he Winchester Mystery House has since become a movie inspiration for Hollywood’s Winchester. In addition to this, it is a landmark in America. But the mansion’s cheerful appearance and enchanting fame do nothing to hide the tragedy and mystery that surround it.
Nor does it do anything to stop all the ghost stories that are attached to the large home.
Of course, the story of its mistress — whom the mansion is named after — is quite tragic. Plus, there are several other reasons the estate is considered mysterious. But, the Winchester mystery is really a sad story about a strange little woman, her impressive fortune, and her opulent home teeming with spiritualism.
Sitting on roughly 24,000 ft.² of California land, the property belonged to the heir of the Winchester fortune in the 19th century. And although it has been long sold, the mansion maintains a spooky yet thrilling air.
The History of the Weird Mansion
Sarah Winchester was the wife of William Wirt Winchester. Her husband was heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company — historians credit the Winchester rifle as “the gun that won the west.”
Sarah grew up in a world of privilege. She was the type of woman who spoke multiple languages; four to be precise, attended the best schools, and married very well — which she did.
Unfortunately, Sarah’s life would take an unexpected turn when her only daughter died when she was less than six weeks old. Over a decade later, William would die as well, leaving Sarah his entire fortune.
After inheriting such a vast fortune — William left her roughly $20 million, which would amount to half a billion dollars in today’s economy, as well as 50% of the arms company providing her with an income a daily income similar to $26,000 in today’s economy — Sarah was still bereft. So she sought help from a spiritualist, hoping that the medium could communicate with her dead husband and give her closure. Besides, she needed guidance on what to do with her newly inherited fortune.
The medium was said to be successful. They were able to reach William, who, as legend has it, warned Sarah that the spirits — dead as a result of the Winchester firearms — were going to come for her. Williams’ ghost advised Sarah to move out of her home in New Connecticut and head west for California. She was to build a home for the fallen spirits to appease them and keep them from haunting her for the rest of her life.
And this is what Sarah did. The remaining years of Sarah Lockwood Winchester‘s life would be spent building and reconstructing the home she supposedly bought based on the advice of her dearly departed husband.
So began the construction of the magnificent Queen-Anne style Victorian mansion. You can find the Winchester House at 525 South Winchester Boulevard, San Jose, California.
Even Weirder than That?
Five years after William died, his widow Sarah purchased an eight-bedroom farmhouse in California. Then, the heiress employed teams of carpenters to build the house. The teams were required to work day and night, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. And they did this until Sarah gave up the ghost.
Legend has it that the reason for the incessant building efforts was a chilling warning from the spiritualist.
“IF YOU CONTINUE BUILDING, YOU WILL LIVE. STOP, AND YOU WILL DIE.”
Evidently, the mastermind behind the construction of the mystery mansion adhered so strictly to the warning because rumor has it that when she passed away on 5 September 1922, the carpenters quit so abruptly, they left half-hammered nails in the walls.
Trying to Lose the Spirits, Sarah?
Arguably the most prominent reason for the Winchester house’s fame is its architectural oddities. Sarah provided no plans or designs for the elaborate home — only ever-evolving ideas and concepts. Sarah reportedly met with the foreman of her construction team every morning to discuss new ideas or pursue old ones.
It is widely believed that Sarah puts the spirits into consideration while building her home. While some people think she was merely eccentric enough to keep trying out ideas even if they didn’t work, most people agree that there is more to some of the bizarre concepts within the mansion.
Take, for instance, the staircases that lead nowhere, the multiple trap doors, secret passages, and spiderweb windows. Some doors lead to blank walls; there’s even a door that opens to nothing except an 8-foot drop to a landing below. People believe that Sarah built so many doors and staircases to confuse the spirits wandering around the house, trying to haunt her.
The Theories on the Secret Labyrinth Layout
The entire home was built with such complexity; it is difficult to grasp how Sarah kept track of it all. There are so many stairways that lead nowhere, and superbly finished bedrooms with excruciating detail. The Winchester House has a complicated — albeit brilliant — layout precisely like a labyrinth’s. Since Sarah was the sole architect of the home, we might never fully understand what was going on in her mind when she was building the magnificent maze. But this has not stopped people from trying.
