The Man with the Cane

June 30, 2015 at 12:00 AM

The estimated reading time for this post is 21 minutes, 13 seconds

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(Note: this is a followup of Grad Night in the Haunted Mansion. It is recommended you are familiar with the original story before continuing)

Recently I read a story posted on a Disney forum I frequent, an account of three friends who tried to spend a night in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion back in the 80s. Since I don’t know the author’s name or gender, or even if said author is reading this, I’m not sure how to address him or her. Hopefully whoever put the story out there in the first place will see this.

I tried tracking the author down, and apparently the story had been posted on several forums and sites under different usernames – I’m not sure when it was reposted or where it originated, nor how long it’s been circulating.

But regardless, I read it at first thinking nothing of it but a half-assed ghost story. It was well-researched, sure, but there were certain details that were off and raised doubts. I almost dismissed it entirely when there were utilidors mentioned – because only Walt Disney World has those – but that was before the Prop Rooms got brought up.

My own story has lot of similarities, and I doubt its coincidental. I’m not sure how much this will clear things up, but that realization has prompted me to share my knowledge, maybe get a few things off my chest.

I grew up in Orlando, and have pretty much lived my whole life in close proximity to Walt Disney World. My mother met my father while working as a Cast Member at the Magic Kingdom, and now I work there myself (though I’d rather not say where). For as long as I can remember, I’ve listened all kinds of urban myths and rumors circulated among cast members at the parks, mainly through my parents; Mom got her start there back in the 70s, not long after the Magic Kingdom first opened, and in 77 she finally got bumped up from retail to attractions, which she had hoped for since she’d been hired. Her first role was a hostess at the Haunted Mansion, a position she thoroughly enjoyed until one August night that same year, when she encountered the Man with the Cane.

The way she tells it, she was a little on edge that night: earlier in the day, a 4-year-old boy had climbed over a railing surrounding the Cinderella’s Castle moat and drowned. It was the first death to have happened in the park’s short history. Management tried to keep the incident as quiet as possible – so the other guests weren’t disturbed – but word of it quickly spread among the cast members, and this was fresh on my mom’s mind as she worked the loading area for the mansion. Guests would come through from the stretching rooms and board their doombuggies, blissfully unaware that a life had been lost in their midst.

She was working until late, the crowds getting lighter and lighter as the night dragged on, until they were down to one stretch room. The guests were coming few and far between, so there were long periods where it was just her watching the empty doombuggies flow endlessly out one dark corridor and down another, listening to the eerie music and sound effects.

It was during one of these lonely spans of time that she saw him: from around the corner came a doombuggy that was occupied by a man, sitting right in the middle of the car. She described him to me as being gaunt, almost emaciated-looking, dressed in a rumpled suit, hands resting on the handle of a cane set in front of him. He stared straight ahead with pale blue eyes set far back in his head, his expression bitterly grim. He didn’t so much as twitch an eyebrow when my mom tried to get his attention, waving at him and saying hello; he just kept staring at some fixed point right in front of him as the doombuggy moved past and on into the rest of the ride.

Immediately my mom noted his car number – 67 – and called the operator at unload on the phone to ask him about the man he had sent her. The operator responded that he hadn’t sent her anyone, at which point both of them became very confused and mom got a little scared. Together they got in touch with their lead, and the three of them proceeded to wait at unload for the man to come around.

Sure enough, car 67 arrived, but it was empty.

There was no way the man could have sneaked out without anyone noticing. There are dozens of security cameras around the ride that would have caught it. My mom never got to review the footage, and to this day she’s not sure if there even is any, but she is thoroughly convinced that what she saw was a ghost. It spooked her enough that she had a hard time working late at the mansion, when there were periods where she would be all alone and felt as if someone else was in the room with her, watching her, and requested transfer shortly thereafter. She ended up on the Tropical Serenade (which is the Enchanted Tiki Room today) a month or so later.

But mom was only the first to see this apparition. Stories of the Man with the Cane began to circulate among CMs working at the Haunted Mansion, and every so often someone would catch a glimpse of him, usually riding alone in a doombuggy but sometimes walking in a backstage area of the ride, often only seen reflected in a mirror. He was always described the same way: gaunt, dressed in a suit, sunken eyes and holding a cane. Some say he’s the ghost of Yale Gracey, one of the imagineers that built the Haunted Mansion, while others have claimed that he’s much older, the spirit of a pilot whose small test plane went down on the land WDW would be built on, back in the 1940s. Needless to say, it became a local legend among the Haunted Mansion staff, and even those who didn’t see him were unnerved that they might, especially if they had to work alone at night.

