Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Welcome to the Winchester Mystery House

A mysterious Queen Anne Victorian style house sits in San Jose, California as a monument to the thousands of people killed and injured by Winchester rifles. It is also a painful reminder of the effects a psychic can have in influencing people who are in grief and seeking answers. 

Welcome to the Winchester Mystery House.

The Winchester Mystery House was the residence of Sarah Winchester, the widow of gun mogul William Wirt Winchester who died Mary 7, 1881 in their New Haven, Connecticut home. Sarah was the only heir to the Winchester fortune since their only child, Annie, died at 6 weeks old from marasmus in 1866. Upon her husband’s death, Sarah inherited more than $20.5 million dollars and assumed 50% ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms company which entitled her to approximately $1,000 a day.

Alone and distraught over the death of her daughter and husband, Sarah began to believe that she may be cursed and sought spiritualist mediums and psychics to help her solve her problem. One psychic confirmed for Sarah that her family was cursed. The psychic told Sarah that all of the people who lost their lives from the guns her husband sold are now seeking revenge. It is believed, but disputed, that the psychic told Sarah to leave Connecticut, head west, and build a home for her and the spirits. Sarah was told she must never stop building. If building stops, she will die, but if it continues she will live forever. Sarah believed the psychic and headed West hoping to curtail the curse.

Sarah purchased an eight room farmhouse on 161 acres from Dr. Robert Caldwell in 1884 and immediately began renovating. The fear of these spirits who she believed were out to cause her revenge plagued Sarah so she designed the house with many doors, windows, and staircases that led nowhere to confuse and trap the spirits.

Every evening Sarah would hold a séance where she spoke with the spirits to consult them on the design of the house. Construction never ceased and continued around the clock 365 days a year for the next 38 years until her death. She was fascinated with the number 13 and included it, as well as, a spider web motif whenever she could in the design. Some facts about the house:
  • 160 Rooms
  • 40 Bedrooms
  • 2 Ballrooms
  • 47 Fireplaces
  • 10,000 Window Panes
  • 17 Chimneys
  • 2 Basements
  • 3 Elevators
  • 13 Bathrooms
  • Windows have 13 panes
  • Thirteen chandeliers
  • Doors that open into walls
  • Staircases that lead nowhere
  • Windows that look into other walls or rooms
Construction stopped on September 5, 1922 when Sarah died in her sleep at the age of 83. Her will consisted of 13 sections and she signed the will thirteen times. Her niece, Mrs. Frances Marriot, was willed all contents of the house; however, the house itself was not mentioned in the will. A local investor eventually bought the house and opened it to the public in February 1923.

The Winchester Mystery House was added to the United States National Register of Historic Places as number 868 on August 7, 1974. In honor of Sarah, the Santa Clara-Los Gatos Boulevard was later named Winchester Boulevard and every Friday the 13th a bell on the property is rung 13 times at 1pm in tribute to her.

Sarah left future generations a wonderful piece of history, but I cannot help but feel sad that her fears were unnecessarily compounded. This woman was driven by a fear of curses and revengeful spirits to fund non-stop building so she would not be subjected to harmful ghosts. Unfortunately, the very means at which she thought kept her safe, actually, haunted her for the rest of her life and became an obsession.

Visit The Winchester Mystery House for more information.

by Kerri L. Schultz

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