Back in 2002, I was traveling for work in Northern California and happened upon an attraction there that I had never heard of before: the Winchester Mystery House. As I followed the tour guide through the twisted turns, dead ends, and beautiful (albeit eccentric) decor, I was fascinated.
This was a house that wasn’t built for the living. It was built for the dead.
There a several variations of how what inspired Sarah Winchester to begin construction on her sprawling mansion back in 1884. I say “begin” construction because that activity didn’t cease until 38 years later– when Sarah passed away. Being a Winchester meant that Sarah was heir to the rather large Winchester rifle fortune, which played a significant role in what happened next.
Sarah was from the East Coast, and history says that after her daughter and husband both passed away rather suddenly, she consulted a medium. That medium told her to pack up her belongings, move all the way across the country, and build a home there. As long as she never stopped building on the home, she would not be vulnerable to the ghosts of victims who died at the ends of Winchester rifles.
For the rest of her life, Sarah consulted the spirit realm on a regular basis to provide building plans for the mansion. Upon her death, construction immediately ceased, and the house was sold. It became a tourist attraction in the early 1920s, and has been ever since.
Supposedly the maze-like interior of the house was meant to ensure that any ghosts would get lost or confused and be unable to find Sarah within its walls. Having visited the house myself and seeing just a small portion of its 160 rooms, I can say that that strategy could definitely prove to be effective. The hallways twist and turn at random, there are staircases that lead to nowhere, and you encouter various deadends all through the house. There are rooms with windows that don’t actually have exterior walls. And we can’t forget the famous “door to nowhere” pictured below.
The house originally had seven stories (currently only four), but suffered earthquake damage in the 1906 earthquake (which trapped the widow Winchester in the house for a short period of time). What I find unusual is that with all of the construction that continued to go on after the earthquake, Sarah didn’t touch portions of the house that sustained earthquake damage. I guess the ghosts were fine with that?
Not surprising, there are small decor details that held special significance to Sarah that can be found throughout the house, namely the number 13 and spider web motifs (an example pictured in the stain glass windows here).
One thing for certain though, Sarah Winchester spared no expense when it came to building her ghostly mansion. Stain glass, gold, silver, and Tiffany embellishments could be found throughout the home.
Is it Haunted?
Now this is an interesting question. I’m not really sure that this house built for ghosts is actually inhabited by any ghosts. It’s creepy and has an otherwordly history, but I’m not sure that that is enough to draw the attention of the paranormal.
I’m a big fan of the reality ghost-hunting show Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel, and their investigation of the Winchester Mystery House was rather disappointing (and ended abruptly when the lead investigator had to close the investigation early due to a family emergency).
I’d say on this haunted house, the jury is still out.
Tomorrow we’ll be visiting Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica. If you are enjoying the virtual haunted house tour, please share it with your friends! See you again soon!
Don’t forget that there is a Monster of a Sale going on. Just in time for Halloween, three of my monster-ish tales are on sale for $0.99 through October 31st. Click the book cover to snag your copy now!
(photo credit Harshlight)