The story of Sarah Winchester is one of the strangest stories I have ever heard. If you have an interest in the supernatural, please take a moment to read this.
Sarah Lockwood Pardee was born in the 1840s. Sarah was a talented young woman who could speak four languages and play the piano effortlessly. Her parents owned a successful carriage manufacturing company so she lived a comfortable life as a young girl. In 1862, Sarah married William Wirt Winchester, son of Oliver Fisher Winchester, manufacturer of the famous Winchester repeating rifle. The couple’s life together was happy and between the rifle company and the carriage company, they were very well off. However, in 1866, their young child, Annie, died of a mysterious disease which was later found to be marasmus.
Mrs. Winchester fell into a deep depression from which she never fully recovered. In March of 1881, fifteen years later, her husband died of tuberculosis. To cope with her immense sadness, she sought help from a spiritualist. It’s easy to imagine how challenging the combined grief of losing both a child and a spouse must be. With access to over $20,000,000.00 and all the time in the world, Sarah L. Winchester had an interesting response to the situation. A response that led to the construction of the one and only Winchester Mystery House.
The medium brought in by Mrs. Winchester explained that the Winchester family and its fortune were being haunted by spirits: the spirits of the American Indians, the Civil War soldiers, and anyone else who was killed by the Winchester rifles. Sarah was told that the spirits were seeking revenge and were responsible for the deaths of her husband and her beloved daughter. And Sarah was next in line.
However, the medium also explained to Mrs. Winchester that there was something she could do about this. Sarah was instructed to move west and to appease the spirits by building a great house for them. As long as construction of the house never ceased, Mrs. Winchester could rest assured that her life was not in danger.
It was her responsibility to build a house big enough to serve as a home for all of the spirits of people killed by the Winchester rifles- often called “The Gun That Won The West.” Mrs. Winchester left Connecticut to move to Menlo Park, California where she found the perfect spot for her new home in the Santa Clara Valley. In 1884 she purchased an unfinished farmhouse approximately three miles west of San Jose – and over the next thirty-eight years, she produced what we know today as the Winchester Mystery House.
At the time, the Santa Clara Valley contained vast rural open space. It was the perfect place for Mrs. Winchester to begin building her new home. She immediately hired carpenters to works shifts around the clock. It wasn’t long before her eight-room house grew into a seven-story mansion. Her estate eventually grew to 161 acres!
There was no rhyme or reason behind the construction of the house. Each room was placed wherever she felt was appropriate regardless of how practical it was. As the house grew, she had doors and staircases that led to nothing but a wall. Mrs. Winchester’s financial resources were virtually unlimited. Upon her husband’s death, she received several million dollars in cash and 777 shares of stock in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. When her mother-in-law died, she received 2,000 more shares, which meant she owned just under fifty percent of the company’s capital stock. In other words, she had an income of over $1,000 a day – and this was before the times of income tax.
Sarah Winchester’s new home was an interesting place. Neighbors reported hearing a bell ring at midnight and at 2 a.m., which according to ghost lore are the times for the arrival and departure of spirits. Mrs. Winchester never slept in the same bedroom two nights in a row, in order to confuse any evil spirits that might have been after her.
The house was a confusing place to navigate. Mrs. Winchester and the spirits could navigate through it but an intruder would undoubtedly become lost. At the very center of the house is the Blue Room, where Mrs. Winchester would go every night to have a seance and talk with the spirits. Legend has it that she would go to this room to receive guidance from various spirits for her upcoming construction plans.
With the completion of her Grand Ballroom, Mrs. Winchester decided she wanted to throw a party. She was proud of the finished room and especially loved the great chandelier. She prepared all sorts of food and wine and hired musicians for the extravaganza. At midnight, the party began and a butler began announcing the long list of the guests’ names except the musicians noticed something alarming – they couldn’t see the guests.
Mrs. Winchester suffered from arthritis later on in life. She passed away in her sleep from heart failure on September 5, 1922, and was buried in New Haven beside her beloved husband. At the time of her death, the sprawling mansion contained 160 rooms, 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 stairways, 47 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, and 6 kitchens. How’s that for a home?