As a child, I was always fascinated by the idea of the unknown or the paranormal, and it is out of pure curiosity and questions like what, how, and why that stir my imagination. And when Halloween and the spooky vibes are around the corner, it is the perfect time to explore one of the most absurd and America’s most famous haunted houses.
Here is a 101 guide to the Winchester Mystery House that is a living mystery and Victorian architectural amazement.
Let’s take a closer look at this architectural mystery and begin from the very start.
Born in 1839 in Circa, Sarah Lockwood Pardee was a socialite young woman who moved to New Haven, Connecticut, after getting married to William Wirt Winchester in 1862 to start a new life. Sarah Winchester then became an heiress.
In 1866, the father of William; Oliver renamed his rifle company “the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.” Sarah’s father-in-law worked as a gun manufacturer at Winchester Rifles, and the rifles made were known as “the gun that won the West.”
The Winchester rifle was a single barrel rifle known to hold numerous rounds of ammunition and was used majorly during the American Civil War.
Mrs. Winchester, before her marriage, was a talented musician and spoke three languages. The Winchesters had a daughter, Annie, who passed away six weeks in 1866 later due to malnourishment.
William Winchester died too due to tuberculosis in March 1881, leaving Sarah with 50 percent ownership of the company and 20 million dollars of inheritance, instantly making her one of the richest women to exist.
It is the part where the Winchester mansion and estate mystery starts. Sarah Winchester’s tragic story begins after moving from New Haven to California and buying an eight bedroom farmhouse in Santa Clara Valley, later becoming the Winchester Mystery House.
Origin of Spirits and Haunted Mansion
Now let’s answer the question that why is the Winchester house a mystery?
After the death of her husband in 1884, she moved from the east coast to the west coast and purchased 161 acres of land; here is how the story of the Winchester Mystery House began. With the sudden death of her only daughter and her husband, she was shocked and depressed.
The husband’s death led her to contact psychic mediums. She was able to find a medium to talk to her loved ones and deal with her depression, and the medium was her husband.
He believed that the spirits of those who were killed by the rifles made by the Winchester company were haunting the family and are the reason her daughter and husband died, and she would be the next target.
The solution for her to survive was that she had to build a house in the west that would be big enough to accommodate the spirits of the dead and continue creating it. She turned the eight-bedroom unfinished house worthless into a seven-story mansion.
She fell victim to the circumstances and was filled with a great sense of guilt, regret for the lives gone due to the firearm. Despite not being directly linked and involved in the killing, she created the Winchester Mystery House for her survival, which became a tourist attraction and even a horror film later on.
In 1884, Sarah compulsively began building the gigantic Winchester Mystery House up until she died in 1922.
The house sits in the Bay Area of San Jose, California, which initially was only an eight-room farmhouse expanded and turned to the Winchester mystery house, which nearly had 160 rooms as she hired contractors to work towards its expansion constantly.
To give a rough idea about the enormity of this mystery house, it has 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 stairways and fireplaces, and 13 bathrooms, two basements, six kitchens, three elevators, 52 skylights, 17 chimneys, and a total of 24,000 square feet of the house.
The Winchester mystery house has many infamous facts about it too, let’s look at them one by one.
Exciting Facts About Winchester Mystery House
1. Firstly, the Victorian mansion is named for the mistress herself.
The Winchester Mystery House is named for its mistress, Sarah Lockwood Winchester, the wife of William Wirt Winchester.
2. The construction of the Winchester mystery house constantly continued for a good 38 years till her death.
Sarah first purchased the house in 1886, and she employed a crew of carpenters to constantly work on the construction, which went on for about 38 years.
3. The San Francisco earthquake trapped Sarah.
The massive San Fransisco earthquake of 1906 trapped Sarah inside one of the rooms, and she had to be rescued by the staff working then because the entrance was blocked by rubble.
4. Some theories state that the symbols in the house point towards the English philosopher Francis Bacon.
There is a theory saying that the symbols in the house do not point towards the ghost but towards an English philosopher Francis Bacon. It is believed that Sarah was creating a puzzle inspired by his work.
