Winchester Mystery House
Few haunted houses are more splendid and massive than the Winchester Mystery House. Once the pet project of wealthy widow Sarah Winchester, the Winchester Mystery House, which began as a humble 6-room home, is now a popular destination for ghost tours of the San Jose area.
In 1884 Sarah Winchester, heiress of the Winchester Rifle fortune, began construction on a Victorian-style mansion. Driven by her supposed guilt over the many deaths her husband’s rifle business caused, Sarah paid a veritable army of construction workers and craftsmen to build the sprawling 160-room house over the course of nearly forty years. Devastated by the untimely deaths of both her husband and baby daughter and thinking them to be connected to the shooting deaths of many victims of the Winchester rifle, Sarah was supposedly told that continually building the rambling home would appease (or in some cases perhaps trap) the spirits and lift a curse.
Acting as her own architect, Sarah consulted with spiritual guides to make sure the wandering souls who’d lost their lives by gunshot would find a final resting place. Sarah Winchester never created a master set of blueprints, instead she sketched the rooms she wanted on scraps of paper and occasionally tablecloths. The house’s hallways and corridors are like a labyrinth, causing many to speculate that perhaps Sarah’s goal was to trap and confuse the spirits who sought vengeance on her family. Rumor has it Sarah tried to avoid the restless ghosts by sleeping in a different room every night.
When the earthquake of 1906 struck, Sarah was trapped in the Daisy Room where she’d been sleeping near a fireplace that suddenly collapsed. When she was finally freed, she said the experience was the result of the ghosts wanting her to stop spending so much time perfecting the mansion’s front rooms—and that they were furious she thought she was nearly finished with her construction. So Sarah obediently boarded up 30 rooms and focused on even more expansion. She never again used her then recently acquired (and quite pricey for the time) front doors.
Filled with “modern” amenities, the Winchester mansion includes button-operated lights, nearly 50 fireplaces, parquet floors and gorgeous chandeliers. Almost every window has 13 panes of glass, most floors contained 13 sections and all but one staircase boasts 13 steps. But beyond the architectural oddities and trappings of wealth, it seems the mansion has also trapped a fair share of spirits.
Ghostly animals began to be sighted and many people have reported seeing things ghosting about. People hear mysterious voices, footsteps and doors slamming shut. Cold spots and strange lights appear and then fade away. An employee of the mansion claimed to see a figure of an elderly woman in one of the rooms and asked who they had gotten to portray Mrs. Winchester. Alarmed, a coworker explained they did not have any reenactors. Could it be that Sarah succeeded in trapping the ghosts who dogged her steps for so many years and they still roam the Winchester mansion? Or are the disturbances signs that Sarah herself has never left the building—trapped with the same ghosts she feared?
Today 110 of the 160 rooms are available for tourists to see—but stick with your guide so you don’t become a victim of the wandering designs and maze-like halls!