Thursday, October 02, 2008

An interesting article caught my eye at the bottom of the Microsoft Network page, "When selling a haunted house, is the owner required to warn you?" and in it I came across a pair of words I've never heard of my entire life: "Coffin Corner." Intrigued, I followed the link and read the "Wiki" definition of it:
Coffin corner (architectural myths)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Coffin corner (architecture))

A coffin corner is asserted by some people to be the explanation for a 3' × 3' × 3' niche found in the corner of the landings of stairwells in a Victorian house.

Prior to the widespread availability of hospitals and nursing homes, most people died in their own homes, in their own beds. Victorian houses were typically multistory dwellings that had the bedrooms upstairs accessible by stairs. This created a challenge of getting a coffin down the stairs and around the landings in the horizontal position to the downstairs rooms where the wake would be held. This problem was resolved with the development of the coffin corner. Now the pallbearers could make the turn in the landings by inserting one end of the casket into the coffin corner. When the niche was not used for its intended purpose it typically held a decorative statue.

The above is actually a very popular architectural myth that grows with every historic house tour. The reason for the indentations on the staircases is purely architecturaly decorative. Evidence does not exist which shows that people could not merely move the body downstairs where the coffin was being kept for showing.
I had a hard time imagining what that looked like (my aunt in San Francisco is living in a Victorian house but I don't recall seeing a indentation in or around the staircase) so I "Googled" it, and, aside from it sharing the same terms in football and aviation, this is what it came up with:

Lifted from kentbrew's flickr page (the yellow label's mine).

And not...

*ubo!* *ubo!* *kurneh!* *ubo!*

Or even...

*uboo!* *uboo!*

So it's basically a shallow hole on the side of the wall that was used to make it easy for bulky things to turn a corner while being carried downstairs without scratching the walls. It's not exclusive to coffins. It could be a "sofa corner," "treasure chest corner," "dress cabinet corner," or even, "writing desk corner." It's just that compared to coffins "bulky furniture corner" doesn't sound as creepy or ominous. Nor does it get it's own entry in the "Wiki." But myth, as the "Wiki" entry suggests, or not I found it a bit odd the builder of the house pictured above put a small strategic (if not awkward) niche for "decorative purpose" beside a small staircase. I suppose the owners thought it better safe than sorry?

Interesting how you learn something new everyday.

* Here's another clear example of what a "Coffin Corner" is.

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