There have been many superstitions and theories surrounding Sarah’s why. A significant group buys into the ghost stories. They believe that ghosts haunted Sarah, she communicated with spirits and spent a lifetime avoiding them. Other theories are not so eerie.
Some believe Sarah belonged to a secret organization and created the house as a puzzle filled with clues within the perplexing designs. Francis Bacon’s work as an English philosopher is what believers link this theory too. According to its supporters, Sarah hid clues in the Shakespeare windows, the iron gates, and the ballroom.
A third perspective is happier. They speculate that Sarah was only trying to cope with the grief. Sarah and William had built their New Haven home together, so she was only trying to keep a happy memory alive. Historian, Janan Boheme, an expert on the Winchester Mystery House, believes that Sarah Winchester was grieving the way she knew how. Moreover, Boheme believes she was an ardent philanthropist, helping the San Jose community by purposefully keeping so many of them employed. Exemplifying her social conscience is the hospital she built in her husband’s name.
The last group just think the widow was crazy. And who could blame her?
Sarah’s Social life — Reclusive and Spiritual
Sarah had a next-to-nothing social life, surrounded only by people who worked for her. She lived the rest of the days as a reclusive older lady putting most of the attention on building the house. Whatever attention she didn’t give to the house, she gave to gardening or practicing spiritualism.
The Widow Winchester was completely eccentric. With 18 housekeepers, 18 gardeners, and the ever-present construction team always around, she still had no time to form relationships, nor did she desire to. In fact, there is only one famous portrait of her — a total misrepresentation of her financial status and what should have been her social status.
Therefore, her staff was her only companions, even saving her life once. In the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906, Sarah was trapped in the Daisy room after a tower —a part of the Winchester house when it was a seven-story structure — collapsed. The Winchester House staff dug out the rubble that trapped the mistress into the destroyed part of the home. Noteworthy is the fact that the tower and other parts damaged by the storm were never rebuilt, only cordoned off.
Spiritualism was a popular movement during Sarah‘s lifetime. It mainly grew in popularity because of the war — people lost loved ones and were seeking means of closure. Therefore, it is not strange that Sarah was an avid practitioner as well. Reportedly, she visited her Séance Room — fondly called the heart of the mansion — every night to communicate with the spirits. Interestingly, that was the one room in the building no one else was allowed into. The room is bizarre – only one door leads into it but three doors lead out. One door leads into the closet of another room, and another leads to an empty space.
Whatever the Story, Winchester House is Still Masterpiece
After the death of Sarah Lockwood Winchester, the new owners decided to count the rooms. They kept coming up with different numbers — and to this day cannot determine how many rooms there really are. After five years of renovations, 160 rooms seemed like the closest to the different number counts, so they went with it. And that’s what you’d hear from most sources today.
There are several other fascinating things about the Winchester House. With 10,000 windows, 950 doors, 52 skylights, 40 stairways, 47 fireplaces, and 6 kitchens, the opulence of the home is inarguable. Moreso, the incredible elements in the sprawling mansion were bold and groundbreaking for that century. The Winchester House had three elevators, wool insulation, electricity, an indoor shower, a sewage drainage system, incredible plumbing, and carbide gaslights.
Furthermore, Sarah’s evident obsession with the number 13 gave birth to some eccentric elements in her home. Her home has 13-step stairways and 13-paneled ceilings. But the ultimate feature would be the 13th bathroom of the Winchester House that has 13 windows of its own.
What’s more? Sara Lockwood Winchester split her fortune through a 13 part-will that she signed 13 times.
The Winchester Mystery House became a country landmark on the 7th of August, 1974. 110 of its odd, opulent rooms are open to tourists, and the mansion is still cited as one of the most haunted places in America. People visit for paranormal experiences all the time. Some even claim to see shadows, hear footsteps, and have their cameras knocked over by nothing at all.
It is extraordinary for a woman with no known architectural knowledge to have built such a masterpiece, without any plans or outside help. Amid all the exciting theories, it is almost impossible to remember Sarah for the genius that she was.
Still, several people hold on to this perspective instead — that Sarah Winchester, for all she was, was a brilliant mind who had a love for detailing, and enjoyed building her own home. We believe that’s a great way to remember her, don’t you?