Years of mystery and superstition surrounded us as we approached this once magnificent dwelling. The Winchester House was already wrapping its spell around us.
The Winchester House, located in San Jose, California, is a historic mansion built by Sarah Winchester. Sarah was the widow of William Winchester, the heir to Winchester Repeating Rifle fortune. After the untimely death of her infant daughter and then her husband in 1885, Sarah moved to San Jose. In 1886 she bought a two-story house and the building and rumors began.
Was her building simply a result of grief-driven paranoia or was there another reason that she continued to build 24/7? One story states that Sarah was haunted by the ghosts of the thousands killed by the Winchester rifle and kept them at bay only by building. Another legend is that Sarah visited a psychic and was told she would not die as long as she continued building. And build she did! Renovations continued for 36 years and left as a legacy an unusual mansion that eventually contained 24,000 square feet in 160 rooms.
The rooms, doors, and stairways are sometimes a dangerous labyrinth. For example, one second-floor door leads to…nothing except a 15-foot drop. Another of the 2,000 doors leads to a wall. Some of the staircases lead to ceilings. Secret passages are everywhere. One of the 52 skylights is built into a floor.
Not all of her self-designed construction is pointless. Her showers have side sprays so her hair would stay dry. The stairs are very narrow and with a low rise so that her arthritic legs and small stature (4’10”) could see all four floors. Sarah constructed three elevators which were very high tech for that time. She also used technology to make everyday life easier for herself and servants.
In 1906, the massive San Francisco earthquake destroyed three floors of the house and damaged the remaining four stories. The construction never stopped, however, until 1922 when Sarah died.
And then, in 1922, Sarah died, and construction halted. The stories grew in magnitude. Unfortunately, we will never know the truth but are, instead, left to wonder and choose our own favorite story. The 1918 movie, Winchester, which starred Helen Mirren, takes its own foray into the reasons that Sarah continued to build.
Whatever the reason or reasons Sarah built non-stop for 36 years, the result makes a fascinating tour for visitors with surprises around every corner. And who knows? Maybe you will be the lucky visitor that sees the ghost of Sarah Winchester.
– Candace Ahlfinger has loved traveling since she was little and has always been on the go whenever possible. Now she is retired and gets to do what she loves best… TRAVEL! Whether it’s traveling with her wonderful husband, or our children and grandchildren, traveling is a great experience that enriches her life. Because she always enjoys reading and hearing about others’ travel experiences, she wants to share her travels with the Ellis DownHome readers.