Winchester Mystery House
If you are on this website, you’ve likely heard of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Founded in 1866, they supplied many arms for the 1st and 2nd World Wars and are still a popular company today. But what you may not have heard of, is the mystery and spooky lore surrounding a house that bears the Winchester name and legacy.
Sarah Lockwood Pardee Winchester was the wife of William Wirt Winchester, son of the founder of Winchester Repeating Arms. Unfortunately, tragedies befell Sarah – her infant daughter died of a childhood illness and a few years later in 1881 her husband was taken by tuberculosis.
Sarah Winchester inherited more than $20.5 million (equivalent to $543 million in 2019) and received nearly fifty percent ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. This gave her an income of roughly $1,000 per day, equivalent to $26,000 a day in 2019.
Shortly after her husband’s death, Sarah left their home in New Haven, CT and moved out west to San Jose, CA. There, she bought an eight-room farmhouse and began what could only be described as the world’s largest and longest home renovation, which ceased only when Sarah passed in 1922.
Sarah’s inheritances gave her an incomprehensible amount of wealth which she used to fund the ongoing construction on her home. Now aptly named the Winchester Mystery House, Sarah’s dwelling is an architectural wonder and historic landmark.
Carpenters were hired and worked on the house day and night, and she did not use an architect. The home contains numerous oddities such as doors and stairs that go nowhere, windows overlooking other rooms and stairs with odd-sized risers. Other curious aspects of the house—like narrow, low-rise, claustrophobic switchback stairs—were built to accommodate the diminutive Winchester, who was not only 4-feet-10 but also suffered from crippling arthritis. What looks like curious construction to some was merely practical to her.
The house had been seven stories, but the 1906 earthquake took it down to four stories. The home contains: 24,000 square feet, 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 160 rooms (including 40 bedrooms and 2 ballrooms), 52 skylights, 47 stairways, 17 chimneys and fireplaces, 13 bathrooms(of which only one was functional!), 6 kitchens, 2 basement levels, 3 elevators including 1 which moved horizontally.
For its time, the home had many rare luxuries not limited to the aforementioned. Other frills included steam and forced-air heating, beautiful redwood construction and accents, modern indoor toilets and plumbing, push-button gas lights, and 1 hot shower from indoor plumbing. The property was about 162 acres at one time, but the estate has since been reduced to 4.5 acres. It was built at a price tag of the $5 million dollars in 1923 or $71 million today.
You may be asking yourself, why someone would want to endure round the clock construction, most of which ends up being nonfunctional and downright bizarre?
Since its construction, the property and mansion were claimed by many to be haunted by the ghosts of those killed with Winchester rifles. Which one can assume, would be profuse especially considering the rifles’ prevalence in the first and second world wars. Sources say that Mrs. Winchester came to believe her family and fortune were haunted by ghosts and that only by moving West and continuously building them a house could she appease them.
These spirits are reported to have directly inspired, or even directed her as to the way the house should be built. It is known that she held nighttime séances in a peaked turret of the house known, now, as “The Witch’s Cap”, and that she often got her ideas for new construction in the night.
The home very clearly retains unique touches that reflect Mrs. Winchester's beliefs and her preoccupation with warding off malevolent spirits. The number thirteen was used a baffling amount of times in the construction, which is either known as a lucky, or unlucky number depending on who you ask. Spider web motifs are also abundant throughout the house, which are said to have carried spiritual significance for Sarah.
It is also said that 12 of the 13 restrooms were decoys to confuse spirits. This is also the reason she slept in a different room each night and made so many staircases and doors that lead to nowhere. Environmental psychologists have theorized that the odd layout itself contributes to the feeling of the house being haunted today.
The mystery around Sarah Winchester grew even more foggy thanks to the close-knit bond she shared with her staff. Winchester spent a large amount of money on making sure her workers lived in comfort, and reportedly treated them almost like family. In return, the staff gave her unquestioning loyalty and never spoke to journalists about their boss’s eccentricities. On the day she died, Sarah Winchester’s servants walked away from the property—and, in a move that would be unheard of in today’s era of tell-all book deals, never spoke a word about what went on in the house. They probably felt very identified with this house, because it was as much their house as it was hers. Some employees who worked at the mansion for Mrs. Winchester are said to have stayed on after their deaths.
When Sarah Winchester died, it supposedly took six trucks working eight hours a day for six weeks to remove all the furniture from the home. Five months after Winchester's death, the house was opened to the public for tours. This astonishing property has attracted over 12 million guests to visit since it opened in 1923. Some of those guests come home with more unique souvenirs than others, like photographs featuring strange orbs and figures, catching a glimpse or hearing someone that isn’t there, or even a tap on the shoulder from an invisible source. Today it is owned by Winchester Investments LLC. The mansion has also been the subject of a movie, several books, and lots of paranormal investigations.
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