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Winchester Mystery House – Home To The Spirits Of Those Killed With Winchester Rifles

Nikola Petrovski
Photo Credit: TilTul CC BY-SA 3.0
Photo Credit: TilTul CC BY-SA 3.0

It was once home and personal residence of Sarah Winchester. If by mere accident this happens so sound like a familiar name, that is because Sarah was the wife of gun mogul William Wirt Winchester.

The house today bears a rather unusual name – it is called the Winchester Mystery House. As the name would suggest, this place is a labyrinthine oddity, with some quirky features such as the staircase leading to nowhere and doors that open onto a solid wall.

View of the mansion. Author: Gentgeen

View of the mansion. Author: Gentgeen

It was built in Queen Anne Style and it doesn’t take a professional architectural eye to notice the complex structure and immense size of the mansion. When it comes to ghosts and all sorts of foul creatures, Sarah believed that they were all real. She was convinced that the spirits were a somewhat regular guest at her home and the only way to satisfy their troubled souls was to build even more rooms. The ghosts, according to Sarah, belong to those that were shot by “the gun that won the West”: the Winchester rifle.

Sarah Winchester taken in 1865 by the Taber Photographic Company of San Francisco. Author: Taber Photographic Co. (I.W. Taber?) – History San Jose Research Library Public Domain

Sarah Winchester taken in 1865 by the Taber Photographic Company of San Francisco. Author: Taber Photographic Co. (I.W. Taber?) – History San Jose Research Library Public Domain

The mansion itself was built non-stop according to some eyewitnesses until the death of Sarah on September 5, 1922. On this day the construction of the house stopped altogether.

Sarah’s husband died from tuberculosis in 1881 and left Sarah with an inheritance that surpassed $20 million. And if this wasn’t enough, she also received almost fifty percent ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.

The rooftops. Author: Larry McElhiney CC BY-SA 4.0

The rooftops. Author: Larry McElhiney CC BY-SA 4.0

What this means is that Sarah received a paycheck of $1000 per day, or $26,000 inflation adjusted for 2017. This mammoth inheritance gave Sarah the power to build this mansion.

But the idea to build such a gargantuan house wasn’t Sarah’s. According to the tabloids of that time, after the death of her husband and infant daughter Sarah was understandably devastated. During a visit to a medium, the spirit of her late husband told her to leave her current house and travel west.

Here she was to build a house for herself and for victims of the Winchester rifle. And so Sarah left New Haven and turned toward California.

A horse chariot. Author: Starscream Public Domain

A horse chariot. Author: Starscream Public Domain

It was in 1884 that she purchased a farmhouse in the Santa Clara Valley and started to fulfill her quest. The carpenters that she hired worked ceaselessly until the mansion was as a big as seven stories. For the more observant eye, the house today is only four stories. The reason for it is the 1906 earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 that struck the coast of Northern California.Nonetheless, Mrs. Winchester pushed on.

Sarah’s bedroom. Author: HABS Public Domain

Sarah’s bedroom. Author: HABS Public Domain

The material they decided to go with was redwood. But Sarah was displeased with the whole wooden look and asked a faux grain and stain to be applied. In its days the mansion was the finest money could buy. It had 47 fireplaces, 17 chimneys, and more than 10,000 panes of glass, many of them created by the Tiffany company. The house also boasted three elevators, and a steam and forced-air heating system.

The Winchester House. Author: TilTul CC BY-SA 3.0

The Winchester House. Author: TilTul CC BY-SA 3.0

Most importantly the house had modern indoor toilets and of course plumbing. But she wasn’t satisfied, so the engineers installed push-button gas lights and Sarah’s personal and only hot shower.

The bathroom had a window for a nurse to check on her. Author: Kai Schreiber CC BY-SA 2.0

The bathroom had a window for a nurse to check on her. Author: Kai Schreiber CC BY-SA 2.0

Sarah was obsessed with the number thirteen and spider webs. As an example of this obsession, there is the super expensive imported chandelier that originally had 12 candle-holders, which Sarah requested be altered so that it could hold 13 candles.

Winchester gas lamp. Author: Larry McElhiney CC BY-SA 4.0

Winchester gas lamp. Author: Larry McElhiney CC BY-SA 4.0

Upon her death, all that she possessed was bequeathed to her niece and personal secretary. But the niece decided that a smarter move would be to sell everything in a private auction.

Electrical motor, brake and controller of Otis elevator. Author: Larry McElhiney CC BY-SA 4.0

Electrical motor, brake and controller of Otis elevator. Author: Larry McElhiney CC BY-SA 4.0

Local gossips talk of a major undertaking that included around six trucks that worked a full day shift for a whole week just to be able to transfer the whole furniture. But the official biographer of Sarah disputes this claim. Just five months after her death, the house was open to the public. Even Harry Houdini himself toured the mansion in 1924.

Freestanding fireplace. Author: Larry McElhiney CC BY-SA 4.0

Freestanding fireplace. Author: Larry McElhiney CC BY-SA 4.0

There was a recent announcement in 2016 that a new secret room was found in the attic of the mansion and inside there was a pump organ, dress form, one Victorian couch and even a sewing machine. Today the tour includes this once hidden room.