Winchester Mystery House

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Winchester Mystery House
Invalid designation
Winchester House 910px.jpg
View of the mansion from the southeast
Winchester Mystery House is located in San Jose, California
Winchester Mystery House
Winchester Mystery House is located in California
Winchester Mystery House
Winchester Mystery House is located in the United States
Winchester Mystery House
Location525 South Winchester Boulevard San Jose, CA 95128
Coordinates37°19′6.10″N 121°57′2.74″W / 37.3183611°N 121.9507611°W / 37.3183611; -121.9507611Coordinates: 37°19′6.10″N 121°57′2.74″W / 37.3183611°N 121.9507611°W / 37.3183611; -121.9507611
Architectural styleQueen Anne, Late Victorian
NRHP reference No.74000559[1]
CHISL No.868[2]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPAugust 7, 1974
Designated CHISL1925

The Winchester Mystery House is a mansion in San Jose, California, that was once the personal residence of Sarah Winchester, the widow of firearms magnate William Wirt Winchester. Located at 525 South Winchester Blvd. in San Jose, the Queen Anne Style Victorian mansion is renowned for its size, its architectural curiosities, and its lack of any master building plan. It is a designated California historical landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is privately owned and serves as a tourist attraction.

Since its construction in 1886, the property and mansion were claimed by many to be haunted by the ghosts of those killed with Winchester rifles. Under Winchester's day-to-day guidance, its "from-the-ground-up" construction proceeded around the clock, by some accounts, without interruption, until her death on September 5, 1922, at which time work immediately ceased.[3] However, Winchester's biographer says that she "routinely dismissed workers for months at a time 'to take such rest as I might'" and that "this flies in the face of claims by today's Mystery House proprietors that work at the ranch was ceaseless for thirty-eight years."[4]


Windows inside the house
In Sarah Winchester's later years, the toilet had a window for a nurse to check on her.

After her husband's death from tuberculosis in 1881, Sarah Winchester inherited more than US$20.5 million (equivalent to $550 million in 2020). She also received nearly 50% ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, giving her an income of roughly $1,000 per day, equivalent to $27,000 a day in 2020.[5]

After her infant daughter died of an illness known as marasmus, a children's disease where the body wastes away, and her husband died of pulmonary tuberculosis, a Boston medium[6]—supposedly channeling the spirit of her late husband—that she should 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.[7]

She left New Haven and headed for California. She may have simply sought a change of setting, and something to keep her occupied during her lengthy depression. However, others maintain that she believed she must move West, and continuously build a house, the sounds of whose construction would keep at bay the spirits of those who had fallen to her late husband's firearms.[7][8]

In 1884, she purchased an unfinished farmhouse in the Santa Clara Valley and began building her mansion. Carpenters were hired and worked on the house day and night until it rose to seven stories. Eschewing architects, she directed the additions herself, augmenting the building in a haphazard fashion. As a result, contains numerous oddities such as doors and stairs that go nowhere, windows overlooking other rooms, and stairs with oddly-sized risers.[9] Environmental psychologists have theorized that the house's odd layout itself contributes to the feeling that it was (and perhaps still is) haunted.[10][11]

Before the 1906 earthquake, the house had been seven stories high and carpenters may have been brought in initially to repair damage caused by the quake.[10] 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 U.S. 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 161 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 basement levels and three elevators. Winchester's property was about 162 acres (66 ha) at one time, but the estate has since been reduced to 4.5 acres (1.8 ha) – the minimum necessary to contain the house and nearby outbuildings. It has gold and silver chandeliers, hand-inlaid parquet floors and trim, 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 each foot a few inches. There was only one working toilet for Winchester; it has been said that "all other restrooms were decoys to confuse spirits" and that this is also "the reason why she slept in a different room each night".[12] 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, and Mrs. Winchester's personal (and only) hot shower from indoor plumbing. There are also three elevators, including an Otis electric and one of which was powered by a rare horizontal hydraulic elevator piston. Most elevator pistons are vertical to save space, but Winchester preferred the improved functionality of the horizontal configuration.[citation needed]

Manual and emergency tools for the Otis Automatic Electric elevator

Mrs. Winchester never skimped on the many adornments that she believed contributed to its architectural beauty. Many of the stained glass windows were created by the Pacific American Decorative Company.[13] Some were designed specifically for her, and others by her, including a "spider web" window that featured her favorite web design and the repetition of the number thirteen, another of her preoccupations. This window was never installed but exists in the so-called "$25,000 storage room" – so named because its contents were originally appraised at a value of $25,000. The value today is inestimable, but $25,000 would be equivalent to $387,000 in 2020. A second window was designed by Tiffany himself so that when sunlight strikes the prismatic crystals, a rainbow is cast across the room. The window was installed in an interior wall in a room with no light exposure, preventing the effect from being seen.[14]

