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The Winchester Mystery House

Article #197 • Written by Marisa Brook

So far, life had been very good for Sarah Winchester. Born in the late 1830s in New Haven, Connecticut, she had been raised by a well-off family and was always much-liked by the townspeople throughout her upbringing. She was charming, attractive, musical, and spoke several languages. In 1862, she married the only heir of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co., the company responsible for the Winchester rifle. In 1866 Sarah gave birth to a baby girl, Annie.

But a series of tragedies was to befall her. Her daughter died in infancy; she had no other children; and Sarah was devastated and driven almost to insanity by the loss. Then, in 1881--only a few years later--William succumbed to tuberculosis. Sarah received about 50% ownership of the company, and was awarded $20-million, an amazing amount of money for the 1880s. But it was little consolation. Very much distraught, the widow began to believe that her family was cursed. She went to Boston to seek help from an old friend, one believed to be a medium.

This friend confirmed her suspicions by telling her that yes, she was being haunted--by the spirits of all those killed by the Winchester rifle over the years. The medium suggested that she move far away and build a house. The key, the medium added, would be to have the house in a perpetual state of construction. If Sarah were ever to complete the house, it would leave her vulnerable to the curses of the vengeful spirits.

Frightened and still grieving, Sarah Winchester believed every word. In 1884 she moved to what was then a rural area near San José, California. There, she purchased an eight-room farmhouse on more than 160 acres of land. Very shortly, a work crew began a perpetual construction project which would ultimately last for nearly forty years.

Construction was continuous, with a team of 16 men always at work and well-paid. There was no plan for the house overall, although Sarah Winchester had sketched plans for a number of the rooms individually.

Once the expansion was underway, more of Sarah's deeply-rooted superstitions began to surface. She had strange quirks built into the house--among them a door leading to a wall, and a stairway leading to a ceiling. She had the builders incorporate the number 13 all over (in a candelabra, in rows of trees, in numbers of bathroom windows, and so on). Additionally, she never slept in the same room for more than one night - perhaps tying into her conviction that the house was haunted. Nightly she took her pick of the eventual forty bedrooms of the house, and she then spent the time between midnight and 2:00 AM conversing with spirits.

The house is notable not only for its eccentricity, however, but for its startling modernity for the time it was built. It is lit by a system of button-operated gas lights - not quite electricity, but as close to the light switch as possible without it. There are full steam-heating and plumbing systems, with indoor toilets and showers. Inside the house are three elevators, one of them a unique design for the house.

The San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906 destroyed the three upper floors of the house. Sarah Winchester was unharmed; however, for several hours she was trapped in the room that she had been sleeping in, and her construction crew had to pry the door open with a crowbar in order to free her. Fearing that the entire disaster had been the work of the spirits she claimed to be in frequent contact with, she had the front half of the house closed off in order to keep it even more incomplete.

Sarah Winchester died in September 1922 in her early eighties. When her loyal construction team found out, the building immediately ceased. Even now, there are unfinished rooms, walls, and even nails in the house; aside from maintenance and regular repainting, it remains largely unchanged from then.

The house's immediate surroundings are a different story. In the years following Sarah Winchester's death, the tightly-packed suburbs of San José have crept up around her house. The once-rural mansion is now a startling anachronism in the middle of one of the most modern areas in the world: Silicon Valley.

To this day, the 160-room house is a popular tourist site. It has gradually become known as the Winchester Mystery House. Some visitors and site staff members believe that it is still haunted; often there are reported various strange sounds heard and sensations felt around the house. There are special flashlight tours offered on Halloween and any Friday the 13th.

Article written by Marisa Brook, published on 21 June 2006. Marisa lives in Toronto, Canada. She collects postcards, fridge magnets, lapel pins, interesting rocks, and linguistics degrees.

Article design by Alan Bellows. Edited by Alan Bellows.
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46 Comments
Sen.McCarthy
Posted 21 June 2006 at 10:11 pm

History proves that it's always interesting when crazy people get money. DAMN interesting! Eh? Aww, ya'll are no fun...


peridot window
Posted 21 June 2006 at 10:13 pm

Stuff like this is so fascinating. I want to visit one day.


whittington
Posted 21 June 2006 at 10:33 pm

As a local Cub Scout in the late 50's, I can vouch for this place's spookiness. We were allowed a complete tour before any large scale restoration of the house was performed; today it stands quite gentrified.

The carpenters and tradesmen of the day took great advantage of Sarah Winchester; many local stories tell of carpenters banging for hours on end on non-existent nails to soothe the spirits of the grieving widow.

There is also a famous closet which, when opened, features 13 steps lead directly into a closed ceiling.

