Sarah Winchester

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Sarah Winchester
Sarah Winchester.jpg
Born Sarah Lockwood Pardee
September 1839 (1839-09)
New Haven, Connecticut
Died September 5, 1922 (aged 82–83)
San Jose, California
Nationality American
Known for Winchester Mystery House
Spouse(s) William Wirt Winchester (1862–81)
Children Annie Pardee Winchester
Parent(s) Leonard Pardee, Sarah W. Burns
Relatives Sarah E. Pardee, Mary A. Pardee, Antoinette E. Pardee; Leonard M. Pardee; Isabelle C. Pardee, Estelle L. Pardee

Sarah L. Winchester ( September 1839 – September 5, 1922) was the wife of William Wirt Winchester and heiress to his estate and a 50 percent holding in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company following his death from tuberculosis in 1881. Convinced spirits would kill her if she completed construction of her California home, Sarah used her fortune to continue uninterrupted, round-the-clock construction on it for 38 consecutive years, according to popular legend (though this account has been disputed by her biographer).[1] Since her death, the sprawling Winchester Mystery House has become a popular tourist attraction, known for its many staircases and corridors leading nowhere.

Early life[edit]

Sarah Winchester was born Sarah Lockwood Pardee, daughter of Leonard Pardee and his wife Sarah W. Burns, in 1837 in New Haven, Connecticut.[2][3] On September 30, 1862 in New Haven, Connecticut, Sarah married William Wirt Winchester, the only son of Oliver Winchester, the owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.

The couple had one daughter, Annie Pardee Winchester, who was born on June 15, 1866, but died after a few weeks on July 25, 1866[4] from the childhood disease marasmus. Sarah fell into a deep depression following the death of her daughter, and the couple had no more children. Her father-in-law Oliver Winchester died in 1880, quickly followed in March 1881 by husband William, who died of tuberculosis, giving Sarah approximately 50 percent ownership in the Winchester company and an income of $1,000 a day. (This amount is roughly equivalent to $23,400 a day in 2013.)

House And Her[edit]

According to the legends surrounding her, she felt that her family was cursed, and sought out spiritualists to determine what she should do. A Boston medium, Adam Coons, believed to be a psychic, allegedly told her that the Winchester family was cursed by the spirits of all the people who had been killed by the Winchester rifle, and she should move west to build a house for herself and the spirits. The medium is claimed to have told Sarah that if construction on the house ever stopped, she would join her husband and infant daughter. In 1884,[4] Sarah moved west to California with her sister and her niece, and in 1884 she purchased an eight-room farmhouse from John Hamm.[4] It stood on 161 acres (0.65 km2) of land in what is now San Jose, California. Immediately, she began spending her $20 million inheritance by renovating and adding more rooms to the house, with work continuing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for the next 38 years. According to proprietors of the house, she was fascinated with the number 13 and worked the number into the house in many places. (There are 13 bathrooms, many windows have 13 panes, chandeliers have 13 candles, and so forth.) Winchester's biographer casts doubt on this story, however, and offers up an account from a carpenter who worked on the property for many years who claimed that architectural elements such as chandeliers and windows were altered after Winchester's death.[5] Contemporary scholars dispute the veracity of the claim that construction work continued, except for brief periods, after the 1906 earthquake.[4]

For 38 consecutive years, Sarah personally oversaw the 24-hour-a-day construction of her California mansion.

After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Sarah was trapped in one of her bedrooms for several hours. However, when she got out, she told the construction crews to stop working on the nearly completed front part of the house and had her carpenters board it up, leaving much of the extensive earthquake damage unrepaired. Again according to the legends, she thought the spirits were angry with her because she was spending too much time decorating and working on the front rooms. Construction resumed on new additions and remodeling the other parts of the structure. Sarah Winchester's full-time address from the earthquake until her death was in Atherton, California. She visited the ranch and house in San Jose only periodically.[4]

Due to constant construction and the lack of a master plan, the house became very large and quite complex; many of the serving staff needed a map to navigate the house. The house also features doors that open into walls, staircases that lead nowhere, the recurring number 13, and windows that look into other walls. There are two theories as to why Mrs. Winchester built such an unusual house. The first is by far the most popular and states that she built the house to confuse the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles. The second, much less popular, is that while Mrs. Winchester was an exceedingly wealthy woman and could build her house any way she wanted, she had no architectural training at all, so some of the oddities could be simple design error.