So of course this was all going through my head when I went to work at the mansion myself, in the early 2000s.

Unlike a lot of people, I’ve never been a big fan of the Haunted Mansion, though coming from a Disney family I know a lot about it. I think the main reason is because I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable around it – I blame my mom’s ghost story, of course. Looking at the facade from a distance is fine, but from the moment I pass the gates into the line, I get this prickle of inexplicable worry in the back of my brain, like that feeling you get when you’re in a dentist’s waiting room about to get a tooth pulled – you know it’s going to happen, and it won’t be fun.

Of course the ride isn’t really that scary, but that irrational feeling doesn’t go away until I’ve left the area behind. I think that’s why I opted to take the position as a hostess in the mansion – like mother like daughter, I guess. Plus, I think it had to do with trying to overcome that stupid childhood fear.

Anyway, I got the job and it was pretty normal, for the most part. My position in the attraction would shift, being a outdoor greeter at the mansion gate one day, a monitor at load or unload the next. I got used to it after awhile, and even started to like the job, despite that nagging tension I mentioned earlier.

My supervisor, a senior CM on the ride, was a woman named Karen (and yes, I realize it could be a coincidence, but I’m not so sure anymore). She was the one that basically got me acclimatized to the ride, and became a sort of mentor. She was a little severe and seemed high-strung, like she was always on the alert for something to happen. She’d get on anyone’s case if they made a shortcut of anything on the ride, citing safety reasons. But she seemed to like me well enough, showed me some level of concern due to my apparent unease about working the attraction at night.

I mentioned to her off-handedly once that working the mansion made me nervous due to the stories of the Man with the Cane. I recall it was just the two of us standing in the “Servants Corridor,” which is a CM-only passage from the load area to the outside, and it was just around closing time, so it was just the two of us in that flickering gloom. She became very interested and asked me a few questions, and I told her my mom’s story and how it had spooked me.

She stared at me long and hard as I talked. It was just starting to make me feel uncomfortable when she said, very softly, “I’ve seen him too. Just once. November 5th, 2000.”

She didn’t elaborate, didn’t expand on anything. Before I could ask her any more about it, she changed the subject to the tasks at hand for us closing the ride and walked away. I never did get a chance to broach the subject again, because she seemed to be all business following our conversation.

I’m not sure why I didn’t look up the date she mentioned sooner. I guess it never crossed my mind. Not until later.

After that, Karen seemed to take an odd interest in me. She had some measure of clout with the rest of the cast, and got leeway to go through plenty of backstage areas, so she started showing me all of the various nooks and crannies of the Haunted Mansion, very deliberately pointing out details like a tour guide. I got to learn the ins and outs of the attraction fairly well, and even had a chance to walk through the entire thing at one point with lights-on, thanks to Karen. In a way, I felt weirdly accepted, almost initiated… It’s hard to describe, but I was grateful anyway.

Which brings me to 2004, and the main reason I tell this whole story.

I’d been at the Haunted Mansion just under a year by that point, and my initial worries and irrational fears had finally begun to subside. I hadn’t seen anything out of the ordinary during my time spent in the attraction, whether on set or backstage. Any notion of real ghost sightings was just the occasional in-joke between CMs, and even I wondered if my mother had just made it up to scare the people that worked with her and it had stuck around as a local legend since.

It was a February night, and I had just come back for my last shift of the evening. I was assigned to the load area and the crowds were relatively sparse, since it was around parade time and the route at Magic Kingdom passes through Liberty Square. Those riding either had no idea it was happening or ducked in to take advantage of the lull it caused.

I had grown pretty accustomed to being a grim, spooky maid by now, since the Haunted Mansion is the one attraction where CMs don’t have to smile. I escorted the few guests that came through into their doombuggies and walked the moving conveyor belt at an easy pace. The people coming through gradually became fewer and fewer, which seemed odd considering it wasn’t really that late at night.

And then the inflow stopped. There was a good five-minute stretch after I sent the last couple guests along where no one came down the corridor; just me, all alone, with the constant loop of familiar haunting sounds and the never ending line of doombuggies.

I started to get that itch of worry again as my mom’s story popped back in my head, but I tried to push it down. Another couple minutes of nothing, not even another CM to accompany me (usually there’s more than one of us in there), and I really started to get nervous. I was just reaching for the little shortwave radio we kept on hand to communicate when it crackled to life, making me jump.

It was Karen’s voice on the other end. “I’m at unload,” she said. It was hard to tell over the crappy receiver, but I think she sounded on edge. “Keep your eyes peeled.”

“For what?” I asked. Last I checked, Karen wasn’t on duty at unload, or on the ride in general that night.

