"Welcome, foolish mortals, to the Haunted Mansion. I am your host...your 'ghost host.' Kindly step all the way in, please, and make room for everyone. There's no turning back now..."
―The Ghost Host
The Ghost Host, whose visual depiction is sometimes referred to by fans as the Hatchet Man or the Hanged Man, is one of the most prominent ghosts haunting the Haunted Mansion.
The Ghost Host is a disembodied spirit who speaks in a deep, resonant voice with a transatlantic accent. Although his character's history is mostly shrouded in mystery it is known that he died by being hanged in the cupola of the mansion. On his death he refers to it as having been his way out, implying that he took his own life by suicide. In the portraits shown of the host, he is commonly depicted as a tall, caucasian, skinny man with unkept white/pale blonde hair, a crooked nose, and his right eye is shown to be wide and yellow with either a green or red iris. It is also implied that he might have been a murderer as some portraits show his hatchet dripping with blood.
It is unknown what his affiliation with the mansion was in life but Disney has officially described him as, "The head man of the Mansion's skeleton crew" or, "the majordomo of the Mansion's skeletal staff," The Ghost Host serves as an invisible tour guide to mortal visitors of the Haunted Mansion". He has also been shown to hold some affiliations with Madame Leota, Little Leota, the Raven, and possibly even the Hitchhiking Ghosts.
The image of a hanged suicide as an element of The Haunted Mansion originates from the earliest concepts proposed by Imagineer Ken Anderson in the late 1950s. His first attempts at a story revolved around Captain Gore, a secret pirate who murdered his young wife Priscilla (after she discovered the truth about him). In some versions (albeit not all of them), Captain Gore had been haunted by Priscilla and ended up hanging himself. The tour guide in this version wasn't a ghost, but a live butler character named Beauregard.
In a later concept by Anderson, the butler was joined in tour guide duties by a friendly spook known as the Lonesome Ghost. In this version, the hanged body was of a guest to a wedding gone awry. "The best man seems to be all tied up," the Lonesome Ghost would joke. After Ken Anderson left the project, many of his ideas carried over to the other Imagineers who were put in charge of its development.
One version of the Host, sketched by Marc Davis, had him introduce the guests to a gallery of paintings, among which was one where only the silhouette of a stout sitting man could be seen. The Host would explain that this portrait housed "the most dangerous ghost in the Mansion", and that he had now escaped. Despite this warning, the guests would encounter the spook in question, only for him to reveal him and the Ghost Host to be one and the same; moreover, he would explain that he was the murderer of the Bride and her Groom.
One concept by Dick Irvine told the story of Mr. Meaker, a man who murdered his several wives for their money, via a lowering bed canopy. After he accidentally killed his beloved pet cat in the contraption, he hanged himself.
Early on in the project's development, Paul Frees was brought in to record various demos for a "Ghost Guide" spoken in Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre impressions, although these Ghost Guides might not have yet been intended to be the Hanged Man at that point. Frees would go on to become the voice of the Ghost Host for the final attraction.
One proposed concept for the Ghost Host was that he and the Raven would turn out to be the same character. This idea eventually changed to the Raven retaining a speaking role, but as a foil to the Ghost Host. In the final attraction, the Raven does not speak, and there is no overt relation between him and the Ghost Host.
And yet another concept had the Ghost Host first talk to the guests in the Foyer through a bust, presumably representing him, with the date “1835” written on it. As the Host talked, the bust would morph into a devilish figure. This design would later be recycled for the devil head found on the plaque outside of the Haunted Mansion on its gates.
The Haunted Mansion
The Ghost Host's disembodied voice narrates the entire first half of the attraction, from the Foyer to the immediate aftermath of Madame Leota's séance. At this point, the Ghost Host informs the guests that, as the happy haunts are beginning to materialize and readying for a big party, they'll probably be expecting him, and that he must now temporarily leave them, although he says that he'll “see them all… a little later”. He is nowhere to be heard until the guests begin to exit the Graveyard Jamboree. As they come across the Hitchhiking Ghosts, he warns the mortals that the three spooks are set on “haunting them until they return”, and that they must beware.
The only physical manifestation of the Ghost Host comes in the Stretching Room, where after offering his way out, a flash of lightning reveals his skeletal remains hanging from the rafters of the previously-unseen cupola, dangling from a taut rope.
