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Phantom Manor: The Full Story of the Ravenswood Family

Phantom Manor: The Full Story of the Ravenswood Family

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Hey, gang!

Jim Hill here. It seems like only days ago that JimHillMedia.com put out the word that we were looking for new columnists to help the site cover the Disneyland Paris Resort as well as the Tokyo Disneyland Resort. Well, imagine my surprise when some really great writers came out of the woodwork and actually took me up on my offer.

One of these guys was Jean de Lutèce. Whose wonderful article about Phantom Manor immediately follows this introduction. Now -- given that Jean is a guy who likes his privacy -- I can't tell you too much about his background. Other than to say: de Lutèce is the real deal, folks. He's a man who really knows what's what when it comes to the Disneyland Paris theme park.

Jean's promised to send along a new article about DLP every two weeks or so. And -- if all of his columns are as good as this Phantom Manor story -- well ... we're all in for a real treat, folks.

Okay. Enough with the fawning introduction. Let me get out of the way here so you can enjoy the intelligent and informed writing of JHM's newest columnist, Jean de Lutèce.


I picked up a copy of Alain Littaye and Didier Ghez's book about the creation of "Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality" when it was originally released in April 2002 (take a look at last week's "Why For" column in order to learn how you can get ahold of this amazing book) and realized that this art-book was what I had been waiting for for 10 years, since the Parisian park actually opened.

However, while the book was filled with almost 300 drawings and renderings coming from WDI, while I learned many fascinating anecdotes both about the creative process, the mythology of the attractions and the minute details of the park, I also realized that I knew stories and further details that were not mentioned in Alain and Didier's work. I strongly suspect that this was due to Disney's editing of the volume.

In any case, when Jim mentioned that he was looking for a French contributor, the opportunity was too good to let go and I jumped on the occasion. I would finally be able to share the anecdotes and stories I had gathered about Disneyland Paris during almost 15 years while speaking with Imagineers both in the US and in Paris. Which is why I will try to deliver to JimHillMedia.com one column every 2 weeks about some lesser known aspects of the French Magic Kingdom, most of them not discussed in "From Sketch to Reality."

And since we are close to Halloween, I am bound to start with a piece of mythology that has intrigued and baffled more than one enthusiast of the French park, the Ravenshood Mansion, better known as Phantom Manor.

To try and understand Phantom Manor's story, let's move back in time to the era when it did not fall to pieces, let's move back to... its golden age, as it did indeed all start with Gold.

In Disneyland Paris, the center of Frontierland is Big Thunder Mountain, unlike in the US parks where Tom Sawyer Island holds the center stage. And according to WDI's mythology, most of the land was built from 1849 to 1890 (with the notable exceptions of Fort Comstock that was established earlier and of Cottonwood Creek Ranch that appeared later - more on this in a future story). Big Thunder Mountain, the gold mine, which was at the origin of it all, was owned by a man called Henry Ravenswood. It also happened to be regarded by the local Indians, from the Shoshoni's tribe, as a sacred place. Anyone who would disturb the Thunder Bird god that protects it would endure its wrath. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Thanks to the gold mine Henry Ravenswood became wealthy, extremely wealthy. And as many "nouveaux riches" at the time, he decided to build himself a house in the richest part of town, a manor, in fact, inspired by the architecture of San Francisco's nicest residences, a style obviously out of place in the little town of Thunder Mesa that surrounds the mine. This provided him a way to display his fortune by also showing that he could attract the best craftsmen from all around the world. In the ballroom, within the attraction, through a painting done by Julie Svendsen, you will have a chance to discover the house as it existed when Henry was at his most successful.

Now, all of this is mentioned in "From Sketch to Reality." What isn't are the details of what happened next, as explained in some early WDI "fact sheets" from the attraction as well as stories told by my Imagineer friends.

Early in the year 1859, Henry Ravenswood and his wife, Martha, were delighted to announce the engagement of their 22 year old daughter Mary Murphy Ravenswood with 30 year old Frank Ballard. Unfortunately Frank planned to leave Thunder Mesa with his future wife. When he mentioned those plans to his father in law on the day of the wedding, Henry Ravenswood became enraged and killed him on the spot: Frank Ballard was hung to his death in the Manor's stretching room.

Not aware of what had just happened, Mary waited desperately for the groom with the guests. Of course Frank never appeared. For months she became reclusive. She had learned the terrible truth. Hating her father, she retreated to séances to try and get in touch with the spirit of her fiancé. She died before the year was over.

A few months later, in 1860, her father's mine was struck by the wrath of the Thunder Bird god. His financial interests went belly up, bankruptcy loomed. Ruined, hated till the end by his late daughter, Henry Ravenswood, lived for a few more months, mean and sour, till his passing at the age of 65. Upon his death he assumed the form of The Phantom and it is his conflict with his defunct daughter that guests discover when they visit Phantom Manor.

Now, interestingly enough, a few "minor" characters also were given a "back story" by the Imagineers. It is not the case of Henry's wife, Martha, whose death in 1960, the same year as her husband's remains a mystery. The fate of The Bride's mother in law, is better known, however. Ma Ballard, was suffering from Osteoporosis which resulted in her backbone being curved. So much so, in fact, that her upper torso rested over her lower when she reclined to rest. Since her self-irony was at least as strong as her infirmity she insisted on her favorite ditty to be engraved on her tomb: "Over my Dead Body." She died in 1859, a few months after her son Frank.

Of course, being French, I must admit that the back story that I prefer is the most risqué of them all, the one that every adult visitor can enjoy when he visits the cemetery of Boot Hill, behind the manor. Jasper Jones and Anna Jones were the manor's servant and maid. They lived a few year longer than their masters. And while Jasper "kept his master happy," Anna... "kept his master happier." Only in France!

Now you have it, the complete, in-depth, all-you-had-always-wanted-to-know story of Phantom Manor. But before I conclude this piece, here are a few more details you may not have noticed. Did you know that:

Vincent Price was originally supposed to be the Ghost Host at Disneyland Paris. His voice was actually recorded in both English and French. But the concept of the attraction evolved and WDI was not able to use Vincent Price's voice in Paris. The voice you now hear in French is that of Gérard Chevalier, though Vincent Price's laugh was kept and you hear it in the stretching room.

The great industrial barons, from the 1800s loved to furnish their mansions with items gathered during their trips around the world. Henry Ravenswood, according to the mythology created by the Imagineers, was no exception, but, in his case, the purchases were made by the props people from WDI. While traveling to gather props for Adventureland they were able to buy carpets in Turkey, just as he would have done in his time. As to the silverware in Phantom Manor's main hall, it comes from London while the lace is from Belgium and the furniture mostly from Holland.

When you go through the ballroom, there are little skulls that come surging out of the organ.

Outside the manor, there is a ghost with a candle that flits from window to window and you can also, at times, spot The Phantom and The Bride behind the top window.

Finally, in Boot Hill, notice the very subtle sound effects that can be heard from time to time: sounds of mourning and of the wind howling ...

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