Aerial view
A view of the house from a highrise building to the south

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 supposedly took six trucks working eight hours a day for six weeks to remove all of the furniture from the home, an account disputed by Winchester's biographer.[15] Mrs. Winchester made no mention of the mansion in her will, and appraisers considered the house worthless due to 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 subsequently leased for 10 years to John and Mayme Brown,[16] who eventually purchased the house. In February 1923, five months after Winchester's death, the house was opened to the public, with Mayme Brown serving as the first tour guide.[17]

Today the home is owned by Winchester Investments LLC,[18] a privately held company representing the descendants of John and Mayme Brown.[16] The home 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.[14] Tour guides at the house often make claims of Sarah Winchester having patented various architectural features of the house, but a simple search of the US Patent and Trademark Database produces zero patents assigned to her.[19][20]

In 2016, it was announced that another room with period furniture was built in the courtyard: an attic space that contains a pump organ, Victorian couch, dress form, sewing machine, and paintings. This room was made available for viewing by the public and features a shooting range game.[21]

In 2017, the Winchester Mystery House debuted their first new daytime tour in 20 years, the "Explore More Tour". This tour takes guests through rooms never before opened to the public and explores the rooms left unfinished at the time of Sarah Winchester's death.[22]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Winchester House was Walt Disney's Inspiration for The Haunted Mansion at the Disney Parks
  • The house is the primary setting for Michaela Roessner's 1993 science fiction novel Vanishing Point, in which it becomes the home of a squatter community following the disappearance of most of the human race.[23]
  • The Winchester house is the setting of a subplot in the 1997 Tim Powers fantasy novel Earthquake Weather.[24]
  • The Haunting of Winchester is a ghost-story musical by Craig Bohmler and Mary Bracken Phillips that takes place in the house. It was commissioned by the San Jose Repertory Theatre for its 25th anniversary season,[25][26] and premiered in September–October 2005.[26][27][28][29]
  • The British paranormal TV investigation show "Most Haunted" conducted a seven-hour live TV investigation of the house for the Travel Channel on Monday October 19, 2007, making it television history, as it was the first ever 7 hour live TV paranormal investigation. Hosted by British presenter Paul Ross, the team consisted of the regular Most Haunted members including Yvette Fielding, Karl Beattie and Dr Ciaran O'Keeffe.[30][31][32]
  • A house with a comparable design and history but set a millennium into the future from the time of the Winchester house is a narrative location in the 2007 science fiction novel House of Suns. Instead of being home to and built by a weapons heiress, it is a cloning heiress responsible due to her fear of the cloned souls exacting revenge for their unwarranted duplication.
  • For the 2012 episode of MythBusters "Smell of Fear", 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.[33] (This clip was not seen in full on the American version of the episode.) Later on, in 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".[34]
  • Ghost Adventures[35] and Ghost Brothers[36] filmed episodes in 2016 related to the house and its spiritual encounters.
  • Sarah Winchester, Phantom Opera, is a 24-minute film by French filmmaker Bertrand Bernello, which had its North American premiere at the 54th New York Film Festival, October 2016. It is an imaginative narrative of Sarah Winchester's life with emphasis on the Mystery House.[37][38]
  • In 2017, filming took place on the property for the film Winchester, featuring Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester.[39] The film was released on February 2, 2018.[40]
  • In 2018, the Lore podcast produce an episode that described the Winchester Mansion called "Locked Away"[41]
  • In 2019, Criminal podcast produced an episode about the Winchester Mansion titled "The Widow and the Winchester".[42]
  • The Winchester Mystery House was featured twice in BuzzFeed Unsolved which included them staying in the house overnight.
  • The Winchester Mystery House was featured on the 100th episode of American Horror Story.
  • House of Penance, a Dark Horse comic by Peter Tomasi, Ian Bertram, and Dave Stewart, is a hallucinatory gothic horror story that takes place during the building of The Winchester Mystery House.
  • 'Mrs Winchester's Gun Club' a novel by Douglas Bruton (2019)
  • In January of 2021, an episode of the award-winning podcast This Paranormal Life[43] was released discussing the Winchester Mystery House. The hosts deemed all claims of haunting to be false.[44]
  • The mansion in the miniseries "Rose Red" created by Stephen King is greatly inspired by the Winchester Mystery House.[citation needed]


See also[edit]