Today the house stands as an anachronism on a once very rural Winchester Blvd. of San Jose.


Drakvil
Posted 22 June 2006 at 12:10 am

I've been on two tours through the house, and that should tell you how enjoyable it is. One of the elevators in the house is hand-pumped: it took two servants to pump the elevator car up to the second floor. There is a closet that has no floor... if you step into it, you wind up in the kitchen sink on the floor below. The shower she had installed in the "master" bathroom had multiple heads that sprayed from three directions and she was able to shower without getting her head wet. There is a large storeroom full of building supplies that she bought for additional rooms, and I must say that a good deal of it I would love to have in a house of my own... aside from her unfortunate spiritual paranoia, she did have really good taste in decorations.

Aside from the number 13 being used all over the place (lots of stairways with 13 steps, windows with 13 panes, etc.) she also had a fascination for spiderweb patterns... some of the windows that incorporate spiderweb patterns in them are quite beautiful.

What I remember from the tour is that she would hold seances each night, and she would get directions for how construction was to continue from friendly spirits. Many of the quirky things that are built into the house for the express purpose of confusing the spirits that were searching for her to do her harm. I haven't come up with any reasoning for the water spigot protruding from the second floor wall in the patio garden, but it's a hoot to imagine trying to use it. They do have explanations for why some of the staircases go up, then down, and up again.

If you are going to take the tour with a group of people, I would suggest break up into several groups as the different guides have differing theories and stories about the house memorized. You can then compare notes afterwards.


fizban7
Posted 22 June 2006 at 01:10 am

That place is, well, Danm Interesting. Been there a few time as a kid, and it blew my mind.


GMan
Posted 22 June 2006 at 01:33 am

Strange and amusing. Mysterious indeed.

But what a waste of hard earned money due to silly superstitions. The founders of the Winchester Co. who made it successful initially were probably the ones haunting them after William married Sahara inside commune of goods allowing family inheritence to be removed from the family after his death...


gorgeousplanet
Posted 22 June 2006 at 01:37 am

Ugh, my parents never took me there as a kid because one, they said it was too expensive, and two, they said I would be bored. Hmph! It still looks damn interesting!


Marius
Posted 22 June 2006 at 02:35 am

Not too long ago there was a mini series on Sci Fi called Stephen King's Rose Red, which was a story of a huge mansion in the middle of a bustling city that was supposedly haunted and continuously building itself. I wonder if this was the inspiration for that tale.


Melon Head
Posted 22 June 2006 at 07:03 am

They're creepy and they're kooky....mysteriously spooky


necros
Posted 22 June 2006 at 07:55 am

I've been there and it's a pretty fucked place. It shows what happens when insanity meets money. :)


kc0dxh
Posted 22 June 2006 at 08:01 am

all together ookie


lledra
Posted 22 June 2006 at 08:25 am

Their the Adams Family.

Ohhh I wanna go! It seems soo cool. And yes, really wicked things happen when money meets insanity.


Sandra Thurston
Posted 22 June 2006 at 08:55 am

SPOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOKYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!


Spike
Posted 22 June 2006 at 09:08 am

I wonder if it's significant that I read this story and respond after 13 other comments. This is one of those places I have heard about ever since I was little and always wanted to see. Having had the chance to visit the Stanley Hotel, inspiration for Stephen King's "The Shining" while on my annual hiking trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, maybe I need to plan a trip to San Jose. Thanks for another Damn Interesting read.


Joshua
Posted 22 June 2006 at 09:17 am

From the article: "This friend confirmed her suspicions by telling her that yes, she was being haunted–by the spirits of all those killed by the Winchester rifle over the years."

Too bad for Sarah that no one from the then-fledgling NRA was handy to refute this medium's claim.

As in, "Guns don't kill people..."


spiffitz
Posted 22 June 2006 at 11:30 am

I've lived near this place for most of my life and I still haven't been in it. Now my family of four will cost over $100 just to tour it. No thanks.


ShenWolf
Posted 22 June 2006 at 11:35 am

Joshua said: "Too bad for Sarah that no one from the then-fledgling NRA was handy to refute this medium's claim.

As in, "Guns don't kill people…""

They don't. Bullets ......bullets kill people. Of course, I guess you could club someone with a Winchester.


lllllllll
Posted 22 June 2006 at 11:44 am

spiffitz said: "I've lived near this place for most of my life and I still haven't been in it. Now my family of four will cost over $100 just to tour it. No thanks."

Me too, I live five minutes from the place and drive past it on my way to work every morning. I'm sure I'll go someday, but I've heard the story so many times and I see the mansion daily, so it's just not all that mysterious to me anymore.


