Picture a haunted house.
You probably see an asymmetrical facade, three stories of brick with a pointed attic, and that steeply pitched roof, accented by a prominent tower. It looks great from all sides, but specifically a camera angle very low to the ground. Thunderstorms only highlight the gorgeous features: the window shutters and framing along with decorative details give such a stately structure its distinct personality. All those windows are ripe for spirits hiding behind each flowing curtain, slipping in and out of the shadows with a simple lightning strike.
You probably see a Victorian.
To be more specific, you picture a house built in the Victorian era (1837-1901). We use the term “Victorian” to describe many styles of architecture that rose up during that time, but we all picture a similar home when we hear the term.
Some believe it was Queen Victoria’s own obsession with death after her husband passed away that caused a society to follow down her path. Some blame the symbolic gargoyles and faces sculpted onto the side of many mansions. It may be that Victorians are long associated with haunted houses simply because they’ve become the cliche setting. Whether in Halloween, Beetlejuice, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or every single house in Scooby Doo, there’s no haunt like a Victorian haunt. To help us solve the mystery, I tracked down some experts in the entertainment fields who offer their own clues:
Venetia Harpin of Skylark Events, who produced a luxury Victorian-era immersive private event in London last year, sees a connection between a Victorian’s interior design and cultural zeitgeist: “The Victorians were fixated with exploration...Whether it was lifting the veil between our world and the next, or their architectural penchant for neverending rooms and secret chambers, Victorians entice the unanticipated and encourage the unorthodox.”
Ian Garrett, creator of the multi-site specific Transmission, which combined live performance and immersive video “haunting,” believes the truth lies somewhere between “the growth of occultism and mysticism following industrialism and the rapid adoption of electricity and new technology which suggested we might have new ways of connecting outside of the mortal realm, [then] the major leaps in medical and physical sciences where people actually believe we had pretty much solved the workings of the natural (mechanical/macro) world. So less that Victorians make good haunted houses, but that "haunting" was popular in that era.”
Comedian Gabriel Diani learned a lot about haunted houses while working on The Selling, a film he wrote about a real estate agent trying to sell a haunted Craftsman. Although “People have always believed in ghosts, but because of things like electricity and telephones the idea of invisible energies surrounding us led to a rise in pseudo science (I believe it was Edison who tried to invent a machine that could talk to the dead) which is directly linked to the spiritualist movement, mediums, and all that hokum that has trickled down to modern day ghost hunting. And of course that trickled down into horror literature and why the Victorian era (and its architecture) has become so associated with ghost stories. Also, there's just kind of a creepy beauty to the aesthetic.”
Diani’s creative partner Etta Devine goes a step more towards the practical, saying the actual reason is “integrated gas lighting inside houses. Beautiful, but leaks in a system made you have hallucinations that are EXACTLY like seeing ghosts -- if they didn't kill your whole family. So a haunted house was of course just a house with a very dangerous leaky gas line. As the fancy new houses of the Victorian era were the ones with the fancy new lights they have always been associated with the ghost stories.”
Thank goodness for modern home inspectors. At least if we see any ghosts in our beautiful homes, we know it isn’t because of faulty lighting fixtures. It’s because the spirits love great architecture as much as we do.
Just kidding. Here at Nook, we promise that we will never knowingly sell you a haunted house. At least, that’s what our lawyers told us to say.
To see which neighborhoods sport beautiful Victorians yourself, try our Search With Style® app.