  1. ^ "National Register Information System – (#74000559)". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  2. ^ "Winchester House". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved October 14, 2012.
  3. ^ "Winchester Mystery House". Frommer's. Archived from the original on February 25, 2021. Retrieved October 11, 2016.
  4. ^ Ignoffo 2010, p. 112.
  5. ^ "The House". Winchester Mystery House. Archived from the original on February 6, 2017. Retrieved November 20, 2015.
  6. ^ "Haunted House in California". Archived from the original on June 2, 2016. Retrieved May 10, 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Sarah Winchester: Woman of Mystery". Winchester Mystery House, LLC. 2003. Archived from the original on January 28, 2017. Retrieved August 16, 2013.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Most Haunted". Archived from the original on January 31, 2010.
  10. ^ a b McAndrew, Frank (January 29, 2018). "The Winchester Mystery House and Other Haunted Places: Why do some places feel as if they were intentionally designed to creep us out?". Psychology Today. Archived from the original on November 6, 2021. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  11. ^ McAndrew, Frank (November 2, 2015). "What Makes a House Feel Haunted?". Psychology Today. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  12. ^ Liu, Gia. "Take a Tour of San Jose's Winchester Mystery House". Archived from the original on March 2, 2019. Retrieved March 2, 2019. There was also only one working toilet while Winchester lived in the home; the rest of the bathrooms were decoys to confuse spirits, which was also the reason that she slept in a different bedroom each night.
  13. ^ Dowd, Katie; SFGATE (September 16, 2019). "An envelope, hidden in a wall for 100 years, helps solve a Winchester Mystery House riddle". SFGate. Archived from the original on September 18, 2019. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
  14. ^ a b[dead link]
  15. ^ Ignoffo 2010, p. 207.
  16. ^ a b "One Less Mystery: Two Prominent Families Own San Jose's Mystery House". San Jose Mercury News. April 26, 1997.
  17. ^ Ignoffo 2010, p. 210.
  18. ^ "525 South Winchester Blvd, San Jose, CA 95128". HouseFront. May 25, 2009. Archived from the original on May 25, 2009. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  19. ^ "US Patent and Trademark Database search for Winchester". US Patent and Trademark Database. Archived from the original on February 25, 2021. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  20. ^ "WINCHESTER, SARAH - PATENT". San Jose Public Library. Archived from the original on January 18, 2021. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  21. ^ "New room found at San Jose's Winchester Mystery House". October 10, 2016. Archived from the original on October 11, 2016. Retrieved October 11, 2016.
  22. ^ "Never-Before-Seen Parts of Winchester Mystery House Unveiled". NBC Bay Area. Archived from the original on June 30, 2017. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  23. ^ "Vanishing Point Review". Archived from the original on August 3, 2018. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  24. ^ Langford, Dave. "Earthquake Weather". Ansible. Archived from the original on January 27, 2017. Retrieved March 17, 2017.
  25. ^ Hurwitt, Sam. "Here's To You, Mrs. Winchester" Archived November 17, 2019, at the Wayback Machine. SFGate. September 18, 2005.
  26. ^ a b Messina, Marianne. "Of Ghosts And Guns" Archived July 29, 2018, at the Wayback Machine. Metro Silicon Valley. September 7–13, 2005.
  27. ^ Messina, Marianne. "Haunted, Dead or Alive" Archived July 29, 2018, at the Wayback Machine. Metro Silicon Valley. September 14–20, 2005.
  28. ^ "Haunting of Winchester" Archived February 27, 2021, at the Wayback Machine. Playbill. September 2005.
  29. ^ Jenkins, Jeffrey Eric. The Best Plays Theater Yearbook. Hal Leonard Corporation, 2007. p. 337.
  30. ^ ""Most Haunted" Most Haunted Live: Winchester Mystery House (TV Episode 2007) - IMDb". IMDb. October 19, 2007. Archived from the original on November 6, 2021. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  31. ^ "Most Haunted". Metacritic. Archived from the original on May 13, 2021. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  32. ^ "Winchester Mystery House". October 19, 2007. Archived from the original on May 13, 2021. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  33. ^ "That's Not Cool" Archived July 29, 2016, at the Wayback Machine originally from
  34. ^ "Smell of Fear Aftershow". Archived from the original on January 22, 2014. Retrieved June 24, 2013.
  35. ^ "Winchester Mystery House". Travel Channel. Archived from the original on June 27, 2017. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  36. ^ "Winchester Mystery House | Ghost Brothers on TLC | TLC GO". TLC GO. Archived from the original on October 21, 2017. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  37. ^ Murthi, Vikram (August 29, 2016). "NYFF Announces Shorts Programs And New Section Explorations | IndieWire". Archived from the original on January 16, 2017. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
  38. ^ "Sarah Winchester, Ghost Opera". Opéra national de Paris. Archived from the original on October 21, 2017. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  39. ^ "Helen Mirren reigns on film set at Winchester Mystery House". May 6, 2017. Archived from the original on June 19, 2017. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  40. ^ "'Winchester' movie starring Helen Mirren has a release date". May 11, 2017. Archived from the original on June 14, 2017. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  41. ^ "Episode 79: Locked Away". Lore. Archived from the original on July 28, 2019. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  42. ^ "Episode 107: The Widow and the Winchester (2.1.2019)". Archived from the original on November 6, 2021. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  43. ^ "The week in radio and podcasts: Across the Red Line; This Paranormal Life; Case Notes". the Guardian. May 5, 2019. Archived from the original on September 21, 2021. Retrieved September 20, 2021.
  44. ^ #194 Cursed House of 1000 Ghosts: The Winchester Mystery House, archived from the original on September 20, 2021, retrieved September 20, 2021


  • Ignoffo, Mary Jo (2010). Captive of the Labyrinth: Sarah L. Winchester, Heiress to the Rifle Fortune. Columbia, Mo: Univ. of Missouri Press. ISBN 978-0826219053.

External links[edit]

Media related to Winchester Mystery House at Wikimedia Commons