Why the Victorian mansion is a horror icon

Why the Victorian mansion is a horror icon

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Imagine a haunted house. Does it look like … this? A decaying structure with severe angles and
intricate woodwork? Maybe some bats flying out of a tower. This is the Victorian mansion. It’s ghostly presence traces back to paintings
like this one from the 1920s: artist Edward Hopper’s “House by the Railroad,”
which shows an old Victorian house, abandoned and isolated. Remember this one because it comes back in
later. Throughout 20th-century pop culture, similar-looking
mansions appeared again and again as signifiers of dread in horror movies, television, and
Gothic pulp novels. It was featured famously as the menacing Bates
mansion in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the kooky home of the Addams Family. But it wasn’t always like that – so why
do we associate this house with death? The later part of the Victorian era, named
after England’s Queen Victoria, was known as the Gilded Age in America. It followed the bloody American Civil War
and was simultaneously an era of rampant income inequality, political corruption, and industrialization
that helped create a new wealthy class. And the choice home for the “nouveau riche,”
or “new rich,” was the Victorian. It was the McMansion of its time: a gaudy
and unbalanced monstrosity that showed off the wealth of certain American families. Borrowed from medieval Europe’s Gothic architecture,
these houses were designed to be imposing and make a statement. They were a mismatched combination of towers
and turrets, ornate gingerbread trim, and sloped, bloated roofs, called the Mansard
roof, which drew from the French imperial style. Inside was a maze of rooms like parlors, drawing
rooms, libraries, and observatories, places that were often unoccupied, with the
curtains drawn to keep out sunlight, which could damage the clutter of heavy, expensive
furnishings. Spooky, right? Late 19th-century wealthy Americans wanted
to emulate Europe but after World War I, that changed, as the
American vision turned toward progress and innovation. Modern architects ushered in an era of clean
lines and simplicity as the new hallmark of taste. The Victorian, in comparison, became an antiquated
symbol of excess, whose architectural style was described as “grotesque,” and the
mansions were called “mongrel types desecrating the landscape.” Critics of the time began to associate the
houses with death, offensive reminders of the troubling Gilded Age. These houses slowly became an unwelcome presence,
and eventually the wealthy owners moved on. And when the Great Depression swept across
the country in the 1930s, a lot of the houses were abandoned or became boarding houses for
the working poor. Without their affluent tenants to maintain
them, the ornate structures quickly eroded, deepening their association with decay. Enter Charles Addams. A cartoonist working for the New Yorker who
introduced the world to the Addams Family. A reclusive collection of ghouls who are morbidly
anti-social and mysteriously wealthy. “A toast! To the glorious mysteries of life, to all
that binds a family as one. To mirth, to merriment, to manslaughter!” These popular cartoons began appearing in
the late ’30s, but it wasn’t until November 1945 that Addams finally showed us the exterior
of the strange home the family occupies. It was the Victorian. The Addams Family was a dark perversion of
the ideal American family, and their mansion represented that. Charles Addams later said in an interview
that he chose it because Victorians are just “better for haunts.” It was here that the Victorian became permanently
associated with horror, and by the time Alfred Hitchcock made his iconic film, Psycho, in
1960, audiences immediately recognized the Bates mansion as a place of unspoken dread,
of something not quite right. In the promotional trailer for the film, Hitchcock
describes the house’s appearance as: “A little more sinister-looking, less innocent
than the motel itself.” And when he takes you inside … “You see even in daylight this place still
looks a bit sinister.” And his inspiration? It was Hopper, from 1925. It’s not hard to see the similarity. Both are towering, empty, and isolated – decaying
relics that loomed over a world that had long moved on. The Victorian mansion died over 100 years
ago, but its persistent presence in Gothic-inspired art and pop culture has made it an iconic
symbol of dread, and now serves as an immediate signal to audiences: There’s something not quite right about
this house. So you probably caught that ghost in the window
around the two-minute mark, but there’s actually four others hidden throughout this
video – did you see those?


  1. Victorian mansions aren’t the only backdrops for the horrific and macabre — check out our video on the dollhouses of death that revolutionized forensic science forever: http://bit.ly/2Tb56ui

  2. When its showing that scene from IT i knew there will be something happen. So i close my eyes and turn down the volume lolol and i tried my best to not see that ghosts in the houses. But how dare you remind me of them :((( its 01.28 here rn

  3. Nothing better than nice big 2nd Empire or Gothic Revival Victorians. They are beautiful and often very reasonably priced.

