Winchester Mystery House
Winchester Mystery House
View of the mansion from the southeast
|Location||San Jose, California|
|Architectural style||Queen Anne Style Late Victorian|
|Governing body||Winchester Mystery House, LLC
Partners: Edna May Raney; Gerard Raney; Ray Farris II; Sandra Farris; M. Valerie Bovone"
|NRHP Reference #||74000559|
|Added to NRHP||August 7, 1974|
The Winchester Mystery House is a mansion in Northern California, once the personal residence of Sarah Winchester, the widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester. The property and mansion have been claimed to be haunted—including by Winchester herself—since construction commenced in 1884. Under Winchester's day-to-day guidance, its "from-the-ground-up" construction proceeded around the clock, without interruption, until her death on September 5, 1922, at which time work immediately ceased. The cost for such constant building has been estimated at about US $5.5 million (equivalent to over $75 million in 2012). It now serves as a tourist attraction.
Though it is possible Sarah Winchester was simply seeking a change of location and a hobby during her lengthy depression, other sources claim that while consulting The Boston Medium, Winchester came to believe her family and fortune were haunted by the ghosts of people who had fallen victim to Winchester rifles, and that only by moving West and continuously building them a house could she appease these spirits. Located at 525 South Winchester Blvd. in San Jose, California, the Queen Anne Style Victorian mansion is renowned for its size and utter lack of any master building plan.
The Boston Medium told Winchester, supposedly by way of her late husband, that she had to leave her home in New Haven and travel West, where she must continuously build a home for herself and the spirits of people who had fallen victim to Winchester rifles. Winchester left her New Haven home and headed for California. In 1884 she purchased an unfinished farmhouse in Santa Clara Valley, and began building her mansion. Carpenters were hired and worked on the house day and night until it became a seven story mansion.
The June 1937 issue of Modern Mechanix relates the story from then-current accounts:
"Winchester and the baby girl died suddenly and Mrs Winchester, stunned by the tragedy, fell into a coma so serious that physicians despaired of her life. Finally she recovered and, at a friend’s suggestion, visited a medium. During a séance, according to those familiar with her story, she received a communication from her dead husband in which he said: 'Sarah dear, if our house had not been finished, I would still be with you. I urge you now to build a home, but never let it be finished, for then you will live.' "
In fact, her daughter died in 1866 and her husband in 1881, neither suddenly.
In a Discovery Channel account, "She believed her only chance of a normal life was to build a house, and keep building it. If the house was never finished, no ghost could settle into it. The house contains many features that were utilized to trap or confuse spirits. There are doors that are small or lead nowhere and windows that look into other parts of the house. The mansion may be huge but there are only two mirrors in the whole place. This is because Sarah believed that ghosts were afraid of their own reflection."
Winchester inherited more than $20.5 million upon her husband's death. She also received nearly fifty percent ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, giving her an income of roughly $1,000 per day, equivalent to about $30,000 a day in 2012. These inheritances gave her a tremendous amount of wealth to fund the ongoing construction.
The house today
Before the 1906 earthquake, the house had been seven stories high, but today it is only four stories. The house is predominantly made of redwood, as Mrs. Winchester preferred the wood; however, she disliked the look of it. She therefore demanded that a faux grain and stain be applied. This is why almost all the wood in the home is covered. Approximately 20,500 US gallons (78,000 l) of paint were required to paint the house. The home itself is built using a floating foundation that is believed to have saved it from total collapse in the 1906 earthquake and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. This type of construction allows the home to shift freely, as it is not completely attached to its brick base. There are roughly 160 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, 2 ballrooms (one completed and one unfinished) as well as 47 fireplaces, over 10,000 panes of glass, 17 chimneys (with evidence of two others), two basements and three elevators. Winchester's property was about 162 acres (65.6 ha) at one time, but the estate has since been reduced to 4.5 acres (1.82 ha) – the minimum necessary to contain the house and nearby outbuildings. It has gold and silver chandeliers and hand-inlaid parquet floors and trim. There are doors and stairways that lead nowhere and a vast array of colors and materials. Due to Mrs Winchester's debilitating arthritis, special "easy riser" stairways were installed as a replacement for her original steep construction. This allowed her to move about her home freely as she was only able to raise her feet a few inches high.
The home's conveniences were rare at the time of its construction. These included steam and forced-air heating, modern indoor toilets and plumbing, push-button gas lights, Mrs Winchester's personal (and only) hot shower from indoor plumbing. There are also three elevators, one of which was powered by a rare horizontal hydraulic elevator piston. Most elevator pistons are vertical, as this takes up less space, but to improve its function, she discarded the norm and included this model for its function over fashion. Though the home was built with the strangest of intentions, Mrs. Winchester never skimped on the many bizarre adornments that she believed contributed to its architectural beauty. Many of the stained glass windows were created by the Tiffany company. Some were designed specifically for her, and others by her, including the renowned "spider web" window. This piece features her favorite shape, the spider's web, and features repetition of the number thirteen, which was one of her preoccupations. This window is not installed, but rather featured in the so-called "$25,000 storage room". The room is so named because its contents were originally appraised at a value of $25,000. Their value today is inestimable, but thought to be at least ten times that. A second famed window was designed by Tiffany himself for Mrs Winchester. This window was carefully designed so that when the light hits the crystals just so, the room will be filled with thousands of rainbow prisms. However, due to the poor placement of the piece, this will never be seen. It is located in a room with no direct light and is built facing a wall.
