That Big Haunted Victorian House on the hill...
Remember the old stories that revolve around some big Victorian haunted house on the hill? How did that recurring theme enter into folklore, from old books to Scooby Doo to Scary Movie sequels?
An interesting note in Wikipedia I found inserts a tie-in between that often-repeated story in American folklore. Panic of 1893 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
It came out of the aftermath of the Panic of 1893... the last time the country was mired in a gigantic real estate collapse.
Because of the lack of deposit insurance, a major explosion in the bond markets which wiped out many railroad companies (including the Reading Company). The companies which failed because they could not meet their debt payments spawned bank runs by spooked depositors. Because the entire banking system was interconnected (than, as it is now)... banks which loaned large sums of money to the failing railroad companies were sure to go under--which created a cycle of depositors withdrawing as much money as they could.
The value of silver, which was artificially inflated by forced U.S. Government purchases to please farmers who wanted to drive up inflation to lower the cost of their debts, collapsed. Foreigners then started cashing in their silver deposits as quickly as they could into US Dollars and then to convert that into gold. The US Mint could also not keep up with the demand for cash and there was no Fed to make overnight loans to banks or emergency reserves to maintain solvency. Tens of thousands of US companies went bankrupt within months.
Without deposit insurance, many commercial bank failures left a lot of upper-middle class citizens penniless and walking away from their big new, Victorian, houses. Because in the late 1900s these houses were so large and new and purchased with leverage---few could really come up the the cold hard cash to buy the houses after the crash because most of the population was shifted down two or three tax brackets. The cost and amount of anthracite coal needed to keep those houses warm in the winter was cost-prohibitive in and of itself.
And now you know where haunted houses came from.
Last edited by ArcticSplash; 01-26-2010 at 08:38 PM.
There are newer pop culture versions of this, of course - Psycho, The Addams Family. Hitchcock as much as anybody may be responsible for this image. Keep in mind that in the 50s and 60s Victorian architecture was reviled as dark, gloomy, melodramatic and depressing. So to me it's as much a reflection of postwar America's rejection of the Victorian aesthetic as anything. But that stuff about the Panic of 1893 is interesting.
Which was inspired by the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion, a 134-year-old ominous-looking landmark at Greene and Tulpehocken streets in Philadelphia.
Originally Posted by niel
Mansion's past is creepy, kooky, altogether spooky - Baltimore Sun
How about those haunted hotels?
MURDER CASTLE OF H.H. HOLMES! EXCERPT FROM "HAUNTED CHICAGO"
Does anybody know whether they still take visitors? The Baltimore Sun link which I quoted (from Story) is from 1993...
"The Maxwell Mansion, Greene and Tulpehocken streets, is open to visitors Thursday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., other times by appointment. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for senior citizens, $2 for students and children. Call (215) 438-1861."
The Victorian house was the McMansion of the late 19th century: Vast rooms with high ceilings, Huge be-staired entryways for no other reason than to impress the easily impressible, built quick and cheap out of the newly available dimensional lumber and machine made nails. They were big, because big new suburban tracts were opened by rail and trolley, and because mass produced coal made heating such a monstrosity possible. This much gratuitous space would have been unthinkable if the homeowner had to cut and split his own firewood.
Any comparison to the interstate driven exurbs heated with nearly-free petroleum in the late 20th century is coincidental.
They look to be quite active. Here's the website:
Does anybody know whether they still take visitors?
THE EBENEZER MAXWELL MANSION
Actually, credit for that generally goes to College Hall at Penn, where Charles Addams was a student:
Originally Posted by Story
There are tons of center-tower Gothic Victorians in Philly.
Funny, that's always been my take, as I grew up in a spec-built Italianate Victorian that went up right after the Civil War. It is (along with its twins, brothers and sisters) one of the worst-built houses I've ever seen. Every corner that could have been cut was, just the way the Toll Brothers do it today.
Originally Posted by dmun
Right, that's the standard line when the tour guides show prospective families around Penn. Though I actually think the Ebenezer Maxwell is a better model for the Addams Family house.
I'd buy it if someone could prove that Addams had spent time in that part of Germantown/Chestnut Hill. Otherwise, it's just a guess.
Originally Posted by niel
Great thread. I have not put The Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion on my list of things to do with the nephews.
In my line of work, I've worked on many, many hundreds of (if not over a thousand) houses. The vast majority of Victorian-era homes I've worked in are very well-built. I can't say the same about most modern homes, of which most are constructed using appalling techniques. Of course, I can only speak of my general geographical area. Get a bad builder and your house is going to be garbage, regardless of what style and era it was built in.
I live in a Victorian house and was also raised in one. During hard times my family did heat our large Victorian home (or "monstrosity" according to one rather condescending member here) entirely with wood (which we cut ourselves). We would just close off the rooms which didn't need heated. Some say these homes are "gratuitous" or existing solely to "impress" other people but I personally don't agree. There's nothing wrong with someone wanting to live in a house that's not strictly utilitarian in nature.
I've only written this reply to dispel some of the anti-Victorian house sentiment here and give a more balanced perspective for anyone reading this thread. I'd hate for readers to come away from this thread thinking every Victorian home was some poorly-constructed, gratuitous "monstrosity."
All you need is a group of meddling teens and their talking dog to help figure out the mystery.
I know me, I've seen me do it.
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