In Disneyland's Mansion, a full-length portrait of the Ghost Host (derived from concept art by Imagineer Marc Davis) can be found in the Corridor of Doors, depicting a tall, thin, pale, ghoulish-looking man holding a hatchet, with a noose around his neck. He has long, stringy white hair and appears to be giving the "evil eye". The portrait has been repainted many times over the years, adding and subtracting details such as scarring around his eye and blood on the hatchet blade, or his skin color (which can either be of an uneathly blue, or of approximately natural tone). In 2007, a similar portrait was added to the Corridor of Doors in the Walt Disney World Mansion, in which the shadow the Ghost Host casts behind him raises the hatchet menacingly.
The Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland Mansions feature another portrait of the Ghost Host, in which he appears in a different pose. At Tokyo (as they did until 2007 at Walt Disney World), the eyes of the Ghost Host in the painting follow guests' every move. Walt Disney World's current version of this portrait depicts him with heterochromia (two different iris colors). This portrait is one of the Sinister 11 portraits and can be found at Tokyo in the Sinister 11 Hallway while at Walt Disney World it appears in the loading zone.
According to Imagineer Jason Surrell, in his book The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies, the invisible pianist who casts a shadow in the Music Room (at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland) is none other than the Ghost Host.
Film & Television
The Ghost Host's voice is provided by Corey Burton during the opening credits, giving his famous (although only in the whole movie) line “Welcome, foolish mortals”. Chief makeup artist Rick Baker portrays the Marc Davis-designed Hatchet Man depiction of the Ghost Host in a very brief scene of the 2003 live-action film. The character, unlike in the ride portrait, does not wear noose or hold his trademark hatchet, and is seen hiding behind a tombstone (reminiscent of the ride's Pop-up Ghosts) in the Graveyard scene as the Evers ride the ghost carriage past him.
The Ghost Host character, separate from the Hatchet Man, also served as inspiration for two distinct characters in the film. Ramsley greets the “guests” and is the one to threaten to kill them. Master Edward Gracey, meanwhile, doesn't possess the Host's personality traits, but is the man hanging in the Stretching Room as well as the former Lord and Master of the Mansion, tying his character to the Ghost Host. Towards the end of the movie, Master Gracey briefly disappears and only his voice is heard, in an obvious nod to the Ghost Host.
The Ghost Host appears in the special, played by Will Arnett. A century after the legendary stage magician The Great MacGuffin disappeared within the Mansion's walls, the Ghost Host has since hosted The Great MacGuffin Challenge, where daring mortals must survive spending Halloween night within the Mansion or else find themselves joining the Happy Haunts, with Gonzo and Pepe the King Prawn taking the challenge. After facing his true fears in Room 999 and rescuing Pepe from Constance, the Ghost Host warmly congratulates the two for surviving while revealing his true identity as the Great MacGuffin.
The Ghost Gallery
The Ghost Gallery storyline was created by Walt Disney World cast-members as a backstory for the Haunted Mansion and was the first notable instance of Master Gracey and the Ghost Host being turned into a composite character.
In this story he was named George Gracey Jr. and was the son of George Gracey Sr. (George Hightower) and Mary Gracey (Constance Hatchaway) with both of his parents having been highly absent and sent him off to Yale University. During his time abroad, Mary murdered George with a hatchet to the skull and disappeared, leaving George Jr. as the master of the family's mansion in New York. Due to his troubled upbringing and father's death, George came to be obsessed with the occult and the arcane while also opening up Gracey Manor for the rest of their family as he squandered the family fortune on curios and curiosities.
George would eventually come to marry a beautiful but melancholy woman named Lillian O'Malley who he had met in the circus while behind her back having an affair with his personal clairvoyant, Madame Leota with whom he had an illegitimate daughter known as Little Leota. Due to being jealous of Lillian, Madame Leota used her magical powers to summon an alligator to kill Lillian when she was doing a tightrope performance for the Gracey Family. Years later, George would remarry to a teenaged girl named Emily Cavenaugh due to her being an orphan who inherited her parents' massive fortune which George needed due to his poor spending habits. Not long after the wedding, Leota murdered Emily by locking her in a chest in the manor's attic and leaving her to suffocate while also allowing for George to inherit her fortune.
Following this, George became completely recluse while Leota worked to turn the mansion into a portal for spirits. George eventually learned of this as-well as Leota having murdered both of his brides. When George threatened to leave, Leota attempted to trap his spirit in her crystal-ball only for George to commit suicide via hanging before she had the chance. Due to this, Madame Leota's curse back-fired and trapped her within her own crystal ball.
