The Winchester Mystery House

Sarah Winchester built one of the largest homes in America, all through the direction of spirits. The history of the Winchester house -- with vengeful spirits, curses and mystery!

On September 30, 1862, William Wirt Winchester married Sarah Pardee. The Winchester family was doing extremely well financially. It was the height of the Civil War and the Winchester Henry rifle, the first true repeating rifle, was selling briskly. It was a popular rifle for use by the Union army. If any of the family was concerned about amassing a fortune from something that increased war deaths, history does not record it.

The marriage of William and Sarah seemed a happy one. On July 15, 1866, Sarah gave birth to their first - and only - child, Annie Pardee Winchester. The baby died nine days later of marasmus, a condition that made her little body wither away. The loss of her baby pushed Sarah close to insanity and it was nearly a decade before Sarah could be considered recovered from the shock.

Then William developed pulmonary tuberculosis and died in March of 1881. Sarah's grief for her husband seemed to reawaken her pain over losing her baby and friends grew concerned about her. One person suggested she visit a spiritualist medium, who might be able to help her communicate with her lost family. Spiritualism was trendy in society circles at the time and a wealthy young widow would certainly be a popular client! Sarah's inheritance from William was over twenty million dollars and her income from her share of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company amounted to about $1000 a day.

Sarah's visit to the medium shaped the rest of her life. The medium told Sarah that she was in contact with William Winchester, who said that the Winchester family was cursed by the many lives lost to the Henry rifle. The curse had claimed both Sarah's dear Annie and William himself. Then William told Sarah that she was marked for death from the curse! The only way Sarah could save herself from the dreadful curse was to sell her house and head toward the setting sun. Sarah was told that she would be guided by her husband in choosing the spot to build her new home. One she began building, she must never stop - the day she stopped building would be the day she died.

So Sarah sold her home in New Haven, Connecticut and moved west. She traveled to the Santa Clara Valley in California. In 1884, she bought a house under construction and began 24-hour building. With her inheritance money, she had no trouble finding carpenters, so work continued uninterrupted for 38 years.

There was never a master plan for this house; Sarah simply sketched plans for the work each day. Much of the construction was haphazard, and Sarah occasionally demanded rooms be torn down or boarded up. The resulting house is definitely odd with doors joined to windows, blind chimneys, stairs that lead nowhere, doors that open to blank walls or, worse yet, steep drops to the ground below. Wandering the house can be like a carnival maze with double-back halls and trap doors.

Construction was not without patterns; Sarah had a fascination with the number 13 and all but one of the staircases have 13 stairs. Many of the windows contain 13 panels of glass and the greenhouse had 13 cupolas. The one odd staircase had 42 steps but only rose nine feet in the air. Each step was only two inches high. It has been suggested that the master plan for the odd construction was to confuse and control the vengeful spirits who wished harm to Sarah.

By 1906, the house had grown to seven stories high. One legend says that Sarah slept in a different room every night, until the great San Francisco Earthquake changed both the house and Sarah's habits. The earthquake caused the collapse of the top three floors, and several cupolas and towers had fallen. The earthquake supposedly also trapped Sarah in a bedroom. It took the servants so long to find Sarah that she decided to choose just one bedroom for sleeping from then on.

Although building never ceased in Sarah's lifetime, she did eventually die from natural causes on September 4, 1922. After her death, it was discovered that the Winchester fortune had by mostly eaten up by the expenses from the house, although it was rumored that treasure was secreted away somewhere in the great maze of rooms. A safe was discovered and opened, but it contained only Sarah's greatest treasure - a lock of her daughter's hair.

The house was eventually sold to a group of investors as a tourist attraction, though they found it difficult to know precisely what they had bought. Every time they tried to count the number of rooms in the house, a different number was found! That is not surprising considering it had taken more than six weeks to empty the house of furniture because of the maze of rooms and halls.

Apparently Sarah Winchester believed the house was haunted, but does anyone believe so today? Many do - particularly employees - and the ghost most often seen is Sarah herself. But the most frequently reported phenomena are cold spots, ghostly footsteps and a sense of being watched. At least one of the spirits haunting the Winchester House seems to have a sense of humor, as employees report finding faucets turned on and floors flooded, but when the person leaves to get help with clean-up, he or she returns to find the water gone and the floor dry.

Many people feel the Winchester Mansion was only haunted by Sarah's grief and her guilt over the deaths of so many people from Winchester rifles. Still, whether you see it as a truly haunted house, or just a truly strange bit of architecture, the Winchester Mansion is definitely one of the most interesting houses in America. The Winchester House is located in San Jose, CA and is open to the public every day except Christmas.

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