Emmy
Posted 22 June 2006 at 12:29 pm

spiffitz said: "I've lived near this place for most of my life and I still haven't been in it. Now my family of four will cost over $100 just to tour it. No thanks."

Um.... FYI $100 isn't a lot of money. ESPECIALLY for only 4 people! Come on, that's $25 per person. That's not a lot... If it is for you, I am very sorry given your predicament.


Drakvil
Posted 22 June 2006 at 01:00 pm

lllllllll said: "Me too, I live five minutes from the place and drive past it on my way to work every morning. I'm sure I'll go someday, but I've heard the story so many times and I see the mansion daily, so it's just not all that mysterious to me anymore."

So all I have to do to know all about the inside of your house is to drive by it every day? The really interesting stuff there is on the inside, all you see from the outside is a really big house.

Hearst Castle is also very (VERY) large, yet most of what you go there to look at are the artifacts and decorations inside.

And with both places, a good deal of the value is the presentation of history that you get from the tour guides. Hearing it from people who have been there doesn't put it in the context of seeing the actual item being discussed while you hear about it. And you won't get that from driving by.

And while $100 might be signifigant, it certainly isn't too much... Disneyland is $50/person and Knott's Berry Farm is about $29/person...granted you have a lot more to do at those places, but you also have to shell out a lot more for food and drink as well. For a family of 4, good luck trying to get out of Disneyland for less than $300. And you don't learn to much about actual history in Disneyland...


Ezrie
Posted 22 June 2006 at 02:02 pm

I have been there before and i agree, you can not even imagine what you are missing when you just drive by. The tour i went on was 3 1/2 hours, over five miles all of wich was inside the house (and thats only part of it, it's much bigger then that). I recomend going even if it does cost $25.00, it's well worth it.


Marius
Posted 22 June 2006 at 03:27 pm

necros said: "I've been there and it's a pretty fucked place. It shows what happens when insanity meets money. :)"

Funny, that seems to be an apt description of Michael Jackson as well.


Archcroc
Posted 22 June 2006 at 06:30 pm

Marius said: "Funny, that seems to be an apt description of Michael Jackson as well."

Ooh, do you think we'll be able to tour the Neverland Ranch when he dies? I want to see the Elephant Man's skeleton some day.


sulkykid
Posted 22 June 2006 at 06:41 pm

ShenWolf said: "They don't. Bullets ……bullets kill people. Of course, I guess you could club someone with a Winchester."

OK, Winchester probably made the cartridges too. And some people were no doubt clubbed to death with Winchesters (you have to run out of bullets eventually). (And, really, it is people who do the killing, but that's a whole new argument.)


HunterKiller_
Posted 22 June 2006 at 08:05 pm

I want to see this place. I bet those construction workers were happy.


spiffitz
Posted 23 June 2006 at 12:09 pm

Emmy said: "Um…. FYI $100 isn't a lot of money. ESPECIALLY for only 4 people! Come on, that's $25 per person. That's not a lot… If it is for you, I am very sorry given your predicament."

Well I'm glad you're smart enough to decide for me what's a lot and what isn't. While most people would spout out their education, how much money they make, and what Fortune 500 company they work for in defense of your condescending statement, I don't need to tell you that. There's a difference between being able to afford something, vs. spending money on things you don't need. I just don't feel the need to spend $100 to look inside a "historical" (i.e. tourist trap) landmark. I'm fascinated by the place and have read more than enough about it. Should I see the inside? Probably, but it's not that high on my list. I've been to places that I'm sure other people wouldn't pay money for, so should I feel sorry for them?

Have fun pretending to have money and smile for me whenever you're prioritizing that pile of bills.


oxala75
Posted 23 June 2006 at 09:11 pm

spiffitz: your answer was right on the money.
emmy: that was about the dumbest thing i've heard today, and I live in Washington DC.

so...what do people do on this mystery house tour?


Vivendi
Posted 24 June 2006 at 04:07 am

Her daughter and husband both died, well I could see how someone could go crazy like that, especially if you afford it. Cool article.

Marius said: "Not too long ago there was a mini series on Sci Fi called Stephen King's Rose Red, which was a story of a huge mansion in the middle of a bustling city that was supposedly haunted and continuously building itself. I wonder if this was the inspiration for that tale."

Definitely. Although I didn't watch it all, this house does remind me of Rose Red.


