During the first ever Disney FanDaze Inaugural Party at Disneyland Paris last weekend, Tom Fitzgerald was the main guest at a small conference about Walt Disney Imagineering. At the end of the interview, he revealed to the audience some details about what is happening to Phantom Manor. This classic ride opened in 1992 and is currently in refurbishment until the end of October. Disneyland Paris is patching up the techniques and bringing additions to the storyline. Fitzgerald said that the voice of Vincent Price is returning to the Manor, and that we will find out who the phantom actually is.
Especially this last addition was confusing for me and other fans, because we thought we already knew who the phantom was. In this article, I will try to explain who we think it is and why, and what other options could be. Before we start on this, first a little background about Phantom Manor.
This attraction is the European equivalent of the Haunted Mansion and it has the same classic structure. First comes the Stretching Room before entering the Portrait Gallery. Then comes the boarding of a Doom Buggy and seeing creepy features in the house like the Corridor of Doors. Madame Leota is calling the spirits to materialize which they do, and after that you go on with your ride through the Mansion and its grounds. The attraction in Paris is very much the same, but who is that mysterious phantom the Manor is named after? And why is there a bride in so many scenes of the attraction?
One of the nicest things of Phantom Manor, is that its story connects to the rest of Frontierland. Frontierland is the town of Thunder Mesa, a town that grew because of the gold rush. The Big Thunder Mountain was a gold mine that was mined by the Big Thunder Mining Company, led by Henry Ravenswood. He was the guy that built Ravenswood Manor, his home that would later turn into Phantom Manor.
Neglecting the warnings from the natives of a Thunder Bird that would punish anyone who dared to disturb the sacred rocks of the Big Thunder, Henry Ravenswood became the richest man in town and he made sure that his wife Martha and daughter Melanie had everything they wanted. He was busy planning a wedding for Melanie, until the Thunder Bird (according to legend, of course) struck in 1860 and created an earthquake that meant the end for Henry and his wife.
Melanie Ravenswood was never seen after the earthquake, except by some villagers who claim to have seen her in the windows of the soon perished Ravenswood Manor, that they now call Phantom Manor. One of the reasons why this version of the Haunted Mansion is in this state of disrepair, is because the Imagineers needed a more visual approach because of the many nationalities that were expected to visit Disneyland Paris. Phantom Manor is obviously a haunted house.
The domestic staff has now opened the doors for guests to find out for themselves what the story of Phantom Manor is. When riding the attraction, it becomes clear that the bride is still in the Manor (more dead than alive) and that she is haunted by a mysterious phantom. And now arises the question who that phantom is.
Jason Surrell, former show writer and producer for Walt Disney Imagineering, has written a book called The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic. In this book he explains the history and the backstory of the Haunted Mansion, Phantom Manor, and Mystic Manor.
In the book, he explains that locals believe Henry Ravenswood himself in the phantom. The man that hangs from the roof at the end of the Stretching Room would be the groom of the bride, that disappeared short before the wedding. The phantom murdered him, because he wanted to take Melanie away from Thunder Mesa after the wedding. As a result of this unfortunate series of events, the bride and the phantom are now in a struggle for all the living souls that dare to enter Phantom Manor.
The source of this whole story is the book of Surrell. When riding the attraction, most voice-overs are in French so not very understandable for an international audience. When translated, it appears the voice-overs are more an introduction to a haunted house instead of the ride with a large backstory. The bride, the groom and the phantom are not much mentioned in them. Not knowing the story beforehand, might result in not fully understanding the ride.
The comment from Fitzgerald (we will finally find out who the phantom is) does make one think the story Surrell describes is not as official as it might seem. But who is the phantom then? Rumors are it is ‘just’ a spirit of pure evil, because young Melanie Ravenswood had a curse upon her. Others might say that the phantom is the groom that wanted to take Melanie with him in his death, to marry her in the afterlife. This story was named a possibility by Tony Baxter, former senior vice president of creative development in Walt Disney Imagineering, at the 20th anniversary of Disneyland Paris.
If these both cases, I think the story is not as strong as it seems now. I hope it turns out that the phantom is indeed Henry Ravenswood, who came back from the dead to keep his daughter in Thunder Mesa. Surrell was probably right with his ‘rumors’ from the townsfolk, and it did not occur to Fitzgereld that we already figured out the identity of the phantom. Right?
Who do you think the phantom is? Do you believe in the Thunder Mesa legend of Henry Ravenswood? Or are we going to be surprised when Phantom Manor re-opens this October?