The Mystery House: Home of ghosts built by Sarah Winchester

Verica Sitnik
The exterior view of the Winchester Mystery House today. Author: Www78. CC-BY-SA-3.0

The illogical design of the interior of Winchester Mystery House is a maze-like masterpiece of architecture. It is a mansion in San Jose, California, located at 525 South Winchester Boulevard. The house, believed to be haunted by ghosts for over 200 years, is placed on the National Register of Historic Places list.

The story about the mansion begins with Sarah Winchester, the wife of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester. Sarah lived in the house as a widow from 1884 until her death on September 5, 1922.

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Ambrotype of Sarah Winchester by Taber Photographic Company of San Francisco, taken in 1865.

William Wirt Winchester died from tuberculosis in 1881, and his wife inherited his fortune ($20.5 million) in addition to fifty percent ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The company brought her a tremendous amount of wealth, roughly $1,000 per day which is equivalent to more than $30,000 per day in 2017.After she had lost her husband, Sarah was desperate, and she was trying to communicate with him in one or another way. The tabloids which date that time, claims that she was visiting a medium.

The exterior view of the Winchester Mystery House today. Author: Www78. CC-BY-SA-3.0

A Boston medium told her that she should go to the West, where she must build a house, continuously.The medium said the house supposed to be home for the lost souls which were killed by the guns produced in Winchester rifles. Sarah believed in what she was told, took the advice from the medium and left her home in New Heaven.

The view of the Winchester Mystery House before the earthquake. Author: Andrés Álvarez Iglesias. CC BY 2.0

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The widow purchased an unfinished farmhouse in the Santa Clara Valley in 1884, and that’s how the construction of the Winchester Mystery House began. Sarah didn’t arrange an architect for the building; the carpenters who were hired worked on the house until it became a seven story mansion. She added onto the construction in a haphazard fashion and this resulted in the weirdly designed architecture and interior. It is claimed that the whole house was built with continued work 24 hours a day, for 38 years.

Stairs which lead nowhere. Author: Jere Keys. CC BY 2.0

Winchester Mystery House contains windows overlooking other rooms and also built into the floor, stairs that go nowhere, doors opening onto blank walls and other numerous oddities. Many sources claim that these oddities are attributed to her belief in ghosts. The seven story mansion has 161 rooms of which two are ballrooms but one is unfinished, 40 bedrooms, and two basements. There are also 47 fireplaces, three elevators, 17 chimneys and over 10,000 panes of glass. There were a lot of restrooms in the house, but Sarah Winchester used only one of them, and the rest of them were decoys to confuse spirits. It is amazing that she slept in a different room each night for the same reason, to confuse the ghosts.

One of the forty bedrooms in the house. Author: Mike Shelby. CC BY 2.0

The decorations in the house include silver and gold chandeliers, a vast array of colors and materials and hand-inlaid parquet floors. Cobweb motifs and the obsession with the number 13 can also be seen in Sarah’s home, for example the chandeliers have 13 candles. During the night, the house was illuminated by push-button gas lights.

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Fireplace settled in one of the ballrooms. Author: Caitlin Childs. CC BY-SA 2.0

The Tiffany Company was the creator of the most of the windows in the building. Some of the windows were designed specifically for the widow, and some of them were designed by her, such as a “spider web” window which was never installed. There is another important window, designed by Tiffany himself to provide a rainbow across the room when the sunlight strikes the prismatic crystals of the glass. This window was installed in a room with no light exposure.

A table set for drinking tea in the house built to please the spirits. Author: Ian Collins.CC BY-ND 2.0

The house is made of redwood. Sarah demanded faux grain and paint to be applied, and almost all the wood in her home was covered. After her death on September 5, 1922, she left a will written in 13 sections which she signed 13 times. The property was bequeathed to her niece and Sarah’s secretary. Winchester’s property was about 162 acres, but the estate was later reduced to 4.5 acres, the minimum necessary to contain the house. On it’s completion the Winchester Mystery House stood seven stories high but since the earthquake of 1906 only four stories of the manor remain.

The music room, Winchester Mystery House. Author: mindgrow. CC BY-SA 2.0

Her niece sold the house at auction after removing all the items that she wanted to keep. Winchester Mystery House was sold for over $135,000 to a local investor who leased the building to John and Mayme Brown for ten years. Five months after Winchester’s death in February 1923 the home was opened to the public.