The Ghost Host frequently appears as the narrator of numerous stories in the non-canon SLG comic series. He most notably narrates Mystery of the Manse, where he reveals himself to actually be William Gracey, a former sea captain and pirate under the moniker of Captain Blood. He hung himself over the loss of his bride, Emily de Claire when she was killed by the ghost of his former captain and victim Randall Pace. It should be noted that in this story the Ghost Host might be something of an unreliable narrator, as at least some of the facts he mentions in the story are contradicted in later issues.
In this story, the Ghost Host's, "Hatchet Man" form is reimagined as a character known as Ezekiel. Ezekiel is the assistant of the undead Madame Blackheart (based on Madame Leota) in the Mansion near Sedgwick Park. When some boys accidentally throw their football into the manor's grounds, he invites them in to meet Madame Blackheart and have their fortunes read.
The Ghost Host oddly does not appear in the comic, in either "Hatchet Man" or disembodied voice form. However, some of his most famous dialogue is performed by other characters in Issue One: Danny Crowe, speaking to himself, and the Black Prince, speaking to Danny, and the Hatbox Ghost briefly takes on the role of a tour guide for Danny in issue 4 using some of his dialogue. In Issue 4, his skeleton hanging from the rafters of the cupola is encountered by Danny, but it is not a ghost, merely an inanimate skeleton, which Danny accidentally shatters to pieces.
Screenshots for the cancelled 2003 video game for Gameboy Advance featured the Hitchhiking Ghosts saying, "Welcome, foolish mortal, to the Haunted Mansion. We are your ghost host; Ezra, Gus, and Phineas."
In the video game, the Ghost Host's portrait adorns the walls of different rooms throughout the mansion. The game's villain is the evil necromancer Atticus Thorn (voiced by Corey Burton), who at times quotes Ghost Host dialogue (e.g. at one point he calls the protagonist "foolish mortal"). Thorn is also capable of disappearing, with his ominous voice the only sign of his presence.
In Kinect Disneyland Adventures, a video game for Xbox 360, the Ghost Host guides the player through the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.
During the Haunted Holidays promotion on Disney.com in 2009, the Hatbox Ghost was referred to as the Ghost Host and voiced by Corey Burton, again providing a tribute to Paul Frees' Ghost Host voice.
The Ghost Host is an NPC in this game, delivering a line from the ride at the beginning of every Haunted Mansion level.
Disney Parks Shows
The Ghost Host (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) narrates the Halloween fireworks show HalloWishes at the Magic Kingdom.
Theories and identifications
Master Gracey, Ghost Host and tangled-up knots
Finding an identity to the Ghost Host has always been a problem among the Haunted Mansion's fandom.
Ever since the "Master Gracey" tombstone has been noticed in the graveyard, there have been fans speculating that Master Gracey is also the "Master of the House" (another erroneous interpretation of the Aging Man character from the changing portrait), due to a misunderstanding of the name ("master", in XIXth century Louisiana, referred to a young man not quite a teenager anymore but not yet an "adult", not to the actual "master" of the place).
It had also been separately assumed that the Ghost Host was once the owner of the house, which would explain why he is the one giving the tour. Provided that the decaying man of the foyer's portrait is what he was often made to be, that is the master of the mansion, people later assumed that the Ghost Host was the master of the house pictured in the portrait (Master Gracey, per these fans).
Consequently, the two headcanons merged together, and it became a common idea that the decaying man is the master of the house, named Gracey, who gives the mortals a tour under the self-given title of "ghost host." This idea became so popular that it made its way into some official Disney merchandise sold at the parks, highly upsetting actual Imagineers who didn't agree with the idea. The 2003 film included the idea that the Master of the House was named Gracey and was the decaying man of the portrait, creating the film version of Master Gracey.
However, a fact often disregarded is that the Ghost Host is also supposed to be ghost of the Hanging Man, as evidenced by the line "There's always… my way" that plays before the hanging corpse is revealed to the audience. The Hanging Man is also made to be the Hatchet Man, and the canonical path would be to consider that Ghost Host = Hatchet Man = Hanging Man. Fans being fans, that didn't stop many people from remarking that "= Master Gracey" could easily be added to the equation, providing that the idea that he was the decaying man was wrong.
It was still possible for fans to go further, and some people noticed similarities between the Decaying Man's suit and the Hanging Man's. They assumed that the Decaying Man was the Hanging Man, the Ghost Host and Master Gracey, while forgetting about the Hatchet Man.
