Winchester Mystery House and the Story of Sarah Winchester

Some stairs lead to nowhere, most are only a few inches high, one room has three exits but only one entrance and the entire front portion of the house were unused after the 1906 earthquake.

The Winchester Mystery House is exactly what the name suggests: a mystery. Visitors are not allowed to walk by themselves because it’s very easy to get lost. It seems Sarah Winchester built the house like a maze to confuse spirits who wished to harm her.

Sarah Winchester was the widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester, son of Oliver Winchester, the company’s founder. She inherited the Winchester fortune and her own family fortune when her mother, her husband and father-in-law died in a short period of time (1880-1881). Fifteen years earlier her only daughter died of a rare childhood illness.

She spent the rest of her life believing she was cursed by the ghosts of the people who died because of the Winchester rifle. Or so we are told. The tour and most of the videos and sites you find on the internet portray Sarah as a crazy, demanding lady, obsessed by ghosts and suffering from OCD, but tolerated because she was rich. The focus is on making this a unique sideshow house that could very well be one of the most haunted places in America.

But after walking through the house I began to think Sarah was very intelligent, knowledgeable and complex. The house didn’t feel creepy or haunted, but instead warm and inviting. Her designs, stained glass windows and one of a kind wallpaper incorporated concepts and shapes from Celtic religion, Buddhism and Hinduism.

She also suffered from severe arthritis and the layout of the house combined with low stairs helped her get around. Her kitchen and laundry room designs were smart and very practical.

She also considered the people she employed in her designs and in her will. After she died, the only things found in the massive house safe were newspaper clippings about her daughter and husband’s deaths. These are not the actions of a crazy person, but rather one who is empathetic and values people.

The one thing that I couldn’t understand is the room at the centre of the house where Sarah supposedly spoke with spirits every night; those same spirits who told her what to build every day. The room that everyone said controlled her life.

This central room had only one entrance and three exits, but each exit required stepping up and was difficult to use. There is no way a woman with severe arthritis would have been able to climb into secret passageways when I myself had difficulty.

Either way, it’s an interesting house and worth the hour tour. This is a definite piece of California history.

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