The Winchester House, or Winchester Mystery House as it is better known, is a 160-room Victorian Mansion built by Sarah L. Winchester, wife of rifle
manufacturer William Wirt Winchester. Sarah and William were married on September 30, 1862, and had one child, Annie Pardee, who died about a month
after birth in 1866. William Winchester died on March 7, 1881, after which Mrs. Winchester, upset at the deaths of her husband and daughter,
reportedly consulted a spiritualist.
But her new-found wealth could do nothing to ease her pain. Sarah grieved deeply, not only for her husband, but also for her lost child. A short
time later, a friend suggested that Sarah might speak to a Spiritualist medium about her loss. "Your husband is here," the medium told her and then
went on to provide a description of William Winchester. "He says for me to tell you that there is a curse on your family, which took the life of he
and your child. It will soon take you too. It is a curse that has resulted from the terrible weapon created by the Winchester family. Thousands of
persons have died because of it and their spirits are now seeking vengeance."
Sarah was then told that she must sell her property in New Haven and head towards the setting sun. She would be guided by her husband and when she
found her new home in the west, she would recognize it. "You must start a new life," said the medium, "and build a home for yourself and for the
spirits who have fallen from this terrible weapon too. You can never stop building the house. If you continue building, you will live. Stop and you
Shortly after the seance, Sarah sold her home in New Haven and with a vast fortune at her disposal, moved west to California. She believed that she
was guided by the hand of her dead husband and she did not stop traveling until she reached the Santa Clara Valley in 1884. Here, she found a six room
home under construction which belonged to a Dr. Caldwell. She entered into negotiations with him and soon convinced him to sell her the house and the
162 acres which it rested on. She tossed away any previous plans for the house and started building whatever she chose to. She had her pick of local
workers and craftsmen and for the next 36 years, they built and rebuilt, altered and changed and constructed and demolished one section of the house
after another. She kept 22 carpenters at work, year around, 24 hours each day. The sounds of hammers and saws sounded throughout the day and
As the house grew to include 26 rooms, railroad cars were switched onto a nearby line to bring building materials and imported furnishings to the
house. The house was rapidly growing and expanding and while Sarah claimed to have no master plan for the structure, she met each morning with her
foreman and they would go over the her hand-sketched plans for the dayÝs work. The plans were often chaotic but showed a real flair for building.
Sometimes though, they would not work out the right way, but Sarah always had a quick solution. If this happened, they would just build another room
around an existing one.
As the days, weeks and months passed, the house continued to grow. Rooms were added to rooms and then turned into entire wings, doors were joined to
windows, levels turned into towers and peaks and the place eventually grew to a height of seven stories. Inside of the house, three elevators were
installed as were 47 fireplaces. There were countless staircases which led nowhere; a blind chimney that stops short of the ceiling; closets that
opened to blank walls; trap doors; double-back hallways; skylights that were located one above another; doors that opened to steep drops to the lawn
below; and dozens of other oddities. Even all of the stair posts were installed upside-down and many of the bathrooms had glass doors on them.
It was also obvious that Sarah was intrigued by the number "13". Nearly all of the windows contained 13 panes of glass; the walls had 13 panels; the
greenhouse had 13 cupolas; many of the wooden floors contained 13 sections; some of the rooms had 13 windows and every staircase but one had 13 steps.
This exception is unique in its own right.... it is a winding staircase with 42 steps, which would normally be enough to take a climber up three
stories. In this case, however, the steps only rise nine feet because each step is only two inches high.
While all of this seems like madness to us, it all made sense to Sarah. In this way, she could control the spirits who came to the house for evil
purposes, or who were outlaws or vengeful people in their past life. These bad men, killed by Winchester rifles, could wreak havoc on SarahÝs life.
The house had been designed into a maze to confuse and discourage the bad spirits.
The house continued to grow and by 1906, it had reached a towering seven stories tall. Sarah continued her occupancy, and expansion, of the house,
living in melancholy solitude with no one other than her servants, the workmen and, of course, the spirits. It was said that on sleepless nights, when
she was not communing with the spirit world about the designs for the house, Sarah would play her grand piano into the early hours of the morning.
According to legend, the piano would be admired by passers-by on the street outside, despite the fact that two of the keys were badly out of tune.
It wasn't until Sarah Winchester died at the age of 85 in September 1922 that work on her bizarre, multi-gabled house finally stopped. The fantastic
Eastlake shingle Queen Anne house was built at an estimated cost of five million dollars.
Today, the house has been declared a California Historical Landmark and is registered with the National Park Service as "a large, odd dwelling with
an unknown number of rooms." Most would say that such a place must still harbor at least a few of the ghosts who came to reside there at the
invitation of Sarah Winchester.
There have been a number of strange events reported at the Winchester House for many years and they continue to be reported today. Dozens of psychics
have visited the house over the years and most have come away convinced, or claim to be convinced, that spirits still wander the place. In addition to
the ghost of Sarah Winchester, there have also been many other sightings throughout the years.
In the years that the house has been open to the public, employees and visitors alike have had unusual encounters here. There have been footsteps;
banging doors; mysterious voices; windows that bang so hard they shatter; cold spots; strange moving lights; doorknobs that turn by themselves.... and
donÝt forget the scores of psychics who have their own claims of phenomena to report.
Obviously, these are all of the standard reports of a haunted house... but are the stories merely wishful thinking? Reports of ghosts and spirits to
continue the tradition of Sarah WinchesterÝs bizarre legacy? Or could the stories be true? Was the house really built as a monument to the dead? Do
phantoms still lurk in the maze-like corridors of the Winchester Mystery House?