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  • Imagine a haunted house.

  • Does it look likethis?

  • 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 thatso 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 thenouveau riche,” ornew 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 asgrotesque,” and the mansions were calledmongrel 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 isolateddecaying 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 videodid you see those?

Imagine a haunted house.

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Why the Victorian mansion is a horror icon

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    Liang Chen posted on 2018/11/20
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