The Creepy Story of the Winchester Mystery House
You probably know that there are a lot of haunted houses around the U.S. but did you know there is one that was purposely built to be haunted? The Winchester Mystery House was literally constructed by a widow for spirits she believed cursed her. Imagine using all your money for pleasing dead people because that is basically what Sarah Winchester did. This mansion is one of the most unusual houses you will ever lay eyes on and it comes with so much history. Read on for the incredible story behind the famous Winchester Mystery House!
There once was a creepy mansion in California
The Winchester House is definitely not like any other mansion you have ever seen or would expect to see in California. The house, widely known as the Mystery House, is 133 years old and has so much history, it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
It being a historic, huge mansion, though, isn’t what attracts people from all over the world. Besides being unusually built, it is considered to be very much haunted. So many people, including the person who gave the house its name and built it “from the ground up” believe spirits roam the house day and night. But what really goes on inside the Winchester House?
The story of Sarah Winchester
Sarah Winchester was the one who used her great fortune to build one of the weirdest houses in the United States, and for even weirder reasons. Even though she basically lived in isolation, she became a very well-known widow in the area because of her imprressive mansion.
Sarah was born in 1840 in New Haven, Connecticut where she also grew up. She married William Wirt Winchester, the son of the owner of Winchester Repeating Arms Company, in 1862 and they had one daughter. Sadly, their daughter died as an infant. But that wasn’t the only tragedy Sarah Winchester faced.
A wealthy widow
The death of her daughter wasn’t the only tragedy Sarah had to deal with as her husband would pass away from tuberculosis in 1881, leaving her a very wealthy widow.
Her father-in-law, Oliver Winchester, died a year before his son did so Sarah was given about 50% ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. She was also given an allowance of $1,000 a day (over $25,000 a day in today’s money). Besides that, she was given a fortune of over $20 million and in the next page, you will see how she decided what to do with it.
As she spent her days grieving, her friend suggested that Sarah Winchester go see a spiritualist to get some closure. However, what the medium told her wasn’t what she was expecting to hear. According to the medium, Sarah was cursed.
The medium was able to connect with her deceased husband who then asked her to tell Sarah that she and the money were cursed. Apparently, the spirits of those who were killed by the Winchester guns were haunting her, and are going to kill her too if she doesn’t do as they say. The medium then told Sarah her that late husband wanted her to move out west and build a house for the spirits.
She took the advice seriously
Doing as she was told, Sarah sold the house she lived in with her husband in New Haven and began the journey out west to find somewhere to build the house for the spirits. She eventually ended up in California.
Sarah landed in the Santa Clara Valley in 1884 and was eager to start building with her fortune to please the spirits. The medium told her that as long as she kept building, she would be able to live a life and she took that advice very seriously. It didn’t take her long to find the perfect area.
She bought an unfinished farm house
Sarah Winchester didn’t search for any old house in the West—she believed her dead husband would guide her in picking the right one. The right one ended up being an unfinished farm house in San Jose owned by a doctor.
She was able to negotiate with the doctor in buying the six-bedroom house on a 162-acre plot and soon it was hers to do with what she pleased. She began reconstructing the house as soon as she bought it, but the said reconstruction took some time. It took her 36 years, to be exact.
The house was unusually built
Sarah was not an architect but didn’t bother to hire one either. Instead, she ordered around the construction crew herself telling them what to build and where, even if it didn’t make any sense. This resulted in a very strange looking building, both inside and out.
She used local workmen and crafters and they would work for hours every day but she was never satisfied. They kept building and rebuilding, adding things and taking things away, creating a huge mansion that wasn’t really practical. In the Winchester house, stairways lead to nowhere and doors opened to nothing.
For one widow, it was a huge home
Sarah Winchester had 22 carpenters working day and night, building a mansion for her to live in basically by herself. Sarah wasn’t building it for that purpose, though, but rather for the spirits that she believed were haunting her.
As we know, the Winchester house was spread out on a 162-acre plot and it kept on growing. At one point, it was seven stories high and had 161 rooms, 40 of which were bedrooms. The mansion also included two basements, two ballrooms, 47 fireplaces, and 17 chimneys. Quite a lot for a lone widow.
