Winchester Mystery House
The Winchester Mystery House is a monument to one woman’s sorrow, ingenuity, and madness. The only thing more peculiar than the house itself, is the story of its construction.
Sarah Winchester, wife of William Winchester, heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, is the mad genius behind this amazing house. In her youth she was greatly admired for her beauty and intellect. After marrying William in 1862, at the height of the Civil War, she became a part of one of America’s wealthiest families of the time.
Four years after her marriage, Sarah gave birth to a daughter, named Annie Pardee Winchester. Shortly after Annie’s birth, she was diagnosed with a disease called “Marasmus”, which caused her body to waste away. Sadly, Annie died soon thereafter, and Sarah Winchester was devastated.
Adding to Sarah’s sorrow, her beloved husband William came down with TB. In 1881, he too passed away. As a result of her husband’s passing, Sarah inherited 21 million dollars, half of the Winchester fortune, and a $1,000 daily allowance. This incredible sum is huge by today’s standards, but was massive for the time.
No amount of money could ease Sarah’s sorrow and despair. A friend suggested to Sarah that she should consult with a medium, who may be able to put her in touch with the spirit of her lost husband. Sarah did just that.
The medium told Sarah that she was in contact with William, and that he said there was a curse on the Winchester family. This curse was responsible for the death’s of both he and Annie, and Sarah was next. This curse was a consequence of all of the lives lost as a result of the Winchester rifle.
The only way that Sarah could save herself is if she moved west and built a new home for Sarah and the spirits to reside.
The medium told Sarah that she had to continue to build, and if she stopped she would die.
In 1884, Sarah moved to San Jose, California, and purchased a 6 bedroom house. She immediately hired a construction crew and began renovations. Carpenters worked 24 hours a day for the next 38 years, constructing room after room at Sarah’s request. She reportedly would consult with spirits for the new designs, then pass them on to workers. In the end, there were 160 rooms built at the Winchester House, although rumors say that over 600 rooms were constructed and torn down over the years.
What makes the Winchester House so mysterious is not just the number of rooms, but the way in which the house was assembled. Sarah designed stairways that lead nowhere, a cupboard that opened to a storage space of only an inch and 1/2, chimneys that were never completed, closet doors that opened to nothing but a wall, and doors that lead to steep drops straight into the garden below.
There is a stair case in the house that has 42 steps, but only rises 9 feet. This is because each stair is only 2 inches high. There are skylights on top of each other, trap doors everywhere, secret passage ways only large enough for Sarah to fit through (she was only 4 feet, 11 inches tall), and towers that built up from all parts of the mansion.
Eventually the home became 7 stories high.
It is said that Sarah created her house this way to confound the spirits, and slow them down as they attempted to find her. She is said to have slept in a different room every night.
Sarah held seances in her special seance room, where she conjured up the spirits who guided the construction. She had a special bell tower built, and each night at midnight, the bell tolled to call the spirits to the room. At 2:00 a.m., the bell would chime again, this time requesting the spirits to depart. The bell sat atop the tower, connected to a long rope that hung down the side of the building so steep that it was inaccessible. Only the bell ringer was privy to the secret tunnels that gave access to the rope.
Sarah Winchester had a fascination with the number 13. Almost all of the windows in the home contained 13 panes, many wooden floors had 13 panels, and every staircase except one (described above) had 13 stairs. One of the sinks in the house has 13 drain holes. Her will was divided into 13 parts and signed 13 times.
In 1906, the area was rocked by a massive earthquake. This caused quite extensive damage to the Winchester House. The top 3 floors were collapsed, and Sarah was trapped in the bedroom where she was sleeping. Sarah allegedly felt as though the earthquake was a result of the spirits being unhappy with the state of construction, so she proceeded to have 30 rooms completely boarded up. This was to appease the ghosts, as construction on the rooms would never be complete.
After the earthquake, Sarah always slept in the very same room in which she’d been trapped. And it is in this very room where she eventually passed away in 1922. As word spread that she had died, workers stopped in their tracks and walked off the job. There are still areas where you can find half pounded nails and unfinished sanding marks.
The Winchester House is now a Historical Landmark. The first person to tour the home was Robert L. Ripley, who detailed the Mystery House in his newspaper column, “Believe it or Not”. The home is now open to the public, including a special flashlight tour on Friday the 13th and around Halloween.
Legend has it that the house is still haunted by spirits that are trapped inside, too confused by the layout to find their way out. Many people claim to have had strange encounters ranging from banging, to footsteps, to full apparitions. Some even say that Sarah herself still walks the winding halls of Winchester.
Below: Travel Channel Documentary About the Winchester Mystery House