I don’t know if I believe in ghosts but I believe in a good ghost story. Even though I’ve mostly moved towards digital reading, I still visit a bookstore from time to time. When there, I often look through the bargain book section and recently I happened upon a book published by West Side Publishing, a division of Publications International Ltd entitled
Armchair Reader Haunted America.
It being October, the month for all things Halloween, I bought the book. Under the plan to share some of the stories with my followers, the book has a story I heard before. It is the bizarre story of the Sarah Winchester and her San Jose, California mansion. This is my third story from this book:
Winchester Mystery House
The Winchester Mystery House is a mansion in Northern California, once the personal residence of Sarah Winchester, the widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester.
The property and mansion have been claimed to be haunted—including by Winchester herself—since construction commenced in 1884. Under Winchester’s day-to-day guidance, its “from-the-ground-up” construction proceeded around the clock, without interruption, until her death on September 5, 1922 (38 years), at which time work immediately ceased. The cost for such constant building has been estimated at about US $5.5 million (equivalent to over $75 million today. It now serves as a tourist attraction.
Though it’s possible she was simply seeking a change of location and a hobby during her lengthy depression, other sources claim that while consulting The Boston Medium, Winchester came to believe her family and fortune were haunted by the ghosts of people who had fallen victim to Winchester rifles, and that only by moving West and continuously building them a house could she appease these spirits. Located at 525 South Winchester Blvd. in San Jose, California, the Queen Anne Style Victorian mansion is renowned for its size and utter lack of any master building plan. It sprawls over 6 acres and boasts 160 rooms, 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 stairways, 47 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, and 6 kitchens and it is estimated that more than 500 rooms were actually built and then sealed over or torn down to be refashioned into new rooms.
The Boston Medium told Winchester, supposedly byway of her late husband, that she had to leave her home in New Haven and travel West, where she must continuously build a home for herself and the spirits of people who had fallen victim to Winchester rifles. Winchester left her New Haven home and headed for California. In 1884 she purchased an unfinished farmhouse in Santa Clara Valley, and began building her mansion. Carpenters were hired and worked on the house day and night until it became a seven story mansion.
The June 1937 issue of Modern Mechanix relates the story from then-current accounts:
“Winchester and the baby girl died suddenly and Mrs Winchester, stunned by the tragedy, fell into a coma so serious that physicians despaired of her life. Finally she recovered and, at a friend’s suggestion, visited a medium. During a séance, according to those familiar with her story, she received a communication from her dead husband in which he said: ‘Sarah dear, if our house had not been finished, I would still be with you. I urge you now to build a home, but never let it be finished, for then you will live. “
In fact, her daughter died in 1866 and her husband in 1881, neither suddenly.
In a Discovery Channel account, “She believed her only chance of a normal life was to build a house, and keep building it. If the house was never finished, no ghost could settle into it. The house contains many features that were utilized to trap or confuse spirits. There are doors that are small or lead nowhere and windows that look into other parts of the house. The mansion may be huge but there are only two mirrors in the whole place. This is because Sarah believed that ghosts were afraid of their own reflection.”
Winchester inherited more than $20.5 million upon her husband’s death. She also received nearly fifty percent ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, giving her an income of roughly $1,000 per day, equivalent to about $30,000 a day in today’s value. These inheritances gave her a tremendous amount of wealth to fund the ongoing construction.
- Faint sounds of organ music
- Moving balls of light
- Two apparitions dressed in clothing of Sarah Winchester’s time
- Icy chills in draft free rooms
- Locked doorknobs turning
- A ghostly image of a man in coveralls who was not present appeared in a developed photograph
- Hearing of footsteps and breathing in an empty room
- In a 1975 seance, renowned medium, Jeanne Borgen transformed into an elderly Sarah and aged rapidly and fell over in pain
Here is a brief video about the Winchester Mystery House