Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House is a place that I have been wanting to visit. I don’t remember where I first heard about it, probably some ghost hunting show, but i did watch the movie Winchester (starring Helen Mirren) which was creepy and fascinating. The only totally true part of the movie is that Sarah Winchester built this complicated house. Sarah came from New Haven, CT and married (at the age of 23) William Winchester, who was the heir to the Winchester gun company made famous for the first repeating rifle. They had one child, Annie, who died at only three weeks old in 1866 because her digestive system did not function properly. In the span of a year (1880-1881) she lost her mother, father in-law, and husband. She inherited half of the Winchester fortune, which was 20 million (the equivalent of half a billion today). Sarah decided to move to California to help with her arthritis and bought an eight bedroom ranch house. She had people working on the house for 36 years.

The more research that I have done about Sarah Winchester, the more it refutes the stories that are told at the Winchester Mystery House to make it more spooky. The tour guide liked to bring up the number 13 a lot. We were told the reason why she had people working on the house all the time was because the sound helped keep the spirits at bay. Some people alluded to all the deaths at once in her life made her more interested in the spirit world. Others say she thought she was haunted by all the people who were killed by the Winchester rifle. In reality, she was a woman who was very interested in architecture. Our tour guide made sure to sing her praises in terms of how she treated all the people who worked on the house and servants that lived there. She was very respectful, paid them well, and made sure they were healthy and received proper care. Supposedly the house had over 500 rooms before the earthquake of 1906.

Sarah slept in many different bedrooms in the house, but this was her favorite and the one in which she passed away. None of the furniture in the house belonged to Sarah. It was either sold, given away, or taken by family members. The pieces are from the right time period, though. All three of her sisters lived with her when she first moved and then later her niece.

Sarah also loved gardening. She had a beautiful conservatory. Those wood floors can be lifted and underneath is stone. The floor is also slanted and all the water is collected to be used again. She did not like wasting water.

Super expensive wallpaper. It was really cool. There were bolts of it stored in various places that were never used. Some of the wallpaper sold for what would now be $50 a square foot.

Bamboo fireplace of her niece’s bedroom.

This window would cost $45, 000 today. Check out the wallpaper around it.

The “door to nowhere” is exactly 13 feet from the ground. It seems like a great mystery, right? Well, this area of the house was severely damaged by the earthquake of 1906. An entire tower crashed down and destroyed the third and fourth floors. Sarah closed things up and didn’t restore these areas of the house. It may also explain the stairway to nowhere.

As you can see from these pictures, Sarah did not fix up what was one of the most opulent bedrooms in the house, which she was actually trapped in for awhile after the earthquake.

After Sarah passed away and they sold the house and turned it into a tourist attraction, they renovated several rooms to appear as they may have in their original state. The tour guide was quick to point out that Sarah did not entertain people in the home, even though there are two dining rooms and two ballrooms to do so. The house was more of a working ranch.

The House has 160 rooms and they claim that the tour lets you go into 110. I couldn’t tell you how many rooms we were in. It was like a maze. There were twenty people on our tour and a lot of our stops were very cramped. The stairs were created to make it easy for Sarah to climb because of her arthritis. Therefore the steps were tiny. The first staircase you take only rises ten feet, but there are 44 steps and it goes around and around. If you are tall, you really have to watch your head. Sarah was only 4’10.

The tour likes to play up the ghost angle. They even bring you to a room called the seance room and claim she enjoyed holding them almost every night. There is no evidence that this happened. As a person who believes in ghosts and strange happenings and who has felt weird in certain places (Alcatraz for example), I didn’t have any strange feeling in this house. I didn’t find it creepy at all. It was very cool and odd, but not spooky.

I would have preferred more time to really look at the rooms, but the tour guide takes you through everything at a pretty good speed and there are so many people on your tour that it is sometimes difficult to see certain areas. It would have been nice if there was some of the original furniture, but I did appreciated their care in having pieces from the right time period. If you are interested in architecture, you definitely need to see this house. It is fascinating.

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