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The three stages of transformation of the ghost ship in The Changing Portrait Hallway in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, taken in May and June, 2008. Photos by Dave DeCaro and used with permission; if you’re a Disney Park fan, you won’t want to miss his site!

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.

You exit the elevator and walk down a corridor adorned with eerie mutating portraits, among them a ship…which transforms into a ghostly galleon on stormy seas.

Of all the portraits, the ship was always my favorite, for I have long been a fan of sea-faring tales—especially those that involve ghosts. While I could say that this portrait could have been inspired by countless stories, among them Poe’s “Descent in the Maelstrom,” the first work that always popped into my mind when I saw the portrait wasn’t a short story at all—it was Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” which is really a pretty terrifying ghostly tale.

Consider the first portrait, and the following lines from “Rime”:

The first stage of the portrait, which depicts a ship sailing on a clear day in decent weather.

The Mariner tells how the ship sailed southward with a good wind and fair weather, till it reached the Line.[1]

“The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,/Merrily did we drop”[2]

The opening of the Mariner’s tale describes his voyage’s rather uneventful beginnings. The above image seems to depict the Mariner’s ship under fair skies and calm seas.

Now consider the second portrait—the actual transformation, and these next lines from “Rime”:

The transitional stage of the portrait, which shows a violent storm and is colored in copper—showing the next two phases of the Mariner’s terrible adventure.

The ship driven by a storm toward the south pole.

“And now the Storm-blast came, and he/Was tyrannous and strong;/He struck with his o’ertaking wings,/And chased us south along.

With sloping masts and dipping prow,/As who pursued with yell and blow/Still treads the shadow of his foe,[3]

“All in a hot and copper sky,/The bloody Sun, at noon…

Water, water, every where,/And all the boards did shrink;/Water, water, every where,/Nor any drop to drink.”[4]

The ship hits a terrible storm, and ends up in the South Pole amongst the ice. An albatross appears, however, the ice splits and loosens the ship, accompanied by a breeze. The ship is propelled into foggy waters. It’s at this point in the story the Mariner commits his crime—he shoots the Albatross, considered a sacred bird of good fortune. Thereafter, as retribution for the Mariner’s crime, the breeze stops and the ship and its crew are stranded in a terribly hot, still environment, thirsting to death.

The transformational stage of the portrait—especially with the copper coloring toward the end—almost seems to illustrate this section of the tale.

The third and final stage of the changing portrait seems to signal the approach of the ship of death in “Rime.”

And horror follows…It seemeth him but the skeleton of a ship…And its ribs are seen as bars on the face of the setting Sun.

Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)/How fast she nears and nears!/Are those her sails that glance in the Sun,/Like restless gossameres?[5]

After the dehydrating sailors have been adrift for many days and have mouths so dry they can’t speak, they spy something on the horizon—sails of a ship. They believe, at first, that they’re saved…until it draws closer, and its skeletal appearance and tattered sails reveal that it is a spectral vessel which harbors Death itself. Although, in the poem, the ship appears to them at the height of another scorching afternoon in the broad daylight and theHauntedMansion’s ship is set against the stormy darkness, the ship’s condition seems to match what’s described in “Rime” (especially the gossamer sails).

There is, of course, the rest of the Mariner’s tale, which is quite lengthy. But what I find interesting is that if, indeed, “Rime” served as an inspiration for this portrait, the portion of the tale at which it stops is just before the portion in which it becomes a true ghost story. The fact that it stops there—and it’s before you even board your Doombuggy to ride through the ghost story that is the Haunted Mansion—suggests that this portrait was hung with foreshadowing in mind.

If you’d like to read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” you can for free here: If you’d like to own a copy in print, you can get it here: If you’d like it for your Kindle, it’s available here:

[1] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Other Poems (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), 5.

(Special Note: This is one of the Penguin 60s series—small, slim volumes usually containing a short story or poem or two by one author or a couple—which were published on the occasion of Penguin’s 60th anniversary).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 5-6.

[4] Ibid., 9.

[5] Ibid., 12.


