The Winchester Mystery House covers 6 acres with 160 rooms, 40 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms,47 fireplaces, 6 kitchens, 40 staircases, 3 elevators, 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 52 skylights, 2 basements, and 1 shower. This home has many things, but it has no reason for the way it was built. It has been assembled, disassembled, and reassembled numerous times with no master plan or design. Stairs lead to nowhere, floors have doors and windows in them, doors open into solid walls, and some doors open to nothing. All of this because of Sarah Winchester’s obsession to keep the building continuously under construction for 38 years.
WHO IS SARA WINCHESTER: Oliver Winchester was the co-owner of a successful shirt manufacturing business. In 1857, just before the U.S. Civil War broke out, Winchester took over the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company. The company, which would later be renamed Winchester Repeating Arms Company, was responsible for revolutionary advances in rifle design. With repeating rifles, a soldier could fire several times without reloading, and sales of the weapons soon made Winchester both wealthy and famous. His son and heir, William Wirt Winchester, married Sarah Pardee in 1862.
Sarah gave birth in 1866 to the couple’s first and only child, Annie, who died before she was two weeks old. Annie’s death affected Sarah deeply, and for years she withdrew from the public and her family alike. In 1880 Oliver Winchester died, leaving his fortune to his son William. But the following year, William died of tuberculosis. This left Sarah the only heir to the Winchester fortune, an inheritance of US $20 million, plus nearly 50 percent ownership in the company, which paid her $1,000 per day.
The distraught Sarah visited a Boston psychic (a common practice at the time) who told her the deaths were revenge from the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles, and that Sarah could escape the spirits’ wrath by moving west and building a house that would never be finished.
THE HOUSE: In 1884 Sara moved from New Haven, Connecticut to San Jose, California. She bought an unfinished, eight-room farmhouse near San Jose which is now known as the Winchester Mystery House. She soon started building 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the next 38 years – and she never stopped.
Sarah spent over $5 million building and rebuilding the bizarre Winchester House, but it didn’t ensure her immortality. She died in her sleep on September 5, 1922 at the age of 82. Upon her death, construction stopped abruptly.
SUPERSTITIONS: From moving because the psychic told her to, to her repeated use of the number 13, it is certain the Sara was superstitious. There are 13 bathrooms; 13 palm trees line the driveway; most of the windows have 13 panes; a sink drain has 13 holes; a chandelier that originally had 12 lights was modified to have 13; and so on. It is also frequently said that she slept in a different bedroom every night.
In 1906, the Winchester house rose seven stories high. When the great earthquake struck San Francisco, part of the Winchester house was damaged, including the bedroom in which Mrs. Winchester was sleeping that night. Although she was unharmed, she believed the spirits were trying to tell her something. As a result she had the front portion of the house blocked off, and continued construction elsewhere.
CONFUSE EVIL SPIRITS: Sarah worked hard to discourage the ghost from following her around the house. She made a labyrinth of rooms and hallways, suddenly she would push a button, a panel would fly back and she would step quickly from one apartment into another…unless the ghost was extra watchful and quick, it would loose her. She would open a window an apartment, not to get fresh air, she would climb out onto the top of a flight of steps that took her down one story only to meet another flight that brought her right back up to the same level again….all inside the house.
Columns were installed upside down, stairs that lead to the ceiling, doors that go nowhere and that open onto walls, chimneys that stop just short of the roof, etc.
TODAY: After her death the house was turned into a tourist attraction and was later declared a California Historical Landmark. Today the home is still open daily for tours.