"You may not believe it, but beauty once lived in this house...And beauty lives here still."
So far, Phantom Manor and Mystic Manor are the only Haunted Mansion variations to have an official backstory, this one being set in the Old West and concerning a doomed wedding and a menacing evil spirit, the Phantom. Many consider it to be much darker than the original attraction, thematically.
Henry Ravenswood (born 1795) was a Western settler who struck gold in Big Thunder Mountain and founded the Big Thunder Mining Company, thus creating the city of Thunder Mesa (Frontierland as a whole). Ravenswood became rich and built himself a Victorian manor high on Boot Hill overlooking Big Thunder Mountain, where he raised his family - his wife, Martha, and daughter, Melanie Ravenswood (born 1842).
Big Thunder Mountain was thought by the local Native Americans to be home to the Thunder Bird, a powerful spirit. According to the legend, its wrath could be materialized into a terrible earthquake. However, Ravenswood would not believe such stories. Time went by, and the gold in Big Thunder Mountain began to run out, making miners dig deeper into the mountain.
Melanie grew from a girl into a beautiful young woman, and became engaged to a train engineer who planned to take her far away from Thunder Mesa, much to the dismay of Henry. Henry did everything he could to stop the wedding, but his attempts were put to an abrupt end when a terrible earthquake in 1860 struck Thunder Mesa, and killed he and Martha. It seemed the Thunder Bird had been awakened, and the family was never heard of again. After several years, the story of what really happened came out from underneath the rubble:
On Melanie's wedding day shortly thereafter, a mysterious Phantom unknown to anyone appeared at the manor. While Melanie was preparing in her room, the Phantom lured her suitor up to the attic where he hanged him by the neck from the rafters.
In the ballroom, the bride sat alone. Hours went by with no sign of the groom. Guests slowly filed away, leaving Melanie alone in the house with the staff of maids and butlers. "Some day", she told herself, "he will come". And so, having never taken off her wedding dress or dropped her bouquet, in preparation for her loved one's return, she wandered the house aimlessly, singing melancholy songs of lost love.
The Phantom still lurked in the house, laughing at her human devotion to her intended husband. One after one, he invited his dead, demonic friends from the afterlife to fill the house in an eternal party. The shape of the house was slowly transformed by the evil forces. Years passed.
Inside and outside, the manor was decayed. Dusty cobwebs covered every inch, the disheartened staff not caring, for it was rumored that Melanie had lost her mind. She wandered the house for years and years, singing softly to her groom, while all around her demons and ghosts reveled and danced. Everywhere she went she was reminded of the wedding. The Phantom's eternal laughter still carried through the walls of the house. Outside, the once beautiful grounds were falling apart and crumbling. The gilded staircase and structure were dotted with mold and trees and every plant on the grounds died. As if sensing the evil inherent in the house, nothing living ever trod there. Melanie even so kept her hopes, waiting for her love's return, and never figured out why he had "left".
The earthquake that killed her parents cut a huge gouge in the west half of the property and in the crumbling ghost town of the old Thunder Mesa. The deserted buildings were rumored to be called Phantom Canyon, the dark supernatural version of the town, and anyone who entered the ghastly old town at night never came back.
Today, no one knows if Melanie Ravenswood is still alive in that old house on the hill. If she is, then she is well over 100 years old. Her beautiful voice still carries over the town at night though, through the walls and night air. And sometimes, people still see lights in the house.
Some nights, when the moon is full and the sky is clear of clouds, you can still hear the lonely mourning of the bride, the maniacal laughter of the Phantom, and the faint tinkle of glass and chatter of party guests. Whether she is alive or not, what is well known is that poor Melanie never really left the crumbling mansion. She waits for her groom until Judgment Day.
Many fans of the ride believe the Phantom to be Melanie's father, Henry Ravenswood, seeking vengeance from beyond the grave. Others believe that it is the pure spirit of evil, and that a curse was upon the young girl.
Like the regular Haunted Mansions, only the introduction of the ride takes place in the actual Mansion. The main ride itself actually takes place in a hidden show building behind the Manor.
The Phantom Manor ride follows the same layout of the original Disneyland version of the Haunted Mansion, since the Omnimover layouts of both are almost identical, but not completely (the Phantom Manor version is a bit longer, primarily to accommodate the Western scenes near the end). Many scenes from the classic Haunted Mansion attractions are replicated. These include the Stretching Room, the Portrait Gallery, the Endless Hallway, the Conservatory, the Corridor of Doors, Madame Leota’s Seance Room, the Ballroom, and even the busts singing Grim Grinning Ghosts. However, the new Western theme and plot have been incorporated into these scenes.