The Winchester Mystery House is a National Historic Landmark, a San Jose CA historic landmark, and California historic landmark number 868.

Other properties[edit]

In the 1920s Sarah also maintained a houseboat on San Francisco Bay at Burlingame, California, which became known as "Sarah's Ark" as it was reputedly kept there as insurance against her fear of a second great flood, such as the Biblical one experienced by Noah and his family, but a more mundane answer is that many people of her social standing in California at that time had house boats or yachts. The "Ark" was located near the eucalyptus grove at Winchester Road, south of what was to become the intersection of Anza Boulevard and U.S. Highway 101. The ark was destroyed by fire in 1929.[6]


On September 5, 1922, Sarah died in her sleep of heart failure at the age of 83, and construction on the Winchester Mystery House stopped.[2] A service was held in Palo Alto, and her remains lay at Alta Mesa Cemetery until they were transferred, along with those of her sister, to New Haven, Connecticut.[4] She was buried next to her husband and infant child in Evergreen Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut. Sarah Winchester left a will written in 13 sections, which she signed 13 times.[7] The belongings in Winchester Mystery House were left to her niece, Mrs. Marian I. Marriott, who took what she wanted and auctioned the rest off.

According to the current owners of the house, it took movers eight truckloads a day for six and a half weeks to empty the entire house of furniture,.[8] Wincheseter's biographer, however, has been unable to find any evidence supporting this claim.[9] They did not mention the former home of the furniture at the auction, which makes it impossible to track down today. The furnishings that exist in the home today for tours are donations or loans that reflect the period. Because she was such a private person, no known interior photographs were taken leaving the exact furnishings a mystery. (The only exception is a set of built-in cabinets in the linen room.) Following her death, the home was auctioned to the highest bidder who then turned it into an attraction for the public; the first tourists walked through the house in February 1923, 5 months after Sarah died.


  • The Santa Clara-Los Gatos Boulevard in front of the house was later renamed Winchester Boulevard, after Sarah's House. Today, the house is open to the public every day except for Christmas Day. Tours are conducted of both the house and the grounds on those days.
  • Mrs. Winchester was the subject of a 2011 song of the same name, by Mathew Baynton, under his solo project Dog Ears.[10]
  • The song "A Certain Euphoria" from the album The Loved One by Strange Boutique, the group which Monica Richards from Faith and the Muse was a part of before beginning the latter project, is based on the legends of Mrs. Winchester.
  • In 2011, artist Ron Ulicny produced a piece entitled "skull of sarah winchester"; a reference to Sarah. The work consisted of a painted human skull, encrusted with gold leaf, and a magazine of Winchester bullets screwed prominently into it.[11]


  1. ^ Ignoffo, Mary Jo. "Captive of the Labyrinth: Sarah L. Winchester, Heiress to the Rifle Fortune." Columbia, Mo. : Univ. of Missouri Press, 2010. See p. 112.
  2. ^ a b "Sarah Winchester: Woman of Mystery". Winchester Mystery House, LLC. 2003. Retrieved 16 August 2013. 
  3. ^ "Winchester, Sarah Pardee, 1837-1922". Library of Congress Name Authority File. Library of Congress. 1993-01-29. Retrieved 2013-08-16. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f MaryJo Ignoffo, Captive of the Labyrinth
  5. ^ Ignoffo, Mary Jo. "Captive of the Labyrinth: Sarah L. Winchester, Heiress to the Rifle Fortune." Columbia, Mo. : Univ. of Missouri Press, 2010. See p. 209.
  6. ^ Burlingame Centennial 1908-2008, Joanne Garrison ISBN 978-0-615-17894-3
  7. ^ "Haunted Travels: The Winchester Mansion". 
  8. ^ "The Winchester Mansion". 
  9. ^ Ignoffo, Mary Jo. "Captive of the Labyrinth: Sarah L. Winchester, Heiress to the Rifle Fortune." Columbia, Mo. : Univ. of Missouri Press, 2010. See p. 207.
  10. ^ [1]. Dog Ears Bandcamp Page- 'Mrs Winchester'. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  11. ^ [2]. Ron Ulicny- 'skull of sarah winchester'. Retrieved 23 April 2012.

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