Sarah was obsessed with the number 13
For someone who believed she was cursed by ghosts killed by her husband’s family gun company, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that she was obsessed with the unlucky number 13. But her obsession went pretty deep.
We know she was obsessed with this number because of the stories constructors and future owners of the house would tell. The number was included in the Winchester Mansion in many ways. For example, the house has 13 bathrooms, the chandeliers have 13 candles, the windows had 13 panes and so on.
She really believed she was haunted
We know that the inspiration for the house came from Sarah Winchester’s belief that she was haunted by spirits, but she her obsession with them went a lot further than building them a house. Sarah was terrified of the tortured souls that were haunting her.
She was said to have slept in a different bedroom each night to confuse them and even built fake bathrooms for the same reason. Sarah would have the workers board up certain parts of the house because she thought she angered the spirits by overly decorating. But that wasn’t all.
A giant maze
For someone who lived alone most of her widowed life, Sarah Winchester sure had a lot of kitchens. In fact, the mansion had six working kitchens, including one for the servants.
While most of the kitchens were pretty normal with sinks, stoves, and cabinets, there was one feature that you don’t expect to see. Because Sarah kept building on top of what was already built, there are windows in the kitchen that used to face the outside but now face a wall or another room. Her mansion was built like a giant maze.
The mansion’s garden
With 160 acres of land, Sarah didn’t only just build a mansion but also constructed a garden as well. The garden, however, wasn’t as disorganized and creepy like the house was. Maybe Sarah thought spirits didn’t care about the outside.
The garden is Victorian style and spread out throughout the property with beautiful arrangements of flowers that have been maintained to this day. She also had a greenhouse, tank house, and Fruit Drying Shed. The greenhouse, of course, had 13 cupolas.
Read on to find out about the creepiest part of Sarah Winchester’s mansion.
The seance room
The Winchester Mystery House had a special room in it that is known as the seance room. There, Sarah would contact the ghosts that cursed her to discuss what she should build next. They were basically conference sessions with ghosts.
Every night at midnight, Sarah would enter this room and hold seances just like a medium would. She did this for 38 years to make sure that everything she did pleased the spirits and they would let her live. She really listened to that spiritualist all those years ago.
The 1906 earthquake
After 22 years of building, the Winchester house was seven stories high but, unfortunately, the house wouldn’t stay that tall. The great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 did so much damage to the house that it actually lost three floors.
Yet, compared to other houses in the area that suffered from the earthquake, the Winchester house mostly survived because it was built using a floating foundation. The top three floors, however, completely collapsed and fell into the garden where they would never be rebuilt again. But that wasn’t all.
Sarah kept pieces of her destroyed tower as mementos
The 1906 earthquake destroyed a large part of the house and some things were not salvageable, including the house’s most identifiable feature—the watchtower that soared over the entire compound.
The 1906 earthquake caused the tower to completely collapse and what was left of it became too unstable to keep. Sadly, the workers had to remove the entire thing altogether. It was thought that all evidence (besides pictures) of the tower was gone until a piece of the tower was discovered in storage. Guess Sarah didn’t throw anything away.
But who was really to blame?
Sarah herself became trapped in the room she was sleeping in during the earthquake. She was locked in for many hours and the fireplace in her room completely collapsed. It was definitely a terrifying experience for her, especially since she was alone.
Sarah blamed the earthquake and the destruction her house received on the spirits. She believed that they were unhappy with her because she was almost done with the house. To convince them she wasn’t, she asked the workers to board up 30 rooms so that they would never be completed.
Stairways that lead to nowhere
To Sarah, her mansion was not oddly built because it served a purpose—to confuse the spirits and prevent them from doing any harm to her. Yet, to everyone else, it was really weird and definitely eerie.
Imagine walking around a house where stairs would literally lead to nowhere and you could open a door or cabinet to find only a wall. Some doors even opened to a long drop to the yard so guests had to be extremely careful where they walked. She also installed trap doors, double-back hallways, and gave some of the bathrooms glass doors. She did everything she could to baffle the spirits.
