The term widow's walk originated in the eighteenth century referring to the exterior architectural feature of a rooftop patio. Though the original function of the elevated platform was practical--to facilitate a homeowner's ability to fight rooftop fires, which were common given the proximity to the chimneys.
However, more romantic, nautical connotations suggest that the name widow's walk may have evolved through lore.
The term, widow's walk, has two subtext elements. First, it implies that the structure has a view of the sea, or at least a large body of water. Secondly, it implies the risk of death, or at least the dreaded possibility of it. It conjures images of women wearing hoop skirts and hugging woolen shawls, bracing themselves against the salty gusts from a dark and stormy ocean, keeping watch for their husbands from their ventures on the sea.
Perhaps you've run across a widow's walk referenced in literature.
In his book Chesapeake, James A. Michener described a widow's walk as "derived from romantic tales of those loyal women who continued to keep watch for a ship that had long gone to the bottom of the coral reef."
In the crime fiction genre, the earliest version of the title Widow's Walk I could find was the 1846 classic mystery by French author, Charles Rabou. In 2002, it also graced the title of the 29th novel in Robert B. Parker's Spenser series.
Even more recently, it was the title of the seaside ghost story in the 2019 feature film of that name.
Last month while visiting a quiet beach community in Virginia, I stumbled across a widow's walk (not literally). A recently renovated beach house boasted one of these lookout towers. In my defense, who wouldn't be drawn to it?
Since the owner happened to be onsite, he offered to give me a tour. Hoping not to appear too stalkerish, I hopped at the chance to ascend his spiral staircase to the widow's walk several stories above ground and bask in the sweeping ocean views.
What the owner didn't realize was that even before I took my first step inside his beach house as my private tour began, my crime-fiction wheels got a-churning. This signature piece of architecture begged to be the scene of a (fictional) murder. So--ever the slave to my muse--I revised my current work-in-progress by changing the location.
This widow's walk is now showcased as the climactic setting of my latest short story of suspense, "Vendetta By the Sea," slated to be published in the upcoming anthology, VIRGINIA IS FOR MYSERIES: VOLUME 3 sometime in 2021.
Want to know more about the history of this architectural feature? You can read more in the blog post, "The Myth and Reality of Widow's Walks" <here>.
Has a real setting ever inspired one of your crime fiction stories?
PS ~ Let's be social:
- Twitter - @KKMHOO
- Facebook - Kristin Kisska
- Instagram - @KristinKisskaAuthor
- Website - KristinKisska.com