Even before she responded, I had this terrible feeling I knew exactly what was about to happen, and I looked up as she said something else I don’t really remember.

There he was.

Just like in my mother’s story, he came gliding down the line in a doombuggy that should have been empty. Thin, near skeletal hands folded on the head of a black cane, a dusty suit and a face that reminded me of some scavenger bird. He was so still, he could have been a statue – apart from the fine, wispy hairs on his head, nothing on him moved. He didn’t blink, and his blue eyes didn’t even twitch; it was like he was boring a hole in the back of the car in front of him with his gaze.

Now I was on the verge of panicking, seeing a childhood terror before my very eyes. I stumbled back as the car passed me by, wanting to run but fighting with the logic that this was all definitely some elaborate prank. The man was lifelike, sure, but he was way too still to be real. It could have been some old animatronic from the Hall of Presidents for all I knew, just made scarier and set here to freak me out.

I mean, I certainly didn’t FEEL that way, but my brain was going a mile a minute and that was the best explanation that came to me in the moment.

The moment passed and off he went, without a glance in my direction. I watched it go with my heart going crazy in my chest and Karen shouting at me over the radio for confirmation. I picked it up and choked out what I’d just seen.

There wasn’t even a pause before she responded: “Get in the next car. Now. Don’t lose him.”

Surprisingly enough, I did just that. I was maybe two or three buggies back from the one I’d seen him in, but without even thinking I hopped on the ride and let it carry me into the depths of the attraction. I hissed to Karen that “this had better not be a prank or I swear to God I’m going to report you, because this isn’t funny.” She kept assuring me it wasn’t (which didn’t help) and that it was important I watch my surroundings and not lose him. She said she was keeping tabs via the security cameras.

The ride carried on as normal, just me and a possible ghost somewhere in an endless line of empty clamshell cars. Nothing happened as I went through the library, the music room, and up the stairs surrounded by cobwebs and giant day-glo spiders. I recall gripping the safety bar tighter than I ever had on any roller coaster, looking around every side to make sure I saw him coming – prop or no, I did not relish the thought of seeing him suddenly loom out of the shadows around me if he somehow slipped out of his doombuggy.

As my buggy reached the top of the stairs and turned to face the Endless Hallway, I caught sight of a figure in the shadows behind the floating candelabra and my heart went into my mouth. It opened a door on the left hand wall and slipped inside, closing it behind; in the same instant, I thought I heard a strange bellowing sound that I could only discern because it wasn’t part of the normal attraction audio.

I relayed this to Karen. “Get out,” she responded quickly. “I’ll be right there.”

In hindsight, I feel stupid for just doing what she said. Yet I got out anyway, pushing up the safety bar and stumbling onto the floor. I figured this would trigger the sensors and force the ride to stop on an alarm, but everything kept running. They must have been disabled, I realized – the man had apparently gotten out too without setting anything off.

I stood for a bit at the entrance of the hallway, too scared to go down it but eaten up by not knowing what was happening. I’m not sure where the courage came from, but when Karen didn’t show up right away I got fed up and moved down the hall toward the candelabra, pushing past the thin black scrim that gave the corridor its misty quality. The “endless” effect of the hall is created by a large mirror at the far end; this close to it, I could see my opaque reflection walking to meet me.

Most of the doors down there were facades, and I was never shown a backstage entrance from this area, so I had no idea what to expect. I turned and tried the door I thought I’d seen opened, the one closest to the mirror, which proved to be fake; I tried the one to the left of that and got the same result, which confused me even more… I was so certain it had been the furthest door. My hand was already on the next door’s handle when a beam of light came bobbing through the scrim and Karen stepped through, flashlight in hand.

I immediately rounded on her and demanded to know what the hell was going on. I was scared out of my mind, so it probably came out more pleading than angry.

Karen just sighed and shook her head. She pushed past me and turned the handle on the door. It opened onto a stark, narrow stairwell leading down and to the right.

“You know this ride just as well as I do,” she said, looking back at me. “Did you know that this was supposed to be here?”

I shook my head, no.

“Good,” she said, gesturing for me to follow behind her. “Neither did I.”

I tried to protest as she started descending the stairs, and followed only because I didn’t want to be left alone in the corridor. Karen seemed pretty stoic, which was some small comfort as we went down the darkened stairs, her flashlight showing the featureless gray walls and dirty black steps. It wasn’t a very long stairwell, but I was sure it would take us below ground level, making it a possible access point to the utilidors I didn’t know about.

