Winchester Mystery House

It is sometimes claimed to be one of the “most haunted places in the world”

This Victorian and Gothic-style mansion is renowned for its size and its architectural curiosities. The Winchester Mystery House is a mansion in San Jose, California, located at 525 South Winchester Boulevard San Jose, CA 95128. It is also known for its paranormal anomalies.

The home was once the personal residence of Sarah Winchester, the widow of firearms magnate William Wirt Winchester[1]. The house became a tourist attraction nine months after Winchester’s death in 1922.

Sarah had a lot of grief built up. In 1866, Winchester gave birth to a baby girl whom they named Annie Pardee Winchester. The baby did not thrive, was diagnosed with marasmus, and died a month after birth. Between the fall of 1880 and the spring of 1881, Winchester’s mother, father-in-law, and husband died. She was left with a large inheritance from her husband.

In 1884 her eldest sister, Mary Converse died. Around this time she began developing rheumatoid arthritis and her doctor suggested that a warmer and drier climate might help improve her health.

Sarah sought out a spiritualist who could commune with the dead. Through the medium, William told his widow that their tragedies were a result of the blood money the family had made off of the Winchester rifles. He warned that vengeful ghosts would seek her out.

In order to protect herself, William said that Sarah must “build a home for [herself] and for the spirits who have fallen from this terrible weapon.” “If you continue building, you will live,” the medium warned Sarah. “Stop and you will die.”

In 1885, at the age of 46, Winchester moved to San Jose, California from New Haven, Connecticut. She purchased a small eight-room farmhouse and started a small renovation project that would take 36 years and $5.5 million (in the money of the time), only stopping when she passed away in 1922.

With plans to expand the farmhouse, Winchester hired at least two architects but dismissed them, deciding to do the planning herself. She designed the rooms one by one, supervised the project, and sought advice from the carpenters she hired.

She took inspiration for the house from the world’s fairs that were common then. Her design included windows that are overlooking other rooms, doors, and stairs that lead to nowhere and stairs with odd-sized risers. These oddities were no accident—they were all Sarah’s personal preference due to her belief in ghosts. Before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Winchester Mystery House had grown to 7 stories high.

After repairs, today the mansion only stands now at 4 stories. Redwood is the predominant material of the house. However, Sarah did not appreciate the aesthetics of the house. Hence, she had faux grain and stain applied instead.

That’s the reason why almost all the wood in the home is unseen. It took more than 75,000 liters of paint to paint the house. The house has a floating foundation. It is a type of land-based foundation that protects against the settlement of soft soil from seismic activity. Because of this, the Winchester Mystery House survived a total collapse in the 1906 earthquake, and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.


Winchester Mystery House Facts

The house has 17 chimneys, 2 basement levels, and 3 elevators

Mrs. Winchester has a Guinness World Record for the
longest continuous house construction — 38 years!

The new “room” is an attic space that had been boarded up and was found to house a pumping organ, a Victorian couch, and various paintings, among several items. It’s now the 161st room in the Mystery House.

Illusionist Harry Houdini visited the house after Winchester had died
to try and dispute the stories of spirits haunting the house. He couldn’t do it.

Sarah Winchester slept in a different bedroom every night,
never repeating rooms two nights in a row.

The house spans more than 24,000 square feet.

A hidden safe was discovered in the ballroom. Found inside were
two locks of hair — of Winchester’s deceased daughter and her husband.


Most of the house’s stained glass windows came from The Pacific American Decorative Company and were designed specifically for Sarah’s preference including a “spider web” window. It’s one of her favorite web designs, and the repetition of the number 13, is another personal preference.

Other windows of the mansion were designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany[2]. Louis was an American designer who specialized in decorative arts and was best known for his work in stained glass. He designed a window that created a rainbow across the room when the sunlight shone in. There were 13 bathrooms but only one shower in the entire mansion. The construction crews had split shifts so they could work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The mansion was a maze-like design, including numerous winding hallways.

The Winchester Mystery House has 160 rooms including 40 bedrooms, 40 staircases, 13 bathrooms, 6 kitchens, 10,000 window panes, 2,000 doors, 52 skylights, 47 fireplaces, 3 elevators, and 2 basements.

If there are 47 fireplaces in the house, you’d think there’d be 47 chimneys right? Wrong. There are only 17. She was obsessed with the number 13, and you can tell by looking around her house. There are 13 hooks in some closets, 13 blue and amber stones in a particular window she designed, 13 ceiling panels in the Entrance Hallway, and 13 windows in the 13th bathroom.

Aside from the obvious ones like staircases leading into walls and windows that look into other rooms, there are a variety of architectural oddities that lurk within Mrs. Winchester’s house. There is a room between her bedroom and the Seance room that has no floor or ceiling.

The garden areas have a $20,000 English Yew tree that towers over 12,000 boxwood hedges, 1,500 major plants, shrubs, trees — and even greenery called Monkey Puzzle[3], which is native to Chile. She was also known for her innovations. Some historians say Winchester was the first person to use wool for wall insulation, and that she created indoor cranks to open windows.

She had 18 servants, 18 gardeners, and the ever-present construction team working on the grounds. Every morning, Sarah met with the foreman to discuss the always-evolving building plans.

And it’s said that each night, she visited the Séance Room to speak with the spirits, who weighed in on plans for the house’s unusual design. Visitors and tour guides claim to have experienced cold spots, footsteps, cooking smells, odd sounds, whispering, doors, and windows slamming, and feelings of being watched. A number of employees—and a few visitors—claim to have crossed paths with “Clyde,” a mustached man sometimes seen pushing a wheelbarrow in the basement or trying to repair the fireplace in the Ballroom.



Footnotes
  1. William Wirt Winchester (June 22, 1837 – March 7, 1881) was the treasurer of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, a position he held until his death in 1881. The Winchester Repeating Arms Company was a prominent American manufacturer of repeating firearms and ammunition. The firm was established in 1866 by Oliver Winchester and was located in New Haven, Connecticut. The firm went into receivership in 1931 and was bought by the Western Cartridge Company, a forerunner of the Olin Corporation. The Winchester brand name is still owned by the Olin Corporation, which makes ammunition under that name. The Winchester name is also used under license for firearms produced by two subsidiaries of the Herstal Group – FN Herstal of Belgium and the Browning Arms Company of Ogden, Utah. [Back]
  2. Louis Comfort Tiffany (February 18, 1848 – January 17, 1933) was an American artist and designer who worked in the decorative arts and is best known for his work in stained glass. He is the American artist most associated with the Art Nouveau and Aesthetic movements. He was affiliated with a prestigious collaborative of designers known as the Associated Artists, which included Lockwood de Forest, Candace Wheeler, and Samuel Colman. Tiffany designed stained glass windows and lamps, glass mosaics, blown glass, ceramics, jewelry, enamels, and metalwork. He was the first design director at his family company, Tiffany & Co., founded by his father Charles Lewis Tiffany. [Back]
  3. The monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) is an evergreen conifer tree that grows in mountainous regions of South America. It can grow in some parts of the U.S. in zones 7 through 10, although it can’t tolerate freezing temperatures. It is a long-living species (it can live over 1,000 years) that still exists and has been present on Earth since the dinosaurs and is sometimes called a living fossil; however, it is now threatened by climate change. [Back]

Further Reading

Sources

Wikipedia
Winchester Mystery House
Atlas Obscura
San Francisco Travel
Mental Floss
Facts
ABC 7 News (San Francisco)
History Hit
The Wrap
Fun & Cheap San Francisco


Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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