Nuptial Doom was written by Cressida and John Starling, and derived from Cressida's childhood conservations with her father, who worked with Disneyland's PR department and the original Imagineers.
The tale was inspired by The Legend of Captain Gore, an early story concept for the attraction by Ken Anderson that was ultimately unused, involving a pirate named Captain Gore and his wife Priscilla.
Have you ever believed yourself to have wandered into that most fabled mysterious part of the old South known as the bayou, just beyond the edges of New Orleans? Ah, so perhaps you have. And perhaps, in the spirit of adventure, you might have strayed away from the bustle of its French Colonial streets, away from the charming, the everyday, the world of logic and knowingness, and accidentally stumbled after a spell upon a set of high wrought iron gates protecting, hiding one of the bayou's deepest mysteries. If you have, then you know the place of which I speak. For, beyond these gates and up a winding path, stands a lone antebellum mansion, graceful, well-maintained and lovely, despite one unmistakable fact: no one has lived in it for over 150 years.
That large, graceful house is known far and wide as Gracey Manor, and since you are a visitor to these parts, allow me to explain that it has a long and storied history. The mansion has inspired many myths and legends, some bounded in truth, and some no more than modern fantasy. Conventional wisdom of the house's origin and the intentions of its various occupants have been somewhat fluid over the passing years, but one thing remains certain: the mansion is most assuredly haunted.
How and why it came to be haunted, and by whom, is how most of the tales differ, and one of the oldest tales - a tale that begins even before the existence of the house itself - has now largely been forgotten, save for one curious, incongruous artifact. In fact, if you stand at the base of this manor, and shade your eyes from the blinding sun piercing the bayou as you look to the highestmost reaches at the glorious mansion, you might see this mystifying artifact. There, perched atop the turret of the old house, sits a weather vane in the form of a ship.
It was sometime after the War of 1812, in that glorious age when New Orleans was truly the Paris of the West, that a mysterious sea captain appeared in the city. Whence he had come, none could tell, but one thing was clear: he had wealth. Even in this city of 100,000 people (the richest city in America at the time), the sea captain had enough wealth to stand out among his peers.
Though he was a mysterious and quiet man, this notice did not displease him. In fact, he went out of his way to ingratiate himself into the upper strata of New Orleans society. He began to make appearances at the functions of the most noteworthy families in the city.
Just as the sea captain started to make his forays into polite society, rumors began to swirl. No one seemed to know exactly where he (and more importantly, his money) had come from. There were some that hinted that his wealth may have come from sources less than honest. There were some even (once the sea captain was hours gone, for they feared to say so anywhere near his imposing presence) that intimated that he had been nothing less than a bloodthirsty pirate - a compatriot of Jean Laffite himself. But as much as they wondered, no one ever dared to ask the captain about his lineage directly.
The sea captain was an arresting figure, and never more so than when he engaged someone in conversation, which is not to say that he was intimidating, for this is not entirely correct. It was more of a seductive, menacing charm - an effect that was never more pronounced than the evening when the captain introduced himself to one of the most noteworthy noblemen of New Orleans. He was head of an old mercantile family, and the sort of man who would never have spoken with a sea captain of any sort, were it not for the introduction by one of his peers, who insisted he must meet this extraordinary man.
So it was that the nobleman found himself speaking to the captain and, within minutes, accepting an invitation to dine with him at the city's finest restaurant. Later, away from the presence of the mysterious man, the nobleman had second thoughts, and decided to cancel the engagement, only to find that he had no way of contacting the sea captain to send his regrets. As a gentleman, he had no choice but to keep his appointment the following night.
Over a dinner of the finest delicacies the city had to offer, the nobleman was swayed again by the charming captain. So much so, that he forgot all about his earlier intentions to extricate himself from the acquaintance, and even so far as to arrange for the captain to come and call upon the nobleman's house the following day. And so it was that the captain came to lay eyes on the most beautiful woman he had ever seen - the nobleman's daughter.
The nobleman's only daughter was a mysterious creature herself, praised in public because of her unparalleled beauty, and gossiped about in private because of her complexion. For she did not have the lily-white skin of the rest of her family, and there were rumors that she was in fact of mixed race, perhaps (it was whispered) the illegitimate child of one of her father's many servants. These rumors, however, did nothing to prevent the most eligible bachelors from seeking her hand in marriage.
The captain never spoke a word to her during his visit to the nobleman's house, only once just catching a glimpse of her while having cigars and brandy with the nobleman, in the drawing room. The nobleman had, of course, hoped to keep her safely ensconced in the upstairs rooms while the dark stranger was about, but his daughter had a will of her own, and so she crept to the door of the drawing room and briefly locked eyes with the mysterious man of the sea. From that moment on, they were both deeply in love.