5. No one is sure yet about how many rooms the house exactly has.
Nobody can get the exact number of rooms originally there, and still, the owners sometimes find new spaces.
6. The house has a world record set for the longest continuous house construction.
Yes, it has a world record for the longest continuous house construction. But the real mystery is, what made her do something like this?
7. Sarah Winchester was obsessed with the number 13.
Well, 13 might have been the lucky number for Sarah Winchester because if you look around the house, you will see the number 13 oddly used.
13 windows in the 13th bathroom, 13 hooks in some closets, 13 ceiling panels, and many more.
William Wirt Winchester and San Jose
The rumor says that after losing both her husband and daughter, she fell into depression and decided to talk to her loved ones through a séance.
Instead, it was revealed that she was cursed by the ghosts of the numerous people who died by the Winchester rifles of the rifle company Winchester left, and that is also the reason behind the death of her daughter and husband.
Details of the Winchester Mystery House
It was believed that if she ever stopped the construction of the house or that if “the hammers ever ceased,” she would die.
Now, this explains the bizarre planning of the haunted house like dead-end staircases, secret passages, doors leading to walls, one cabinet door, secret passages twisting, cabinet door opening on their own, windows overlooking to other rooms, hallways leading to nowhere, and ending abruptly, weird interior wall, or staircase leading to no floor.
Soon enough, maybe the house took a life of its own, and the ghost story became real as various in-explainable things were happening inside this Victorian mansion. Things like the ringing of bells, windows opening and closing, doors shutting on their own, neighbors reporting unknown on the property.
Another reason she decided to recreate such a labyrinth is that the complexity of the mystery house and numerous doors and windows would confuse the ghosts haunting her, and she would also sleep in different rooms to avoid them. She had a separate room altogether where she would contact the dead every night at 2 am.
There were many luxurious features in the Winchester mansion including, the gold and silver chandeliers, stained-glass windows, the loveliest Tiffany stained-glass, indoor plumbing, pump organ in the attic, and push-button gaslighting, which was quite rare at that time and made the Winchester mystery house even shadier.
The San Fransico Earthquake
In 1906, a massive earthquake occurred in San Jose, California. It damaged the Winchester house, majorly collapsing the top three floors out of the seven stories of the mansion entirely and later on removed from the home, leaving the house with four levels as seen currently.
Moreover, Sarah took the San Francisco earthquake as a sign from the spirits that the construction of the mystery house was getting completed and a reminder that she needs to continue constructing to live.
There are still multiple theories as to the Winchester mystery and why Sarah built this entire mansion so bizarrely. One idea says that she had arthritis which led to the unfinished building of the Winchester mystery house.
Another one of them is that she wanted to relive the happier times as she and her husband saw the building of their previous home in New Haven, Connecticut, and she tried to recreate that.
Another one says that she needed a change of scenery and continued to keep her mind distracted and off the grief of her husband and daughter. The house is said to have reports of people breathing, footsteps, and screws unscrewing and falling independently.
According to the contractors who worked on the house, Sarah conducted seances daily to reach the good spirits and help her build the home to protect her from the evil ones that haunted her.
Interior and Architectural Details
During the construction of the house, the aesthetic movement was at its prime. It affected the design and architecture of the house. The house was made in complete Victorian art, and architecture looked over the functionality of the house.
It is also a great example of the Queen Anne Revival Style, including distinctive features and picturesque towers, a sewing machine, stained-glass windows, a dress form, faux grain, vast collection of textures and carvings.
Even after the reconstruction after the earthquake, only four stories remained, but the same architectural design was followed. The house’s floating feature, which practically saved it during the quake, was a feature quite ahead of its time.
After Sarah passed away, she left all her belongings and most of the house’s furniture to her niece, Marian I. Marriott, her secretary. Still, the Winchester home was never mentioned in her will, making it eerier.
