The Winchester Mystery House
A look at the famous Winchester Mystery House, located in San Jose, California.
Located in San Jose, California, this 160-room Victorian mansion is unlike any other in the nation. Its history is just about as bizarre as the house itself and could be called a "mansion designed by the spirits." It has stairs leading to nowhere, blind closets and secret passageways. Rooms in this house were built, ripped out and remodeled for no particular reason. The house today contains 47 fireplaces, 40 bedrooms and 40 staircases, among other things.
The story of the Winchester Mystery House actually begins at the height of the Civil War. It was then Sarah Pardee married William W. Winchester, the son of the manufacturer of the famous Winchester repeating rifle. Together they had a daughter who sadly died about one month after birth. William lived another 15 years, but died in 1881.
Deeply upset and alone, Sarah consulted a spiritual medium. According to the medium, the spirits of all those who had been killed by the rifles her family manufactured had gotten their revenge. They took her husband and baby daughter. And, they put a curse on Sarah. The medium said she could escape the curse by moving West and buying a house. But that's not all. The spirits dictated that she should continually build onto the house to find eternal life.
Whether she believed in the curse or not, Mrs. Winchester did move West. She purchased an 8-room farmhouse and immediately began her never-ceasing construction project. With a great deal of money and little do to, she satisfied her very whim and notion by keeping a staff of 18-20 domestic servants, 10-22 carpenters and 12-18 gardeners busy.
Amazingly, she built constantly, every day, for 38 years until her death in 1922, all in an effort to appease the spirits. One carpenter is said to have stayed and worked on the house for 36 of the 38 years. Mrs. Winchester never had a master set of blueprints, but did sketch out individual rooms on scrap paper and even tablecloths.
Unlike other homes of the era, this mansion had modern heating and sewer systems, gas lights that operated by pressing a button and three working elevators. The house boasts opulent stained glass windows, ornate parquet floors and fine wall coverings. A store room (estimated to be worth millions) contains expensive materials which were never installed.
Was Sarah obsessed with the thousands of souls who departed this life via the product that made her fortune? Other, more kindly chroniclers just label her "eccentric." Sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction.
After Sarah's death, the hauntings began. Footsteps are often reported, near her bedroom. Tour guides tell of smelling chicken soup near the front kitchen, although the room was never in use. Ghost hunters love to come to the mansion and photographers claim to have captured ghostly apparitions on camera. Perhaps Mrs. Winchester did find eternal life and her spirit decided it liked San Jose to much to live anywhere else...
The mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Guided tours are offered daily. In years past, they have offered nighttime tours called Flashlight Tours around Halloween. The light of the moon and flashlights are the only illumination: sounds spooky but fun!