It was to the nobleman's surprise and dismay that the captain sent word the following day that he would like to court his daughter. His reservations were tempered, however, by the wondrous gift of gold and jewels that accompanied the request - an offering of good faith from the captain to the nobleman. And so, in spite of the fact that he had already offered the hand of his daughter to the son of another New Orleans society family, the nobleman agreed.
The courtship was very staid and proper, as was the custom of the time. But it was, even by modern standards, extremely short. In fact, after only one visit on the veranda with the daughter, surrounded by chaperones, the captain asked the nobleman permission to marry his daughter. This was most unexpected, and the nobleman was caught quite off guard.
Not wanting to confess that he had already promised her hand to another, he simply said, "Sir, you may be a man of some wealth and station, but my daughter is descended from great nobility, and is heir to a great fortune. What could a sea captain, even one such as yourself, possibly offer her?"
The captain was not phased by the affront. He simply replied, "There is nothing that I will not provide for your daughter, sir. What can I do to show you that, in marrying me, she will live like a queen?"
The father hesitated, and then, fixed by the hypnotic gaze of the captain, and intrigued by the what the limits of the captain's wealth might be, he said, "If you can build for her the grandest mansion in all of New Orleans, I will reconsider your request." Thus, did the construction of that most famous of mansions begin.
The captain had been secretly buying up large parcels of land just outside the city, mostly swampland and bayous that bordered the sea. It was here that he broke ground on what was to be the most legendary, admired and talked about home New Orleans had ever seen. It was an enormous undertaking, and a veritable army of artisans were seen marching into the swamplands to work the land. The sounds of hammering and sawing could be heard late into the night. The location, the captain had said, was chosen because of his love of the water, but there were many who believed that it had more to do with the captain's desire to keep his comings and goings known only to the night creatures of the swamp.
When the daughter was invited, along with her father, to see the beginnings of the glorious mansion, she was spellbound. Only a portion of the first floor had been completed, and yet, she could already see that this was going to be an estate unlike any other. And more than the promise of the grand house itself, her heart leapt to think that she would soon be sharing it with this fascinating man, in what seemed to her a lush green fairytale kingdom of their own making.
To the nobleman, it was just a swamp, and it made him shudder to think of his daughter living here in the wilds, outside the city. But the house, the foundations and the columns alone were grander than anything he could have ever imagined. This captain was a man of enormous wealth, that much was now clear beyond a doubt. The nobleman was a product of the old world and its notions of class and lineage, but this was not the old world, but the new. This was the land, after all, where money was fast becoming the only mark of nobility, and the nobleman's own fortunes were in fact starting to diminish. And so, the nobleman agreed to give the captain his daughter's hand in marriage.
Pulling the daughter aside, the captain embraced her, and offered her the most opulent wedding her heart desired. He would request the finest gown from Paris, the best musicians, the finest food anyone in America had ever tasted - anything she could possibly desire. But there was just one request: she must excuse his absence for the next several weeks while he made an important voyage out to sea. She of course agreed, happier than she had ever been in her life. "My voyage may be prolonged," he said. "Will you wait for me?"
She replied, "As long as my heart beats. That's how long I shall wait for you. I will wait for you until the last beat of my heart."
"I'll have my second ring the ship's great bell and light a lantern atop the highest sail. That is how you'll know that I am but an hour away. When you see me, light up a candle so that I may imagine your lovely face, and leave it burning to help light my return to you."
The bride-to-be smiled her consent.
The construction of the house continued during the captain's long absence, and as it had before, the work continued long into the night. From his veranda, the nobleman could hear the sounds of hammering from deep in the bayou, and his mind began to work as well. He simply couldn't offer his daughter's hand to this man. After all, it had been promised to another, and nothing in the world could change that. The fact that this other family also had enormous wealth certainly made it easier for him now to suddenly stand on principle.
Thus, when the captain returned, he found a letter waiting for him. It was from the nobleman, who hadn't wanted to face the unnerving gaze of the captain in person, and it stated that the marriage was now an impossibility. Patient but resolute, the captain called on the nobleman one more time.
"The mansion is finished," the captain said, "and if you will but come and view it, you will see that, as promised, it is the finest in all the land. I intend to hold you to your promise."
Before the nobleman could find the words to respond, the captain called to his carriage, and a great chest was brought forth. It was opened at the nobleman's feet, and inside were such treasures as the nobleman had never dreamed of - jewels and heirlooms from faraway lands. The captain continued, "And for your keeping your promise, please accept this. One more gift to your family as a gesture of my faith and goodwill."
