in True Ghost Stories

The Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House is a popular California mansion that was under construction constantly for 38 years, and is one of the area’s most curious and eccentric historical landmarks. The house is reputed to be haunted by many ghosts and spirits. For example, there are those who claim to have seen the ghost of a worker on the Winchester Mystery House walking around in the basement!

The house was once the personal residence of Sarah Winchester, the widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester, but is now a popular tourist attraction, thousands of people flocking to it every year in their deep fascination with the mansion’s long history of ghosts and similar strange occurrences.

Under Sarah Winchester’s regular guidance, its “from-the-ground-up” construction proceeded daily, without any interruption, from 1884 until her death on September 5, 1922, when work immediately ceased. The cost for such a huge and constant building task has been estimated at about US $5.5 million (if paid in 1922, this would be equivalent to almost $70 million in 2008 dollars).

Deeply distressed by the deaths of her daughter Annie in 1866 and her husband in 1881, and seeking comfort in the aftermath of these sad bereavements, Sarah consulted a medium on the advice of a psychic. According to popular history, the medium, who has also been dubbed the “Boston Medium”, told Sarah that she had the feeling that the whole Winchester family had been cursed, because the guns they made had taken so many lives. The psychic also told Sarah that “thousands of people have died because of it, and their spirits are now seeking deep vengeance.”

Although this is disputed, it is still strongly believed that the Boston Medium told Sarah that she had to vacate her home in New Haven and travel West, where she must “build a home for yourself and for the spirits who have fallen from this terrible weapon, too. You can never stop building the house. If you continue building, you will live. Stop and you will die.”

Another version of the story states that the spiritual medium told Sarah Winchester that wherever she went, the spirits would continue to haunt her, so she built a weirdly confusing house and slept in different rooms every night to confuse the ghosts that were following her.

Sarah inherited more than $20.5 million following her husband’s death. She also received nearly 50 percent ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, giving her an income of roughly $1,000 per day, none of which was taxable until 1913. This amount is roughly equivalent to $21,000 a day in 2008. This gave her a tremendous pool of wealth from which to draw to fund the construction on the multi-roomed residence.

The mansion is noted for its huge, sprawling size and complete lack of any technical building plan. It has always been believed that Sarah Winchester thought that the house was haunted by the ghosts of people killed by Winchester rifles, and that only continuous construction would put their wandering spirits to rest.

Before the 1906 earthquake, the house had been built up to seven stories tall, but today it is only four stories. The house is mostly made of redwood frame, with a floating foundation that is thought to have saved the estate from total collapse in both the 1906 earthquake and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. There are around 160 rooms, including 40 bedrooms and two ballrooms. The house also has 47 fireplaces, 10,000 window panes, 17 chimneys, two basements and three working elevators. There are doors and stairways that lead to nowhere, and a wide range of colors and materials. Before the the elevators were installed, special “easy riser” stairways were constructed to allow Winchester access to every part of the mansion, as she suffered from severe arthritis. Roughly 20,500 gallons (76,000 liters) of paint were required to paint the house. Due to the enormous size of the building, by the time every section of the house was painted, the workers had to start repainting all over again.

Today the house is owned by Winchester Investments LLC, and it retains certain characteristic touches that reflect Winchester’s beliefs and her preoccupation with warding off harmful spirits. These spirits are said to have inspired her in relation to the way the house should be built. The number thirteen and spider web motifs, which she regarded as being lucky, reappear around the house. For example, an expensive imported chandelier that originally had 12 candle-holders was altered to accommodate 13 candles, wall clothes hooks are in multiples of 13, and a spider web-patterned Tiffany window contains 13 colored stones. In tribute, the house’s current groundskeepers have created a topiary tree shaped like the number 13. Also, every Friday the 13th the large bell on the property is rung 13 times at 13:00 (1 P.M.) in tribute to Sarah.

Several different tours of the house are regularly held, including flashlight tours at night on dates around Halloween and each Friday the 13th.

The house has been featured in many TV documentaries on ghost hunting and the paranormal.

The Winchester Mystery House is situated on 525 South Winchester Blvd. in San Jose, California.