Mystery Guest, Sign in Please

by Mark Goldhaber, staff writer

In the last three columns, we looked at how important contributors to Walt Disney World have been honored by having their names inscribed on second-story windows on Main Street, U.S.A. Would you be surprised if I told you that there are other tributes hidden away around the World? Don't be. In today's column, we look at some of these “hidden” references.

Let's start with the obvious: the graveyard at the entrance to the Haunted Mansion in the Magic Kingdom. These gravestones, with inscriptions written by Imagineer X. Atencio, pay tribute to some of the biggest contributors to the attraction. A “recently departed” addition to the family plot is the stone for Madame Leota. You may recognize Leota Toombs from her performance inside the crystal ball in the Seance Room. Once each minute, the image of her face on the new “Toombs-stone” opens its eyes, looks around, and then closes them again. I've listed all of the gravestone inscriptions at the end of the tour for your ghoulish delight… er… entertainment.

PHOTO: Tombstone at the Haunted Mansion.
The newest “Toombs-stone” at the Haunted Mansion, dedicated to Madame Leota, is also the first to be animated. Photo by Mike Scopa.

But that's not the only place where you can gaze at Imagineers in the park.

Let's go over to The Living Seas at Epcot and wander around Sea Base Alpha. They did a really nice job of theming the place, down to the crates supposedly full of scientific equipment. But let's look a little closer at those crates. Do you see the crates' “labels”? Those serial numbers with two or three letters and six numbers are Imagineers. Or, at least, it's their initials and birthdates.

You can find similar “signatures” in many places at Walt Disney World. For example, the baskets of parts in the Droid Rooms in the queue for Star Tours in the Magic Kingdom also have initials and birthdates. The Sci-Fi Dine-In Restaurant at Disney Studios does that one better. The license plates of the “conver-tables” display not only the Imagineers' initials and birthdates, but the state of their birth, as well!

PHOTO: Baskets in Star Tours.
The serial numbers on these baskets in Star Tours are actually the initials and birthdates of Imagineers that worked on the attraction. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

As long as we were talking about Star Tours, there are a number of other signatures, tributes, and in-jokes there. For example, listen for an announcement looking for a Mr. Egroeg Sacul, then spell it backwards.

There is another announcement for the owner of a speeder with the license plate number “THX-1138,” which is the name of the first film made for commercial distribution by George Lucas. Another announcement is for Mr. Tom Morrow, which was the name of the Audio-Animatronic “operations director” host of the old “Flight to the Moon” attraction in the Magic Kingdom. There's also an announcement for Mr. Morrow on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. And last, but not least, take a look at the pre-boarding video. All of those passengers are Imagineers and their families.

Over at Jim Henson's MuppetVision 3D, look up and to the front left in the preshow area to see the “photo” of a Muppet with a camera around its neck that looks suspiciously like Jim Henson himself. Also look for the tribute to that famous former Mouseketeer, A-Net-Full-o-Jello.

Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale are best known for directing and producing Disney movies such as Beauty and the Beast , The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Before that, however, they got their start by directing and producing the pre-show film for Cranium Command for the Wonders of Life pavilion at Epcot. Of course, they had to put themselves in the attraction, too. Wise is the voice of the hypothalamus. Trousdale? He's one of the cranium commandos in training— the one who is abused by General Knowledge, who assigns him to an NFL All-Pro running back.

The Audio-Animatronic referred to as Tom II is the spitting image of Imagineering honcho Tom Fitzgerald. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Some tributes have been lost, such as Tom II, an Audio-Animatronic version of Imagineering executive Tom Fitzgerald, who was a show writer at the time. The figure was seen portraying the submarine-repairing boyfriend in the classic Horizons attraction at Epcot. Unfortunately for Horizons fans, the pavilion needed to be demolished because of deterioration of the ride building and the ground it sat on. However, after a good deal of site work, the land was deemed stable enough to hold Epcot's newest attraction, Mission:Space.

