While I do not believe that this house is truly haunted, I’m writing about it not so much because of my beliefs but because it’s a fascinating tale of how the human mind works and how gullible we can be in our guilt and grief.
On September 30, 1862, Sarah Lockwood Pardee married William Winchester, president and treasurer of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. It was a position he’d inherited from his father, Oliver Winchester who’d begun the company after taking over the failing Volcanic Repeating Arms Company (home to Smith & Wesson firearms). The couple had one daughter, Annie, who died at six weeks of marasmus. This sent Sarah Winchester into a deep depression. By 1881, William died of tuberculosis leaving Sarah completely alone.
At some point, Mrs Winchester was in touch with a medium from Boston who informed her that the Winchester family and fortune were being haunted by those who had perished at the wrong end of the very thing that made the family’s fortune: the Winchester repeating rifle. The medium also impled that the early and untimely deaths of her infant daughter and husband were due to the spirits of these people who were angry with the family. Mrs Winchester was encouraged to leave her home in New England and move out west and build a home for these spirits. As long as the construction on the house was never complete, the spirits would be kept at bay and she would avoid becoming a victim like her daughter and husband.
While visiting a neice in Menlo Park, California, Mrs Winchester found an ideal place for this never-ending home and purchased an unfinished farm house and it’s surrounding lands. For the next 38 years, Mrs Winchester had construction being done on the house and the result is what is now known as the Winchester Mystery House.
The house now stands in the middle of San Jose, California, all brightly coloured in burnt yellow and red tile roof among more modern drab. In 2003 I visited this house while I was living in Fresno, CA. When I first heard about it, I was honestly creeped out, thinking that there was more to it that I couldn’t quite figure out. My mother had come to visit while I was living out there and so we decided to go. From the outside, the house just looks odd. Probably more because of its size and unusual floor plan than because of anything supernatural about it. My mother and I took the tour, where visitors are shown a good portion of the house. If the house looked a little “off” on the outside, it gets downright bizarre on the inside.
If you’ve heard about the house, you’ve heard a lot of what is in there. A staircase that leads up into a ceiling (most people refer to it as a staircase that leads to nowhere), there’s a window in a floor on an upper level which is open directly through to the ground floor. The number 13 is prevalent throughout the house. There are quite a number of rooms which are set up as they would’ve been in Sarah’s time, which are now sealed off with glass across the doorway so people can see in. There’s one room full of the supplies of the workmen who just walked away from the job the day Sarah herself died. There’s a tall closet/cabinet only a few inches deep. The one thing that struck me most interesting was that the height of a lot of the doorways was low because Mrs Winchester was a short statured woman. I’m only 5′-3″ and had to at least bend my head down slightly to walk through many doorways while many taller people in our tour group had to bend over much farther.
Many people believe the house is haunted. It’s even appeared on one of the specials aired by the Travel Channel regarding haunted homes. However, I’m more inclined to believe that Mrs Winchester was a victim of a medium who very likely lost a family member to someone who owned a Winchester rifle and wanted revenge of sorts. There are also many who say that the paranormal experiences only happen in the more secretive areas of the mansion, generally inaccessible to the public. Until and unless I’m ever able to access these secret areas, I will maintain my belief that while the Winchester Mystery House is indeed a bizarre place, it is not haunted and Mrs Winchester was taken advantage of in the depths of her grief.
Thanks to Jadewik for providing a few photos for me. 🙂