Grim Grinning Ghosts

Haunted Mansion is my favorite Disney attraction, and over the years I’ve learned a lot about it. From trivia to behind-the-scenes, there’s a lot of Haunted Mansion info in my brain (taking up space I otherwise would have wasted on, like, algebra or something) and I thought it would be fun to share some of these spooky “secrets” with all of you.

There’s really more than enough Haunted Mansion information out there to fill several posts worth, so I’ve tried to limit this a bit. Most of the info presented here is stuff that I already knew–maybe just using some research to fill in gaps–as opposed to scouring the internet for factoids. Many of the “hidden” items I’ve personally seen, and if I do pull info from another source I try to indicate that.

I also don’t have any photos from inside the attraction, despite there being plenty of situations where that could be appropriate, so if you’re curious I highly recommend doing some searching online. I simply haven’t had the means to take quality shots while on the ride, and I always make it a point to post only my own pictures–or others that I have express permission to use–on this site. Oh, and the captions here have nothing to do with the photos themselves, and are just personal Haunted Mansion-related anecdotes.

As the ghost host says: There’s no turning back now…


My online nickname for games, forums, etc is “Doombug”, which is adapted directly from the Doom Buggy vehicles that carry guests through the ride. I might be slightly obsessed.

The Interactive Queue

This fun diversion was added in 2011 and offered people in line something to do while, well, waiting in line. There’s a pipe organ with the “brand name” Ravenscroft. This is a nod to Thurl Ravenscroft, who provided the voice for one of the singing busts (he also was a voice in the Pirates Of The Caribbean ride). He was also the distinctive vocalist of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” in the animated How The Grinch Stole Christmas and he voiced Tony the Tiger in the Frosted Flakes commercials.


When I proposed, an instrumental “Grim Grinning Ghosts” was playing. My wedding vest was made from fabric of the Haunted Mansion wallpaper (the purple with black monster faces). My wife and I wore custom Haunted Mansion-themed “bride” and “groom” shirts on our honeymoon. Nah, not obsessed at all…

In the interactive queue is a grave for Master Gracey. This headstone used to be in the cemetery along the outer perimeter of the line area, and when it was there cast members placed a fresh rose on the grave every morning. Master Gracey is named for Yale Gracey, a Disney Imagineer who created many of the special effects for the Haunted Mansion. There’s often some confusion between Master Gracey and the Ghost Host (who narrates the ride) as many fans consider them the same person, but official Disney lore is that they are in fact separate characters. Imagineer X. Atencio stated that the “master” simply refers to someone too young to be called mister, though most fans believe that Gracey is in fact the master of the mansion.


I actually used to be afraid of this ride when I was but a wee lad. Not enough to not go on it, but I got these frightened butterflies in my stomach while waiting in line.

There’s a large coffin in the queue for Captain Culpepper Clyne. Previously known just as “The Mariner”, he was actually supposed to be part the original Haunted Mansion attraction. He was ultimately cut, but his likeness appeared on a portrait within the mansion in a hallway where his eyes “followed” guests as they rode by. When that hall was renovated the portrait (without the moving eyes) got moved to a wall of the doom buggy loading area.


From my desk, I can see: a Haunted Mansion music box, Madame Leota snowglobe, hitchhiking ghost antenna topper, a framed photo of my wife and myself in front of the mansion, a Haunted Mansion book, and a set of plush hitchhiking ghosts. What was that about not obsessed?

The Ring

This little hidden item can be found embedded in the cement of the interactive queue route. Look on the ground, next to a garbage can, and you may find it.

There are two tales surrounding this engagement ring. The first is the “real” story: a small section of pipe had been left in the ground after the exit turnstiles were removed, leaving a ring of metal stuck in the concrete. Fans came up with a variety of legends to explain this ring–from Master Gracey throwing it out after his betrothed cheated on him, to it being all that remained after the bride leaped from the balcony–and the ring quickly became a part of the attraction’s unofficial lore. Eventually (and much to the chagrin of the fans) it was paved over.

When the interactive queue was built in 2011, Imagineers added in a new ring. According to a cast member, the legend of the ring is this: the bride was waiting for her fiancé to arrive, and when he didn’t, she threw her engagement ring out of the window. It fell to the ground below and over time became a part of the pavement itself.


