Oct. 11, 2020

Winchester Mystery House // 32

Winchester Mystery House // 32

The Winchester Mystery House is a mansion in San Jose, California. It's well known for its size, architectural oddities, and lack of plan when it was built. Many people simply believe that Sarah Winchester was so distraught over the death of her daughter and husband, so she just kept working on the house to keep her mind occupied. Others believe that there is a much darker mystery inside this house. Legend says that Sarah was informed by a medium that there was a curse on her family. She would need to move out west and build a new home, but there's a catch, she can never finish building the home if she didn't want the vengeful dead to harm her.


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The Winchester Mystery House is a mansion in San Jose, California. It's well known for its size, architectural oddities, and lack of plan when it was built. Many people simply believe that Sarah Winchester was so distraught over the death of her daughter and husband, so she just kept working on the house to keep her mind occupied. Others believe that there is a much darker mystery inside this house. Legend says that Sarah was informed by a medium that there was a curse on her family. She would need to move out west and build a new home, but there's a catch, she can never finish building the home if she didn't want the vengeful dead to harm her.


Sarah Lockwood Pardee was born in New Haven, Connecticut. Her father was a carriage manufacturer and they were able to afford a private school education. By the time Sarah was a teenager, she spoke four languages, played piano, and she earned the nickname, Belle of New Haven. She eventually fell in love with a man named William Wirt Winchester. William's father, Oliver Winchester, was known for manufacturing and marketing the Winchester repeating rifle. Essentially, Oliver saw a chance to improve rifles and produced guns that could quickly and easily reload and fire. He helped to create the first true repeating rifle. 

In 1862, William and Sarah were married and they had a daughter named Annie. Unfortunately, things didn't go well with Annie. She had Marasmus (Marazmus) which is severe malnutrition and her body wasted away and she died. The loss of Annie ended up destroying Sarah and she had a complete breakdown that she just couldn't recover from. In 1881, William ended up passing away from pulmonary tuberculosis and Sarah was left all alone. 


Obviously, Sarah is devastated by the loss of her husband, so a friend of hers was like, hmmmm, I wonder how we could make this better....I know! Why don't you consult a spiritualist medium to talk to his spirit. Sarah was into this idea. So, she goes to this medium and was totally under their spell. The medium explained to Sarah that a curse had been placed upon their family. They tell her that according to the spirit of William Winchester, it was in payment for the many thousand deaths caused by the family company's weapon. Sarah is of course, terrified by this information. She was told that to escape the spirit's wrath, she would need to sell her New Haven home and start over with a new home for herself and the restless dead out West. Ok cool, Sarah just simply needs to build a home for her and the restless dead, no biggie...........but there's a catch. She can never finish building the home if she didn't want the vengeful dead to harm her.


In 1884, Sarah found the ideal spot for her ever-expanding mansion in San Jose, CA. Sarah didn't just want this new place to be a mansion. She was going to design a maze. There were no official blueprints drawn up and no architectural vision was created. She hired local craftsman to build, demolish, and rebuild the home and this started in 1886. Sarah took the warnings from the medium very seriously. Her home's constant renovations and maze-like design would help her escape the vengeful spirits of people killed by Winchester rifles. This put her in a life of seclusion and she wore a dark veil over her face and even had a hedge that hid her home from view. Even though Sarah lived a lonely life, it wasn't all bad. She found out that she had a real knack for design. Every morning, Sarah would meet up with John Hansen, the guy who would oversee the construction. They would go over the new additions and Sarah usually had them sketched out on napkins or spare paper. The crew that was hired for the renovations worked around the clock. Sarah's share of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company amounted to $20 million, 50-percent ownership in the company and an income of about $1k per day. The inflation calculator estimates this to be over $30k a day in 2020.

Since there weren't any real blueprints, the house wasn't necessarily, structurally sound when it was built. Rooms were added onto exterior walls resulting in windows that overlooked other rooms. Multiple staircases were added and they were all different sizes and looked distorted. The staircases would ascend several levels, then abruptly end. Doors opened to solid walls and hallways would turn a corner and hit a dead-end.

