The mystery behind the Sarah Winchester mystery house

5th June 2017. Reading Time: 6 minutes Famous Paranormal Cases, Paranormal Locations, General. 11096 page views. 1 comments.

What is the story behind one of the most famously 'haunted' locations in the world?

In San Jose California sits a very popular tourist attraction. Originally called ‘Llanada Villa’ and later renamed ‘The Sarah Winchester Mystery House’, thousands of visitors come through each year. Why is this house so special and who is Sarah Winchester? (hint no relation to Sam or Dean.) Sarah’s birth name was Sarah Lockwood Pardee. She was born unto an upper middle class family and was considered to be very beautiful and highly intelligent. It is said that by the age of 12, she was fluent in 4 different languages and loved studying Shakespeare. She had quite the social standing. In 1862, she married William Wirt Winchester. He was the only son of Oliver Winchester who happened to be the owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.

Sarah Winchester – always dressed in Black as she was in mourning

In 1866, their only daughter Anne Paree Winchester died at one month old of the childhood disease marasmus. Oliver died in 1880 leaving 50% of his massive gun empire to his son William. Sadly William also died just a year later in 1881 of tuberculous. This 50% stake went to his next of kin Sarah. It was to the sum of around 20 million dollars. It was a lot of money. The money however could not cure Sarah’s sorrow over the tragic deaths within her family – especially that of her daughter. The ‘legend’ is that she felt that she was cursed. Cursed by the fact that the very guns her family manufactured were responsible for many deaths and that this was some sort of cosmic payback or karma. One of their guns, the Henry rifle was dubbed, the gun that won the west and responsible for hundreds if not thousands of deaths. She needed help and sought out the help of mediums to tell her what to do. How could she break the curse?

The house when it stood at 7 stories high before it was struck with a earthquake.

Supposedly a medium by the name of Adam Coons who was believed to be a psychic convinced Sarah that the only way to appease the spirits would be to build a house for her and the spirits to live in. Apparently he told her that if construction of this house ever stopped, she would meet the same fate as her husband and daughter – because of the curse. Sarah found a 6 bedroom house under construction in San Jose which she promptly purchased and construction immediately began. She hired 20 carpenters to work on the property and they worked in rotating shifts for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. At one stage, the house was 7 stories high. After an earthquake in 1906, the house went down to 4 stories. The earthquake itself, Sarah saw as a warning. Apparently she thought that the spirits were angry with her for concentrating on the front portion of the house and focusing on decorating it. For this reason, all work stopped on this area to the house and a lot of areas are boarded up still to do this day. This is thought to be a reason as to why could be a reason as to why there are stairs and doors to no where.

Open the wrong door and you could take quite the drop! Watch your step! The door to nowhere.
Source: Winchester Mystery House

Every night at midnight, Sarah is said to have held seance’s in the aptly named seance room. The ghosts would tell her what to build next. So what was it that the spirits had her build? Secret doors, stairways to nowhere, rooms within rooms, confusing hallways that take you in circles and the list goes on. These were designed to confuse the bad spirits. It seemed to work as the staff themselves needed a map in order to navigate the house. She had several master bedrooms built and slept in different one each night so that the spirits could not find her. The legend goes on to say that Sarah was also obsessed with the number 13. Chandeliers instead of having 12 candles were modified to have 13. There were 13 bathrooms, 13 sink drains, 13 steps on a staircase, 13 pales of glass in a window … you get the idea. It is worth noting however that a lot of people are of the belief that these modifications around the number 13 were made after Sarah’s death in order to showcase how eccentric she was.

One of the many master bedrooms. This is the one where Sarah Winchester passed away.
Source: Winchester Mystery House

Work continued on the house for 38 years. During this time, Sarah lived a rather secluded life. She eventually passed away in her sleep of heart failure at the age of 83. She left a will written in 13 sections and she signed it 13 times. She was finally at peace and buried next to her husband and daughter. Her personal belongings including furniture was given to her niece who kept what she wanted and auctioned the rest off. The house itself was put up for auction to the highest bidder. The new owners opened the house as a tourist attraction which saw it’s first visitors walk through the doors in 1923. None of the furniture inside the house is original. It has all been sourced or donated in order to decorate the house.

The seance room. Every night at midnight until 2am, a bell would toll from the property signalling that Sarah was beginning her nightly seance with the spirits.

A lot of paranormal investigators flock here. What better place to investigate than a house designed for ghosts? There are reports of apparitions, a piano playing on it’s own, cold spots and some say they have even seen Sarah themselves. The staff themselves avoid the 3rd floor at night. They often hear footsteps and disembodied voices. This area is not even open to the public. Most will agree the house has a weird feel to it. I have not investigated here unfortunately, so I have only the stories to go by here.

Staircase leading to the ceiling – aka nowhere
Source: Winchester Mystery House

A movie was filmed about Sarah and her turmoil. The exciting part for myself is that a lot of the filming took place here in Australia across 2 locations that I have personally investigated. Labassa and Ripponlea. These are the perfect setting to tell this odd yet heartbreaking story. I do hope that amongst all of this angst that Sarah did find some happiness within her house. The house itself today is a major tourist attraction in the US and serves as a memorial to Sarah. Some say that she would not want to be remembered in this way and that she should be remembered for her intelligence and love of Shakespeare. Some of this intelligence is embedded in the architecture of the house itself such as secret symbols to help guide people through the house. The iron gates which lead to the winding staircase contain the Masonic symbols which represent ‘the path of self initiation.’ They say that she wasn’t as eccentric as people would have you believe and that she simply got lost in the design of the house having no experience with building, it got away from her. Regardless of what the reasons were, we will never know the true story or true inspirations here, but we can agree the legacy of her mystery house remains just that ….. a mystery.

The stained glass windows to the grand ballroom inscribed with Shakespeare
Source: Winchester Mystery House

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  • Barbara Gentry 5 years ago

    Want to see this house, it is supposedly haunted.