Victorian houses have a long history of haunts

Story by Bryce Arens, NewsNetNebraska

Art historian Sarah Burns fancies herself  a connoisseur of Victorian culture, but it was her love of horror that piqued her interest in her latest study subject: the Victorian house.

“I like spooky things and old houses,” said Burns, a teacher at Indiana University who delivered a lecture — “Better for Haunts: Victorian Houses and the Modern Imagination” — to a full auditorium at the Sheldon Art Museum earlier this week.

The idea that Victorian houses like this one are haunted goes back to the 1800s, an art historian told a UNL audience.

Burns discussed how how movies like “Psycho” inspired the idea in popular culture that Victorian houses were haunted.  But she said the roots go much further back. The Victorian culture was despised in the 1800s because of the distinct difference in lifestyles of the upper and middle classes. This led people to associate the Victorian houses with the social corruption they viewed in society.

The painters of the era also influenced the image of the Victorian home. Charles Burchfield, a New York artist, often painted Victorian homes with high tresses and large gables. The houses seemed to be looming over people, she noted.

In the 20th Century, movies, such as The Cat and the Canary,” began using the “old house on the hill” horror plot line. The highly publicized Wynekoop murder in Chicago in 1933, took place in a Victorian home and also gave the architecture style a bad rap, Burns said.  And later, in 1940, Charles Addams featured a Victorian house as the home of “The Addams Family” cartoon.

Later, Burns noted, movies such as “Gone With the Wind” brought a more nostalgic feel to Victorian homes.

Many University of Nebraska-Lincoln art students were required to attend the lecture for class. And one of those was evidently impressed.

“It was a subject I had never really thought about,” said Jack Florence, a junior art major. “When I see Victorian homes now, I will think about them in a different light.”


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