Gates Family Ghosts

Hitchhiking Ghosts
Hitchhiking with my friend, Katie

Disney World’s Haunted Mansion has 999 happy haunts wandering its halls, making music in the graveyard and terrorizing the groundskeepers (but there’s always room for one more, of course). The Haunted Mansion is one of Magic Kingdom’s opening-day attractions from October 1, 1971, and it’s always been my favorite ride at Walt Disney World. And part of the reason, of course, is that my grandmother loved it; she loved the eery voiceovers and chilling ambiance, and she’d line up for the queue over and over and over again during her stay. Even though she’s gone, my family continues this tradition-of-sorts (not that we visit Walt Disney World that often), and if given the choice, we’d devote half the day to this ride. So here’s my point (and I do have one)–

The Haunted Mansion has 999 happy haunts, and two of my ancestors may be among them.

I’ll set the scene: the Mansion is located in Liberty Square, and it’s exterior is in the Dutch Gothic Revival style of old Pennsylvania and Hudson River Valley estates. The queue begins with a pair of ornate gates; guests meander past the black carriage hearse led by an invisible horse and through the haunted cemetery, complete with a sea captain’s leaky crypt, five singing marble busts and a tomb in the shape of a pipe organ. Once inside, an unseen, gleefully sardonic voice–the Ghost Host–introduces himself and welcomes the guests (or “foolish mortals”) to the portrait gallery. The gallery’s doors shut, and the room begins to stretch–showing that there’s more to the portraits than initially meets the eye–before the lights extinguish with a clap of thunder. A flash of lightning reveals the Ghost Host’s body swinging from the ceiling; seconds later, the room becomes pitch black, and a bloodcurdling scream is heard. The doors open, and the ride begins.


Guests are led down a dark corridor to board a Doom Buggy, and they are carried to a room containing a servant’s staircase where a candelabra floats above the railing. Throughout the ride, there are portraits that change faces, libraries with moving ladders and flying books, unseen ghosts playing the piano and upside-down staircases. There are skeletal claws inching out of coffins, spirits pounding on doors and knockers, daguerrotypes of screaming corpses lining the walls and clocks that only strike 13. Madame Leota’s head floats in a crystal ball in one room, while see-through spirits waltz in the ballroom below. I love the ghost tea party in the cemetery, the bony arm protruding from a crypt with a wine glass in hand and the barber-shop quartet of marble busts singing “Grim Grinning Ghosts.” And at the end, one of the hitchhiking ghosts–Ezra, Gus or Phineas–follows guests home.

And this is where my ancestors may be. There’s a mausoleum outside the back door–past the pet cemetery and the carriage hearse–and all of the ghosts’ names are the best puns, including Bea Witch, Manny Festation, Clare Voiance, Metta Fisiks and Hap A. Rition. My favorites, though, are Rusty Gates and Pearl E. Gates–for obvious reasons. When we were young, we would make up stories about their adventures as happy haunts at the Haunted Mansion–terrorizing the foolish mortals, dancing in the ballroom, playing the piano or rocking in the library’s chair while reading The Raven–and believed that these “ancestors” were the hitchhiking ghosts coming home with us. My family has so many memories tied to Walt Disney World–so many memories tied to the Haunted Mansion–and I love that our family name remains when we leave–remains with the ghosts of our ancestors. That is, if the ghosts don’t hitchhike back with us, of course. Happy Halloween–

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