How Abandoned and Eroding Victorian Mansions of the Gilded Age Came to Symbolize Impending Doom

In a portentous video essay for Vox, producer Coleman Lowndes explains why the highly decorated, overly trimmed Victorian mansions (McMansions of their time) of the Gilded Age went from being a symbol of wealth and comfort to a frightening symbol of impending danger and doom.

Critics of the time began to associate the houses with death, offensive reminders of the troubling Gilded Age. These houses slowly became an unwelcome presence, and eventually the wealthy owners moved on. And when the Great Depression swept across the country in the 1930s, a lot of the houses were abandoned or became boarding houses for the working poor. Without their affluent tenants to maintain them, the ornate structures quickly eroded deepening their association with decay.

This legend was given further credence with Charles Addams, the American cartoonist who created The Addams Family comic strip and who considered Victorian mansions as “better for haunts”.

…Enter Charles Addams. A cartoonist working for the New Yorker who introduced the world to the Addams Family. A reclusive collection of ghouls who are morbidly anti-social and mysteriously wealthy. …it wasn’t until November 1945 that Addams finally showed us the exterior of the strange home the family occupies. It was the Victorian. The Addams Family was a dark perversion of the ideal American family, and their mansion represented that.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.