Located at 525 South Winchester Blvd. in San Jose, the Queen Anne Style Victorian mansion is renowned for its size, its architectural curiosities, and its lack of any master building plan. It was once the personal residence of Sarah Winchester, the widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester.
In 1862, Sarah Pardee married William Winchester, son of Oliver Fisher Winchester, Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut and manufacturer of the famous Winchester repeating rifle. William began building a new home for his wife and baby daughter in New Haven, Connecticut, but just as the house was finished, a sinister shadow cast itself over the family. Disaster struck when their infant daughter, Annie, died of then mysterious childhood disease marasmus. Mrs. Winchester fell into a deep depression from which she never fully recovered. Fifteen years later, in March 1881, her husband’s premature death from tuberculosis added to Mrs. Winchester’s distress and it is said she ultimately sought help from a spiritualist. The Medium explained that her family and her fortune were being haunted by spirits. These were spirits of American Indians, Civil War soldiers, and others killed by Winchester rifles. The medium implied that Mrs. Winchester might be the next victim to these spirits, and only by moving West and continuously building them a house could she appease these spirits
Mrs Winchester inherited more than $20.5 million, also received nearly fifty percent ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which afforded her additional income of roughly $2,000 per day, equivalent to about $30,000 a day in 2012. This inheritance gave her a tremendous amount of wealth in which she used to fund building a new mansion.
In 1884 she purchased an unfinished farmhouse in the Santa Clara Valley, three miles West of San Jose, and began building her mansion. According to legend, Mrs. Winchester enacted a nightly séance to help with her building plans and for protection from “bad” spirits. Over the next thirty-eight years, carpenters were hired and worked on the house day and night until it became a seven story mansion. She did not use an architect and added on to the building in a haphazard fashion, so that the home contains numerous oddities like doors or stairs that go nowhere, windows overlooking other rooms, and stairs with odd-sized risers. The miles of twisting hallways are made even more intriguing by secret passageways in the walls. According to people that have entered the house for tours and history lessons, it is very easy to get lost inside the labyrinth of rooms.
Dozens of closet doors open on blank walls, stairways end in mid-air, with many trap doors, blind chimneys, secret passages and doors with knobs on only one side. The house was also arranged so that carriages or automobiles could be driven inside, with no prying eyes able to watch Mrs Winchester step out.
It is also interesting to note the countless number of times 13 occurs in the home. Many of the windows have 13 panes; and there are 13 bathrooms. In the 13th bathroom there are 13 windows; with 13 wall panels and 13 steps leading towards that bathroom. Many of the stairs in the home also have only 13 steps to them. There are even 13 hooks in the Séance Room, which supposedly held different colored robes Mrs. Winchester wore while communicating with the spirits of the dead.
Sarah Winchester, died on September 5, 1922. The builders gathered up their tools and the great rambling structure gathered dust until it was picked up by a new owner.
The Winchester Mystery House is America’s largest “haunted” house and is now a designated California historical landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a tourist attraction.