Sarah Winchester

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Sarah Winchester
Photograph of Winchester, c. 1865
Sarah Lockwood Pardee

DiedSeptember 5, 1922(1922-09-05) (aged 82–83)
Resting placeEvergreen Cemetery
New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.
Known forWinchester Mystery House
(m. 1862; died 1881)

Sarah Lockwood Winchester (née Pardee; 1839 – September 5, 1922) was an American heiress who amassed great wealth after the death of her husband, William Wirt Winchester, and her mother in law, Jane Ellen Hope. Her inheritance included $20 million ($606.5 million in 2022) 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]

Sarah Winchester is best known for using her vast fortune to continue construction on the Winchester mansion in San Jose, California, for 22 years.[2] Popular legends, which began during her lifetime, held that she was convinced she was cursed by the spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle, and the only way to protect herself was to continually add on to her California home. This legend was further exaggerated by John and Mayme Brown, theme park developers, who bought the property with the intention of turning it into an attraction. Sarah, however, wasn't obsessed with building due to fear of being haunted; in fact, most of the anomalies in the house were due to quick repairs made after the 1906 earthquake destroyed much of the house.[3]

Since her death, the sprawling Winchester Mystery House has become a popular tourist attraction, known for its staircases that lead to nowhere, along with its many winding corridors and doors that lead to walls or sudden drops.

Early life[edit]

She was born the daughter of Leonard Pardee and his wife Sarah W. (née Burns), in Summer 1839 in New Haven, Connecticut.[4][5] On September 30, 1862, in New Haven, Sarah married William Wirt Winchester, the only son of Oliver Winchester, the owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Sarah and William had one daughter, Annie Pardee Winchester, who was born on June 15, 1866 and later died on July 25, 1866 of marasmus.[6]

In the span of one year, 1881, she lost her mother, her father-in-law, and finally her husband William, who died of tuberculosis.

In 1886, she purchased a small, two-story farmhouse and ranch in San Jose, California. The property was called Llanada Villa, and would later become known as the Winchester Mystery House.[7]

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 is listed on the Historic Resources Inventory of the Los Altos Historical Commission.[8][9]

The farmhouse 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.[10]


She died at Llanada Villa on September 5, 1922, at 10:45pm 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.[11] She was buried next to Sarah's husband and an infant child in Evergreen Cemetery. She left a will written in thirteen sections, which she signed thirteen times.[12] The belongings in Winchester Mystery House were left to her niece, Marian I. Marriott, who auctioned off almost everything.

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 Winchester died.[citation needed]


  • 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.
  • The Haunting of Winchester is a musical about her by Craig Bohmler and Mary Bracken Phillips that takes place in the Winchester Mystery House. It was commissioned by the San Jose Repertory Theatre for its 25th anniversary season,[13] and premiered in September–October 2005.[14]
  • In 2016, French director Bertrand Bonello's short film Sarah Winchester, opéra fantôme received an exclusive global online premiere on Mubi.
  • She was portrayed by actress Helen Mirren in the 2018 horror film Winchester.[15]
  • The American poet Alexandra Teague's book, The Wise and Foolish Builders (Persea, 2015), reconsiders Sarah Winchester's legacy in the context of Westward expansion and gun violence.
  • The podcast Criminal covered Sarah Winchester's endless building of the Winchester mansion on their episode "The Widow and the Winchester."[16]


  1. ^ 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. ^ Ignoffo, Mary Jo (2012). Captive of the Labyrinth: Sarah L. Winchester, Heiress to the Rifle Fortune. University of Missouri. ISBN 0826219837.
  4. ^ "Sarah Winchester: Woman of Mystery". Winchester Mystery House, LLC. 2003. Archived from the original on 26 August 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  5. ^ "Winchester, Sarah Pardee, 1837-1922". Library of Congress Name Authority File. Library of Congress. 1993-01-29. Retrieved 2013-08-16.
  6. ^ Wagner, Richard Allan. "The Belle of New Haven". The Truth About Sarah Winchester. Archived from the original on 3 April 2019. Retrieved 15 April 2019.
  7. ^ Ignoffo, Mary Jo (2010). Captive of the Labyrinth: Sarah L. Winchester, Heiress to the Rifle Fortune. Columbia, MO: Univ. of Missouri Press. pp. 106–7. ISBN 978-0-8262-1983-1.
  8. ^ Burr, Elliott. "Los Altos History Museum display dispels myths of Sarah Winchester". Los Altos Town Crier. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  9. ^ Snyder, Carolyn. "Los Altos' legacy: the homey beginnings of Los Altos historic resources". Los Altos Town Crier. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  10. ^ Burlingame Centennial 1908-2008, Joanne Garrison ISBN 978-0-615-17894-3
  11. ^ MaryJo Ignoffo, Captive of the Labyrinth
  12. ^ "Haunted Travels: The Winchester Mansion".
  13. ^ Hurwitt, Sam. "Here's To You, Mrs. Winchester". SFGate. September 18, 2005.
  14. ^ Multiple sources:
  15. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (May 14, 2016). "Helen Mirren Takes Aim At Playing Firearm Heiress In Hot Cannes Package 'Winchester'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  16. ^ "The Widow and the Winchester". Criminal. February 1, 2019.


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