The mansion was unusually equipped
It was unusual to have the amenities the Winchester mansion had in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, even if you were wealthy. They were just very rare to have and probably cost Sarah Winchester a whole lot of money to acquire.
The mansion had a steam and forced-air heating system that used vents which were uncommon at the time. She also had modern indoor toilets and plumbing and her own personal hot shower in one of the bathrooms. Her lighting came from push-button gas lights and she had three elevators installed in the house, including a horizontal one. All this for herself and the spirits.
The Tiffany stained glass windows
The Winchester Mystery House featured many rare things, including stained glass windows made by the Tiffany Company. Apart from being a sanctuary for ghosts, Sarah Winchester wanted to make sure her odd house had some beauty in it.
She actually designed some of the stained glass, including “spider web” windows and one with 13 colored stones. The latter was never actually installed in the house but, instead, kept in the storage room. That very room was no ordinary storage room, however.
The $25,000 storage room
The room where Sarah Winchester stored her unused windows was known as the “$25,000 storage room.” This is because everything in it was so valuable and was originally appraised at a value of $25,000. Today, that would be worth almost $1 million.
Basically, the storage room contained all the windows that Sarah was going to put in the house but never got a chance to. All of them were custom made and, of course, a lot of them had 13 stones. A room just for unused windows? Compared to everything else that went on inside Sarah Winchester’s mansion, that doesn’t even sound strange. But what else did she have there?
The South Turret Witch’s Cap
One of the creepiest rooms Sarah Winchester built is the South Turret Witch’s Cap room, which is the only circular room in the house. Harry Houdini was said to have performed a seance in there when he visited the house.
It is a peaked room, almost like a cabana. The peaked ceiling makes sound travel in an unusual way acoss the room, altering the voices of those who stand inside. But what did Sarah need it for?
Theodore Roosevelt was denied entry
Considering the widow was continuously building and adding onto her house, she became very well-known in the area to the point that Theodore Roosevelt became fascinated with the mansion. Yet, he never got to step foot in it.
According to several sources, while President Roosevelt was touring the West, he stopped by the Winchester Mystery House hoping to get a tour. Yet, when he knocked on the rarely used front door, the servants wouldn’t let him in because Sarah wasn’t home and knew she wouldn’t like a “stranger” coming into her house. Maybe he was better off that way.
As Sarah grew older, the house changed with her
As Sarah got older and her arthritis worsened, her mansion became difficult for her to maneuver around. Because of this, she asked the construction workers to make some changes to make it easier for her. Perhaps she even asked the ghosts for permission.
For starters, that is why the bathroom she used had a glass door so that her caretaker could check in on her. The stairs in her home were steep and not easy for an old lady to climb so she built new stairs. These had steps that were only a few inches high since that was the only kind of steps she could use.
Speaking of stairs, this wasn’t the only unusual set in the house.
The switchback staircases
The Winchester house is known for all sorts of strange staircases. The switchback staircase is one of them, being very unusual. Since Sarah Winchester made the steps only two inches high, it made flights of stairs a lot smaller than they are supposed to be.
That is why the switchback staircase, which has seven flights of stairs, is only nine feet high since each of the 44 steps is only two inches high. It is called the switchback staircase because when you go up it, you will have to turn seven times. Maybe this was also a way of pleasing the ghosts.
The bell tower summoned the spirits
Before Sarah would hold her seances each night, she would go up to the bell tower and ring it at the start of each session to supposedly let the spirits know it is time to talk.
Then at the conclusion of her meetings, she would ring the bell again to tell them to leave. Getting into the bell tower was no easy task–You could only access the tower from the outside by climbing on the roof, and the rope of the bell was reached from the tunnels. Seems kind of impractical, right? Well, that wasn’t the only impractical thing about this place.
Sarah Winchester’s fascination with the numbers 7 and 11
While Sarah is known to have been obsessed with the number 13 to the point that historians consider it to be a sign that she was mad, it wasn’t the only number seen around the house.
