A shot of the Caretaker and Dog in the graveyard scene in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. Photo by Dave DeCaro and used with permission; if you’re a Disney Park fan, you won’t want to miss his site! http://www.davelandweb.com/

If you love classic ghost stories, Disney’s Haunted Mansion offers more than thrills and chills. This four-part series takes a look at classic ghost story images the attraction brings to life.

As your Doombuggy leaves the attic and descends into the cemetery, a look to your left reveals a terrified shovel-bearing caretaker and a quaking, half-starved dog. While there are probably many references in classic ghost stories to cemetery caretakers and dogs, this image reminds me of the scene at the conclusion of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1881 classic “The Body-Snatcher.”

In the tale’s final scene, a pair of medical students who make a little cash providing bodies for dissection head out to a gated rural cemetery with lanterns and shovels:

“It was by this time growing somewhat late. The gig, according to order, was brought round to the door with both lamps brightly shining, and the young men had to pay their bill and take the road. They announced that they were bound for Peebles, and drove in that direction till they were clear of the last houses of the town; then, extinguishing the lamps, returned upon their course, and followed a by-road toward Glencorse. There was no sound but that of their own passage, and the incessant, strident pouring of the rain. It was pitch dark; here and there a white gate or a white stone in the wall guided them for a short space across the night; but for the most part it was at a foot pace, and almost groping, that they picked their way through that resonant blackness to their solemn and isolated destination. In the sunken woods that traverse the neighbourhood of the burying-ground the last glimmer failed them, and it became necessary to kindle a match and reillumine one of the lanterns of the gig. Thus, under the dripping trees, and environed by huge and moving shadows, they reached the scene of their unhallowed labours.

They were both experienced in such affairs, and powerful with the spade…”[1]

Then, as the pair rides back in the carriage with their baggage between them,

“All over the countryside, and from every degree of distance, the farm dogs accompanied their passage with tragic ululations; and it grew and grew upon his mind that some unnatural miracle had been accomplished, that some nameless change had befallen the dead body, and that it was in fear of their unholy burden that the dogs were howling.”[2]

The set, the lantern, the shovel, the darkness, and the woeful dog…Disney’s vignette has all the elements of “The Body-Snatcher”’s final scene.

Don’t worry, I didn’t ruin the story’s ending. If you’d like to read Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Body-Snatcher,” you can read it for free here (note—this text is complete; some places that have posted it around the web have omitted a few paragraphs toward the end of the piece. This site also has an interesting introduction about the story’s publishing history): http://gaslight.mtroyal.ca/body.htm

If you’d prefer to own it for your library, you can purchase a copy in print here: http://amzn.com/1420932071…or for your Kindle here: http://amzn.com/B0038YWJX6

[1] Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Body-Snatcher,” in The Complete Short Stories of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. Charles Neider (Cambridge: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1998), 438.

[2] Ibid, 440.

About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies; her traditionally published books include a short story collection, THE SHADOWS BEHIND. She was the recipient of three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She serves as co-host of the DARK DISCUSSIONS podcast, as founding editor of the dark literary journal 34 ORCHARD, and is a member of the New England Horror Writers. Follow her adventures at kristipetersenschoonover.com.

Posted on October 3, 2011, in Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff, Skeletons in the Swimmin' Hole -- Tales from Haunted Disney World and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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