over 50 years later. But just who are the happy haunts we meet in The Haunted Mansion? Let’s take a look!
(But listen up, Mansion diehards — we hear you! This post is JUST the backstory and plot of the Florida version of the Mansion. Each version worldwide has a different backstory and different interpretations of the characters. We’re focusing on Walt Disney World’s Mansion for now, but may take an in-depth look at the others later!)
Wait, What is The Haunted Mansion?
Here’s a brief introduction for those who haven’t yet visited this eerie estate! The Haunted Mansion takes guests on a tour of the ghostly grounds, and it’s led by your very own Ghost Host. The experience begins before even entering the building, as the queue also nods to some of the mansion’s residents, including the debated owner, Master Gracey (but more on THAT later!).
Once guests enter the ride, a Doom Buggy transports them through the mansion, as they observe the activities of the ghostly residents, including a séance conducted by Madame Leota, a party in the Grand Hall, and a menacing bride in the attic. Now, let’s learn a little more about how these residents came to earn their places in The Haunted Mansion!
As mentioned before, Master Gracey is the owner of the mansion. Well…sort of. But not really. In addition to spotting his tombstone in the queue, guests will spot a slowly aging portrait of a man over the fireplace when they first enter the mansion. But is this ACTUALLY Master Gracey?
As it turns out, Disney guests had a hand in creating the “semi-official” canon that Master Gracey owns the mansion and adorns the portrait, but it’s still hotly contended amongst Mansion fans!
Master Gracey’s tombstone was one of the original ones installed in the family plot of The Haunted Mansion. This was a tribute to Imagineer Yale Gracey, who had a large role in creating the attraction. Guests and Cast Members were so sure of Master Gracey’s role as the owner of the estate and subject of the aging portrait, that it became adopted as part of the attraction’s backstory, and most notably was a main plot point in the 2003 film adaptation.
In reality? No one knows for sure! The portrait was originally referred to as the Aging Man or the Master of the House. His identity wasn’t originally made known when the attraction debuted. Some guests have even interpreted the portrait to be the Ghost Host, but we’ll get to him next!
Looking for more spooky fun? Check out everything returning to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party!
The “Ghost Host”
Okay, now it’s time to bust a myth — the omniscient voice which narrates the attraction (our so-called “Ghost Host”) is NOT Master Gracey! Nope, despite the fact that we first hear his voice during the aging portrait scene in the queue, it’s a totally different person…or should we say, spirit…but we do still get a glimpse of him in portrait form on the ride. The Ghost Host’s portrait hangs in the Corridor of Doors. Does he look familiar??
Much of the Ghost Host’s story is shrouded in secrecy. Although we do get a glimpse (albeit a very brief one!) into how he met his end in the stretching room (look up when the lightning flashes!). And his portrait illustrates what might have occurred immediately after this scene for our tour guide.
You can “spot” the Ghost Host in one other location on the attraction — the haunted piano your doom buggy crosses in the attraction! Look down and you’ll see the shadow of the Ghost Host playing the piano cast on the floor!
Another character guests encounter is the ghostly bride, Constance Hatchaway, but this Black Widow Bride wasn’t a part of the attraction until 2006!
We meet Constance in the attic, as we pass by portraits of her and her former husbands, who each met a violent and untimely demise. Constance was in search of wealth, which she obtained by marrying rich men and then murdering them following their wedding day. That’s why each time we see her in the attic following another marriage portrait, she’s wearing an additional strand of pearls around her neck.
And it looks like Constance never got caught. How do we know? Well, it turns out we’ve seen her depicted before — Constance is one of the people depicted in the stretching room portraits, sitting on top of her most recently deceased husband’s tombstone.
Prior to 2006, you might recall still seeing a bride — a much spookier one — in the attic. Known unofficially as the Beating Heart Bride, the predecessor to Constance was a much more low-tech bride holding a candle, featuring a loud beating heart sound, no discernible face (short of glowing eyes!), and a glowing red heart in her chest.
This Bride went through a few iterations in both Disneyland and Disney World before ultimately being replaced in 2006 by now well-known Constance! This version of the bride intentionally was never given an official backstory, so her story could be interpreted as both tragic or malicious depending on the guest!
A fun addition with the 2006 graveyard makeover came in the form of Constance’s wedding ring. As you walk the queue (near Master Gracey’s grave by the Captain Culpepper Clyne tomb) look down in the corner. You might spot a wedding ring embedded in the pavement.
This was added as a nod to guests asking if the original Beating Heart Bride’s wedding ring was in the concrete — it was just a ring of metal from a pole in the ground, but the rumor stuck! When the queue was expanded, the Imagineers added a real ring for fans.
There is at least one more well-known character guests become a little more familiar with on the attraction — the mysterious Madame Leota. We see Leota (well, at least we see her head!) as she’s calling out to the spirits in a séance. And while the ride might leave her story a little vague, we can learn more about her with a trip to the Memento Mori shop.
Clues throughout the shop let us in on Leota’s backstory. She was a witch living in Salem, Massachusetts, until the beginning of the Salem Witch Trials when she fled the state. She relocated to a village in the Hudson River Valley, New York, and opened a shop called “Memento Mori Curios and Curiosities.”
She met the wealthy Gracey family and grew so close to them that she was buried in the Gracey Family Plot upon her death. Guests can spot her watchful — and sometimes OPEN! — eyes on her tombstone right before they enter the mansion!
The Hitchhiking Ghosts
Aren’t these fellas familiar!? If you listen to your Ghost Host near the end of the ride, he may warn you to, “Beware of hitchhiking ghosts!” He means these guys!
These guys don’t have much of a backstory that is known! What IS known is their unofficial names: Phineas (the traveler), Ezra (the skeleton), and Gus (the prisoner). (And for you diehard mansion fans out there, the Hatbox Ghost is different from these dudes and is ONLY in Disneyland.)
“Hurry back. Hurry back. Be sure to bring your…death certificate.”
Did you notice as you exit the Mansion, a tiny-sized bride speaking to you? Constance again?! Not so much.
This bride is affectionately referred to as “Little Leota” or the Ghostess (a combination of ghost and hostess!). She was conceived by Imagineer Marc Davis to help you “make final arrangements” to stay in the Mansion at the end of your tour!
She earned the name Little Leota not for her relation to Madame Leota, but rather because her face and voice come from Imagineer Leota Toombs, who was the face actress (but not the voice actress) for the Leota in the Séance Room. Be sure to bid her farewell before you re-enter the mortal world!
It turns out there’s more to these spooky specters than meets the eye. From malevolent brides, to friendly mediums, to invisible tour guides, it’s been a pleasure getting to know a few of the 999 happy haunts that reside in The Haunted Mansion! Maybe next time we’ll get into New Orleans plantations and a fella by the name of Captain Gore over at the Mansion in Disneyland. 😉 And remember, there’s still room for one more — any takers??
What is your favorite part of The Haunted Mansion? Let us know in the comments!