Guests enter the grounds through an iron gate at the foot of the small hill the manor sits on, looming over the riverfront. The grounds are untended, overgrown with weeds and scattered with dead vegetation. From the queue line, guests can have a look on the washed out bridge and second lift hill drop of Big Thunder Mountain.
Upon entering the grounds, guests can see a bat guard box and a plaque on the wall which reads Phantom Manor — Non Omnis Moriar (Latin for "I shall not die completely"). A derelict gazebo stands on the lawn that has a tea set laid out. Originally, these used to move to mimic two people pouring and drinking tea. The gazebo also contains a music box playing within (since 2001, this music box track is also used in Disneyland's Haunted Mansion for use on the Haunted Mansion Holiday annual seasonal overlay). This is also the only mansion in any of the parks that has you enter the ride through the front door.
Guests walk up the pathways towards the Manor, along the porch and queue outside the house where they wait for admission. A Castmember dressed as a macabre servant opens the doors and invites a small group of them into the Foyer. This Foyer contains a dusty chandelier and two mirrors, and is lined with dark wood paneling. The voice of the Phantom sounds from the ceiling and around the room, politely welcoming guests (in French), telling them the legend of this place, and inviting them to explore the manor further. Melanie's face fades in and out of the smallest mirror during the narration.
The Phantom was originally voiced by Vincent Price, but legal agreements led to a French actor, Gérard Chevalier, being brought in to record a French version of Price's narration. Chevalier actually used to dub Price in many of his movies. Today, only one small piece of Price's recording is still in use : the Phantom's evil laughter.
The Stretching Room
Guests then file into an octagonal room with four portraits of a young Melanie. In them, she picks flowers in the Manor's gardens in the first painting, holds a parasol in the second, steps through a stream in the third, and is having a picnic with her fiancé in the final portrait. The Phantom comments on the paintings, and asks guests if they have noticed that the walls are stretching. The room actually appears to stretch, and the portraits grow taller — revealing some haunting situations the young girl is in including:
- picking flowers above a gravestone where a skeleton (possibly the Phantom) emerges from the ground.
- holding a parasol while in a boat above a vertical waterfall.
- stepping through a stream as a water monster reaches for her feet.
- having a picnic with her fiancé as ants raid their food and a snake, scorpion, spider and beetle approach.
The Phantom, as in previous incarnations of the attraction, mentions the chamber having no windows and no doors, offering guests the "chilling challenge" of finding a way out. He laughs and says, "There's always my way". The lights go out, lightning and thunder effects fill the space, and the ceiling turns invisible showing us the Phantom hanging the groom from the rafters with a noose in the attic. The lights go out and the guests are shrouded in darkness seconds before the lights came back on. A wall opens and guests enter the portrait gallery.
Portrait Gallery and Grand Staircase
As the guests walk down this hallway, they see four portraits, slowly morphing into more macabre images :
- A knight and his horse on a cliff both becoming ghostly beings.
- A young woman in a Greek temple becoming the horrible Medusa.
- A ship sailing across the sea becoming the Ghost Ship sailing through a storm.
- A woman reclining on a sofa becoming a were-panther.
At the end of the hallway stands a large portrait of Melanie Ravenswood, wearing her bridal gown.
Guests then turn a corner and enter a large hall with the Grand Staircase leading to the upper floor. One can see a ghostly, foggy landscape through the huge window above the stairs. Old furniture line the walls, and sitting on a shelf is a bust of a stern-looking woman, who stares at guests as they pass by. An unbroken train of black Omnimover "Doombuggies" move through the center of the room, alongside a moving platform to enable easy loading.
Guests board the Doombuggies, each buggy accommodating two persons, and the carriages move upwards into a dark space, past a young Melanie bowing to passing guests while holding a candelabra, singing the whole time.
A twitching suit of armor then comes into view, although this effect is not obvious and can be missed in the semi-darkness. Beside the armor is a seemingly Endless Hallway, with the vision of Melanie appearing and disappearing in the distance while the candelabra that she is holding remains in view. On the left side of the corridor is a Conservatory containing a piano. At first glance, it seems to be playing by itself, but one can notice a ghost pianist's shadow falling on the carpet. A large, red-eyed raven sits on a music stand next to the piano and squawks angrily.
The Doombuggies then travel through a Corridor lined with doors. As guests pass each door, they hear pounding, knocking, or shouting behind it, as if its inhabitants were struggling to get out. When the last door is reached, guests see two skeletal hands clutching at the top. The vehicles pass a small hall containing a demonic grandfather clock, with a large "13" on its face (instead of the usual 12) and its hands spinning backward as it chimes.