I had so many questions, but most of them went unsaid because I felt this tense urge to be quiet, not just from Karen’s body language but the faint sounds I heard coming from the bottom of the stairwell – the best way I can describe it was the bellow I had heard before, this wheezing keen, like a person doing a bad impression of a dog’s howl. I know it sounds dumb, but it was so out of place that it gave me chills.

The sound stopped just as we reached the bottom. The stairwell ended at a utility door marked with a sign: “CAST MEMBERS ONLY.”

Karen hesitated, and I think I saw her visibly shudder as she opened the door. Not once did she look back at me.

This is why I tell this story: the hallway past the door was almost identical to the one described at the Disneyland mansion. It was a long, straight passage lined with doors, themed just like the hall above with the demon-eye wallpaper and flickering candles. And just like the other story asserted, the doors all had plain, white signs mounted on them, marking them as Prop Rooms.

I say “almost” because, looking back and comparing accounts, there were two main differences: first, the hall had eight doors compared to the six at Disneyland; and instead of the hall ending at another utility door, it was a dead end wall, with a mirror in an ornate oval frame hung on it.

At the time, I was more confused and unsettled by that fake-sounding whine that seemed to come from down the hall. Karen tensed and started marching along, ignoring the closed doors. Hesitantly I reached for the handle of the first Prop Room, but Karen said “Don’t bother. It’s locked.”

I couldn’t take it anymore. “How do you know?” I cried. “What is this place? Why are we here?”

Karen looked over her shoulder at me, and she looked weary and grim. “I don’t really know,” she said. “But we followed that thing down here, and I want answers. I need you to watch my back.”

The way she said “that thing” stuck out to me – I assumed she meant the Man with the Cane, but she didn’t refer to him as a “him.”

Then it hit me that the shadow I’d seen in the Endless Hallway might not be what I thought it was…

That recurring howl startled me just as I thought of this. It was louder than before, and even more plaintive. I peered down through the flickering gloom and saw the door closest to the end of the hall was slightly ajar.

Karen pointed her flashlight in that direction and started walking quickly, making me have to pick up the pace. I almost slipped on a wet patch, and realized the whole floor past Prop Room 1’s door was damp, water having soaked into the thin carpet. Strangely, there was no mildew smell, just just something chlorine-like: if you’ve been on any of the water rides at a Disney park, you know the smell I’m talking about.

We pretty much made a beeline to the open door. Some parts of this hall were not up to the usual Disney quality of repair – besides the wet carpet, there was an empty space for a candle sconce beside Prop Room 4, a bunch of exposed wires poking from where the fixture should be. Karen only stopped once, to tentatively test the handle on Prop Room 7, which was locked. Water leaked out from under this door, and I figured this was the source of the soggy floor.

Prop Room 8 was open just a crack, not enough for me to see what was in the room. Karen turned to me again and held up a hand, a clear sign she wanted me to stand back. I wasn’t about to argue with her, because I really didn’t want to be the first one to open the door into that dark room.

She stepped up and opened the door very, very slowly. The hinges made no noise, no the slightest creak. She opened it just enough to peer in with her flashlight on, though I couldn’t see anything with her bulk blocking the way. I kept looking back down the hall where we had come, just feeling like I needed to make sure nothing came up behind us.

Then, while I was turning my head to look, the howl happened again – so loud, so close and with so much more whining agony it nearly gave me a heart attack. I had a moment to realize it had come from the room Karen was looking into before her body suddenly jerked forward into the darkness, like she had been yanked off her feet, and the door swung closed.

I freaked out and rushed to the door. It wouldn’t budge, the door was locked. I pulled and tugged at the handle and kicked at the door while screaming for Karen. My adrenaline level was so high I couldn’t even THINK about trying something more logical than that, I just knew I had to get to Karen because I suspected something horrible was in that room with her.

Something splashed on the soggy floor near me and I felt drops of water spray my ankles. I froze, my breath catching in my throat, and looked. Nothing was there, but I swear I saw a depression in the damp carpet right near me. Glancing down the hall, I saw only the empty corridor we had come down, but movement in my periphery made me look the other way, toward the mirror on the wall.

The Man with the Cane stood behind my gaping reflection, so close that he could have rested his chin on my shoulder; at that same moment, I felt a cold breath on the back of my neck.

I completely panicked and bolted down the hall, pretty sure I screamed the whole way. I shot up the steps two at a time, nearly tripping on the skirt of my uniform as I tried to put as much distance between me and the man as possible. Soon I had flown out of the door and back into the Endless Hallway, and I turned to run through that artificial darkness…

Or would have, if I hadn’t turned the wrong way in my blind terror and collided with the full mirror reflecting the hall.

when I came to, several of fellow CMs were huddled around me where I had sprawled on the floor. I was disoriented and sick with dread and could barely explain to my concerned rescue party what I was doing there. They told me later a guest riding the ride had seen me lying there and had asked when they had added a “dead body” to the attraction, which brought them to me; checking later confirmed I had been unconscious for several minutes.

