Winchester House, San Jose, California See Next
Sarah Lockwood Pardee married William Winchester of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in 1862. Their only child, a six-month-old daughter died in 1866. William died of tuberculosis a few years later.
The distraught Sarah visited a Boston psychic (a common practice at the time) who told her the deaths were revenge from the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles, and that Sarah could escape the spirits' wrath by moving west and building a house that would never be finished.
Sarah Winchester took her $20 million cash inheritance and $1,000-a-day income and moved west to California in 1884. She bought an unfinished, eight-room farmhouse near San Jose which is now known as the Winchester Mystery House. She soon started building 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - and she never stopped. For the next 38 years, the house grew like kudzu along a Virginia highway, swallowing up everything around it, including the barn and water tower.
Opinions vary about why Sarah kept building the Winchester House. While some say she thought it would prevent her death, others reckon that she was just a crazy, rich woman with too much money and a poor sense of building design. Every night, Sarah is rumored to have retreated to her séance room to consult the spirits, who gave her building instructions. Neither Sarah nor her spirits were good architects, and the Winchester House grew without plan or blueprint.
The Mansion Tour passes from completed rooms into incomplete ones, as if the builders lost their place and started anew every day. Winchester's fascination with the number 13 is evident everywhere: bathroom number 13 has 13 windows, one of them looking into the bedroom next door, the kitchen sink sports 13 drain holes and Winchester even modified a 12-light gas chandelier to hold 13 lights. The Winchester Mystery House is now a rambling, 160-room, unfinished and unfurnished house. Curiosities include staircases leading to nowhere and doors in the floor.
By April, 1906, the Winchester House rose seven stories high. A massive earthquake struck, setting off fires that destroyed much of San Francisco. In San Jose, Sarah Winchester was imprisoned in her bedroom. When freed, she announced that the earthquake was a message from the spirits that she was spending too much time in the front rooms. She boarded up 30 of them, blocking access to her new $3,000 front doors, and never used them again.