Lost Limbs Foundation

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House
Strange Places

Here is one fantastic and rather confusing building. This 160 room home, built seemingly without rhyme or reason, is regarded as one of the wonders of the world. For a brief history of the buildi...See More
Photo: The Winchester Mystery House
Strange Places

Here is one fantastic and rather confusing building. This 160 room home, built seemingly without rhyme or reason, is regarded as one of the wonders of the world. For a brief history of the building we shall let the 8th February, 1932 edition of the 'Rockhampton Morning Bulletin' fill us in:

"In the last century Sarah Winchester was the happy wife of a wealthy man [William Wirt Winchester of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company]. Winchester died, and his widow's grief was overwhelming. She took to fortune tellers in an attempt to communicate with her husband.

Finally, so goes the story, she was told by a crystal gazer that she was destined to build a beautiful palace, and that she would die when it was completed. She went to California and began building her ‘palace’ near San Jose. She determined that it would never be finished, and she would live forever. That, in brief, is the history of the extraordinary building that still stands in its grove of trees near San Jose.

Mrs. Winchester hired carpenters and other artisans by the year. Day and night the sound of their hammers and saws was never stilled. They built new wings. They tore down old ones. They constructed elaborate staircases which led from nowhere to nowhere. Day in and day out, summer and winter, they worked. The house is still incomplete, despite its 160 rooms."

That is one version of the events that inspired Sarah Winchester to build the erratic building.

Other stories all concern fortune tellers, but with differing small details are added ie that the Winchester family was cursed for creating a weapon that has killed millions, and that if Sarah was to survive, a never ending house was to be built to host the spirits.

So we have slightly conflicting stories, one saying she was to house the spirits, the other that she was to fool the spirits (maybe she was to house and fool them?).

In 1884 Sarah moved to California and purchased a large block of land with a pre-existing farmhouse. It is this small home which would grow into the Winchester Mystery House.

Sarah hired many carpenters and artisans and with her $20million dollar fortune (and the daily income from the Winchester Repeating Arms Company being the equivalent of $30,000 a day). With no set budget, ceilings and work was commenced.

She hired a man named John Hansen as the construction foreman, and every morning she would convey new building plans and would make changes to old ones. There were no blueprints, and if Hansen was lucky, Sarah would have a brief sketch of what she wanted - but other than that, it was word of mouth that conveyed the ideas that would be turned into a sprawling mass of rooms and corridors.

Day by day and night by night work continued, never ceasing. It is estimated that up to 600 rooms were constructed over a 38 year period.

However, rooms were constantly being demolished to make way for new ones.

The house was filled with nonsense architecture, including doors and staircases that led to nowhere, windows in the floors, seventeen chimneys, forty-seven fireplaces, thousands upon thousands of windows, a double basement and several elevators. And of course, the 160 rooms.

Many of the hallways and staircases double backed onto themselves, and there were numerous secret entrances and rooms. These were built so that Sarah Winchester could quickly move from room to room, double back, hide and fool the ghosts who were apparently following her.

Much of the home was built from expensive redwood, being the material Sarah preferred, but she did not like the look of it so had it all covered up with paint!

Every room, upon completion, was decked out with the best furnishings money could buy. The house was filled with millions of dollars worth of furniture and other assortments, and when Sarah died in her sleep on 5th September 1922, she left everything to her niece and personal secretary... everything but the house itself.

It took six trucks working all day for six weeks to empty the house of its belongings.

In 1906, a massive earthquake hit San Francisco damaging much of the mansion, which went from seven stories to just four. The house was not mentioned in Sarah Winchesters will and was considered worthless. A local investor purchased the estate for $135,000 and it was soon opened to the public.

What of Sarah Winchesters’ fear of the vengeful spirits haunting her and the family name?

The mansions caretaker has reported hearing footsteps and breathing on many occasions. He has also heard the sounds of screws being turned in the walls, followed by it falling to the floor... however no screw was to be found.

One of the more mischievous pranks played by the spirits concerns the doors. At the end of a long day seeing tourists through the house the doors would be locked, (how many there are I do not know but there must be heaps!) and the alarms would be set. However, at times after the setting of the alarm, the caretakers would find all of the doors unlocked again.

Sometimes, during the night, all of the lights on a single floor would mysteriously turn on.

It is said the ghosts of some of the construction workers, and Sarah Winchester herself still take up residence within the 'mystery house'. And then there is, of course, the vengeful spirits who watched the construction of the house in the first place.

Ashley Hall 2012.

Photo: The Winchester Mystery House before the earthquake.
Inset Upper: Sarah Winchester. 
Inset Lowe: One of the staircases that leads to nowhere.

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