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The curious history Of Vermont’s Witch Windows

3 min read

Traveling through the scenic Vermont Countryside, especially in the northern parts of the state, you might notice some anomalies in the architecture odd enough to make you do a u-turn.

On the second floors of some older farmhouses, as well as a few newer ones, windows appears to have been installed incorrectly, oriented at an odd angle.
According to local folklore, these so-called “witch windows” were tilted 45 degrees so that witches couldn’t fly through them into the house.
In fact, according to an old superstition, witches on broomsticks can’t fly through angled windows, and the reasoning behind this is that their broomsticks simply wouldn’t fit.
Well, I’m not sure why the witches couldn’t just turn sideways, but it is best to not obsess over this.
Therefore, building an angled window into a home would prevent witches from attempting to enter.

Nearly exclusive to Vermont, also known simply as “Vermont windows,” or “lazy windows”, they began popping up in homes around the 1830s, and they have unclear origins.
Another, even grimmer explanation is that the crooked windows were used for getting a coffin outside the house more easily, and not by chance they are also nicknamed “coffin windows.”
Because older homes typically had narrow or twisty staircases, it was difficult to maneuver a coffin up or down the stairs if a family member died. Folklore says that these windows were placed into homes so undertakers could remove coffins more easily via the window.
That said, it’s arguable that sliding a coffin through a second-story window is not exactly less demanding than simply carrying it through the narrow staircases but, once again, it is best to not obsess over this.

In any case, from today’s perspective, it’s clear that there’s a much less fancy explanation behind the curious slanted windows: functionality.
In fact the sloped windows, usually wedged under the eaves right between the main building and an added wing of the house, were the most practical way of getting enough sunlight and fresh air inside the second-floor rooms.

During the 19th-century, northern Vermont was very rural and dominated by small farming communities.
When people added a side wing to their homes, this new addition typically obscured the gable wall, or old side of the house, and this meant losing a lot of ventilation and light in the rest of the house. However, sometimes there wasn’t enough room on the outside wall to install a regular window, and putting in a custom-built window wasn’t cost-effective.
In the interest of practicality, some locals instead installed a regular window, just tilted at a 45-degree angle to make it fit.
The tilted window still let in light and homeowners could still open it to allow fresh air into the house. And, in many cases, the window was repurposed from leftover materials from construction of the new addition. An imaginative and earth-friendly solution, even back in the 1800s, and a much better solution than trying to build something on your own.
Not by chance, Vermont farmers have always been recognized for their common sense and ingenuity….

Images from web – Google Research