PHOTO: Mural in Cinderella's Castle pays tribute to Imagineers.
The current version of the mural has replaced the faces of John Hench and Herb Ryman with two others. Photo by Brian Bennett.

Finally, let's look to the mosaics inside Cinderella Castle. Imagineer Dorothea Redmond originally included images of Imagineering legends (and Disney Legends) John Hench and Herb Ryman in one panel. Ryman is fitting the shoe on Cinderella's foot as Hench looks on. However, their images are not now in the mosaic. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to determine whether they originally made it into the mosaic and were removed during a rehab, or if they got edited out before the mosaic's original installation. For a look at Redmond's original artwork, a picture of Tom Fitzgerald with Tom II, and a picture of Leota Toombs outside the crystal ball (as well as some of the other “hidden” tributes), check out “Walt Disney Imagineering,” a book written by the Imagineers about themselves.

Haunted Mansion gravestone inscriptions

Francis Xavier,
no time off for
good behavior

Francis Xavier “X” Atencio developed the storyline for the Mansion, wrote the lyrics for its theme song “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” and also wrote the inscriptions on the tombstones.

Dear departed
Brother Dave,
he chased a bear
into a cave

Dave Burkhart built the model of the Haunted Mansion.

At peaceful rest
lies Brother Claude,
planted here
beneath this sod

Claude Coats was a show designer who created a number of concept sketches, and also designed the track layout for the attraction.

In memory of
our patriarch,
dear departed
Grandpa Marc

Disney Legend Marc Davis did most of the concept design for the attraction, starting back when the Mansion was to be a walkthrough attracton housing the Museum of the Weird.

Master Gracey
laid to rest,
no mourning please
at his request

Yale Gracey was WED's resident special effects wizard, and designed such Mansion effects as the dancing ghosts, changing portraits, and the sance room.

Rest in peace
Cousin Huet,
we all know
you didn't do it

Cliff Huet was one of the lead interior designers, and also worked on some of the Mansion's architecture.

Here lies
good old Fred,
a great big rock
fell on his head

Fred Joerger was an art director who specialized in special finishes - rockwork, distressed timbers, etc. He created special plaster work effects for the Mansion.

Here lies a man
named Martin,
the lights went out
on this old Spartan

Bud Martin was a lighting designer who later served as head of WDI Special Effects Department.

In memoriam
Uncle Myall,
here you'll lie
for quite a while

Chuck Myall was a designer at WED Enterprises who also helped in the overall design of the Magic Kingdom.

Here rests
Wathel R. Bender,
he rode to glory
on a fender
Peaceful rest

Wathel Rogers was the grandfather of Audio-Animatronics, and he designed and programmed many of the A-A figures in the Mansion.

Mister Sewell,
the victim of
a dirty duel
Peaceful rest

Bob Sewell of the WED model shop did a lot of modeling work on the Mansion.

Good friend Gordon,
now you've crossed
the River Jordan

Gordon Williams was one of the resident Audio-Animatronics experts. He also helped design the sound effects for the Mansion.

Dear sweet Leota,
beloved by all
In regions beyond now,
but having a ball

Leota Toombs was an artist at WED who served as a stand-in model for the head in the crystal ball during concept testing of the Mansion. She did such an excellent job that the test performance was used in the final version, and the character was named “Madame Leota” in her honor. The voice for the head was done by Disney voice veteran Eleanor Audley.

Next time

Well, I hope that was fun. Next time we'll look at some lesser-known stuff that I Betcha Didn't Know. See you then!

Do you have a favorite “hidden tribute”? Let me know! If I get a good response, I'll use them in a future column, either as a list of “reader favorites,” or as “factoids of the day.”

Today's Bonus Factoid of the Day

The Haunted Mansion is the only attraction to appear in a different land at every Disney resort. It's in New Orleans Square at Disneyland Park, Liberty Square at WDW's Magic Kingdom, Frontierland (Phantom Manor) at Disneyland Park in Paris, and Fantasyland at Tokyo Disneyland Park.