Remembering Yale Gracey, our ghost host

Alright, so technically speaking, he’s not the ghost host. Outside the Haunted Mansion, a tombstone reads, “Master Gracey, laid to rest, no mourning please, at his request.” It was penned by X. Atencio, in honor of his fellow Imagineer, Yale Gracey. When people saw the word master, they ran with it, thinking it meant the master of the house. In actuality, for that time period, master could refer to any man too young to be considered mister. But as far as fans, and many cast members, were concerned, Master Gracey was the master of the house and therefore his voice was our guide, our unofficial Ghost Host.

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Photo courtesy of George Coller on Flickr

The idea of Yale Gracey being the Ghost Host, might not be that far from reality. According to WED designer, Rolly Crump, Gracey actually played host to a ghost when he was a kid. When they were building the Haunted Mansion, Crump asked Gracey if he ever experienced anything paranormal. Without hesitation, he said, “Oh yeah, I had a ghost read to me at ten years old.”

When Gracey was a little boy, he would visit his relatives on the east coast and stay in a big old house. All the cousins shared a bedroom and, at night, an old lady would come out of the closet and read to them. The kids liked her, so they never told their parents about her, for fear that she would disappear.

That story seems like the right backstory for someone that designed an attraction that is an old house filled to the brim with “grinning” ghosts.

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Photo courtesy of Cory Doctorow on Flickr

 

Gracey was a master of illusions and gadgetry and his work is seen throughout Disneyland, including in the fires of Pirates of the Caribbean. He also created the pixie dust projector, which was used to block out everything on stage in the Carousel of Progress for the 1964 World’s Fair during scene changes. The same technology was later used to block out all the surrounding track in Space Mountain. It’s the reason why Space Mountain is fun when the lights are off but, when they are on, as you can see, it’s pretty terrifying. But the eternal tombstone at the Haunted Mansion lives as a reminder of the connection he had to that ride.

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Photo courtesy of Mark Harmon on Flickr

Imagine taking a ride through the Haunted Mansion without any of the special effects. Imagine that there’s no projection in the crystal ball to show us Madame Leota, or that the coffin is not rattling, the door knobs aren’t turning, the ghosts aren’t rising up around you, and, perhaps, most importantly, there’s no ghosts dancing in the ballroom. What are you riding through? You’re riding through a house. A slightly spooky house that someone decorated for Halloween, maybe, but it’s not haunted. Yale Gracey’s incredibly legacy in the Haunted Mansion is that he made it haunted.

In fact, Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey had wanted to make it even more haunted then it is now. When it became a moving vehicle attraction instead of a walk-through one, some things had to go, including some of their favorite parts. They had created a full sound stage for a scene in which a sea captain, who killed his wife  and later drowned at sea, returns to his room in the mansion. Water is pouring around his skeleton onto the floor when suddenly a ghostly skeleton in a white, silk dress appears behind him. She flies towards him, arms outstretched, screaming, when they both suddenly disappear. When remaking the queue in Magic Kingdom, the designers did pay homage to their sea captain.

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Photo courtesy of Jeff Kays on Flickr

Although that example of Pepper’s Ghost was unfortunately cut from the ride, Gracey was able to show his skill when he designed the ballroom scene. In it, ghosts are dancing, playing the piano, and swinging on the chandelier. And they are ghosts, not Audio-Animatronics.

In actuality, it’s not a hard trick to do, but that doesn’t change the amazement that’s created by it. When you look at the ballroom, you actually looking through glass to the scene behind it. The light is reflecting off of it and giving it the appearance of something ghostly.

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Photo courtesy of Jack on Flickr

Yale Gracey’s death is nothing short of a mystery today. While on vacation with his wife in 1983, when he was 73, someone broke into their cabana at the Bel Air Bay Club. His wife, Beverly, was rushed to the hospital with gunshot wounds, but Gracey was shot to death in his sleep. He had retired from Imagineering eight years earlier, but his spirit will always live on in his mansion.

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