The widow was aware of how unlucky and evil the number 13 is so she wanted to balance it out with numbers that are the opposite of 13. That is why we see the number seven and 11 around, including a staircase that is seven steps down and 11 steps up.
Why did an old widow need two ballrooms in her huge mansion? We may never know. According to sources, these lavish ballrooms were never put to use.
They were, however, beautifully designed with handcrafted wood that fit perfectly together so no nails needed to be used. One of the ballrooms has two Tiffany stained glass windows that featured quotes from Shakespeare’s plays and a beautiful organ. But did anyone ever play it? Or was it placed there for the spirits to use?
The unique Crystal Bedroom
Not every room was meant to scare your socks off. Some were actually really glamorous and beautiful, including the Crystal Bedroom.
It was called the crystal bedroom because of its very glittery wallpaper that was made using mica, a shiny mineral that reflects light causing a sparkle effect. The entire room was covered in this wallpaper so it must have been breathtaking to be in that room on a sunny day. Did Sarah believe this beautiful room pleased the ghosts that haunted her?
The day of Sarah Winchester’s death
After one of the seance room meetings, Sarah went to bed in the room she was trapped in during the earthquake. In the early hours of the morning, she was found dead in her bed. She passed away while sleeping, finally joining her daughter and husband.
The date was September 4, 1922, and Sarah was 83 years old. Her will, which she signed 13 times, stated that all her possessions were to be left to her niece and her personal secretary. The house, though, was left to no one. Maybe she wanted the ghosts to have it.
After her death, construction finally stopped
With Mrs. Winchester finally gone, the construction crew finally stopped building the house. They stopped so abruptly that you can find nails only half screwed in.
After 38 years, the sound of workers building and rebuilding the Winchester mansion was over but now, people had to figure out what to do with this strange looking house. It took about eight weeks to remove all of Sarah’s things from the house which her niece auctioned off.
A new owner
The house was pretty impractical and worthless because of its weird design and it still had a lot of damage from the earthquake. Because of this, it only sold for a little over $135,000 to a local investor.
John and Mayme Brown then became the owners of the house after leasing it for 10 years and they decided it was too historic to not turn into a museum. Mayme subsequently became the first tour guide in February of 1923, after it first opened to the public.
People come from all over the world to see the mystery house
For the last 94 years, the Winchester Mystery House has been a popular attraction to those visiting the San Jose area. It is just one of those houses that you have to see it to believe it and to really understand how crazy Sarah Winchester was.
The house is currently owned by the Winchester Investments LLC, who represents the now deceased John and Mayme Brown. People can take tours day and night, walking around the eerie house and getting lost in it. Special passes will even let you go to the more dangerous and scary places—if you dare, of course.
The secret room
After the 1906 earthquake, Sarah boarded up a lot of rooms which made it difficult for historians to discover them considering how weird the layout of the house is.
In 2016, a new room was discovered, making it the 161st so far. The room was an attic that has been preserved since Sarah died, and still contained a lot of her belongings. In the room there was a pump organ, a Victorian couch, a sewing machine, some paintings, and of course, a very eerie vibe.
Sarah Winchester returns to life
The Winchester Mystery House is too fascinating to not make into a movie and we will finally get to see Sarah Winchester’s story come to life in theaters soon. The movie “Winchester” is said to come out in February of 2018.
Academy Award winner Helen Mirren will be starring in the movie as the widow Sarah who becomes convinced that she is cursed by those killed by her husband’s company’s guns and therefore, builds a house for the next 38 years for them. They did add a fictional part of the story, though….
The movie will be filmed inside the house
While directors Michael and Peter Spierig pretty much stayed to the known story about Sarah Winchester and her obsession with her mansion, they did add a little bit more to make it an even creepier movie.
Jason Clarke will play the San Francisco psychiatrist Eric Price who, at first, thinks Sarah is crazy but then finds out she is telling the truth about her cursed life. The Spierigs were able to get permission to film at the actual Winchester Mystery House so viewers will get a unique look inside and see where the strange occurrences actually happened. Who knows, maybe they will find another room while filming. Or maybe they will find a couple of ghosts.
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