The buggies then enter a round Seance Room, where a crystal ball (in which is the disembodied head of Madame Leota) sits on a central table . As guests watch her, she summons ghosts and dark creatures to a mysterious ball in both English and French (translated in English below) :
- Goblins and Ghoulies, creatures of fright, we summon you now, to dance through the night!
- Esprits et fantômes, sur vos fiers destriers, escortez dans la nuit la belle fiancée! (Spirits and Phantoms, on your proud Stallions, escort the beautiful Bride into the night!)
- Warlocks and Witches, answer this call! Your presence is wanted at this ghostly ball!
- Des douze coups de minuit aux mâtines sonnantes, nous valserons ensemble, macabre débutante! (As twelve strokes of midnight sound from the bells, we shall waltz together, gruesome debutante!)
- Join now the Spirits in Nuptial Doom, a ravishing Bride, a vanishing Groom...
Guests leave the Seance Room and move along a balcony, looking down into a Ballroom, where a ghostly wedding party takes place. The ghosts in Phantom Manor's ballroom are all from the 1800s, attending Melanie Ravenswood's wedding reception, instead of the "ghosts from all over the world" that populate the ballroom in the Haunted Mansion. Melanie stands on a staircase, singing and looking up at the Phantom who stands in an open window, laughing menacingly. Ghostly guests enter the room, bringing in wedding presents, then sitting around the dining table, where a moldy wedding cake is waiting for them. Drunken ghosts swing precariously from the chandelier above the table. Elegantly dressed pairs of ghostly dancers twirl around the Ballroom, as a spirit organist sits at a massive organ, playing a haunting waltz on it as wraiths fly out of its pipes.
Then, the vehicles enter the Bride's Boudoir. Melanie (now an elderly lady) sits weeping in front of a mirror filled with the shape of an enormous skull, while a music box plays. The clock displayed in the room has a blade pendulum, in reference to Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum, which was also the basis for a movie featuring Vincent Price.
The Doombuggies fly out of the window, and swoop down into a vast graveyard, past the Phantom standing before an open grave, an undead dog growling beside him. Some say that the Phantom pushed them out the window to meet their fate as punishment for trespassing in the manor. The Doombuggies then travel underground, beneath the cemetery, and see a series of coffins being opened by their skeletal residents. Four white marble busts then come into view, bearing the expressive faces of four Phantoms singing Grim Grinning Ghosts, as the deads join them in a dance.
Through a hole, the buggies then enter Phantom Canyon, a twisted, supernatural version of Thunder Mesa. Great rifts in the earth surrounding the buggies suggest the fateful 1860 earthquake, Thunder Mesa's turning point from a prosperous community to a ghost town. An eerie-looking figure stands before a ramshackle train station, offering train tickets to the Underworld. Guests then pass a ruined town hall where a mayor (whose dialogue consists of clips from the Haunted Mansion by Paul Frees, the original Ghost Host) stands, inviting guests to be the Manor's 1000th ghost. As he tips his hat, his head comes with it. A shootout follows between a ghost bank robber fleeing on a mule and a cowardly sheriff, with Big Thunder Mountain in the background. Guests see a pharmacy where a green-faced pharmacist drinks a deadly-looking medicine, followed by a saloon whose front wall has caved in. Inside it, there is a dancing showgirl, a bartender, and a man playing a honky-tonk piano. Four invisible gambler figures play poker nearby.
Another figure of the Phantom, this time far more frightening, leads guests into the exit of the ride. As they see the silhouette of the Manor ahead, they enter a dark passage, where Melanie's corpse is pointing to the way out. The vehicles enter a subterranean chamber lined with large, gilt-framed mirrors in which the ghostly image of the Phantom can be seen above the Doombuggies along with a reflection of guests themselves. Vehicles travel through a wine cellar, where Castmembers await to help them disembark their Doombuggies, and they walk toward the exit.
As guests travel towards day light, a tiny figure of Melanie stands to the side of the passageway behind bars, telling guests to "hurry back" and to "bring their death certificates". Finally, guests exit into Boot Hill, a Cemetery filled with humorous gravestones. If you turn around to look back at the house, you can see the Phantom looking out the window over the exit. It is easier to see him at night,since there is a light shining behind him. In the Cemetery, one can hear Melanie's beating tomb, both a reference to the original Haunted Mansion bride, whose red beating heart could be seen through her chest, and Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart.
- The story of Phantom Manor was inspired by the never-built Western River Expedition, which was a Pirates of the Caribbean-style attraction designed by Marc Davis. Much of Phantom Manor's story is inherently tied in with the rest of Frontierland, making for a large and unifying theme.
- Similarly, much of the Phantom Canyon section was derived from a planned scene of a mining town called Dry Gulch in the Western River Expedition at the Magic Kingdom. In other versions of the Haunted Mansion, this is the space occupied by the Graveyard scene.