Spook Central: The Winchester House
The Winchester Mystery House is the grand-daddy of haunted houses. It is a mansion, located in San Jose, California, that might as well have a huge neon vacancy sign for ghosts that never goes off. The sort that blinks and gives discounts and breakfast vouchers to spirits with a need to go all poltergeists on an unsuspecting victim. If demons were ever in the market for a convention venue to trade work tips and have water cooler conversations, The Winchester House is the place the diabolical organizer would book.
“Asmodeal, don’t forget to pick up your credentials. The Virgin sacrifice round table is to die for.”
The story of the house begins with the death of firearms magnate William Wirt Winchester. The residence the equivalent of an art-project gone terribly wrong… one in the hands of a depressed nutball with too much money, time, and paranormal hang-ups.
The History Of The Winchester House
After her husband kicked the bucket and tuberculosis claimed another victim in 1881, Sarah Winchester inherited more than US$20.5 million. The jackpot! In today’s market that’s the equivalent of $543 million. The already Scrooge McDuck rich widow also received 50% ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. A daily income that’s roughly, after conversion, inflation, and the mathematics of currency magic, about $26k a day in 2019. To say that Sarah was filthy rich would be diminishing the type of pocket change she had at her disposal. And another gift from her husband? A cabal of crafty financial weasels that knew how and where to invest. Her riches grew exponentially every passing day.
Aside from a swimming pool packed with gold coins where she could skinny dip in, Sarah was also known for something else… she was CRAZY. By crazy I don’t mean crazy! “let’s give her some shots cause that girl is wild”, I mean crazy, “let’s hire a team of medics with butterfly nets to follow her around just in case.”
Sarah was already, by 1881, gripping to sanity like a castaway on very flimsy driftwood in the middle of an Atlantic swell. She had “visions”, heard “things”, and her grasp on reality was fragile in the best of times. By 1881, Sarah was already certain that her whole bloodline was cursed. A couple of years before, her infant daughter had died of an illness known as marasmus. A horrible malady that withered her girl to bones and flesh right before Sarah’s eyes. That pall of despair had shrouded her life and engulfed her in a spiritual malaise since that bloodcurdling episode.
So, it’s 1881, Sarah – cuckoo for cocoa puffs – Winchester is still grieving for her daughter when the love of her life keels over. Sarah loses it. She’s now certain that she’s the object of some evil game; something otherworldly fascinated and feeding off her despair. She goes to Boston and has a medium channel her late husband. She needs answers and she needs them NOW.
The medium calls on the spirit world and manages to snatch Winchester’s matter from beyond the veil. She delivers a message. Sarah and her family, her children, her lineage, anything that shares a modicum of blood with her ilk are indeed bedeviled and doomed. The ghosts of all those that have died at the killing end of a Winchester arm have a bone to pick with Sarah. All the fallen victims of Winchester rifles have unionized under the motto of:
“Make Sarah’s life a living hell.”
Sarah, already a couple of loose screws, comes undone. The medium tells her that there is a way to obfuscate the army of haunts’ predation. Go west and build the ghosts a house. Appease the spirits with a place they can rest in… BUT, since there are so many, and each day their numbers grow, Sarah must continuously add to the house.
Sarah leaves New Haven and heads for California.
In 1884, Sarah bought an unfinished farmhouse in the Santa Clara Valley and began constructing her ghostly diversion tactic. She didn’t spare a single dime. She had teams of carpenters, handymen, and landscapers working on the mansion around the clock. Night, day, weekends, it didn’t matter. Before long the ramshackle farmhouse had been transformed into a seven-story Victorian bivouac. Why bivouac?
Well, trigger happy Sarah – get it? – forgot to hire an architect. Imagine, team after disorganized team, with little communication with one another, working at breakneck speeds, taking marching orders from a forewoman that should have had a Pez dispenser full of anti-psychotics tied to her wrist.
The Winchester Mansion was built in a haphazard fashion. The house contains doors and stairs that lead nowhere, windows overlooking other rooms, ceilings of different heights, oddities atop oddities. Some accidental, Sarah waking up one morning and going:
“This room needs a parlor… add another wing. Why would we close the windows? We don’t have the time. Chop, chop.”
Other architectural fixings stapled into place by Sarah’s belief in ghosts. By now, Sarah had become obsessed with the supernatural, purchasing arcana after arcana on the matter. She had educated herself on the paranormal and had commissioned book hunters to fetch her every grimoire lost to history. What she gleaned from those texts, some forbidden by the Vatican, fueled her plannings and reworked her blueprints.
The house, after the 1906 earthquake lost two stories and various of its bizarre angles.
Sarah continued building her ghost trap until the day of her death, September 5, 1922. The very second she croaked, construction ceased, and the workers fleet to the hills.
Facts about the house:
You can visit the Winchester house. It’s an established California historical landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is privately owned and serves as a tourist attraction.
- Sarah never once slept more than one continuous night in a room. She constantly changed between alcoves. Sometimes sleeping on the kitchen floor, or inside a bathtub, or in a closet.
- The house is made of redwood. Sarah, nonetheless, disliked the look of it. More than 20,500 U.S. gallons of paint were used to create faux grain and stain the wood.
- There are about 161 rooms. Some unfinished. There are also 47 fireplaces, more than 10,000 panes of glass, 17 chimneys, 3 elevators, 2 ballrooms, two basements.
- There is only ONE working toiler in the Winchester house. All other restrooms were decoys to confuse the spirits.
- The place has Tiffany windows and panes designed by Tiffany himself. Each one a masterpiece and worth more than what a top-brass at Apple makes in a year.
- The place is baroque in its adornments. Sarah never skimped out on them, believing that beauty could in fact trick ghosts and demons and conceal her from their attentions.
- When Winchester finally died, all of her belongings – apart from the house – were handed over to her niece and personal secretary. It took more than six weeks to remove all the furniture and knickknacks laying around in the house. Most were sold in private auctions. Mediums, psychics, warlocks, and witches frequented these auctions.
- The home is presently owned by Winchester Investments LLC.
The mansion is unique and that’s me underselling it. It is a treasure trove of weird beliefs and speaks volumes of a woman’s psychological condition. Ghosts, spirits, and other beings are said to have directly influenced and instructed Sarah on the way the house should be built. The home maintains personal touches that reflect Sarah’s understanding of the spirit world and her preoccupation for warding off malevolent phantoms. The estate is said to not only be haunted by just about everything with an ectoplasmic signature but might very well serve as a gateway to other dimensions and spiritual plains according to some experts.