Thursday, December 03, 2009
The Hearse at Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion
In the 1990s a horse drawn hearse was purchased from an antiques dealer for use in a proposed Young Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular show to be staged at Disneyland. When plans for the show were scrapped, Imagineer, Bob Baranick suggested the hearse be placed outside the Haunted Mansion. Following the philosophy of storytelling through the attractions, Imagineer Tony Baxter, inspired by the invisible dogs on a lease novelty items sold at the merchandise carts outside the haunted Mansion came up with the idea of having the hearse hitched up to an invisible horse. The hearse and phantom horse made its debut in September 1995 and proved popular enough to warrant adding this feature to the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
While untrue, the urban myth that this is the very same hearse that transported Brigham Young to his grave persist. Much has been made about this false, if more interesting origin of Disnaeyland's white hearse, while I've seen very little about the, also interesting, and factual, history of the black hearse residing at the Magic Kingdom.
The black hearse at Walt Disney World appeared in the 1965 film "The Sons of Katie Elder" which starred John Wayne and Dean Martin as two of the four sons who return to Clearwater, Texas to attend their mother's funeral. When they arrive, they find that their mother is revered with almost saintly status among the town's population. They also find a darker story about their father's murder and how their mother was swindled out of her property. The sons are determined to set things right, meeting opposition at every turn.
This is a well made, more or less by the numbers, western, direct by Henry Hathaway from a screenplay by William H. Wright, Allan Weiss and Harry Essex from a story by Talbot Jennings. It has a very good cast, believable in their roles, plenty of action, nice cinematography and a score by Elmer Bernstein. The real star of the movie is not John Wayne, or Dean Martin, but Katie Elder, who never appears in the movie. It is the black hearse from the magic Kingdom which conveyed Katie Elder to her final resting place.
The hearse makes it's first appearance at the 6 minute and 56 second mark in the movie, sitting on the street, hitched to a pair of very live horses as it prepares to drive to the cemetery with Katie Elder's body.
It can be seen again, very briefly, about 2 minutes later parked outside the cemetery.
The hearse gets a lot more screen time beginning at 30 minutes and 51 seconds, when we see it's wheels being cleaned by veteran character actor, John Doucette as Hyselman. John Wayne appears to pay for his mother's funeral, only to find out it's been taken care of. We find out that he and Hyselman have known each other for some time, but that Hyselman can't, or won't help him, with details about his father's murder.
Shortly after, the swindler's hired muscle, Curley, played by a menacing George Kennedy, goes to learn what John Wayne wanted with Hyselman. Curley's manner is not so polite, and fortunately, Wayne returns to rescue Hyselman.
The hearse does not appear again.
We can see some details about the hearse as it appears in "The Sons of Katie Elder" which have been changed for it's appearance outside the Haunted Mansion. The most obvious is that the black curtains with the gold tassled edging in the windows ofthe hearse have been replaced with black curtains with purple tassled edging for its' role at Disney World, while retaining the same design. Also the wheels have been replaced. In the movie all four wheels are the same size, while outside the Haunted Mansion, the front wheels are much smaller. The wheel rims themselves also appear a bit thicker on the current incarnation. The four decorative elements on the corners of the hearse's roof have also been removed, as has the railing behind the driver's seat, replaced by two lamps.
Interestingly the tack worn by the phantom horse appears to be close to, if not identical, to the tack worn by the horses in the movie, making me wonder if this was not also original to the movie and purchased along with the hearse.
Disneyland hearse image source