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Why the Victorian mansion is a horror icon

The Gilded Age left a legacy of decay on the American landscape.

Haunted houses are often depicted with a few common features: decaying woodwork, steep angles, and Gothic-looking towers and turrets. You’ve probably seen these characteristics everywhere, from Scooby-Doo to The Addams Family to the infamous Bates mansion in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

The model for this trope is the Victorian mansion. The imposing homes were once a symbol of affluence and taste during the Gilded Age, a period of American history marked by political corruption and severe income inequality. Like the McMansions of today, these houses made use of lopsided and often mismatched architecture that was meant to show off the affluence of their Victorian-era residents.

But after World War I, Victorian houses were seen as extravagant and already antiquated; they were often abandoned in favor of different styles. Their relationship to the troubling end of the Gilded Age in America eventually led to their depiction as haunted and ghostly in both fine art and pop culture, and now they’re an unspoken symbol of dread.

Watch the video above to see how the Victorian became haunted, and subscribe to Vox’s YouTube channel for more videos.