The Winchester Mystery House has held my fascination for nearly two decades. I learned about it in an indirect way – back in 2002 ABC released a miniseries written by Stephen King called “Rose Red.” I was enthralled with it. (The series was also my first true introduction to the master of horror.) I desperately wanted to visit the fictional Rose Red and explore its never-ending maze of halls…and ghosts.
Imagine my delight when I found out such a house DID exist in San Jose, California called the Winchester Mystery House!
This Friday it gets its own spotlight on the silver screen with a new movie simply titled “Winchester”, making this week a perfect time to dig into the history of this home right here on Spooky Little Halloween. (And, full disclosure, this isn’t a sponsored post – I’m just totally fascinated with this house!)
How well do you know the Winchester Mystery House? Let’s find out:
But first, a bit about the house just in case you aren’t familiar with it:
This historic, 5.5 million dollar, beautiful but bizarre, 160-room Victorian mansion was once the home of Sarah L. Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune. Under construction 24-hours a day for 38 years, the mansion has many mysteries inside. There are doors and windows that open onto walls; doors that open to a 10-foot drop into the gardens; stairs which go nowhere; and employees and guests have reported sightings.
It is believed that after the death of her husband and daughter, Mrs. Winchester was convinced by a medium that continuous building would appease the evil spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle, and help her attain eternal life. – from Winchester Mystery House Facebook page
Totally sounds like the kind of place to hang out if you love Halloween, right?
#1: Since the beginning of construction in the 1880s, it has been called haunted.
Which is a bit ironic since the reason Sarah Winchester is rumored to have built the house to keep spirits, and her own death, at bay. Prior to moving west to California, she lost her husband, William, who was the treasurer of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. as well as their one-month-old daughter. A Boston medium told Sarah the reason she lost her family was because of the number of people killed by Winchester rifles. If she moved west, the medium said, and continuously built a house, she could escape the family curse. Others say the medium claimed she needed to build a home large enough for herself and all those killed by Winchester guns.
Whatever was said, Sarah listened. She left New Haven and purchased an unfinished farmhouse in the Santa Clara Valley in mid-1880s that would soon become her never-ending project until her death in the early 20th century.
#2: No architect was used to design the home.
Which explains some of its quirks, like doors leading nowhere or, worse, to a 10-foot drop onto the grounds. Sarah would build whatever she felt like, often abandoning ideas and building around errors her workers made. She met with her foreman every morning to go over her hand-sketched plans for the day’s work. It’s also said she held regular seances to communicate with the spirits in the house and learn what to build next. Her seance room is featured on tours today and is located at the center of the house.
#3: Sarah Winchester didn’t stop building for 35+ years
Accounts vary on whether she literally had construction workers in her home 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or whether she gave them breaks from time to time. No matter what their hours, they were allegedly well paid at three times the going rate. Construction finally halted on the day Sarah died – Sept. 5, 1922.
#4: The house was originally seven stories tall.
But after it was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, Sarah decided not to venture any higher and kept the house at four stories tall. Also, rather than rebuild the damaged rooms – the house was thought to have 500-600 rooms prior to the earthquake – Sarah started simply building around the destruction. This may explain some of the doors and staircases that seemingly lead nowhere today.
#5: It is built on a floating foundation.
This means the house can move freely because it isn’t attached to its brick base – a feature which likely saved it from total collapse in the 1906 earthquake as well as the 1989 Lona Prieta earthquake.
#6: The house has 47 fireplaces but only 17 chimneys.
It also has a total of 161 rooms that include 40 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, nine kitchens, two basements and two ballrooms. You can explore the house through its 2,000 doors, 40 staircases and three elevators. Today, only 110 of the house’s rooms are visitable on tours.
#7: The most recent room was discovered in 2016.
Yup – this house is such as mystery still that a new room was discovered less than two years ago. It is an attic room that was previously boarded up on account of Sarah being trapped there during the 1906 earthquake. She believed evil spirits were responsible for the natural disaster and sealed the room off from the rest of the house.
The house preservation team found a pump organ, Victorian couch, dress form, sewing machine and paintings inside the room.
#8: The numbers 7, 11 and 13 are found throughout the house.
The number 13 is the most prominent, however. This was done through acts like placing 13 hooks on a wall or finding bathroom drains with 13 holes – even the number of stairs in a staircase or the number of panels on a wall happen in these amounts.
As an unlucky number, some believe Sarah incorporated 13 into the building plans as yet another way to keep the spirit world at arms’ length. Seven and 11 were added since they are considered lucky numbers.
#9: Shakespeare quotes can also be found in the house.
And according to some, this is no accident – in fact, it is Sarah’s insanely clever way of inviting you into the true mysteries her house holds. (Head to this site and use Ctrl-F to find the words “Shakespearean Windows” to learn more.)
#10: Ghost Adventures AND Ghost Brothers visited in 2016.
#11: The Winchester Mystery House is a historical landmark.
Landmark number 868 in California, to be exact. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
#12: Nearly 100 years after Sarah’s death, the house is still a mystery.
It seems that many of the facts believed about this house might actually be legends…depending on who you talk to.
#13: It’s totally possible all of this is a lie.
Some people (exhibit A & B) believe much of the folklore around the Winchester Mystery House is just that – folklore. Sarah was never told to move west and escape her demons – or worse, build a home to house them. She wasn’t building a house to confuse those spirits or holding nightly seances. She was likely just an eccentric woman whose story a carnie family capitalized on after her death.
But I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Have you ever visited the Winchester Mystery House?
I’d love to hear about your experience! Share it in the comments – or tell me why, like me, you’re dying to go.
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