The grounds upon which a haunted house stands (or crumbles) are also haunted. The land is unhallowed, or unholy, ground. As such, its vegetation is apt to be withered and sere. The grass, if any remains, is likely to be brown and scrubby. Shrubs will more than likely be shriveled or leafless. Trees will be grotesque, stunted trunks projectong a twisted tangle of bare branches. Flowers won’t do well. Rosebushes may bear thorns in abundance, but few or no blooms will appear to alleviate the gloom. The ground itself may be not only bare (and barren) but may also be lined and fissured with great, deep cracks. If there are any statues, they will be of strange figures. Some may be missing heads or limbs (or they may have extra heads and limbs). Others may bleed or weep blood. A figure may even moan or groan, perhaps due to a human soul imprisoned within the marble or granite stone. Hounds or other guard dogs may prowl the grounds. The entire estate is likely to be surrounded by a tall wall that is topped with a spiked, wrought-iron fence. Sometimes, instead of a wall, a thick forest hems in the estate. Wild animals live among the trees--wolves, wildcats, and worse--that keep guests at bay.
The estate may feature a family burial ground or a few gravesites. If so, the graves are likely to be marked with crumbling headstones or weather-stained crosses that may bear strange symbols and other bizarre inscriptions. A lake, or tarn, may be present, but it will be a lifeless body of water, uninhabited and unvisited by animals. The estate is likely to be isolated. Its residence and any other structures it contains will be the sole building or buildings for miles in any direction.
With as many features as we have cited, it’s obvious that the estate must be large, rather than small, especially if it is associated with a mansion or a castle. It shouldn’t be under ten acres, although it can be much bigger. There is apt to be rolling or drifting fog, white and thick enough to limit one’s vision and to conceal shapes within its gloom. Across the yard, at a distance, anyone who is unfortunate enough to trespass upon the estate will see the exterior of the haunted house, or its façade.
Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Fall of the House of Usher” brings many of these classical elements of the haunted estate together in his description, at the narrative’s outset, of the house and its grounds:
During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was--but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me--upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain--upon the bleak walls--upon the vacant eye-like windows--upon a few rank sedges--and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees--with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium--the bitter lapse into everyday life--the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart--an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it--I paused to think--what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down--but with a shudder even more thrilling than before--upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows.
From these observations, we can deduce the following rules concerning the estate upon which a haunted house stands:
- Relate the place with death and decay.
- Ensure that the estate is at least ten acres in size, remembering that the bigger the grounds, the better.
- Make the estate isolated, and surround it with a high wall or a forest.
- Associate the house with its resident (the story’s protagonist). (Note Poe's "eyelike windows.")