Monday, October 31, 2022

Haunting Memories

Happy Halloween all!  The big day is here.

I've always had a fascination with the classic haunted house.  When I was in Second Grade, our school carnival featured one built on the frame of a semi trailer.  I bought my ticket and bravely strode forward through the entrance.  I laughed as I tried to navigate over the rollers on the floor.  A barred window (like an animal cage) allowed people to watch you as you tripped and stumbled through it.  I saw my mom watching and smiling and it gave me additional bravery to continue on.  Once I passed through the second set of doors, everything went dark.  I felt my way along the walls until I saw a light up ahead.  I walked toward the light which soon became a room.  A room with a coffin in it.  Inside the coffin was a vampire.  Just as I was looking at it, someone jumped out of the darkness and screamed at me.  That was it. I ran back the opposite way, back over the rollers which with the pace of my running, just mercilessly spun as fast as my feet could make them.  I fell several times before making my way back out the entrance. Sorry, kid, no refunds.  I later learned it was my older brother's friend who had been hiding inside, not as any part of cast, but rather to specifically scare little kids like me.

A couple years later while on a vacation to Lake of the Ozarks, we came across another haunted house that was on "the strip".  My sister and I went inside, nervously holding hands.  At one point, I felt something brush my leg.  I told my sister to stop, that she'd dropped her purse.  I reached down and grabbed what felt like a rubber strap and gave it a yank.  It didn't budge.  I let out a scream which made my sister scream.  We both ran ahead.  We did manage to finish it though.

What do you imagine when you hear "haunted house"?  Odds are, it's a gothic Victorian mansion, windows broken or boarded up, shingles and siding falling from it. Something like this.

I bought a 1970's Hallmark book of punch-out Halloween decorations at a s ale recently.  A couple decorations up front had been punched out, but the rest where there including this haunted house.

My book looks like this.

It originally looked something like this:

But let's talk about why we picture haunted houses like this.  

Back in the late 1800's during what was referred to as "The Gilded Age", there was new wealth in America.  Unlike "old money", people like John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Cornelius Vanderbilt were self-made millionaires.  And below them was a growing population of upper class well-to-do Americans.  To show their wealth, these people built extravagant homes full of towers, turrets, and dormers, brightly painted with accents of stained glass, surrounded by wrought iron fences and filled inside with highly decorative woodwork. Some found them the height of culture and sophistication, others found them vulgar and boorish.

Perhaps the greatest example of this excess is The Winchester House in San Jose, California

When the depression came, fortunes were reversed.  These now aged homes were falling into disrepair with no money for upkeep or renovation.  Moreover, in 1920's, the Modern movement began with architects like Frank Lloyd Wright designing homes that rejected the excesses and ornamentation of the previous generation and embraced minimalism and functionality.  The Victorian mansion soon began to epitomize the past.  

In 1925, Edward Hopper painted "House by the Railroad" showcasing an aging Victorian Mansion. The painting showed a lonely home with an air of mystery about it.

When Charles Addams created his "Family" in 1938, he chose a decrepit Victorian mansion for their home.

When George Bailey joked in "It's a Wonderful Life" that he wouldn't live in the old Granville place as a ghost and throws a rock through its window, it's a Victorian mansion.

Perhaps the cinching moment for the Victorian haunted house was Alfred Hitchock's 1960 classic "Psycho".  Coincidentally, he was inspired by the Edward Hopper painting.

Soon this style was ubiquitous with being haunted.  By the time the style was employed by "The Munsters" as their home and the Simmons Murder house on "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" (both houses happen to stand next to each other on the Universal lot), the connection was solidified.

By the 1970's, the Victorian mansion as a haunted house had become a cliche used on cartoons like "Scooby Doo".

These days, people are buying these "painted ladies" to restore to their former glory.

You too can build your own haunted house using the scans I created below.


  1. Love this post! Yeah, always associate those houses as haunted houses. I'm a bit thrown when you see the 'modern' look of the house used in The House on Haunted Hill, I expect it to resemble these instead! Great punch-out piece, too.

    Happy Halloween Tom!

    1. That's an excellent point, Joe. I didn't think of that. HOHH did try to break the mold.

  2. when i saw your topic for today's post, i immediately thought of the Addam's Family house as the source of all our current visions of the haunted house, but you reminded me that the Psycho house predates it. those two are my go-to visions for such things. gotta love 'em. Happy Nevada Day (or Halloween for all you non-Nevadans)!

    1. Well, the comic panel Addams Family predates Psycho, so it still gets credit.

    2. doh -- i knew that no matter which thing i said was first, i was probably going to be wrong. serves me right for not fact-checking before i just reply...

  3. Wonderful post - I have always wanted an old Victorian Gothic mansion myself but his Lordship has no interest in the home maintenance so alas, I have never owned a home older than the 1950's. : (

    1. Same here. My home was actually built in 1992, but I've done what I could to give it classic elements and make it look older.


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