Looking Back: Birth of the Haunted House

With Halloween upon us again we at the Museum always like to reflect on our scary, spooky, and perhaps even haunted past.  While we don’t have many examples of hauntings in our records, what we do have in Maple Ridge are some old, and sometimes spooky, buildings.

Close your eyes and think of a haunted house.  Picture a creepy house and even think about who haunts it.  Odds are that you pictured a Victorian era house and maybe even a creepy old Victorian lady in a nightdress haunting the place.  A quick Google search will back up your assumptions, a simple search for “haunted house” will pull up countless images of Victorian architecture with its Gothic styling.  So why is the Victorian styling always used in haunted houses, scary shows and horror flicks, basically, why is it so creepy? 

Well, there are a few reasons. 

First off, we can’t ignore that the Victorian era (1837-1901) did have some straight up creepy practices. Taking pictures of (and posing with) recently deceased family members, a practice called post-mortem photography was common.  Spiritualism, a practice of communing with the dead was also widely popular at this time.  As well as a surge in gothic novels like Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and really anything by Edgar Allen Poe.  And sure, have you ever seen a Victorian era doll? Very creepy.

After the end of the Victorian Era, the gothic architecture, literature, and practices of spiritualism were left behind, but the buildings remained.  At the same time, moving pictures were gaining in popularity and some of the first silent movies were horror.  In the mid-20th century when the horror classics were first coming out, they used old Victorian houses as a backdrop.  At that time the old, often abandoned houses, were left over from the Victorian, so that is what was used. 

Classic examples include the Bates house in Alfred Hitchcocks Psycho released in 1959, which is a classic example of Victorian architecture.  Hitchcock would often use Victorian houses as a visual cue for a place being creepy or haunted.  Around the same time was the more lighthearted but still macabre Adams Family mansion.  These films and show became the model for a creepy haunted old house that we still find today. 

It was also around the mid-20th century that the modern notion of Halloween was taking shape.  Spooky places and haunted houses became popular October activities and they picked up on the model created by Hollywood of the creepy Victorian house. 

Here in Maple Ridge we have a few examples of these old Victorian houses, the most well-known being Haney House.  Built in 1883 it has many Victorian features we might recognize from the classic haunted house, though we have no reason to suspect it to be haunted besides it being old and having some of those Victorian era stylings. 

In the end we believe these old houses are spooky because we have been trained with suspense and horror films always using this type of house as a stand in for creepy, and they have done it so much that we all now just believe it.  But don’t take our word for it, the only way to know for sure is to visit the house yourself!

Shea Henry

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News Oct 30 2019.