Captain Bartholomew Gore, also known as “Black Bart” or simply the Captain, was a human man with some sea demon ancestry who is now a ghost.
Captain Bartholomew Gore was a late-18th-century and early-19th-century pirate captain, known on the seas as “Black Bart”. He had a strong build and a flaming red beard as well as an “eerie eye”; according to one account, he also had a crab-like pincer for a right hand due to being only partly human — he was “kin” to a race of “sea demons”. The same account curiously described his beard as black. At any rate, he originally sailed “the northern seas,” attacking ships and raiding the occasional village. After scouring the seas for fifty years, Gore came to Displeasure Island; his ship, the Bloodmere, ran aground in the storm. Gore came ashore and buried a chest in containing part of his treasure in a cave, before beheading the men who had helped him, so as to keep the location of secret.
Retiring from piracy, Gore used his ill-gotten fortune to set himself up in a small community, buying or building a Gore Mansion. The year was now 1810. Seeking to become a family man to complete his reinvention, Gore courted a young woman called Priscilla. Accounts differ on whether she married him at once, had yet to marry him, or was just about to marry him when he brought her to his Mansion. However, while the Captain was away on a sea voyage, Priscilla discovered a journal and a key left on his desk in his study. The journal contained a series of dates seemingly matching up to the activities of the bloodthirsty pirate “Black Bart”. Overcome with a terrible suspicion, Priscilla used the key to open Captain Gore's sea chest, and discovered that he was indeed the infamous buccaneer and murderer, trying to use his ill-gotten fortune to turn over a new leaf.
After Priscilla confronted the Captain, he murdered her, either by strangling her right there and then, locking her in the very sea chest she had opened and leaving her to suffocate, or throwing her out the window of the Attic or into a well. Priscilla, however, quickly became a ghost hell-bent on revenge against Gore for what he had done to her. She haunted him throughout the Mansion, as several other ghosts, of pirates previously murdered by Gore, already did. Beauregard believed that Priscilla had eventually succeeded in driving Gore to suicide.
However, as told by the Captain himself, he instead took to see again. The dying breath of a witch-doctor told him of the Haunted Mansion and also that it contained untold treasures. Despite his crew's increasing belief that their Captain had gone mad, Gore sailed to every haunted location he could find, until finally he chanced upon the Mansion. He ransacked the halls and found nothing, leading him to surmise the gold lay in the flooded basement. It was while exploring it that he drowned, ironically while “marooned on land”. Gore was buried outside Gracey Manor, and, as one of the few ghosts who had originally died inside the Mansion itself, Gore's wrathful spirit was granted increased magical abilities in the Afterlife. However, he also found himself unable to leave the Manor. He spent the ensuing decades continuing to search every room in the labyrinthine Mansion, never finding what he was looking for.
Eventually, in 2016, the Captain made a bid for freedom by recruiting several other disgruntled ghosts and using his black magic to place a curse on the Mansion. Trapping all the happy haunts inside the Manor, he bullied Madame Leota (one of the few to stand against him) into revealing to him the way to break the curse: for a mortal acting on his behalf to leave the Mansion unharmed. The Captain successfully blackmailed Danny Crowe into fulfilling this condition, but did not realise that this also gave Constance Hatchaway leave to walk out of the Manor. Before he could begin his reign of terror, she descended from the Attic and beheaded him, her own spectral powers meaning he could not easily reconstitute himself. A third of the clique of powerful ghosts who'd died inside the Mansion, the Hatbox Ghost, took charge of the Captain's seething head, trapping him in one of his hatboxes.
However, in addition to a ghostly echo of the fateful night the Bloodmere ran aground, one account suggested that an emanation of Captain Gore existed outside the Mansion as the lighthouse-keeper of Displeasure Island for at least fifty years, occasionally giving tours of the lighthouse to middle-schoolers and regaling them with gruesome stories of Captain Gore — with most of his listeners never realising he knew them first-hand. On stormy nights where the transtemporal haunting took place on the high seas, however, Gore's true half-rotten visage would be revealed, as would his claw.
