Spend time marveling at East Coast architecture, and you'll start to notice them.
Realtors often refer to them as "Vermont windows," since they're primarily found—you guessed it—on older Vermont homes. Some people find them oddly beautiful; to others, they're simply odd.
These windows are simply normal portrait-style windows, angled diagonally or horizontally so that the long edge of the window is parallel to the roof line. If you don't see them regularly, they look pretty bizarre and out of place. They might even be mistaken for shoddy construction.
But one of the strangest aspects of Vermont windows is their alternate name:
Vermont natives often cite an old superstition.
According to legend, witches enter homes by flying in. For some reason, they're unable to fly at an angle.
That may be because the windows form a cross-like angle with the roofline. It might also be because witches simply aren't great at flying at strange angles on their broomsticks (we're pretty sure that Bewitched covered that at some point).
Fortunately, Alex Hirsch, a reporter at WCAX, tracked down a real-life witch in Burlington, Vermont, to get some answers.
"I've never even heard of the term," said Julio Baez, who considers himself an Eclectic Pagan Witch. "I've been a practicing witch for 25 years now and this is the first time I've ever talked about witches' windows."
Hirsch asked Baez whether witches could fly sideways. We should probably mention that this was a Halloween piece—Hirsch wasn't exactly shooting for a Pulitzer Prize.
"If you watch Harry Potter and they play Quidditch they go in every which way direction. They are very agile. I don't think you could stop a witch from going through a slanted window unless they were overweight like me."
We love a witch with a sense of humor.
Architectural historian Britta Tonn brought up a more compelling point: If Vermont builders actually believed the superstition, why wouldn't they angle every window in the house? Surely, witches could simply walk through one of the other windows—or the front door, for that matter.
We hate it when common sense ruins a good legend. Sadly, there's no evidence that anyone ever truly believed the witch superstition, even if the etymology comes with an irresistible story.
There's another name for the windows: "coffin windows."
That term comes with a theory of its own, and it's slightly more believable since it doesn't involve anything supernatural. It is, however, just a bit macabre.
According to Vermont folklore, dying people would often spend their last days in their bedrooms, which were typically located in the upper stories of their homes. When they passed on, the undertakers would have to move their bodies, but narrow hallways and staircases made this a difficult feat. Eventually, someone built coffin windows that would allow the undertaker's cargo to pass easily out of the home.
While that's another interesting story, it doesn't carry much weight (pardon the pun). We can't really imagine a builder incorporating the eventual death of a building's tenants into his design. Besides, there's nothing convenient about passing a coffin through an attic window, and most Vermont windows don't even open all the way.
The name "coffin windows" probably popped up for a much less interesting reason: The slim windows look sort of like coffins.
So, why do Vermont windows actually exist, and why are they only found in Vermont?
The simple answer is that the windows maximize the amount of light and ventilation in attics. Vermont homes rarely have dormer windows, which project vertically from roofs, and because many homes are tightly constructed, adding dormers isn't always an option.
Additionally, many older Vermont homes have gone through regular renovations and additions, so space is at a premium. At some point, a builder simply decided to rotate a window in order to get as much window space as possible, and the design caught on.
The windows are also called "lazy windows," insinuating that at some point, a builder decided to simply turn an old window sideways rather than make a brand-new window for a project. That's a believable explanation, and it fits with the likely purpose of the windows.
Still, it doesn't always hold true; some Vermont windows are remarkably ornate and well built. In any case, they can be troublesome features for homeowners, since the windows' unique design can complicate siding and waterproofing projects.
As for why the windows didn't catch on outside of Vermont, that's anyone's guess.
Perhaps the strange look is a hard sell—or perhaps the more impressive appearance of dormer windows led to the Vermont window's obsolescence.
As for the proper terminology, "
If your home has these windows, however, you're free to call them whatever you choose. Just be sure to lock them up at night to avoid visits from lopsided witches.