Living Life the Victorian Way

Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman with their modes of high-wheel Victorian era transportation. (Vox)

Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman with their modes of high-wheel Victorian era transportation. (Vox)

Living Life the Victorian Way

Is history a lot like the game of telephone in which stories are repeated over and over again until the final retelling bears little resemblance to the truth?

This is what Sarah A. Chrisman and her husband Gabriel believe. In 2010, they made a life-changing decision. Frustrated with the complexities of daily life and fascinated by the secrets of the past, the Chrismans, both of whom are history buffs, chose to time travel in a way, transporting their lifestyle back to the late Victorian era of the 1880s and 1890s.

Nothing But Primary Source Materials

They began by purchasing a Victorian house in Port Townsend, Washington, which happens to be an historic Victorian seaport. As Sarah recalls in an essay for Vox, their first step after moving in was to get rid of the electric fridge and replace it with an icebox.

From there, the Chrismans purchased a mechanical clock that Sarah winds each morning. They installed oil lamps for lighting, although they do make allowances for guests, she writes, using “early electric lightbulbs, based on the first patents of Tesla and Edison.” For heat, the house features a 19th-century gas heater and an antique kerosene space heater. The couple sleeps on an antique Victorian bed, which has a mattress that Sarah sewed by hand and stuffed with feathers for authenticity.

For transportation, Gabriel rides a high-wheel bicycle and Sarah rides a high-wheel tricycle. Neither owns a cellphone, and Sarah has never had a driver’s license.

Instead, they’re quite content to live with their “primary source materials,” completely immersing themselves in the late 19th century.

Rediscovering Lessons Lost to Time

Sarah says they have learned many valuable lessons that have been lost to the annals of time, especially from the period’s clothing and technology.

In fact, she is convinced that living out history is the only way to understand history.

“There is a universe of difference between a book or a magazine article about the Victorian era and one actually written in that period,” she writes. “…Going back to the original sources is the only way to learn the truth. We’re devoted to getting our own insights and perspective on the era, not just parroting stereotypes that ‘everyone knows.’”

Considering the many interpretations of history that even the most casual reader must wade through, she has a point.

Sarah Chrisman examines letters at her writing desk. (Vox)

Sarah Chrisman examines letters at her writing desk. (Vox)

Suffering for Their Choices

Unfortunately,  not everyone sees it the Chrismans’ way. Sarah says the hardest part of adopting the Victorian lifestyle is facing the verbal abuse that is hurled their way, which has included death threats and hate mail.

According to Sarah, “Dealing with all these things and not being ground down by them, not letting other people’s hostile ignorance rob us of the joy we find in this life — that is the hard part. By comparison, wearing a Victorian corset is the easiest thing in the world.”

The Chrismans aren’t completely disconnected from the 21st century, however. Sarah is a licensed massage therapist, has written several books, and has appeared on The View as well as in profiles for multiple news outlets. She and Gabriel also do presentations throughout the country and consult on a variety of historical projects. Their website is pretty trendy, too–for Victorian-style websites, that is.

If you’d like to learn more about the Chrismans, please visit or head over to Sarah’s Facebook page.

What do you think of this lifestyle undertaking? Join us in the discussion! Comment, share on Facebook and find us on Twitter, hashtag #DMTalk.

Pete Fernbaugh


Pete Fernbaugh is an experienced freelance writer, editor, and journalist who has worked primarily in the healthcare field for the last five years. He is also the co-host of Scapegoats & Straw Men, a podcast devoted to discussing in an entertaining and informative way the many logical fallacies that permeate our culture and dialogue. Pete has a passion for the mysterious and unknown, and he believes that nothing should be completely dismissed or completely accepted until the evidence is solid and credible.

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