The Story of Winchester
Sarah Winchester was born Sarah Lockwood Pardee in September 1839.
When she grew up she was four foot ten; she was the belle of New Haven, Connecticut
Meanwhile, William Wirt Winchester inherited the fortune and business of father and shirt manufacturer Oliver. The fortune included a firm that manufactured the Volcanic Repeater, the world's first semi-automatic rifle. Because standard technology was the front-end loading musket, the repeater became a favorite on the frontier. Native Americans riding bareback and firing single-shooters could do little to
counteract a rifle which loaded its rounds with an internal lever.
In 1860, the Volcanic Repeater was followed by the Henry Rifle. This weapon featured a clip, and you could fire it every three seconds.
Winchester rifles became a staple for the Federal Army during the American Civil War. The business grew quickly.
September 30, 1862: While the Henries flared in humidity a thousand miles away,
Sarah and William were married in an elaborate ceremony in New Haven.
Four years after her marriage, Sarah Winchester gave birth to Annie Pardee Winchester. Annie lived nine days. For the next decade, Sarah Winchester lived inside herself.
Evidently, the marriage came apart: Sarah returned to her family. On March 7, 1881, tuberculosis took William. Sarah inherited 20 million dollars--not adjusted for inflation--and an additional income of roughly $1100 a day.
The Neverending House
On a friend's advice, Sarah sought the counsel of a medium. The medium provided a somewhat detailed description of
the deceased heir and explained that the Winchester family's bad luck
was the result of a curse. According to the medium, the spirits of
those who had been killed by Winchester firearms were seeking vengence.
Sara's only recourse was to follow the sun west, start a new life, and build a home for herself and the influx of dead.
Sarah sold her home in New Haven, eventually settling in California's Santa Clara Valley. She found her muse in a six-room farmhouse under construction in San Jose
belonging to one Dr. Caldwell. After a flurry of negotiations, she
convinced him to sell her the house and the 162 acres on which it
rested. She promptly discarded Caldwell's plans and hired a crew of 22
carpenters to work 24 hours a day.
The San Jose farmhouse would be
torn down, rebuilt, altered, and expanded non-stop for the next 38 years.
Each morning, Sarah met with her crew to present plans she had drawn up. These were frequently jumbled. The house has
windows built into the floors, upside-down posts, a spiraling staircase
with steps two inches high that ascends into a ceiling. A door on
the second floor opens to a twenty-foot dropoff into a garden. Closets
open to blank walls. Hallways double back.
By 1906, the house was seven stories tall. It had three elevators and
47 fireplaces, all but two of which were non-functional. Towers erupted from the
roofs, windows became doors, rooms became wings. Railroad tracks were expanded from an existing line to maintain a continuous flow of building supplies.
The house's innards are of world-class quality--mahogany
banisters, carved wall-panels, fully furnished rooms, exotic rugs.
If you've seen the house, you know that today it has only four stories.
Even with its chaotic designs, the Winchester house fared the 1906 earthquake better
than most surrounding structures. Still, the top three floors shook off into the gardens.
in which Sarah was sleeping shifted in the maze of hallways, trapping
her inside. After she was retrieved alive several hours later she had
the derelict rooms boarded up, and the crew resumed building. Instead of replacing the top three
floors they built laterally; the house's 15 bedrooms became 20, then
25. Chimneys and fireplaces sprouted, again, like mint. None of them work.
On the night of September 24, 1922, Sarah Winchester went to sleep and
did not wake up. She was 83 years old.
She left everything to her niece, Frances Marriot.
When people came to remove the furniture from the house they became
lost. In a safe rumored to contain solid gold dinner service for entertaining
spirits there was, instead, newspaper clippings, baby hair, and a suit of wool underwear.
When Ripley of Believe it or Not!
fame stumbled on the house for the first time he advertised it as
containing 148 rooms. The floor plans were so confusing that subsequent
room counts all yielded a different total. Five years after Ripley's
first count the house was estimated to hold 160 rooms--but even now, no one can decipher the floor plans well enough
to provide a definite number.
Other Interesting Things I Failed To Shoehorn In Elsewhere
Sarah Winchester was preoccupied with the number 13. One chandelier,
originally designed to hold twelve candles, was altered (yes, awkwardly) to hold thirteen. All staircases, except for the spiraling
one described earlier, had steps in multiples of 13; hooks on
coat racks apppeared in multiples of 13. Winchester reportedly went so
far as to divide her will in 13 sections, each with a signature.
Most of the bathrooms have glass doors.
Painting the house is a mammoth thing, requiring some 20,000 gallons of paint.
Sarah also favored numbers 7 and 11. There's a stairway that goes down
seven steps and up eleven. The short spiraling staircase turns seven
times and has 44 steps — an easy multiple of eleven.
The house has 10,000 windows, some of which are made of priceless Tiffany stained glass.
While the room count in the current building hovers around 160, it's
estimated that altogether some 600 rooms
were built and removed.
The house has the strangest bell
tower ever built. One could only approach it from the outside by
climbing onto the roof by a ladder mounted on the side.
The bell itself is attached to a rope at the top of an unclimbable wall;
when still in use, it was reached through a series of underground
tunnels known only to the bellringer and his assistant.
Visiting the Winchester Mystery House
It is, unsurprisingly, one of the most haunted places on Earth.
Today, the Winchester Mystery House is a lucrative tourist attraction.
Visitors are regaled with stories of doorknobs turning by themselves, of
windows closing hard enough to shatter.
The house's contact info is as follows:
The Winchester Mystery House
525 South Winchester Blvd
San Jose, CA 95128-2588
Group Sales & Business Offices: 1-408-247-2000
Current Tour Information: 1-408-247-2101
Upcoming Special Events Info: 1-408-247-1313
About Famous People
Ghosts of the Prairie