Behind the scenes
Captain Gore was a pivotal character to Ken Anderson's original scripts for the backstory of the Haunted House Disneyland attraction that would later become The Haunted Mansion. He was also called “Gideon Gorelieu” (but was fundamentally the same character) in some versions of the script, and yet another variation with a markedly different storyline involved “the Commodore”.
He was ostensibly inspired by Bartholomew Roberts, a historical pirate who shared Gore's nickname at sea: Black Bart. Marc Davis would later create a version of Roberts to appear in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in 1967, only identified in the finished ride as “the Auctioneer”, but whose design was clearly indebted to Anderson's Bartholomew Gore.
In the finished Haunted Mansion ride, however, the move away from giving the Mansion one definitive origin story saw echoes of Gore's story fractured among many different elements:
- The doomed wedding story was echoed in the Attic tableau with the Beating Heart Bride, with the Doombuggy tracks leading sharply out the window and the corpselike Pop-Up Ghosts leaping out of chests both alluding to two of the potential fates for Priscilla.
- The Sinister Eleven painting of Captain Culpepper Clyne was indebted to another variant of the Captain Gore storyline where he'd drowned at sea — and the backstory given to Captain Clyne by the 2011 queue expansions of the Walt Disney World Mansion ironically echoed back onto Captain Gore in Disney Kingdoms' Haunted Mansion (2016), with both Captains having “faced the see with all her wrath” only to ultimately drown on land.
- The hanged man in the cupola, implied at least some of the time to be the one-time Master of the Mansion, was carried over into the finished ride, but with the body now identified as that of the Ghost Host; such stories as Mystery of the Manse, Nuptial Doom and Better Haunts & Graveyards reinstated the idea of this Ghost Host, also conflated with Master Gracey, having once been a sea captain with a mysterious past, potentially revealed by a discovery by his Bride. Additionally, Marc Davis's original painting of the Ghost Host as “the Hatchet Man” gave him the same “evil eye” that would have been the Captain's in the transformed phase of his Changing Portrait.
- A benevolent-seeming Sea Captain appears in the ride as one of the guests in the Grand Hall.
- The Mansion was established in the Ghost Gallery to have once been a hangout of pirates and cutthroats, positing that Martin and Francis Xavier from the Mansion's Family Plot were both pirate captains who had had a connection with the Mansion in life (though neither had been its owner).
- In the parallel continuity of the 2003 live-action Haunted Mansion movie, The Legend of Gracey Manor established Gracey Manor to have been built by a retired sea captain, Ambrose Gracey — the grandfather of the “main” Master Gracey.
In 2011, tombstones for Bartholomew Gore and his butler Beauregard were among the additions to the berm graveyard of the Walt Disney World Haunted Mansion. This was the first acknowledgement in an actual story of Captain Gore existing in the Prime Universe as distinct from all his narrative “splinters”. He then made a triumphant return to Haunted Mansion media with the 2016 comic story produced by Marvel Comics as part of the Disney Kingdoms line, where he, referred to as simply “the Sea Captain”, served as the main antagonist.
The Captain Gore mythos was also leveraged by Tales from the Haunted Mansion for A Pirate's Death For Me, one of the ghost stories in Memento Mori (2019). Notably, the treatment of the character in the novel is largely incompatible with the 2016 comics: the Captain, depicted with a dark beard and a crab-like claw for a right hand, is shown to haunt a lighthouse on Displeasure Island and to have done so for fifty years leading up to the events of the story, whereas the Disney Kingdoms story's plot hinged on the Captain not having been able to leave the Mansion between his death and the year 2016.
Notes & References
- A Haunted Mansion Tale (2020).
- Memento Mori (2019).
- Disney Kingdoms' Haunted Mansion (2016).
- According to Jim Sorkis's recollections of discussions with Ken Anderson in 1993.
- Long-Forgotten Haunted Mansion’s analysis the Anderson storyboard used for A Haunted Mansion Tale.
- The Haunted Mansion (2011 expansions to the queue of the Walt Disney World version).