The original story of Phantom Manor
“… I would think to myself, ‘wow, this is
a pretty detailed story that Jeff and Craig have come up with,
almost like a movie.’”
–Greg Meader, Phantom Manor audio producer
Much proverbial ink has been spilled over the elusive story of Phantom Manor, with dozens of different versions and interpretations appearing in Cast Member manuals, on fan sites and discussion forums. It is perhaps a little known fact that even the Manor’s creators came up with not one but two versions of the story…
The first was a more detailed version which included a few additional family members, including Arthur and Gabrielle Ravenswood whose names were to appear on a stone crypt right in the center of Boot Hill and on various inscriptions throughout Frontierland. Other members of the ‘supporting cast’ would also have their own gravemarkers in this early incarnation of the attraction’s script. The elaborate sarcophagus now said to belong to the poor abandoned bride and her ever-beating heart, was originally conceived to hold the remains of family friend Marie-Thérèse de Bourbon.
Early Boot Hill concept. Detail of concept art by Dan Goozee. © Disney.
Eventually the story and many of its characters were dropped for a simplified version which focused on Henry and Martha Ravenswood and their daughter Melanie while Boot Hill received new epitaphs with a stronger emphasis on humor.
Yet, many other elements were kept in this new storyline and so the inclined reader shall find a number of intriguing insights in the following account, published here for the first time and based on the original elaborate storyline which show producer Jeff Burke and show writer Craig Fleming started to develop during the initial concept phase.
In the gold rush days of Thunder Mesa, two brothers who owned the Big Thunder Mine built a beautiful mansion overlooking town. Arthur Ravenswood, the more refined and level-headed of the two brothers, managed the family’s business ventures, drafting the ownership documents of Big Thunder and investing the family fortune in railroad and steamship stocks. His rowdy, impetuous older brother Henry, on the other hand, spent much of his time bullying and womanizing which frequently kept him at odds with his family, particularly with his wife Martha. In spite of their contentious relationship, Henry and Martha had a daughter, the beautiful Melanie.
With Martha’s motherly nurturing, Melanie grew into a lovely young girl despite her brash, overly protective father who forbade her to leave the Manor or its grounds to venture into town and socialize. Melanie’s only friends were Jasper and Anna Jones who managed the stately manor house and its splendid gardens.
Tragedy struck the Ravenswood family in 1860 when a terrible earthquake hit Thunder Mesa. Henry Ravenswood, on an inspection tour of Big Thunder with Arthur’s mine foreman Jake, was presumably crushed by falling timbers. Sadly, Martha also perished due to her weak heart. A mere six years later, Jasper died when his horse was spooked by a rattlesnake on the Manor grounds.
The beautiful manor house before the storm.
Concept art by Julie Svendsen. © Disney.
In the meantime, Arthur had become a sickly recluse, confined to the Manor and tended to by his young wife, Gabrielle. His faithful dog, Goliath, never left his master’s side. As the Ravenswood fortune had been depleted, mostly by Henry’s foolish, lavish spending, a wealthy San Francisco socialite and family friend, Marie-Thérèse de Bourbon, came to Arthur’s financial aid. But the end was near for the Ravenswood legacy, as Arthur was to succumb to his illness in 1867 and Gabrielle died only a year later, most likely of a broken heart.
Melanie Ravenswood was encouraged by her dear betrothed, Jake, who no longer worked in the mine, to leave the Manor with him. Henry’s dark, restless spirit, which had hovered over the ever-dilapidating manor house was outraged; he invoked his spiteful jealousy and became the vengeful Phantom. As the mansion was being prepared for the young couple’s wedding reception, Jake met his untimely demise at the hands of the malevolent Phantom. Little did Melanie know that her dreams of a wedding would never come to pass or that her overly protective father would forever hold her captive in the manor house where she had grown up…
The preceding narrative was based on correspondence by Jeff Burke; slightly edited to appear on this website. Many thanks to Jeff Burke for sharing his original vision for the attraction’s backstory.
Edited by David G. Ravenswood.