For 38 years, Sarah Winchester dedicated her life to building the Winchester Mystery House, a labyrinth of stairways, windows, and trap doors.
Stairs end abruptly at the ceilings, doors open onto brick walls, and glittered stained glass windows are adorned with spider web designs. Legend says she built the house to appease the many spirits haunting her.
It all started in the town of New Haven, Connecticut, where Sarah Lockwood Pardee was born. Coming from an affluent middle-class family, Sarah was a child prodigy. By the age of 12, she was fluent in French, Italian, Latin, and Spanish. She was recognized for her knowledge of literature and refined musical skills and ultimately dubbed the “Belle of New Haven.”
This undoubtedly unique girl married to William Winchester. The Winchester family amassed a vast fortune running the Winchester Repeating Arms Company where they developed the 1860 Henry Rifle, better known as “The Gun that Won the West.”
During their marriage, Sarah gave birth to a daughter, Annie, who unfortunately passed away from marasmus in July of 1866. Her daughter’s death drove Sarah to the edge of madness. It would take a decade for Sarah to overcome her loss. During this dark time, William was struck with pulmonary tuberculosis, a disease that ended his life. As a result of his death, Sarah inherited 20 million dollars, making her one of the richest women in the world. She took her wealth and began building the Winchester Mystery House.
The Winchester Mystery House Folklore
Unsure of how to deal with her loss, Sarah fell under the influence of a medium who told her she was cursed. She would need to build a home for spirits who died from the Winchester rifle. If she didn’t continuously build the home, she would die. To her luck, Sarah found a six-room home under construction in San Jose, California. Over the years, she would add 200 rooms to the house.
The ever-constant construction of the Winchester Mystery House landed Sarah twenty carpenters who rotated shifts. They labored 24-hours per day, seven days a week. The house was once seven stories high, but a 1906 earthquake reduced the house to four stories. According to some accounts, Sarah held séances every night at midnight so the spirits could tell her what to build next.
Other than the outlandish size of the house, what makes it so unique is the maze-like corridors and doors that lead to nowhere. Some doors lead to dead ends that might leave you hanging off precipices without railings. There are rooms within rooms and little doors that open up to wide spaces. She also created shortcuts that lead you in circles or quickly take you to the other side of the house.
You can find prime numbers throughout the mansion. The most prominent number being 13. She had a chandelier reworked to hold 13 candles instead of 12. There are 13 sink drains, various sets of 13 wall hooks installed within the home, and 13 bathrooms.
Sarah had multiple master bedrooms built. Supposedly, she slept in a different one every night so the spirits couldn’t find her.
Sarah passed away of heart failure at the age of 83 on September 5, 1922. She left a will written in 13 sections and was signed 13 times. The Winchester Mystery House was auctioned immediately and soon became an attraction five months after her death.
Winchester By the Numbers
- 161 rooms
- 24,000 square feet
- 6+ acres
- 2,000 doors
- 10,000 windows
- 47 fireplaces
- 40 stairways
- 13 bathrooms
- 6 kitchens
- 3 elevators
- 2 basements