HailRedskins
Posted 24 June 2006 at 12:59 pm

Hey i coulda swore i suggested this article. oh well, nicely done. =)


Misfit7707
Posted 25 June 2006 at 09:20 am

Boy, I can only imagine what it must have been like for her to constantly have her house worked on... my own family has been working on redoing our house ourselves for over eight years now. We've pretty much come to a stop... but now we're working on other people's houses. I guess I live in a family of workaholics. No superstition here, though.


cornerpocket
Posted 25 June 2006 at 12:25 pm

Anyone interested in paying $25 to tour my basement? It is FULL of incomplete projects and I can personally attest that uncompleted projects DO keep the bogeymen from coming around!!!! Of course, there are those that would point to procrastination, but only because they are unaware of my new rationalization re: keeping the spooks from coming to haunt me if I were to complete anything. Thanx for my new excuse and a really DamnInteresting article.....


Shandooga
Posted 26 June 2006 at 11:11 am

Stupid has no boundaries.


me09
Posted 03 July 2006 at 12:07 pm

Saw it on the travel channel...would like to visit and take one of those flashlight tours. I remember hearing the number of workers who died but im not quite sure about it. I also remember the host saying that perpetual building was the secret to eternal life, not just poltergeist extermination.


wrtr1bk
Posted 15 July 2006 at 09:57 pm

I have recently written a book on Sarah Winchester and the Winchester Mystery House, entitled, "The Inscrutable Mrs. Winchester and Her Mysterious Mansion". It is the most comprehensive book on the subject starting with the history of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. to the death of Sarah Winchester and her will. The commonly told story is NOT all there is to the story. How many of you know she had 161 acres of land, or that she had 141 acres of orchard where she grew plums, which she dried into prunes, apricots and walnuts were also grown to sell locally, across country and to Europe and England? And was she crazy? You'll have to read my book to decide! There is much more to the story than the spooky Halloween story usually told. I deal with the fact and fiction regarding her life. She had plenty of innovations the common household couldn't afford, 3 elevators, a char broiler, a servants call box. She had her own gas manufacturing plant and was self-sufficient. She had no utility bills! Doesn't sound so crazy to me! So for those of you who scoff the house or her, think again and read my book. There is more to her and the house than meets the eye. For those of you who think it boring or too expensive it is definitely worth the money. The craftsmanship in the woodwork is excellent and will never be produced in our lifetime. There are tons of innovations throughout the house and grounds. If you take the house and grounds tour it is $25. You visit the garage she had, the dehydrator where the plums were dried, the barn and get to see the garden and fountains. She did not waste her money on building the house and was not stupid, as other comments suggest. You don't build a house like that if you aren't an intelligent woman. I was born in San Jose and have visitied the house several times. It is one of the most beautiful and fascinating houses ever. You can find my book on publishamerica.com or barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com to name a few on-line stores. I also have a blog on blogger.com you can visit. I dare everyone who thinks she is crazy to read my book and not change your mind!


Drakvil
Posted 23 July 2006 at 12:53 am

ShenWolf said: "They don't. Bullets ……bullets kill people. Of course, I guess you could club someone with a Winchester."

It's not really the bullets that kill people, it's the holes they leave behind that kill people. You get a few of those holes on you and you're in trouble.


lisner
Posted 03 August 2006 at 11:59 am

This aerial view photo gives a great sense of the size of the place:

http://www.WinchesterMysteryHouse.com/story.html


Leo
Posted 29 October 2006 at 08:47 am

Damn, that house is huge !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


mai.
Posted 03 March 2007 at 01:21 pm

on the official site it says that its only $29 for the grand estate tour, including behind the scenes tours, thats a terrific price considering how awsome the house is.

also, arent you dying to know about the 3 floors that were destroyed in that earthquake?! and i dont think anyone should dis on her for being crazy, becouse look at the house she left behind, its amazing!


chrisbillawala
Posted 05 April 2007 at 02:36 pm

In case anyone is interested, the Clarion Hotel San Jose Airport has a Winchester Mystery House San Jose

Package at http://www.clarionsj.com/html/winchester-mystery-house-discounts.asp.

It offers:

Two Adult Tickets
Transportation (Based upon availability)
Free Hot Breakfast Buffet
Standard King, Courtyard King with Sofa sleeper or Courtyard Double Queen
Coupon For 10% off Dinner
Coupons to Santana Row Shopping (Walking distance from Winchester Mystery House)
Price is $129.99 Sun-Thurs and $109.99 Fri/Sat. $189.99 Sun-Thurs and $169.99 Fri/Sat for two connecting rooms .

