Why Are Victorian Houses So Creepy?

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Haunted mansion, Disneyland Paris
Haunted mansion, Disneyland Paris

Americans have a very specific idea about what makes a house look creepy. If you search for “haunted house” on Google images, only one type of architecture appears in the first 25 images: a Victorian mansion.

Art historian Sarah Burns wrote about the phenomenon for the academic journal American Art back in 2012. “Certainly, there are other sorts of places we associate with ghosts: old world castles, dungeons and crypts, the antebellum Big House, the alleged ‘witch’ houses of seventeenth-century Salem,” she writes. “Yet none so pervades and dominates the haunted visual landscape as the Victorian house does today.”

Why do we consider Victorian architecture–with design features such as “mansard roofs or multiple steep, craggy gables, along with assorted towers, Gothic gingerbread, ornate pillars, and cavernous verandas,” as Burns writes–so spooky? []

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