The Haunting History of Madame Leota and Memento Mori

by | Sep 21, 2020 | Disney History, Lists and Trivia, Uncategorized

“Serpents, spiders, tail of a rat, call in the spirits, wherever they’re at! Rap on a table. It’s time to respond. Send us a message from somewhere beyond!”

Any Haunted Mansion aficionado knows those words by heart. They are the eerie command uttered by the enigmatic fortune teller Madame Leota. She conducts a seance within the mansion, her head encased in a crystal ball as she summons spirits. Her grave sits outside the Mansion in the Gracey Family plot. Her visage is carved on her headstone. Attentive guests may catch the carved figure opening its eyes and looking at the Guests in the nearby queue.

There is much that is unknown about the magical Madame Leota, but parts of her story are known. For instance, if you would like to visit her former abode, you only need to step a short ways away from the Haunted Mansion. There you will find Memento Mori. Though these days it is a git shop filled with Haunted Mansion memorabilia, it used to be home to Leota. For all we know, she may still make her home there when she isn’t busy conducting her seances. Guests have reported a number of odd occurrences in the store. Past visitors have described seeing her appear in a mirror within the store, only to disappear moments later. Others have reported a portrait of her, which changes while it is observed. It seems the painting is also observing the Guests, with numerous eyes manifesting. However, employees of Memento Mori deny having any knowledge of supernatural events.

While at Memento Mori, you can also learn some more of Leota’s story. It seems that she was once a witch living in Salem, Massachusetts. The details are fuzzy, but legend has it that she somehow caused the beginning of the infamous Salem Witch Trials. She survived, fleeing the area and relocating to the Hudson River Valley in New York. There she first opened Memento Mori, naming it for the Latin phrase which means, “Remember, you must die.” During this time, she became acquainted with the Gracey family, though how or why is still shrouded in mystery.
Today, her little shop in the Hudson River Valley can be found in the area known as Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom.

Leota also used to own a small caravan cart outside the Haunted Mansion, which sold goods. On the side of the cart, you could read the words, “Mme Leota, Psychic Medium, Seances, Crystal Gazing: Astrologist, Knows All • Sees All.” Fans of Disney history may have noticed a strong similarity between the cart and one that was to be featured in the unbuilt Museum of the Weird.

Those who have seen Leota often comment that she bears a startling resemblance to a much more modern figure. Looking at her face, you could swear that she resembles a famous Disney Imagineer. In fact, the two even share a name.

Leota Toombs Thomas began working with Disney in the 1940s as part of the Ink and Paint Department. She played a significant role in the creation of it’s a small world, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and the Ford Magic Skyway, all of which were a part of the New York World’s Fair.

Imagineer Yale Gracey (hmmm…now where have I heard that last name before???) asked Thomas to pose as the disembodied head of Madame Leota while the Haunted Mansion was in development at Disneyland. Curiously, she was not the only choice. Imagineer Harriet Burns was also considered. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the part. Oddly, Thomas did not provide the voice for Madame Leota. Actress Eleanor Audley provided the original voice, which was later replaced by actress Susan Blakeslee. Visitors to the Mansion can hear Leota’s voice, they simply have to wait until the end of the attraction. There, they will hear a character known lovingly as “Little Leota” beckoning them to come back (as well as reminding them of the importance of bringing their death certificate). Is this “Little Leota” the same spirit as Madame Leota? Perhaps, but it has never been officially confirmed.

One more note for the true devotees of the Haunted Mansion’s magnificent medium: as you exit the attraction, keep your eyes open for an area of the Mansion labelled “Servant’s Quarters.” The room houses valet bells, one of which is for Madame Leota’s Boudoir.

There are many more mysteries at the Haunted Mansion and in Memento Mori. I’d love to tell you about them, but I can hear Madame Leota beckoning me.

“Goblins and ghoulies from last Halloween, awaken the spirits with your tambourine!”

How can I refuse her call?

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