Please phone 800-838-4913 and press option #2 for package reservations Monday through Friday 8am - 4pm or leave a message for the next business day. Thank you!


mysteryinc.5439
Posted 15 March 2008 at 12:14 pm

hmmm. i dont know how you dont find it interesting to see a victorian home, with 160 rooms, 47 fireplaces, 3 working elevators, a woman obessed with the number 13, unfinished room, hallways and closets that lead to nowhere or everywhere. i think that is really cool and as for the money. you live in california, you can afford $1oo. yeah the place where gas is 5 dollars a gallon and houses that are smaller than mine are 500,000 dollars. (yes i live on the east coast if you cant already tell) but im a kid and yeah they did turn it into a torist trap now, but when it was built, it wasnt always that way. in my point of view, the woman have way too much free time, and too much money she knew what to do with but i personally, as a teenager, would love to see it. it is damn interesting if i could i would buy it but im not a millionare.

and some people acually have money, there not pretending spiffitz.


AJ1952Chats
Posted 05 April 2008 at 05:57 pm

wrtr1bk said: "I have recently written a book on Sarah Winchester and the Winchester Mystery House, entitled, "The Inscrutable Mrs. Winchester and Her Mysterious Mansion". It is the most comprehensive book on the subject starting with the history of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. to the death of Sarah Winchester and her will. The commonly told story is NOT all there is to the story. How many of you know she had 161 acres of land, or that she had 141 acres of orchard where she grew plums, which she dried into prunes, apricots and walnuts were also grown to sell locally, across country and to Europe and England? And was she crazy? You'll have to read my book to decide! There is much more to the story than the spooky Halloween story usually told. I deal with the fact and fiction regarding her life. She had plenty of innovations the common household couldn't afford, 3 elevators, a char broiler, a servants call box. She had her own gas manufacturing plant and was self-sufficient. She had no utility bills! Doesn't sound so crazy to me! So for those of you who scoff the house or her, think again and read my book. There is more to her and the house than meets the eye. For those of you who think it boring or too expensive it is definitely worth the money. The craftsmanship in the woodwork is excellent and will never be produced in our lifetime. There are tons of innovations throughout the house and grounds. If you take the house and grounds tour it is $25. You visit the garage she had, the dehydrator where the plums were dried, the barn and get to see the garden and fountains. She did not waste her money on building the house and was not stupid, as other comments suggest. You don't build a house like that if you aren't an intelligent woman. I was born in San Jose and have visitied the house several times. It is one of the most beautiful and fascinating houses ever. You can find my book on publishamerica.com or barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com to name a few on-line stores. I also have a blog on blogger.com you can visit. I dare everyone who thinks she is crazy to read my book and not change your mind!"

Please leave more details such as a link to your blog, as I'd love to find it and read it!


Correct me if I'm wrong, but:
Posted 06 May 2009 at 11:38 am

this vaguely reminds me of the University of Alberta here in Edmonton. One of the science buildings, I believe, was constructed by two different architects who basically didn't work together. The result is stairways that lead nowhere, doors you can't access, and rooms you can't reach. The Art students once did an expierament where they put red cards in all the windows they could reach, then went outside and counted them. There was seven or nine windows that didnt have red cards. Theres also a myth about some founder's corpse is in one of the "secret rooms" with a load of treasure i think... ill hafta look that up.


lfp78
Posted 09 August 2012 at 09:51 pm

Excellent reply from Spiffitz to Emmy's crass statement.
I wonder how they've each fared over the last few years of recession...
Hopefully in that time mysteryinc.5439 has learnt the difference between money and easy credit.

In any case, DI article, as always - That's my kind of house.


rrmin437
Posted 12 September 2012 at 09:29 am

I've taken the tour through a few times... The one thing I remember is that the price was alot, but, a season pass was only a few dollars more, so I bought one of those...

One aspect to this story that I heard, and haven't read here, was that the construction workers had a union strike happen, and had to stop working. And a week later Sarah Winchester died.


Philip Nathanson
Posted 27 June 2014 at 12:08 pm

I had my 10th birthday party at the Winchester House in 1951. My dad got change from a ten for the whole party of two adults and six or seven kids, so I'm extrapolating a price of $1 per adult and 50 cents for kids...

I just went to the website and looked at the pictures of the inside and the grounds. What a difference between now and then! I remember the inside as dusty and poorly lit, and with little of the furniture that adorns it today. The outside was painted a uniform color that I remember as dull green, with bleached out red awnings. There were no tourist amenities. The gardens weren't accessible, and there was nothing on the grounds except for a picnic table.

And yet -- it was still very cool, and more than a little creepy. One point I didn't see in the comments above (may have missed it) is that no room in the house is on exactly the same level. Accord to our guide, Mrs. Winchester thought that this would trip up the spirits who were chasing her.


Emily
Posted 02 July 2014 at 07:09 am

I want a Supernatural episode about this.


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