Sarah Winchester

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Sarah Winchester
Born Sarah Lockwood Pardee
c. 1840
New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.
Died September 5, 1922 (aged 81–82)
San Jose, California, U.S.
Cause of death Heart failure
Resting place Evergreen Cemetery
New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.
Nationality American
Known for Winchester Mystery House
Spouse(s) William Wirt Winchester (m. 1862; d. 1881)
Children Annie Pardee Winchester (b. 1866)
  • Leonard Pardee
  • Sarah W. Burns
  • Sarah E. Pardee
  • Mary A. Pardee
  • Antoinette E. Pardee
  • Leonard M. Pardee
  • Isabelle C. Pardee
  • Estelle L. Pardee

Sarah Lockwood Winchester (née Pardee; c. 1840 – September 5, 1922) was an American heiress who amassed great wealth after the death of her husband, William Wirt Winchester. Her inheritance from his estate included USD$20 million (equivalent to $507,172,414 in 2017) as well as a 50% holding in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which made her one of the wealthiest women in the world at the time.[1] She is best known for using her vast fortune to continue construction on the Winchester mansion in San Jose, California, for 38 consecutive years.[2] Popular legends, which began during her lifetime, held that she was convinced she was cursed, and the only way to alleviate it was to add on to her California home. Since her death, the sprawling Winchester Mystery House has become a popular tourist attraction, known for its staircases that lead to nowhere, and its many winding corridors.

Early life[edit]

She was born Sarah Lockwood Pardee, the daughter of Leonard Pardee and his wife Sarah W. Burns, around 1840 in New Haven, Connecticut.[3][4] 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 was married in 1862, had one daughter, Annie Pardee Winchester, who was born on June 15, 1866 and died on July 25, 1866[5] from the childhood disease marasmus. 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 her an inheritance of $20 million (equivalent to $507,172,414 in 2017)[1] in addition to approximately 50 percent ownership in the Winchester company and an income of $1,000 a day (equivalent to $25,359 in 2017).

Winchester House[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 that she should move west to build a house for herself and the spirits. The medium is claimed to have told her that if construction on the house ever stopped, she would join her husband and infant daughter. However, Sarah's biographer found no evidence to support these claims and Sarah likely did not move west because a medium told her to do so. In 1886,[5] Mrs. Winchester moved west to California with her sister and her niece, and in 1886, she purchased an eight-room farmhouse from John Hamm.[5] 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. Contemporary scholars dispute the veracity of the claim that construction work continued, except for brief periods, after the 1906 earthquake.[5] 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.) Her 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.[6]

Mrs. Winchester designed and oversaw the construction of her San Jose, CA house.

After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, she 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. Her full-time address from the earthquake until her death was in Atherton, California. She visited the ranch and house in San Jose only periodically.[5]

Constant construction and the lack of a master plan resulted in a very large and quite complex house. Many of the serving staff needed a map to navigate the house. The house also features doors that open into walls, a staircase that leads nowhere, the recurring number 13 (which evidence supports was added by later owners to support the claim that Sarah was eccentric), and windows that look into other walls. There are two theories as to why she 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 she was an exceedingly wealthy woman and could build her house any way that she wanted, she had no architectural training at all so some of the oddities could be simple design error. However, after the 1906 earthquake, Sarah did not repair the damage to the house, which also explains the stairs and doors leading to nowhere.

After Mrs. Winchesters death in 1922 the house was sold and transformed into a tourist attraction.

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

Other properties[edit]

In 1888 Winchester purchased 140 acres of land, the majority of what is now downtown Los Altos, California, to use as a ranch. She also purchased a farmhouse, now known as the Winchester-Merriman House for her sister and brother-in-law. The house, was located in Los Altos, and on the Historic Resources Inventory of the Los Altos Historical Commission.[7][8]

The farmhouse was in Los Altos

In the 1920s Mrs Winchester 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 houseboats 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.[9]


On September 5, 1922, she died in her sleep of heart failure. A service was held in Palo Alto, California, and her remains lay at Alta Mesa Cemetery until they were transferred, along with those of her sister, to New Haven, Connecticut.[5] She was buried next to her husband and infant child in Evergreen Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut. She left a will written in 13 sections, which she signed 13 times.[10] The belongings in Winchester Mystery House were left to her niece, 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.[11] Her biographer, however, has been unable to find any evidence supporting this claim.[12] 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 so the exact furnishings are a mystery. (The only exception is a set of builtin 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, five months after she died.


  • The Santa Clara-Los Gatos Boulevard in front of the house was later renamed Winchester Boulevard, after the house. Today, the house is open to the public every day except Christmas Day. Tours are conducted of both the house and the grounds on those days.
  • Sarah Winchester appeared as a character in the 2009 film Haunting of Winchester House, based on the hauntings in Winchester Mystery House. She was played by Kimberly Ables Jindra.
  • Winchester was the subject of a 2011 song of the same name, by Mathew Baynton, under his solo project Dog Ears.[13]
  • 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.[14]
  • The house features as a location of occult activity in Tim Powers' 1997 novel Earthquake Weather.
  • She appears as a character in Brian Catling's 2012 fantasy novel 'The Vorrh'.
  • She appears as a character in Patty Templeton's 2014 fantasy novel 'There Is No Lovely End'.
  • In 2016, French director Bertrand Bonello's short film Sarah Winchester, opéra fantôme received an exclusive global online premiere on Mubi.
  • She will be portrayed by actress Helen Mirren in the forthcoming thriller film Winchester.[15]


  1. ^ a b Wagner, Richard Allan. "The Truth About Sarah Winchester, the Belle of New Haven". The Truth About Sarah Winchester. Retrieved August 10, 2017. 
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ "Sarah Winchester: Woman of Mystery". Winchester Mystery House, LLC. 2003. Retrieved 16 August 2013. 
  4. ^ "Winchester, Sarah Pardee, 1837-1922". Library of Congress Name Authority File. Library of Congress. 1993-01-29. Retrieved 2013-08-16. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f MaryJo Ignoffo, Captive of the Labyrinth
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Burr, Elliott. "Los Altos History Museum display dispels myths of Sarah Winchester". Los Altos Town Crier. Retrieved 24 September 2016. 
  8. ^ Snyder, Carolyn. "Los Altos' legacy: the homey beginnings of Los Altos historic resources". Los Altos Town Crier. Retrieved 24 September 2016. 
  9. ^ Burlingame Centennial 1908-2008, Joanne Garrison ISBN 978-0-615-17894-3
  10. ^ "Haunted Travels: The Winchester Mansion". 
  11. ^ "The Winchester Mansion". 
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ [1]. Dog Ears Bandcamp Page- 'Mrs Winchester'. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  14. ^ [2]. Ron Ulicny- 'skull of sarah winchester'. Retrieved 03 November 2017.
  15. ^ Fleming Jr, Mike (May 14, 2016). "Helen Mirren Takes Aim At Playing Firearm Heiress In Hot Cannes Package 'Winchester'". Retrieved May 16, 2016. 


External links[edit]