The niece auctioned off the house later on, and just five months after the death of Sarah Winchester, a local investor purchased it. It then became the famous Winchester mystery house and was open for public tours.
More detailed information about the mystery house can be found in Wikimedia Commons and the San Francisco travel association.
The mansion has been declared as a California Historical Landmark. And after the 2018 movie Winchester, being shot in the actual estate, the craze about the Winchester Mystery House became even bigger and a pop culture phenomenon.
Now, the best part is that all those curious about the Winchester Mystery House can visit it in person. It offers different tours like the Self Guided Tour and the Sarah Winchester Garden Tour, which allows a tour in the garden outside.
The estate also has two museums, one which shows Winchester rifles through the ages and another which shows antiques by them. But can you spend the night at the Winchester Mystery House?
Unfortunately, you won’t be allowed to spend the night at the Winchester Mystery House. Still, the tour lets the visitors see the different rooms across the mansion, including the absurd floor plans, bed of Sarah, pictures of the late husband, a vast network of hallways connecting the entire mystery house.
The mansion can be spotted in movies like the MythBusters, Project Dead Zone, and Winchester itself. The ticket price ranges from $20-41 USD per ticket, and it takes a little over an hour for the entire tour.
Some of the things worth focusing on, which are unique in the house are the Hall of Fire; and as the name suggests, it is a room with a lot of fireplaces, the workers who worked in the mansion after the death of Sarah reported having heard footsteps across the bedroom of Sarah.
Sarah’s sealed room is the room that was closed after the earthquake of 1906 as rubble fell over the room and filled it. When a tour guide was walking across the room, she saw a figure passing by the hallway.
When the guide followed, she didn’t see anyone, and she heard a sigh, maybe it was Mrs. Winchester herself, and she used the room as a refuge from tourists.
Another thing worth noting is the reoccurring of the number 13 in various places in the house. For instance, the staircases have 13 steps each, windows having 13 panels, and ceilings having 13 panels as well, and her Will allegedly having 13 portions which she signed 13 times as well.
In addition, she decided to make the Winchester Mystery Home out of redwood, and about 20,000 gallons of paint was used to cover the wood.
Sarah Winchester and Winchester Mansion
Sarah Winchester was an independently driven and courageous woman. She often wore an all-black outfit with a mourning veil, making her personality eccentric and a living legend.
The architectural design and interior of the house that she designed are famous for their architecture and their mystery, paranormal activities, and legends.
The Winchester Mystery Home in San Jose opened up on June 30th, 1923. It has attracted millions of people and was visited by many visitors worldwide to unravel its mystery. It has also been mentioned in the “Top Destination” lists all over the globe.
Final Words: Winchester Mansion and its Underlying Beauty
The Winchester Mystery House is creepy yet fascinating to the visitors, making them feel scared at first but later dwell their minds questioning what happened and why. Yet again, nobody knows for sure what the reality is.
But the visitors get to appreciate the Victorian aesthetic beauty and architecture of the Winchester Mystery House, which took almost 40 years-long planning and hard work.
Sarah Winchester may seem like a crazy, obsessive lady for building the Winchester Mystery House continuously for almost 40 years to keep away evil spirits in San Jose. Still, after Sarah Winchester’s death, it was seen in her obituary that she contributed to numerous organizations, funded the Connecticut State Hospital’s tubercular section, and maintained many medical institutions.
She hides away her good works from publicity. Since the passing of Sarah Winchester, there hasn’t been much information about her as she was unable to be tracked in any interviews, journals, nor her family was willing to talk about her through the year.
Therefore, the real reason for creating this bizarre Winchester Mystery House will always remain a mystery that went with Sarah herself. We can only appreciate the lady by visiting the Winchester Mystery House and understanding the mansion in person.
So, what are you waiting for? Visit the Winchester Mystery House now and check out for yourself what’s so mysterious about that house.
I hope this article provided you with all the information you probably needed to know about the Winchester Mystery House before your visit.