Are Any of These Spooky Architectural Staples in Your Neighborhood?
America has long had a fascination with incorporating the odd, spooky, quirky, and even supernatural in its architectural designs and aesthetics. Our country was founded by people from all over the globe as a melting-pot of different cultures and backgrounds, bringing with them a wide range of superstitions, beliefs, and traditions, many of which are reflected in architecture. So next time you are out for a walk in your neighborhood and notice something unusual in the way a house is designed or painted, take the time to research that oddity – you may learn something new about the history of your town and the beliefs of its founding families.
Most common in Vermont, like in the city of Montpelier, witch windows are windows tilted at a 45-degree angle placed in the gable-end wall of a house, under a roofline, usually in the narrow space between two rooflines on a building. The windows are most commonly found in 19th-century farmhouses but do sometimes pop up in new construction. Witch windows allow more light to get into interior rooms, without having to install a dormer window. They’re most commonly called ‘witch windows’ thanks to an old superstition that witches are unable to fly through windows set at an angle. They’re also sometimes called coffin windows, with the dubious claim that they were installed so that 19th-century undertakers could remove a body without having to bring it down the narrow inside staircase.
photo courtesy of Pinterest
Painting Haint Blue
Often found on porch ceilings and around windows and doors, this blue-green shade is popular in the Deep South, especially on historic homes in Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. The shade protects homes from a type of spirit called a haint. The different places actually serve different purposes – paint around entryways mimics water, confusing the haints who are unable to cross bodies of water, while paint on porch ceilings mimics the sky, tricking haints into thinking they’re seeing heaven when they look up and ascending. The color is also popular in Boston, Massachusetts and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on old Victorians.
photo courtesy of Pinterest
Dating back to the Middle Ages, people would hold ceremonies where the first stone laid – the foundation stone – would be blessed, or buried with a good luck charm or even a sacrifice. The foundation stone is also the first stone laid down when constructing a masonry house or wall, making it the reference point for all future stones, and therefore important to the stability of the whole structure. Holding a ceremony for this foundation is still thought to be important to the future of the building, instilling the structure with good fortune and protection. Nowadays, we often bury time capsules or significant coins in the foundations of major buildings.
Winchester Mystery House
Originally built by Sarah Winchester starting in 1884, this sprawling Queen Anne Style Victorian mansion in San Jose, California includes doors that lead nowhere, stairs that rise directly into the ceiling, spider-web windows, 13 bathrooms, windows with 13 panes, stairs with exactly 13 steps, haunted corridors, and much more. According to the legend, Sarah met with an oracle shortly after the death of her husband, gun magnate William Winchester in 1881, who instructed her to travel west and continuously build a mansion to appease the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles. Construction continued day and night for 38 years, until her death on September 5, 1922, leading to a sprawling mansion with over one hundred and 60 rooms.This house is also set to be featured in a movie about its haunting history in 2018. The home in the classic Stephen King movie, Rose Red was modeled around the idea of the Winchester home.
George Stickney House
Considered one of the most haunted places in Illinois, the George Stickney House, located in Bull Valley, Illinois, is reportedly home to over two hundred ghosts and spirits. Both accomplished mediums and the Stickneys have frequently held seances in the second-floor ballroom. Due to a belief that spirits can become stuck in ninety-degree angles, and that right angles attract evil spirits, the Stickneys built their house entirely with rounded corners.
photo courtesy of Village of Bull Valley
Old Round Church
A historic church in Richmond, Vermont, the Old Round Church has an amazing sixteen sides. There are many theories that try to explain exactly why the church has such an unusual number of sides. One legend holds that there were seventeen carpenters involved, and that sixteen built the walls, one wall each, while a seventeenth built the belfry. Another claim that is popular with local townsfolk is that the church’s shape was inspired by the superstition that a rounded building gives the Devil no corner to hide in.
photo courtesy of Pinterest
Seen most commonly in Gothic-style churches, gargoyles serve a triple duty as decoration, waterspouts (fun fact: a ‘gargoyle’ that isn’t also a waterspout should properly be called a grotesque or chimera) and wards against evil spirits. The word ‘gargoyle’ comes from a French legend about La Gargouille, an evil dragon who terrorized the town of Rouen until a priest defeated him and burned him at the stake. His head refused to burn, though, and the townspeople affixed it to their church to ward off evil spirits – and other dragons. In America, you can find metal gargoyles on the Chrysler building in New York City, 112 stone ones on the Washington National Cathedral in Washington D.C., and some very expressive gargoyles on the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Doors That Go Nowhere
Want to confuse the ghosts haunting you? Then just move into a house with doors leading into walls, or overhangs, or nowhere in particular. At least, that’s how the superstition goes. While the Winchester Mystery House is the most famous example of this architectural quirk, it’s sprung up in a few other old houses.
Popular in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Northville, Michigan, and increasingly in San Francisco, California, and other major cities, fairy doors are meant as portals to a magical realm, allowing fairies, elves, and the like to peek through and interact with our world. You can leave offerings at the fairy doors, in exchange for good luck. Some fairy doors’ residents have even been known to give answers to questions left on their doorstep.
Skipping the Number 13
Ever been in a hotel elevator, and noticed that the floors skip from 12 to 14? An extremely common practice in architecture, with a whopping 85% of elevator panels are lacking this unlucky number, according to Otis elevators, because hotels skip the number thirteen largely to avoid superstitions around 13 being unlucky. And, from a business perspective, they have a good reason – according to a Gallup poll conducted in 2007, ironically 13% of people would mind staying on the 13th floor of a hotel. While that might not sound like much, those people could potentially represent lost business, and it costs the hotel owner nothing to have floor 13 numbered as 14.