Finally, and though it's slightly less popular, there is still an "ultimate" version of the theory, in which the Hatchet Man is an older Decaying Man, that the Decaying Hatchet Man is named Master Gracey, and that he Hanged himself. This theory is as complete as can be so far, but is somewhat informed by the fact that the Decaying Man's "old" phase in his changing portrait only barely resembles the Hatchet Man. That being said, it is possible that the Hatchet Man portrait was originally a formal portrait and after the house became haunted, ghosts possessed the painting, adding a noose and hatchet, changing his facial features, etc., in the same way as it is suspected by many fans that the "Family Portraits" in the Corridor of Doors would have come to be.
Separately from the "Master Gracey-Master of the House-Hanging Man-Hatchet Man" mythos, there have been a few other attempts at creating a backstory for the ghost host, sometimes identifying him with other characters.
- In the book Tales from the Haunted Mansion: Volume I: The Fearsome Foursome, the narrator is possibly the Ghost Host. He introduces himself as Amicus Arcane, the Mansion's librarian; the physical description given is consistent with the Hatchet Man portrait.
- The Ghost Host's current voice actor Corey Burton, as previously stated in the Trivia chapter, considers that the Ghost Host is not a ghost in the same sense as the others; for him, it is the voice of the very building, coming from inside the walls (though the possibility that a spirit might be possessing the building is left open).
- The Haunted Mansion Holidays webseries (not to be confused with the Christmas re-theming of the real attraction) has the Hatbox Ghost speaking with the Ghost Host's voice and being referred to as the “Host” of the show.
- A special feature on the DVD for the film includes a Ghost Host-style narration provided by voice-actor Tony Jay; a Ghost Host named Heady (a ghostly, floating skeletal head), also voiced by Tony Jay, was featured in a series of commercials promoting the film and offering Halloween tips during Disney Channel's Ha Ha Haunted Halloween in 2003. All this suggests that in the film's continuity, the Ghost Host is this Heady.
- Tony Jay also voices the Ghost Host in another special feature of the film, which is a tour of the film's Grace Manor. He gives instructions on how to proceed with the tour and also provides information and history.
- The original plans of the Imagineers during the late fifties was that the "main" ghost of the house and master of the Mansion would be a sea captain with a tragic backstory, named in some concepts Bartholomew Gore (some concepts of this character remained in the character of the Sea Captain).
- The unproduced 1999 movie script identified the hanging man as Clarence Fowler, the father of the bride Kathleen, that hung himself in grief after Master Jacob Gracey killed the bride upon being exposed as a pirate that stole an important fortune-saving shipment from one of his shipping company vessels.
- The Ghost Host has had several voice-actors over several different incarnations.
- In the 1969 record album The Story and Song from the Haunted Mansion, the Ghost Host was voiced by Pete Renoudet, using a "Boris Karloff type" voice.
- In The Haunted Mansion at Tokyo Disneyland, the Ghost Host was voiced in Japanese by Teichiro Hori.
- During Haunted Mansion Holiday, the Ghost Host is voiced by Corey Burton.
- In an interview with Corey Burton, he stated, "the Ghost Host, to me, is the voice of the structure itself. It comes from the walls."
- Despite the character not appearing in the attraction, several homages and elements taking influence from the Ghost Host can be found within Disneyland Paris' Haunted Mansion, Phantom Manor.
- Phantom Manor's Ghost Host is the Phantom, who may be the spirit of the murderous Henry Ravenswood, the owner of Ravenswood Manor and Big Thunder Mining Company who perished in an earthquake.
- In Phantom Manor, the man hanging from the cupola above the Stretching Room is Melanie Ravenswood's fiancé, apparently murdered by the Phantom, who can be seen holding the rope and laughing maniacally.
- The Phantom was originally voiced (in English) by horror movie legend Vincent Price, who was/is sometimes mistaken for the voice of the Haunted Mansion's Ghost Host. Price was replaced by French actor Gérard Chevalier soon after the attraction opened. In the 2019 refurbishment of the attraction, Price's voice was reinstalled.
- In the ghost town sequence in Phantom Manor, the decapitated Mayor's dialogue consists of clips of Paul Frees' Ghost Host.
- There is a proposed reference to the Ghost Host in the 2006 film Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, itself being based on the Haunted Mansion's sister-attraction. On the island of Isla Cruces, a sword fight transpires in an abandoned church with the fighters passing by the church's cupola where the skeletal corpse of a priest is hanging from a noose. It is believed that this might be an allusion to the Ghost Host's corpse from the Stretching Room.
- In the original Pirates of the Caribbean ride and Haunted Mansion ride, Paul Frees voiced Blackbeard and the Ghost Host respectively. In the film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Blackbeard was played by Ian McShane who also provided the voice of the Ghost Host for the announcement teaser for Guillermo del Toro's now-cancelled Haunted Mansion film reboot.