I was whisked off to get first aid, unable to get a word out in time about Karen and the hidden corridor, dazed and confused as I was. Thankfully my run-in with the mirror had not done any long-lasting damage – either to myself or the mirror – though I suffered a serious concussion and was forced to take a leave of absence to recover.

When I returned to active duty at the mansion, the old feeling of unease was in my gut again, stronger than ever. That first day back, I was so on edge that I would jump at the slightest breath of cool air or sound of my name being called by another CM. Everyone was really kind and welcoming, but I know I came off like a nervous wreck.

Karen was conspicuously absent, of course. I started asking about her right away, and the other CMs said they had no idea where she’d gone – word was she had either transferred or quit, though no one I spoke to had seen or heard anything concrete. Management seemed unable to give a straight answer either, since they claimed didn’t know. It was like she had vanished completely.

Frustrated, I went back to the Endless Hallway after hours and tried all of the doors along it. All of them were stuck tight, and appeared to be facades. Blueprints and layouts I managed to procure after revealed no sign of an access point from that scene to anywhere else. It made no sense.

I could tell by the end of the first day the other CMs were thinking I was a basket case, I could see it in their sidelong glances. One of them, a friend of mine who I’ll also leave anonymous, said he had no reason to blame me, and said everyone just felt relieved I hadn’t died too.

That gave me pause, and I asked him what he meant.

He seemed surprised I didn’t know, but explained that the night I’d gotten hurt and Karen had “retired,” another CM had been in an accident backstage. The man, dressed as Pluto, had been struck by a parade float and killed. Those working outside had immediately gone into damage-control mode, halting the parade and keeping things as quiet as possible to the guests.

I put in a transfer request the following day.

Thing is, throughout all of this I worked to convince myself that everything I had experienced that night was the result of my head injury, weird dreams and hallucinations I had while I was out cold or semiconscious, coupled with the short-term memory loss. I had to, because for a long time after I couldn’t bring myself to look in a mirror, out of fear I would see something behind me that shouldn’t be there. Even now, it sometimes makes me uncomfortable.

It was the only logical explanation I could come up with, the only way I could convince myself to keep working at Disney World. And it succeeded, made perfect sense.

Until I read the grad night story.

Now it’s all come back, nagging at me, telling me everything I saw and felt that night were all too real. Putting all of this down has only helped refresh my memory, and it scares me. I keep glancing over my shoulder, worried I’m going to see the gaunt visage of the Man with the Cane standing there, staring at me. I also keep thinking about the way Karen jerked through that door, like something had grabbed her and pulled her in…

I’m not sure how much this will clear up, but it needs to be done. Something bigger is going on here, hidden under both Haunted Mansions in both parks. I would go so far as to say something evil. And with everything in mind, I’ve done research, compared accounts.

The day my mom saw the apparition, someone had died; the date Karen had mentioned – November 5th, 2000 – another in-park death, this one on Splash Mountain; and someone else had been killed the night I saw him.

With that last accident in mind, by 2004 eight people had died on Walt Disney World resort property. There were eight doors in that hidden hall.

The author in the grad night incident described a fatal accident happening the same night. Looking that up, there were six deaths at Disneyland counting that one as of 1983, and six Prop Room doors mentioned.

I fully understand this is speculation and the whole thing could be coincidental, but at this point I doubt it. I understand now why Karen rushed over to the mansion when she heard someone had died: she’d put the pieces together. She knew, somehow, the Man with the Cane would appear.

Who he is, what his role is, and what he wants I don’t know. Is he anything like the Hatbox Ghost at the Disneyland mansion? I have heard Disney is putting old Hattie back into the attraction soon, but I get the feeling whatever they add won’t be what those three kids saw backstage in 1983.

That’s really the worst part of it, the not-knowing. All of this just raises more questions for me, and the only reason I haven’t left WDW is to keep my ear to the ground and hope get more information. I owe Karen that much.

All I can say is I have a feeling… that if someone manages to find either of those hidden corridors now, beneath their respective Haunted Mansions, those gloomy hallways will have grown much longer, and have more Prop Room doors.

Credit To – CrackedMack

The author also produces a podcast called “Midnight Marinara” – if you’re curious, please visit any of the following links:
Midnight Marinara Homepage
Midnight Marinara @ YouTube
Midnight Marinara @ SoundCloud

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