At the end of the ride, the Ghost Host says “a ghost will follow you home”. As kids, my brother and I (upon exiting the ride) would talk to the “ghost” behind us for several minutes. Cute when we were young, probably a bit weird now…

Those gravestones with the cute rhymes that you pass as you walk through the queue? Most of the “deceased” are named after Imagineers. For example: the headstone with “Requiescat Francis Xavier, No Time Off For Good Behavior” is a reference to X. Atencio, the Imagineer who wrote the ride’s theme song Grim Grinning Ghosts.

Right before the doors to the mansion itself, Madame Leota’s headstone is to the left. If you watch her eyes, they will occasionally open and look around before closing again.


Obviously, I need to someday have my own headstone rigged to do this.

Before Boarding A Doom Buggy

In the lobby, a Dorian Gray-esque portrait changes from a young man to a skeleton in a matter of moments. It is commonly believed to be a portrait of Master Gracey by fans.

When he has reached his skeletal form, if you’ve got the chance, check out a spot above his eyes, right below the center of his forehead. You may see the lines and details forming the tiny face of Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Here’s the lowdown on that: In Disneyland the Haunted Mansion is given a Nightmare makeover for the Halloween season, however in Walt Disney World this doesn’t happen. There are, though, several hidden Jack Skellingtons throughout the Walt Disney World ride. For most of them you would need night vision (or a light source like a camera flash, which is obviously not cool), but the one on the Gracey portrait can be seen somewhat easily if you look for it. While I know about some of the others (thanks to a helpful cast member) this is the only one that I’ve personally seen.

Hidden Jack

Sorry for the atrocious image quality, but it’s tough to get a quick shot in the dark with an iPhone. But, you can see the hidden Jack here: start at the bridge of the nose and go straight up to a pair of dots (Jack’s eyes) and a line beneath them (his mouth).

The “Stretching Room” in the Disneyland attraction is actually an elevator, as the ride track itself is on a lower level than the entryway. This is not the case in the Walt Disney World version, but the room was so popular in the original attraction that they carried it over. So while the effect is the same in both, in California the floor is lowering and in Florida the ceiling is raising.

In the Stretching Room, be sure to look up when the Ghost Host says “…there’s always my way” to see the hanging body when the lights go out. Generally accepted lore is that this corpse is the body of the Ghost Host.

On the way out of the Stretching Room, try to hang back. If you wait a bit, you can hear phantom voices urging you to leave.

In The Mansion

Everything looks so old and dusty! Many people mistakenly assume that Disney just doesn’t clean inside the Mansion, letting dust naturally accumulate, but this isn’t true (for obvious health reasons). The dust is actually a theatrical “prop” known as Fuller’s Earth which is scattered over everything.

If you’re really curious as to how the ghosts in the ballroom scene are created, research the surprisingly simple illusion known as “Pepper’s Ghost”. I won’t go into detail here, as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but that’s the name of the technique for those who want to learn more about it.

In the banquet scene, hanging from the chandelier, there’s a happy ghost with a glass of wine in his hand. This is Pickwick, and he’s the only character other than Madame Leota to have an actual name in the original ride documentation.

Also in that scene, on the long banquet table, is a Hidden Mickey made from three plates. According to a cast member, though, this isn’t an “official” Hidden Mickey–meaning one that Imagineers specifically placed–and occasionally someone puts the plates back into their non-Mickey-shaped configuration. However, cast members (or mischievous spirits) always rebuild this Hidden Mickey.

Madame Leota–that spooky head in the floating crystal ball–is one of the more well-known Haunted Mansion characters. She is named after Imagineer Leota Toombs, whose career included work on “it’s a small world”, Pirates Of The Caribbean, and Haunted Mansion. Leota Toombs’ face was used for the character, but the voice was provided by actress Eleanor Audley, who also voiced Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and Lady Tremaine in Cinderella. The “real” Leota’s voice can be heard as that of Little Leota, the tiny ghost who invites guests to “hurry back” at the end of the ride.

There is actually a “Hidden Donald” in the Haunted Mansion, at least according to some. The design on the back of a chair forms (many claim) a fairly abstract representation of Donald Duck’s face. Interestingly, this isn’t an “official” thing and Imagineers will say that it’s just a design based on Rolly Crump’s original concept art and nothing more. Yet, because it does look vaguely like Donald, a whole thing has been built up about it really being a hidden reference to the duck. 

Throughout the ride, you may see a sinister raven with glowing red eyes. It appears in several scenes, and in one early version of the attraction was going to be the narrator.

