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What Makes a Haunted House? Architectural Styles Throughout the Years

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The modern celebration of Halloween is made up of folk tradition, some less than a century old, while others date back to the Middle Ages and older. Now that the holiday is almost upon us, everyone starts to shiver as they think of those haunted houses!

Since ancient times, tales of spirits who returned from the dead to haunt the places they left behind have figured prominently into folklore of many cultures around the world. The architectural style of these haunted houses is not necessarily spooky, but each successive generation deems a past architectural style as scary and haunted.

Early architecture in the United States was based mostly on popular Georgian styles from England. As the country expanded, neoclassical homes started using columns and pediments, drawn from ancient Greece. American Victorian homes borrowed architectural elements from Gothic Roman churches and Northern European castles.

georgian style colonial home

People began to view Victorian houses as unkempt, unsanitary, gloomy and dark during the 20th century. The architecture itself gained a reputation because it is based on historical styles of Gothic, Roman and Greek mixed all together. This mix made it seem as though the homes were in a disheveled state and somehow haunted.

Legend has it that Sarah Winchester, the rifle heiress, was haunted by the deaths of her child and husband and built a huge Victorian home in San Jose, California with the help of her spiritual guide. The home’s architecture became a testament to turmoil and is now a tourist attraction.

Another scary home in America is “The House of the Seven Gables“. The author Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a book about a witchcraft-cursed, 17th century home. He wrote the book at the beginning of the Victorian era where new homes were spacious and bright, with large bay windows. Today, the inspiration for the story is a house museum in Salem, Massachusetts. The house is somber and dark in color, with small windows.

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By the 20th century, Victorian homes were considered the most haunted of all types of homes and movies and television certainly helped to perpetuate this belief. In the movie, “Its a Wonderful Life”, Jimmy Stewart and his wife fix up the neighbor’s abandoned Granville House. Both “The Munsters” and “The Adams Family” TV shows showcased ghoulish families living in huge Victorian homes. Even Walt Disney used the facade of the Southern Victorian architectural style as the foundation for Disneyland’s famous Haunted Mansion.

Arts and Crafts style architecture in the early 20th century cleaned up Victorian excesses. But homes such as The Gamble House, designed by Greene and Greene, were used a spooky settings in movies such as “Back to the Future” and “Zathura”. The Dutch-Colonial style homes were also used in movies such as “The Amityville Horror”. New Orleans’s style homes with the wrap around porches, huge wrought iron columns, pediment and crowning turret echo the houses of the coastal South and have a reputation for being haunted by restless souls who have not yet departed.

San Diego is home to a haunted house in Old Town called The Whaley House. This home was built with mid-nineteenth century Greek Revival architecture and was formally named as a historical house museum in 1960. It is one of Southern California’s most popular visitor destinations, and people from around the globe come to experience this world-renowned museum.

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Hawaii is also home to some of the most famous haunted houses and is known as one of America’s most haunted states. In the 1940s, the Kaimuki House started to gain notoriety as being filled with ghosts and demons. Many families have either moved or vacationed here over the years, only to be thrown out by strange and dangerous unexplainable occurrences.

No matter what the style of home, there will always be something chilling about an unkempt, spooky house. The lesson to current homeowners, keep up the maintenance on your home, unless you want to be known as the next haunted house!

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