A shot of the Bride’s portrait in the attic scene in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, taken in May, 2008. Photo by Dave DeCaro and used with permission; if you’re a Disney Park fan, you won’t want to miss his site!

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.

Your Doombuggy rounds the corner and enters the Mansion’s attic, a creepy menagerie of web-shrouded trunks, lamps, furniture and dishes. The deeper you go, the more dense and specific the items become—you see fine china, a rotting wedding cake, an embroidered wedding announcement…and then a ghostly bride.

There have been so many changes in that scene in the last few years, and not just to the bride herself. The last time I traversed the forbidden attic was in 2008, and I noticed for the first time that at least one portrait—that of the bride with one of her husbands—is in an oval frame.

One of the Edgar Allan Poe’s freakiest little pieces isn’t the one that’s read as part of school curriculums or even the most talked about. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, then you know what that piece is, because I’ve referenced it several times: “The Oval Portrait.”

While it’s true that oval frames for portraits were quite common during the Victorian age, the bride’s portrait at its very core seems to have been inspired by Poe’s short piece.


٭ Poe’s “Oval Portrait” is a story within a story: it opens with the narrator and his valet stumbling into an abandoned mansion for shelter. In theHauntedMansionattraction, we play the role of the narrator: we have “stumbled” into a decrepit, abandoned (well, by LIVE people, anyway) mansion.

٭ The narrator and his valet choose to settle

“in one of the smallest and least-sumptuously furnished apartments. It lay in a remote turret of the building. Its decorations were rich, yet tattered and antique…”[1]

A turret could certainly be comparable to an attic—high and tucked away—and notice that the turret’s furnishings could easily describe what’s in theHauntedMansion’s attic.

٭ The comparison between the frames in “The Oval Portrait” and the Haunted Mansion is also worthy of note. “The Oval Portrait”’s frame is described as “richly gilded and filigreed in Moresque.”[2] Another term for Moresque is Arabesque, which is a type of symmetrical scrolling (usually consisting of some kind of foliage). Take a closer look at the photo above. Note that the Haunted Mansion’s frame appears, although worn a bit, gilded—and that the silver scrolling on the top and bottom appears to be symmetrical: Arabesque (Moresque). The word “arabesque,” in addition, is used higher up in “The Oval Portrait”: “frames of rich golden arabesque.”[3] So there may have been some consideration of this story here when the Imagineers were choosing the frame.

٭ Both portraits are stunningly life-like. While we Disney fans would normally attribute that to the Imagineers’ insistence on quality, this fact is a key plot point in Poe’s piece (which was originally titled “Life in Death,” by the way): The narrator is so captivated by it he is drawn to learn more about the work:

“Least of all, could it have been that my fancy, shaken from its half slumber, had mistaken the head for that of a living person…I had found the spell of the picture in an absolute life-likeliness of expression, which, at first startling, finally confounded, subdued and appalled me. With deep and reverent awe I replaced the candelabrum in its former position…I sought eagerly the volume which discussed the paintings and their histories. Turning to the number which designated the oval portrait, I there read the vague and quaint words which follow…”[4]

٭ Lastly, the tragic tale “The Oval Portrait”’s narrator reads in the volume is that of a young bride—and it ends in death.

If you’d like to read Poe’s “The Oval Portrait”—a later version in which he removed some extraneous details about opium use—you can read it for free here: (if you want to read the original 1842 version which includes the whole introductory paragraph at the beginning, you can do that here, although most published versions of this story never include it: If you’d prefer to own it for your library, you can find it in The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe here: You can also get just the story “The Oval Portrait” for your Kindle here:; or, if you prefer to own his complete works for your Kindle, you can buy that here:

[1] Edgar Allan Poe, “The Oval Portrait,” in The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Stephen Peithman (New York: Avenel Books, 1986), 110.

[2] Ibid., 111

[3] Ibid., 110

[4] Ibid., 111-112


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!

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):

If you’d prefer to own it for your library, you can purchase a copy in print here:…or for your Kindle here:

[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.

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