At one point in its history, Imagineers added live performers to the ride. Characters, including one dressed in a suit of armor, would jump out at people as they rode by. This idea was quickly scrapped for a number of reasons, one of them being safety, as often a guest’s reaction would be to shove the poor actor away.

In earlier versions of the attraction, the bride had no name. Known only as the “Black Widow Bride” she was a simple figure with lit eyes and a glowing, beating heart. In 2007 (2005 in Disneyland) the entire attic was renovated, and the bride was given a high-tech makeover. She was also given an actual name, Constance Hatchaway, and her new attic area offered up more of a storyline for her. Her new backstory was expanded to include a portrait in Stretching Room, too: one of the original portraits shows an old woman sitting on a headstone, and that woman is now considered to be a much older Constance Hatchaway.

In the graveyard scene, one of the singing busts (the one on his side) is commonly believed to be the face of Walt Disney. It is, in fact, that of the aforementioned Thurl Ravenscroft.

The hitchhiking ghosts were never officially named and were known only as the prisoner, the skeleton, and the traveler. However, fan fiction created by cast members gave them names: Ezra (the skeleton), Phineas (the traveler), and Gus (the prisoner). These names stuck and even became part of official Disney merchandising. In a 2006 interview, though, Imagineer Jason Surrell stated that these names have “no basis in the Imagineering story” and claims that these are not their names. He does acknowledge them in his book The Haunted Mansion: From The Magic Kingdom To The Movies, but he doesn’t consider them official.

Random Facts

The Haunted Mansion is the only attraction to appear in a different land in each Disney park. In Walt Disney World it’s located in Liberty Square, Disneyland’s mansion is in New Orleans Square, while in Tokyo it’s part of Fantasyland and in Paris it’s located in Frontierland.

While Disneyland California, Walt Disney World, and Tokyo Disneyland have essentially the same attraction, the mansion in Disneyland Paris is very different. Called Phantom Manor, the ride is much darker and creepier than the more lighthearted attractions in the American parks. It also has an “old West” vibe and shares some story elements with other attractions in the Paris Frontierland. Hong Kong actually doesn’t have a “haunted mansion” attraction, instead there’s a very different ride (sort of a distant cousin) called Mystic Manor.

The Walt Disney World and Tokyo mansion exteriors look very similar, but California and Paris both look different from those and from each other.


I once rode Haunted Mansion thirteen times in one day. Many people may think that’s a bit weird, but I think that if I hadn’t stopped for lunch (and a ride on Big Thunder Mountain) I could have done a few more trips through.

Early exterior designs portrayed the mansion as a dilapidated, decrepit building. Walt didn’t want something like that in his park, though, so it was reimagined as something much cleaner but that still had a “haunted” vibe.

The attraction was originally conceived as a walk-through haunted tour, before being turned into the ride that it ultimately became.

One of the more popular icons of the haunted mansion is the Hatbox Ghost, a spooky skull-faced spirit wearing a top hat. Imagineers installed him in the attic with the bride (it’s been suggested that they intended him to be the groom), and the special effect was that his head would disappear from his body and reappear in the hatbox he carried. They could not get it to work, though, and after only a few weeks the character was scrapped. Despite that, his likeness is still popular and has even appeared on some official Disney merchandise. He was also used in teaser posters for Guillermo del Toro’s Haunted Mansion movie project. The Hatbox Ghost appeared at the 2013 D23 Expo (D23 is the official Disney fan club) and sparked rumors that he would be someday returning to the attraction.

The Exit

On the way out, after passing through the gate, there’s a pet cemetery on the hill to the left.  In one of the upper corners stands a memorial statue of Toad, a nod to the defunct Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride attraction.

Over the years the Haunted Mansion has been the focus of books, movies, comics, music, and more. It remains one of the most popular attractions at the Disney parks, and it’s sparked the creation of many fan sites dedicated to official info as well as fan stories and theories about the mansion and its inhabitants.

What I’ve shared here is only a small fraction of the fascinating information about the Haunted Mansion. If you want to really delve into the history and behind-the-scenes world of the attraction, my advice is to check out Jason Surrell’s book The Haunted Mansion: From The Magic Kingdom To The Movies. 

My other piece of advice? BEWARE OF HITCHHIKING GHOSTS!


My dear friend V, an artist, drew these “chibi” hitchhiking ghosts for me. I am posting it here because it’s awesome and should be appreciated by everyone ever.

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1 Response to Grim Grinning Ghosts

  1. Pingback: Secrets Of The Cemetery | Magic & Misadventures

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