For as long as most of us can remember, the crumbling Victorian mansion has been a symbol of spookiness and the supernatural. You see it in everything from The Addams Family, to Psycho, to most recently, The Haunting of Hill House. But how did this phenomenon happen? Why do we culturally associate homes from one very specific era with the concept of fear? According to a new video essay by  Vox, via The Laughing Squid, it all goes back to how we as Americans felt about the fallout of the so-called “Gilded Age” at the turn of the twentieth century.

Victorian homes were once used to signify wealth, and the period of the late nineteenth century saw the first Americans strike it rich thanks to the industrial revolution. And once there was a new class of rich and powerful in North America, they used their wealth to emulate the lavish houses of the European aristocracy.But when the nineteenth century became the twentieth, America was faced with harsh economic realities like the Great Depression. Many of these homes became abandoned, and Victorians became relics, symbols of an era when the wealthy had seances and were obsessed with spiritualism. The “ Winchester Mystery House” in California is a perfect example.Of course, today, the remaining Victorian homes have been restored and repainted, and are coveted by many. They also go for millions of dollars, even the smaller ones (see: all San Francisco real estate values). But even those homes evoke a sense of spooky history, of ghosts and candlelit hallways. But it’s all tied into uniquely American ideas about wealth and class, and how decadence can lead to ruin. Food for though next time you post a cardboard picture of an old Victorian home on your wall for Halloween.wWould you live an old, spooky Victorian manor? Be sure to let us know down below in the comments.

Images: Paramount Pictures