The Winchester Mystery House is one of the strangest houses in history and a prime tourist destination if you are ever in San Jose, California. It was built at the end of the 1800s to house the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles and, as you might expect, is rather bizarre.

It was built by Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Winchester and heir to the Winchester Rifle fortune. She believed that she was being haunted by the ghosts of all those killed by the rifles. These visions started after the death of her husband in 1884. Considering the popularity of the rifles, that is a hell of a lot of ghosts, particularly Native Americans. To rid herself of these ghosts, she decied to consult a medium. The medium told her that she could either build a house to contain the ghosts, or she could stop making the rifles and give up all her lovely cash. Which do you think she chose? She believed that work needed to continue on the building as long as she lived, as the rifles kept producing ghosts. She bought a small farmhouse in San Jose and work began soon thereafter.

As the house was only ever intended to be lived in by ghosts, it was extremely unsafe. The rooms were designed to attract the more high-class ghosts and drive off the peasant ghosts! Stairs climb into ceilings or simply into nothingness. Doors open onto airshafts, sheer brick walls, or even out of the side of the house above the ground floor. Some windows show great vistas of walls, and the house seems terminally unsafe, perpetually on the brink of collapse. Mrs. Winchester had also been told that ghosts loved cupboards. She stuffed the house full of cupboards, some less than an inch deep, and in bizarre shapes to fit as many on to the walls as possible.

By the time of her death in 1922, the house stretched over six acres, with 750 rooms, eight floors, 2000 doors, 10,000 windows, 40 staircases, 47 fireplaces, 52 skylights, 6 kitchens, 3 elevators and six safes full of rifle blood money. Construction finally ceased after her death from heart failure.

Tours are now available if you are ever in San Jose. Tours cost $17.95 for an adult. Take the Winchester Blvd. exit on I-280 from San Francisco, California and follow the signs. Visit to on the web for more information.

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.

The room 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

Phone Numbers
Group Sales & Business Offices: 1-408-247-2000
Current Tour Information: 1-408-247-2101
Upcoming Special Events Info: 1-408-247-1313



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