by: guide4wdw – Collin

Just yesterday, we took you back to a small element of the Haunted Mansions elaborate past and developed history, but today we’re looking at something you can experience first hand today, tombstones. The tombstones of the Haunted Mansion’s graveyard debut a hidden and elaborate story purposely set by Imagineering that many guests completely overlook. It’s a story of the mansion’s development, and has really turned into one of the greatest details Imagineering has ever hid in their very own work. A few months ago, we shared a little hidden gem of Hollywood Studios in what we called “All in the Details: How Imagineers Left Their Mark on the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre!” While writing that article, it became one of my favorite posts I had ever written for the site in a few ways. First, it was simply fun to really get the chance to experience the reactions of readers who had never been told about the hidden detail before. Second, and perhaps most importantly, it was great to share an element of the parks that recognized the many incredible Imagineers who bring so many of our Disney experiences and attractions to life. They truly are the ones who amaze us time after time with entirely new ideas, but you’ll rarely find them taking credit for their vast accomplishments. In many cases, they work behind the scenes, and never really get the credit they deserve. 

So, today, we’re diving into another hidden detail of Imagineering hiding in plain site, the Haunted Mansion tombstones. Yes, you read that correctly, certain Imagineers have their own tombstones outside of the mansion. Of course, these aren’t real tombstones, but rather humorous representations and names of many cast members who were iconic in the attractions development. 

For example, in the cemetery, just before you enter the mansion, you’ll see a grassy area and one particular headstone reading “Dear sweet Leota, beloved by all in regions beyond now having a ball.” It’s a catchy little phrase but Leota Tombs was actually an Imagineer for the Disney company and the “face” utilized to create the floating crystal ball illusion in the mansion, known today as Madam Leota. It’s a simple nod to an Imagineer, but one thats certainly worth noting (some people get windows on Main Street… some people get tombstones at the Haunted Mansion… it happens).

Just a few steps away from our first representation, you’ll find another engraving which states, “In memory of our patriarch dear departed grandpa Marc.” In this particular case, “Marc” is referring to the iconic Marc Davis of early Disney animation and many incredibly early Disney attractions. Marc Davis was and is still revered as one of the key pieces of the Disneyland puzzle and one of the most iconic of Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men.” He was a Disney legend (recognized in 1989) and perhaps one of the most well respected men in Imagineering. Chances are, even if you don’t know his name, you’ve likely heard of/experienced his work at some point through Pirates of the Caribbean, The Jungle Cruise, The Tiki Room, The Country Bear Jamboree, and many others. To me, (while it may not be the case) this particular tombstone is used to pay tribute to the Imagineer rather that simply creating a funny quote with a hidden meaning. He was an iconic part of Imagineering and a true mentor for many aspiring cast members. 

Continuing on, in a rather prominent location, you’ll find one of the most recognizable names in the “story” of the Haunted Mansion, Master Gracey. For those of you who have seen the movie (loosely based on the attraction, which did not intend to have a “story” originally), know all about the fictional Master Gracey, but did you know that Yale Gracey was a real individual with his own incredible story? While the tombstone reads ‘Master grace laid to rest, no mourning please at his request – farewell” (a message printed on many attraction specific t-shirts) the real individual was a crucial piece of the attraction’s build process. While he is often overlooked in favor of recognizing the incredibly talented “project leader” Rolly Crump, Gracey created iconic illusions for the attraction. Beyond the Haunted Mansion, Gracey had a unique role in imagineering where he would create new technologies, designed illusions, and never before seen representations. He was a true inventor and one that pushed Disney attractions a step farther that anything else at the time. 

Perhaps the most ironic of the graveyard representations is Fred Joerger. The tombstone making reference to this animator is a bit simpler that many of the others and states, “Here lies good old Fred, a great big rock fell on his head.” This tombstone was likely the biggest “softball” thrown up to Imagineering to knock out of the park. Fred Joerger was a model maker for Disney early on, but became known as the “rock guy” for Imagineering as result of his unique skillset  While it was an earned title, it’s interesting to note that it was a key portion of his job. Joerger not only designed but also manually created a majority of the “rocks” you see at and around Walt Disney World. It’s a perfect fit to the tombstone description, but one that really required some creativity on the part of Imagineering. It may be one of the simplest backstories but one you may have easily overlooked. 

This is certainly not a retelling of each and everyone one of these incredible Imagineers backstories (and not even a description of all the stones!), but rather a simple glance into an element of the parks that you may have never recognized or taken a brief moment to seek out. 

Either way, I hope you enjoyed taking a closer look at the details of Walt Disney World, and may have learned something new today! If you liked this article, please do me a big favor and SHARE this article with friends. Thanks!