On a Reddit post I recently stumbled across the surprising assertion that the living room was once called the death room, with the explanation being given variously that it's where you would mourn the dead, or it's where you would leave their bodies during times of great death until someone could come along and pick it up.
I looked on Wikipedia and discovered the claim repeated there, with a random blog given as the citation:
The death room
Influenza was rampant after World War 1 and many people lost their lives. Not having the means to bury bodies immediately, and wishing to take the time to mourn, bodies were often stacked in an unused part of the house – typically the Parlor, as most people were not entertaining during these horrible times.
Introducing the living room
When things started looking brighter after the influenza outbreak subsided it began to feel morbid to call this area the death room. Ladies Home Journal – THE magazine of that time – said that with the inevitable return to the socialization and happiness of the days before the outbreak, the death room should be ‘livened’ up and therefore the term living room came to be.
This really, really sets off my bullshit detector, and after a quick Google the only things I can find repeating the claim are random blogs. But I'm really not sure how to verify it — it seems like the sort of thing that could be true, but probably isn't.
Further evidence hinting towards the falseness of this claim is the OED entry for "living-room" (incidentally there is no entry for "death-room"), which while light on the etymology, lists a number of 19th century examples of "living-room" starting from 1825, including some clearly used to refer to a specific room. While this doesn't completely rule out the term "death room" as having existed, it certainly rules out the idea that the term "living-room" was invented in the 1910s, and so casts yet more doubt on the whole story.
1825 Greenhouse Comp. I. 9 No living-room should depend for its ventilation on such of its windows as may communicate with a green-house.
1857 C. Vaux Villas & Cottages 119 Under the living-room is a basement-kitchen.
If it really is true, I'm curious as to where in the world this happened (Britain? America? Specific parts thereof?), for how long it was the case (just during the war or for a significant time before it?), and anything else about the specific cases in which one might have had a "death room".