No matter how good a ride or how special its special effects, a theme park attraction needs something more to become a classic – it needs mystery…and character. Disney’s haunted mansion, due in part to its unique origins, had both of those things with some to spare. Its rich, nuanced settings steeped riders in mystery (and more things to see every time they rode the attraction), and Marc Davis’s cast of ghosts provided more than a few characters.
But as the ride moved from beloved to iconic, those things weren’t quite enough for its fans. The Mansion needed a story, complete with a starring cast. As attractions, the US Haunted Mansions have many amazing elements…but a story isn’t one of them. The closest the attraction comes to “story” is its three-act-structure – ghosts are angry because they can’t manifest; Madam Leota allows them to manifest; it turns out that the afterlife is a swingin’ wake after all. But within that simple structure were a few potential anomalies, and guests eagerly seized upon them, developing a fascination with three denizens of the mansion in particular – the attic bride, the ghost host, and Madam Leota.
Among the 999 Happy Haunts, the attic bride has always stood out. Among the visible ghosts guests encounter after Madame Leota’s summons, the bride is unique. She has, quite definitely, not joined the party. Unlike the guests at the perpetual birthday party or those at the graveyard wake, the Bride is isolated in the attic, and she does not seem to have made any peace with her fate. In the ballroom, guests celebrate a birthday for someone who can never get older – they’ve made peace with time. In the graveyard, the beheading victim sings along beside the executioner – they’ve made peace with death. But in the attic…in the attic things are different, and guests have been creating their own stories about the ghostly bride that haunts the space since the opening of the ride.
The bride’s origins are far a bit mysterious in their own right, particularly as a Bride. Long Forgotten Haunted Mansion traces the figure’s origins to an early Ken Anderson sketch, perhaps inspired by the infamous spirit photograph of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall. The ghostly figure the reappears in a variety of Marc Davis concept sketches – once as a shadowy-faced figure who re-emerged as the cat-and-glasses wielding woman of the Sinister 11 portraits, and again as dark (but curvy) figure destined for the attic. None of those ghostly females was, however, a bride. The transformation to bride occurred somewhere between the scale model of the mansion and its opening day in 1969. Why…no one seems to know.
Originally paired with the infamous and mysterious Hatbox Ghost, the bride always stood apart from the other mansion ghosts, her heart beating out a glowing rhythm (a pace originally matched with the appearance & disappearance of her partner’s head). Why she was a bride rather than merely a female ghost and why she was isolated in the attic fascinated visitors, who invented a variety of stories to explain her fate.
At Walt Disney World, in fact, a turnstile, sawed off at ground level, gained the reputation of being the Bride’s wedding ring, an artifact that fan-created legend claimed had been thrown from the attic of the mansion as the bride was alternately murdered or committed suicide. Although elements of that narrative later surfaced at Disneyland Paris’s Phantom Manor, they had little justification in the US Mansions.
In fact, the entire notion of the bride as a victim or a perpetrator was a matter of debate (omitting, of course, her current incarnation as Constance the clearly homicidal maniac). The original iteration of the bride was more than a bit disturbing, but later iterations seemed to draw more strongly on Marc Davis’s cat-carrying figure and make her more ambivalent. Certainly, the original attic design with the beating heart timed to match the Hatbox Ghost’s decapitation could be interpreted as always having implicated the bride as a killer (materials from imagineering originally refer to the bride as “Beating Heart”). The resonating heartbeat invokes Edgar Allan Poe’s immortal “Telltale Heart” and the placement of Disneyland’s popping groomsman heads shrieking “I do” seems to support a tale of murder and madness.
But why the attic? How did the bride end up isolated in the mansion’s attic. Why not, as in an early Ken Anderson script for the mansion, have the party in the grand hall be a wedding rather than a birthday – would it not better merit banquets, ballgowns, and dancers?
I would argue that there is a simple explanation for the imagineers’ historically mysterious choice to place the bride in the attic rather than at the party or in the graveyard.
The Haunted Mansion’s bride, from her corpselike original iteration to the Constance of today, has never been a woman who died on her wedding day. (In her original location, she stood under the April-December changing portrait, suggesting aging and…um…degeneration). Her wedding dress would no doubt have been stored away in (wait for it) the attic where most important, yet unneeded items go. And every one knows, from even the most pop culture ghost lore, that emotionally or violently charged items are the things that harbor ghosts.
The bride is in the attic because that is where her wedding dress, with all of the trauma and darkness attached to it and its memories, is stored. The day that common parlance tells us is to be the happiest of a woman’s life was…something else…for the Haunted Mansion bride, and she is apparently caught by that for all eternity.
In the current iteration of the attic, the Bride is Constance, homicidal black widow. Once again with origins in a Marc Davis sketch spoofing a 19th Century Thomas Gainsborough portrait, Constance provides the Haunted Mansion bride with the story fans have long craved. There is no doubt what Constance did to be isolated in the attic, separated from the parties of the other haunts. Yet the reasoning for her location remains the same. Look at her wedding portraits – with each successively wealthier husband she adds a strand of pearls to her ensemble, but the dress she wears…is the same one. In the world of ghost stories, such an article of clothing must have, well, to use a technical term, “bad mojo,” and indeed, it is on a dressmaker dummy that Constance appears in all of her mad glory.
But…but…what happened to the bride? Where is/are her groom(s)? Obviously, she lived in the house if her wedding dress is in the attic – does she have anything to do with the other haunts? Ah, but that’s part of the mystery. Even with a clear story for Constance, the mystery remains, and guests continue to wonder, what exactly does the bride have to do with the mansion…or your ghost host.
Which variation of the bride do you prefer? Do you think she needs a “story”?