Sunday, April 13, 2014

That Winchester Woman

Sarah Winchester (nee Pardee) inherited a fortune from the Winchester Repeating Arms Company—famous for making the Winchester Rifle.  Despite her riches, she firmly believed that her good fortune came with a curse. 

Born in 1839 in New Haven, Connecticut, Sarah’s parents saw to it that she had a good education.  She spoke several languages and was musically inclined.  In addition to her smarts, she was pretty and charming making her a favorite with the local boys.  One in particular, William Wirt Winchester, son of Oliver Winchester who owned the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, fell madly in love with her. 

William married Sarah in 1862.  Four years later, they had a daughter, Annie who died as an infant.  Sarah never had another child and the happy-go-lucky girl she once was disappeared forever.  Her father-in-law passed away in 1880 and the following year tuberculosis claimed her husband leaving Sarah miserable despite the $20,000,000 she inherited along with half of the Winchester Company, which brought her one thousand dollars every single day. 

Sarah sought comfort in psychics.  One soothsayer told her that the Winchesters were cursed by all of the souls who had been killed by their rifle.  These spirits demanded revenge.  According to the psychic, Sarah’s dead husband wanted her to move west and build a home in order to escape the family curse.  But there was a catch—once she started building, she must never, ever stop.  If she did, the evil spirits would claim her just as they had her baby, her father-in-law and her husband. 
Sarah sold her home in Connecticut and moved to California where she found property in what is now San Jose.  Convinced that this was where her dead husband wanted her to be, she began building her home in 1884.  The construction continued non-stop for the next 36 years.

Sarah began with an unfinished farmhouse that stood on a little more than 160 acres.  She hired a team of carpenters to work around the clock.  Every night at 12:00, Sarah held a séance to summon only good spirits who provided the next day’s building plans.  The house grew daily as rooms were built around rooms; stairways leading to nowhere rose up; doors that opened to walls or nothing at all were installed. 
By 1906, the house stood seven stories high.  Then on April 18th, a powerful earthquake struck San Francisco.  The top three floors of Sarah’s home collapsed trapping her in a bedroom.  After she was freed, Sarah believed that the entire incident was the spirits’ way of telling her that didn’t like her home improvements.  To appease them, Sarah boarded up 30 rooms in the front of the house.  She did not, however, stop building.  She installed secret rooms, trap doors, upside down stair posts and chimneys that didn’t work—all in an attempt to confuse the evil spirits that were after her.

Then on September 4, 1922, the hammering, sawing and construction halted when 83-year-old Sarah Winchester died in her sleep.  As they learned of her death, the workmen immediately quit whatever they were doing.  Some even left half-pounded nails in the walls.
Today, Sarah’s home, rumored to be haunted, is known as the Winchester Mystery House and has been designated a national historical place by the U.S. Government.  Visitors can tour the place and see for themselves the 160 rooms; 467 doorways, 950 doors, 47 fireplaces, 17 chimneys, 40 bedrooms, 40 stairways, 367 steps, three elevators, two basements and two ballrooms—only one of which is complete.



  1. I remember touring the Winchester Mystery House when I was a kid, which was quite a few years ago. I scared the heck out of me. Thanks for the memory.

    1. Thanks for dropping in, Jim! Glad you enjoyed the post.