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Witch Window

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

Have you ever heard of a “witch window”? What is it exactly? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It exists in American vernacular architecture (Vermont, in this case). As the name suggests, it is almost exclusively found in the state of Vermont in farmhouses that were built in the 19th century, although they have been noted elsewhere. The odd window is typically a double-hung slash that is located on the gable side of the house, set on a 45-degree angle running parallel with the roof edge.

How did it get its name? The Witch Window name likely came from folklore beliefs that witches can not fly on their brooms into the house at such an angle. I suppose it depends on the make and model. There is no mention of why they wouldn’t just use an alternative window or method. Other folklore suggests that the windows were used for ease of transporting a coffin instead of going down narrow and often steep stairs inside. There would have to be some ingenuity to haul a coffin through a window…sideways. Now imagine if the coffin opened and uncle Donald came rolling on out. Roof pitches will be covered in a future post.

There are several different explanations for this architectural oddity. The one that seems to make the most common sense is it’s used for ventilation in the upper room and/or provide natural light in an area that would not otherwise have any.

Whatever the reason, it is definitely interesting.

Originally posted as part of the Strange & Odd Architecture series in October (on Facebook), in the spirit of Halloween.

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