Happy Halloween readers! What is it about this holiday that makes us think of haunted mansions and abandoned homes looming on darkened television screens in commercials for Halloween stores and in made for TV movies? Is it the fact that we LIKE to be scared? After all fear releases endorphins… Or is it that as Preservationists, we love how these big “creepy” mansions are celebrated, if sometimes for their run-down appearance, because we always see the potential and history in these homes?
It is practically a fact that haunted houses must be Second Empire in style. If you want proof, look no further than the home of the Addams family, this inflatable haunted house for your front lawn, or one of my personal favorites (and way high up there in nostalgia and cheese factor) the house from the 1980s Disney TV movie, Mr. Boogedy, or for even more of a treat, check out the “Haunted Dollhouse” that the ever amusing Bloggess has been cooking up. By the way, the Addams family photos came from a great little site called Hooked on Houses, which you should definitely check out.
Now, this isn’t to say every haunted, or creepy house has to be Second Empire. Take the eclectic mix of Octagon, Gothic Revival and Second Empire that makes up the Munster’s abode , or the Institutional Gothic pile from American Horror Story. (Is anyone else obsessed with that show like me?… I love it so much, but it’s so messed up that I feel I may have been born in the wrong era… if I lived back when Queen Victoria reigned I’d probably have taken photos of all my dead relatives and made their hair into wreaths, lockets and pins.) Photos below from tvclassichits.com and iamnostalker.com
So, aside from Hollywood’s choices for iconic ‘haunted’ houses, why is it that these (to use the real estate parlance) “Victorian” homes are what we think of when we think of the macabre, ghoulish and downright creepy, and not, say, a nice mid-century ranch or cape? Death can happen in a new house just as easily as an old one. Is it the scale and massing of these houses, making the visitor feel like a doll in some giant’s dollhouse? The possibility for secret passages and rooms behind book cases, where unspeakable horrors can hide? Is it the fact that they have seen more life and seem to hold onto memories of past occupants? If you want my opinion, I think that it is all of those things, plus the fact that grand old houses with spacious drawing rooms, upper stories that go on forever and vast basements make perfect funeral homes, and that whenever you see one of these funeral homes (and you know just by looking at one that it is a funeral home) the seed of fear of death and dying way down deep in your subconscious nags at you. Just like holding your breath when you drive by a cemetery or being afraid that if you die in your dream, then you will die soon in real life.
So whatever your plans tonight, whether they involve a ghost hunt at a haunted mansion, or staying home to dole out candy to the little goblins at the door, if you have a fright-flick marathon (like the American Horror Story marathon on FX staring at 10), make sure to really examine those big, creepy old houses, because under the chipped paint and “beware” sign there is very often an architectural gem… and maybe a ghost or two as well.