When Winchester died, all of her possessions (apart from the house) were bequeathed to her niece and personal secretary. Her niece then took everything she wanted and sold the rest in a private auction. It took six trucks working eight hours a day for six weeks to remove all of the furniture from the home. Mrs Winchester made no mention of the mansion in her will, and appraisers considered the house worthless due to the damage caused by the earthquake, the unfinished design and the impractical nature of its construction. It was sold at auction to a local investor for over $135,000 and in February 1923, five months after Winchester's death, was opened to the public. Harry Houdini toured the mansion in 1924, and the newspaper account of his visit, displayed in the rifle museum on the estate, called it the Mystery House.
Today the home is owned by Winchester Investments LLC and it retains unique touches that reflect Mrs Winchester's beliefs and her reported preoccupation with warding off malevolent spirits. These spirits are said to have directly inspired her as to the way the house should be built. The number thirteen and spider web motifs, which carried spiritual significance for her, occur throughout the house. For example, an expensive imported chandelier that originally had 12 candle-holders was altered to accommodate 13 candles, wall clothes hooks are in multiples of 13, and a spider web-patterned stained glass window contains 13 colored stones. The sink's drain covers also have 13 holes. In tribute, the house's current groundskeepers have created a topiary tree shaped like the numeral 13. Also, every Friday the 13th the large bell on the property is rung 13 times at 13:00 hours (1 o'clock p.m.) in tribute to Winchester.
In popular culture
- The survival-horror video game The Evil Within's creator Shinji Mikami used the house as a heavy influence for the game.
- The song "Mrs Winchester" by the band Dog Ears.
- The house was referenced in the Babylon 5 episode, "Rumors, Bargains and Lies". Londo Mollari cites the Winchester mansion as an example of his difficulty in understanding humans.
- In issue 45 of DC Comics' Swamp Thing, Alan Moore penned a ghost story featuring a house based on the Winchester mansion. In Moore's story the "Cambridge House" is haunted not only by cowboys, Indians and suicide victims, but also a number of slain animals killed by the rifles.
- The haunted estate in the 2012 young adult novel Amber House was inspired by the Winchester Mystery House. The book's protagonist, Sarah Parsons, shares her first name with Sarah Winchester.
- In the Alastair Reynolds novel House of Suns, Abigail's family home is a sprawling house that covers a small planetoid, constructed in the same manner and for similar reasons as the Winchester Mystery House.
- The Winchester Mystery House was featured in a season two episode of Ghost Hunters in which the TAPS team investigated claims of paranormal activity. TAPS failed to find any evidence of paranormal phenomena in the house.
- Trainee paranormal investigator Niall O'Sullivan visited the house with his mentor Derek Acorah in a special segment filmed for the BBC's The One Show in September 2012. They both maintain they saw several spirits, and due to the popularity of the segment are set to return to the house early in 2014 in a follow-up piece accompanied by One Show host Chris Evans.
- For the "Smell of Fear" episode of MythBusters, the build team visited the Winchester Mystery House to look around and later watch "one of the scariest movies of all time" (the title of which wasn't revealed) on a television that they set up in the grand ballroom, then gather their sweat samples for testing. (This clip was not seen in full on the American version of the episode.) Later on the "Aftershow" about the episode, Kari Byron revealed that after she first visited the Mystery House as a Brownie it had given her nightmares, and that the house was "still creepy".
- Featured in an episode of Death Valley Days, production #404, titled "The Winchester Mystery House".
- In the TV series Gilmore Girls' season 1 finale entitled "Love, Daisies and Troubadours", Lorelai Gilmore refers to the house when on the phone to her friend, Luke Danes, saying: "And that starts with ceasing work on the Winchester Mystery House here".
- Amber House young adult book series
- Haunting of Winchester House film
- Rose Red TV miniseries
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- "Winchester House". Office of Historical Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- A Mystery House, Frommer's San Jose, retrieved Oct. 30, 2006.[dead link]
- "Winchester Mystery House: Amazing Facts". Winchester Mystery House, LLC. 2009-06-27. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
- CPI Inflation Calculator, Bureau of Labor Statistics, retrieved Nov. 19, 2007
- "Sarah Winchester: Woman of Mystery". Winchester Mystery House, LLC. 2003. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
- Hawes, Jason; Wilson, Grant; Friedman, Michael Jan (2007). "The Winchester Mystery July 2005". Ghost Hunting: True Stories of Unexplained Phenomena from The Atlantic Paranormal Society. New York: Pocket Books. pp. 225–229. ISBN 978-1-4165-4113-4. LCCN 2007016062.
- The House That Death Built
- Discovery Channel Nederland[dead link]
- Sarah Winchester: the world famous Winchester Mystery House...
- The Evil Within First Look - IGN
- Dog Ears website Dog Ears' blog post regarding Mrs Winchester
- "IS AMBER HOUSE REAL?" - Amber House: The Blog
- "Ghost Hunters". SciFi Channel. Season 2. Episode 211. 2005-10-05.
- "That's Not Cool" originally from discovery.com/mythbusters
- "Smell of Fear Aftershow"
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Winchester Mystery House.|
- Winchester Mystery House website
- The Mystery House Blog features regularly updated images of the mansion
- View KPIX-TV's 1960 documentary about the house, narrated by Lillian Gish.
- Video Tour and Historic Documentary of The Winchester Mystery House from YouTube
- The History of One of America's Most Haunted Houses by Troy Taylor
- Santa Clara County: California’s Historic Silicon Valley, a National Park Service Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
- The Mystery House featured on Good Morning America