When the house was being built, Sarah insisted that it must be built exclusively out of red wood. She ended up not liking the look of the wood and needed it to be covered up with a stain and a faux grain. It took over 20k gallons of paint to cover up the wood. Gold and silver chandeliers hung from the ceilings and Sarah obtained a window that was intended to create a prismatic rainbow effect on the floor when the light flowed through, but the window ended up being used on an interior wall instead. There were 13 bathrooms in the house, but only one was actually functional. This was to confuse any ghosts that wanted to haunt a spigot. Sarah also attempted to confuse the ghosts by sleeping in a different room every night and she used secret passageways to move from room to room so they wouldn't follow her.

The house was obviously quirky and the Winchester Mansion was dubbed “the house built by the spirits.” In 1897, Sarah's mother-in-law passed away. Sarah's wealth suddenly grew significantly. Now, there was no budget, deadline, or limit to pay rates. I'm sure the crew that worked for her was like, umm fuck yeah! 


Now, anything Sarah dreamt up, could be built. The house began to grow rapidly and there were two hundred rooms. Suddenly, rooms turned into wings and levels turned into towers. By 1906, the mansion was seven stories, with countless fireplaces, staircases, skylights, trapdoors, and spy holes. So this mansion is massive. In 1906, the top three floors of the Winchester Mansion were knocked off by the 8.3 San Francisco Earthquake. Sarah was sleeping in a room that was called the Daisy Room. During the earthquake, the fireplace shifted and this trapped Sarah for hours and her servants had to use a crowbar to get her out. Sarah was traumatized by this event and she was convinced that the vengeful spirits used the earthquake as a way to tell her to start all over again.

The Work crew repaired the structural damage and Sarah boarded up the front thirty rooms, including the Daisy Room. Experts have estimated that the Winchester home had about 600 rooms designed and built. The rooms were built, torn down and rebuilt over the years. At this time, only 160 rooms remain. Sarah incorporated many intricate details, many of which, have hidden meanings. Unfortunately, we will never know what the meanings were because she was never interviewed and didn't leave any journals behind. Throughout the house, the number 13 repeats often. The number 13 is seen in the number of panels on most walls, sections in most flooring, and panes in glass. There are 13 bathrooms, 13 steps on the stairs leading to the 13th bathroom, and 13 wall panels in the room preceding the 13th bathroom. The carriage Entrance Hall is divided into 13 sections and there are 13 rails by the floor-level skylight. 13 squares on each side of the elevator, 13 holes in the sink drain covers, and 13 gas jets on the ballroom chandelier. There are even 13 hooks for the 13 robes Sarah had for her nightly seances. If this doesn't convince you that she had an odd connection to the number 13, she also had 13 sections in her will and she signed it 13 times.

There are reports that Sarah actually did like the good spirits and welcomed them into her home. She knew that they didn't like mirrors because they can't cast a reflection and vanish when they looked into one. To make the spirits happy, Sarah only had 3 mirrors in the house and servants were forced to carry pocket mirrors. She also held dinner parties for the spirits and they would be served on gold plates. There were some interesting rumors that popped up about this too. Servants often claimed that Sarah could walk through solid walls and unopened doors and would often disappear and reappear all throughout the house. When Sarah believed that an evil spirit was following her, she would press a button and disappear into a wall where she would walk down a flight of stairs and back up, or into another room completely. The spirits didn't want to become trapped in the maze and would stop following her when she did this.

Another thing that Sarah was known for was her amazing memory. She knew the location of every item in her estate and kept track of everything....down to the last screw. There's a story about a workman that was asked to repair a gate at the home. He did this using six colored screws from a storeroom. Later, Sarah discovered the screws were missing and confronted the worker about this. She said they were gold plated screws and were being saved for something special and they should have used something cheaper to fix the gate.

Throughout the years, many people worked on Sarah's home and she liked to test their loyalty. One time, she asked a painter to paint the walls and ceiling of a room with red enamel, three days later, she had him repaint it white. When she was trying to decide between three applicants to hire as her new gardener, she asked them to plant the cabbage upside down. One guy did, the next guy refused and the third guy said he would do it, but suggested that they be planted normally. She gave the third guy the job for standing up to her, but understanding who the boss is.

There is a Grand Ballroom that was built with almost no nails and has two Tiffany glass windows that were custom-designed with Shakespeare quotes. Many windows featured spider webs and daisies, but there's no record of the connection Sarah had to these things. Was it just something she liked, or is there a hidden meaning? Sarah also named the estate Llanada Villa, which means, house on flat land.