  4. I used to live in one. Eight bedrooms, six full size internal staircases and even a ballroom. It was great, the whole family had room the spread out. Everyone had enough room for their own individual activities plus some great rooms for everyone to gather together in like a large kitchen, dining room and living room.

    The only real downside is it cost alot to heat it and maintenance was constantly on going. There was always some sort of project that needed to be done but that was generally okay as I didn't mind doing that kind of work and usually had plenty of help.

    This video also surprisingly did not address the fact that victorians had a significantly different view of death than we do now. For example, according to historical records when one of the family members who originally built and lived in the house I owned passed away during the winter they simply remained in their coffin in the formal parlor until the ground thawed.
    None of what I found about that particular incident seemed to give even the slightest indication that it was in anyway odd or unusual for a family to do so.

    Still , I miss the old house. Where I live now certainly requires a lot less maintenance it also has a corresponding lack of history and character.

  5. The correct description of this architecture is Queen Anne, which actually has nothing to do with Queen Anne who reigned in the 1700's.

  6. I love old spooky Vics. Such a shame some of the grandest ones were torn down. The Carson mansion in Eureka CA is incredible. I think they are spectacular.

  7. And an old Victorian still remains my dream home. Someday I can afford one, and she will be beautiful. Someday…

  8. Oh this is cool!
    sees 4:50
    throws tablet across the floor
    grabs keys and drives off to a different place

  9. I’d love to live in that mansion than where I am right now. I live in a 3rd world country btw. Honestly, I love the architecture. I think it’s beautiful.

  10. Idk about anyone else but second empire style Victorian mansions are the best. I am not a fan of Queen Anne style, as they are gaudy. However, a different subcategory, second empire, was grand but not trying as hard. I live this video, thanks

  11. This video really lacked detailed… its. Was short and brief…the information just wasn't good enough ..

  12. Maybe it's because I grew up in Santa Cruz CA but I love Victorian style houses. There's so many still here in town and maybe that's why I grew up really liking them. I always told my parents and friends that if I won the lottery I would buy land and build my own original Victorian style home.

  13. Personally, I love Victorian homes, many of them a style of architecture called Queen Anne. I think they're beautiful.

  14. The reason there creepy now is because a lot of mansions had really dark things happen within there beautiful walls concealing the sad true stories.

  15. I’ve always loved Victorian style houses. They have a wave of beautiful mystery I’ve always loved. It’s one of those houses where you could be there for five years and go oh hey, there is a room here.

  16. i personally love the victorian house. it’s been my dream house forever. it is truly beautiful and the space it provides is offers a get away in every room

  17. I absolutely love Victorian residential architecture of any style. Far too many are falling to the wrecking ball. Sad to see. The modern McMansions borrow heavily from the Victorian styles but upon close inspection reveal plastic shingle siding, faux stone ornamentation and so on. I'll have to say they do look good from the curb!

  18. I adore all these old houses, no matter their "style-etc…" I especially love the ones with wraparound porches. I love all the fireplaces, any use of stain glass or leaded windows, and that "special" window which was there for that certain time of day so it made the color dance. Oooh, double front doors, carved wood, pocket doors and libraries.

  19. I like Victorian houses. When they are in pristine condition and with a beautiful paint job and well ventilated they are lovely.

  20. Victorian mansions give off a creepy , dark vibe . I think I would suffer from severe depression and become suicidal if I was forced to live alone in one for a couple of months

  21. The MODERNIST architects killed architecture itself. Any building aged a hundred or more years that still stands today still amazes people. Old modern buildings are only best for graffiti and human manure. Modern buildings only look good when new.

  22. I love looking at intricate Victorian houses like the ones in San Francisco, but I'd never want to own one or pay the high costs of maintaining it.

  23. I grew up in a neighborhood full of Victorian mansions and homes. The were scary looking at night. You actually showed one that is in the neighborhood where I grew up!

  24. I never associated victorian houses with the death or anything else gruesome… That’s why when I grew up and could afford my dream house I bought an victorian house in New Jersey with five fireplaces. Although it was very stressful renovating the outside because, they’re were so many rules and regulations and specific do’s and don’ts. All the way down to your choice of color, it had to be historically correct.

    Besides, the obvious ghost in the window I only saw two others. Whoever saw all four of them, my hats off to you!

  25. Another interesting fact is that in the depression era, when these homes were abandoned, folks told stories and spread rumors, to keep kids from going in.

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