The nobleman was dumbfounded and could only nod. The captain said, "So, will you keep your word and give me her hand?" The nobleman nodded again. As he prepared to depart, the captain said, "I will make one more voyage to sea, and I don't make it lightly, for your daughter's heart calls to me as no sea siren ever could. But make this voyage I must. When I return, we will have a wedding beyond anything you could imagine."
The daughter, who had secretly been eavesdropping from the upstairs veranda, was overjoyed, and immediately began making plans for the fateful day. As his daughter busily prepared for her nuptials, her father fretted over what to do. Surely he wasn't actually going to let his daughter marry this man. Finally, when several weeks had passed, he had made up his mind.
The daughter had received a letter from the captain, off in some foreign port. He was returning soon. As one last gift, he had built a turret just above the mansion's attic, overlooking the sea, where she could await in private the ship's signal, as he had promised her. Ending the letter, he asked if she was prepared for the wedding, and if he might look forward to a candlelit glow beckoning him from her turret above the attic. She smiled to herself, "Yes." Even better, her wedding dress had just arrived that same day from Paris, and she was having it fitted that very moment.
The nobleman stood out in the hall for awhile, steeling himself. Then, he knocked on his daughter's door. Upon entering, there she was, in her wedding dress, looking like an angel. He wept to see his daughter so beautiful, but he pretended his tears were for the news he was about to tell her: the sea captain was dead, drowned at sea.
In a heartbeat, the bride-to-be's world was shattered. Sobbing, she ran from the house. In sorrow and despair, she ran across the town and into the swamps, her immaculate French wedding dress dragged in the green weeds behind her, as she made her way to the lonely mansion. It no longer looked inviting or welcoming. Instead, it now had a foreboding ambience. No matter. She pushed through the massive front doors, and once inside, ascended to the attic and to the turret window where she had vowed to watch for her sea captain's return.
Her father, having searched for her throughout the town, eventually made his way through the swamps, to the mansion, with a squad of police in tow. "Look there!" exclaimed one of the men. "The light! There's a light in the window!" And so there was. One bright white light. It wavered, as if held aloft by an unseen hand. A chill ran through the group of men, and the silence was shattered only by the scream of a raven.
The group of men hurried to the large veranda, but when they reached the front doors, they had to force entry, as the clever girl had bolted every door behind her to keep everyone out. Eventually, they reached the door to the attic and called her name. Alas, there was no response, and more mysterious - even the stoutest policemen could not break down the door. After yelling themselves hoarse, they left, believing the desolate girl must in fact have fled elsewhere.
One young policeman, lagging behind, did notice something rather odd. While the attic door was clearly locked, the strongest of them had failed to breach the latch, yet there were no signs of an actual lock on the door. However that attic was sealed, it was not by any lock he'd ever known.
And so, it was some time later that the sea captain arrived in port. He was, however, surprised and not a little displeased to discover there was no one there to greet him. The noblemen, whether in shame over the lie he had told or in fear of the sea captain's wrath, had left town entirely. Perhaps he'd fled on the excuse of searching for his beloved daughter. If, as some believe, the nobleman had sent nefarious men to do away with the sea captain and so bring truth to his own black lie, those men had either been defeated or never materialized. No matter. The captain's demise would come soon enough.
Sensing immediately that something was wrong, the captain raced to his mansion out on the bayou, his heart pounding with every step. He raced up the stairs to the attic. He tried the door, and though it held fast before the hardest blows from the policemen, it now swung open with his fearful touch. But inside the attic, and in the turret above, there was no sign of his waiting bride. There was no body to be found - only a torn, forlorn wedding dress draped beside a burnt out candle. He did not need to be told. He knew in his heart that his young bride was dead.
In a maniacal, grief-stricken rage, the captain ordered the mansion shuttered and closed, sealing himself inside. A full new moon waxed and waned, and at last the guilt-ridden nobleman returned to announce the funeral rites for his most misfortunate daughter.
And so it was, that it was a long, long time before the courageous and curious finally broke down the doors to that mansion. Perhaps you can guess what they would have seen inside. High above the grand gallery, as high as the dim light would allow one to see, was the gently swaying body of the captain. For surrounded by a hall of grand portraits, he had hanged himself from the rafters of his glorious mansion - the mansion he had built for his bride.
It was not long after that many strange things were seen and heard in that mansion, but of all the frightening, displaced sounds that could be heard, the most prevalent was the sure, steady thump of an ever beating heart. It could be heard in the attic, or in the turret, or in an attic trunk, only to move to a dark corner whenever the trunk was opened. And though it moved when searched for, it grew louder at night in answer to the sounds of the sea. It never stopped beating. Some say it is beating still. Perhaps, if you listen closely...do you hear it? The beating heart of the bride.