The renovations stopped on the Winchester home in 1922 when Sarah passed away in her sleep from heart failure. The land and buildings were sold and ended up being restored as a tourist destination. Oddly enough, the mansion has been in a state of renewal similar to the way it was in Sarah's lifetime. Keeping up with the restorations on the home has been difficult as it requires materials like Tiffany glass or specific wall coverings.

Most of Sarah's wealth was left to charity and anything that remained, went to her niece. She gave over $2 million to the Winchester fund, which was used for the treatment of tuberculosis. A theme park worker, John H. Brown who designed roller coasters, bought the house. 


There are legends of hidden treasures and ghosts that have been discussed for many years after Sarah's death. Many visitors and supernatural investigators have reported chills, phantom footsteps, locked doorknobs turning, and mysterious lights. Maybe Sarah really did create a maze to trap the vengeful spirits. Throughout the many years of construction on the home, Sarah never confirmed that she was building a haunted house. There were stories and rumors swirling around town because the contractors working on the house reported that Sarah had daily seances with local mediums. They say she was trying to reach the good spirits. The good spirits were reportedly consulted to find out how to best appease the spirits whom she allegedly built the house for. The spirits were reportedly responsible for getting Sarah to add so many illogical additions to the house. 

The Winchester Mansion is an official Californian Historical Landmark registered as a large, odd dwelling with an unknown number of rooms. Rooms have gone missing and rooms are still being discovered. In 2016, a secret attic was discovered and it had a pump organ, a Victorian-era couch, a sewing machine, and various paintings. A year later, rooms that were never opened to the public before were put on display. It's mentioned that Sarah enjoyed the finest vintage wines and liqueurs. One night, she went to the wine cellar to get a special bottle and she found a black hand print on the wall. She took this as a bad omen and had it boarded up. To this day, the wine cellar is still missing in the house.


The house is a whopping 24,000 square feet.

The Wheelbarrow Ghost is one of the most popular ghost stories from the Winchester House. Many employees and guests have seen a man working on the ballroom fireplace or pushing a wheelbarrow down a long corridor in the basement.

When Sarah Winchester originally purchased the land, it had a two-story eight-bedroom farmhouse. The eight rooms are located somewhere on the front of the house, but due to all of the remodels, no one is quite sure where they are. The original back porch stairs are inside the mansion. 

The house has many posts in the middle of the rooms that are upside down. 

The smallest cabinet in the house opens to a half-inch of storage space. The largest cabinet opens to the entire backside of the house.

The two famous windows are located in the Grand Ballroom and have quotes from Shakespearean plays. One says, Wide unclasp the tables of their thoughts and the other says These same thoughts people this little world.

After Sarah passed away in 1922, people were dying to get inside this house. They unlocked a door in the ballroom and discovered a concrete wall. Behind the wall, there was a safe. After opening the safe, they found another safe. Inside the final safe, they found a lock of hair from Sarah's daughter and the obituaries for Sarah's daughter and husband. She didn't give a shit about her money or possessions, she just cared about her family.

There is a staircase called the switchback staircase. It has 44 steps, makes 7 complete turns and is 100 feet long, but only leads to the second floor.

Legend has it that Sarah would ring the bell in her séance room every night at midnight to summon the spirits. They would give her instructions on designing her home and she would ring the bell at 2AM to release the spirits. There is only one way to enter the séance room, but three exits. One of the doors opens to an eight foot drop into a kitchen sink on the first floor. Maybe this door is for the spirits to use.

The third floor was devoted to the servant's quarters and storage. Guests and employees have reported hearing footsteps on this floor the most often. The third floor is reported as having the most paranormal activity. There is even a room that the employees try not to go in after dark.

Sarah loved gardening and had an 18-acre Victorian garden that went around the mansion. She also built two rooms in her house that was filled with plants. One of them was built with a watering system. The floorboards could be lifted up and the plants were watered right on the metal lining below. The floor is slanted so the excess water can run into the drains.

One of the rooms has a window in the middle of the floor with a railing around it.

There are 2,000 doors in the mansion (that are known of).

The house does have a door to nowhere. The door opens up to a 13-foot drop outside.


Oliver Winchester


Cursed By Spirits: The Strange Tale Of The Winchester Mystery House


The True Story of the Winchester Mystery House


Sarah Winchester Mystery House of Spirits