Ghosts of Ohio
Lore & Legends

Winchester Mystery House

Built by a woman convinced she was being pursued by vengeful spirits, The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California stands today as one of the most enigmatic and fascinating buildings in the world. And thatís even before considering that it is supposed to be haunted.

In the 1880s, Sarah L. Winchester was despondent over the recent deaths of her only child and husband, William Winchester, son of the manufacturer of the Winchester Repeating Rifle. Alone and seeking answers, Sarah decided to visit a psychic in Massachusetts. The psychic told Sarah that the spirits of everyone who had died due to the Winchester rifle (some reports say the psychic also included animals) were attempting to exact their revenge. Sarahís only hope, according to the psychic, was to move west and begin building a house. But this was to be no ordinary house; it was to be a house designed with the help of the spirits themselves. And construction was to be continuous. The reason for this was to appease the good spirits with a home while confusing the bad spirits with the constant construction.

So in 1884, Sarah Winchester moved to California, purchased an eight-room farmhouse, and began building. . . and didnít stop until 38 years later, when she passed away.

The legacy that Sarah Winchester left behind is today known as The Winchester Mystery House. During the 38 years of 24-hour, 365 days a year building, Sarah erected a magnificent structure that sits on six acres of land and boasts some 160 rooms (counts often vary). The house includes close to 40 different bedrooms, 47 fireplaces and, oddly enough, 13 bathrooms.

As the psychic instructed, part of the houseís function was to confuse ghosts with continual building. For this reason, Sarah filled the house with an assortment of features perhaps better designed for a fun house: staircases that led nowhere, doors and windows that opened into walls, even skylights installed in the floor. In order to further confuse the spirits, it was not uncommon for Sarah to have builders create a room (or even an entire wing) and then order them to destroy it. Some have estimated that during the 38 years of building, nearly 600 rooms were built and then demolished.

In order to have an escape route should she be cornered by an angry spirit, Sarah had an elaborate labyrinth of secret passageways constructed throughout the house. In addition, Sarah also slept in a different bedroom every night. That is, until 1906 when an earthquake rocked the mansion, trapping her in one of the bedrooms. Sarah took the earthquake as a sign that the spirits were unhappy and ordered the 30-odd rooms of the wing she was in when the earthquake hit closed off forever (they were only reopened when restoration began on the house years after her death). From that point on, Sarah began sleeping in one specific bedroom every night.

But Sarah also wanted to communicate with the good spirits. In fact, many of the rooms were designed from ideas Sarah claimed the spirits gave her. Possibly for this reason, the number "13" figures into the design of many of the rooms:

  • Many rooms contain 13 windows (or multiples of 13)
  • There are a total of 13 bathrooms in the house
  • Thirteen steps on the grand staircase
  • One of the suites has thirteen fireplaces in it
  • Thirteen gas lights on the chandelier
  • Some sink drains have thirteen holes in them
  • There are also 13 mysterious coat hooks on the wall of the room at the heart of the Winchester Mystery House; Sarahís sťance room.

Often called the Blue Room, this hallowed room was off-limits to everyone but Sarah Winchester. Every evening at exactly midnight, the bells in the tower would be rung, summoning the spirits. Sarah would then enter the room via a secret passageway and begin to attempt and communicate with the spirits. In was in this manner that many of the construction plans for the house were obtained. Exactly two hours later, the bells were again rung, signaling the end of the sťance.

When Sarah Winchester passed away in 1922, the construction on the house finally stopped (tour guides happily point to places where nails were left half-nailed into the wall). While Sarah was alive, she lived alone and kept most of her ghostly encounters to herself. But as soon as the house was restored and opened up to the general public, the ghost stories began circulating.

Tour guides for years have heard strange footsteps and slamming doors echoing throughout the house, often in areas not accessible to the public. Several employees also reported the distinct odor of chicken soup wafting in from the kitchen. This might not seen all that unusual until one discovers that the kitchen is inoperable. There is also a rocking chair that often rocks slowly back and forth by itself.

But the most enduring ghost story surrounding the Winchester Mystery House is about an appreciative tourist who thanked management for incorporating actors into portions of the tour. In particular, the tourist was impressed with the actress in the kitchen who portrayed Mrs. Winchester. There was only one problem; management had not hired any actors. And when the kitchen was searched, it was found to be empty.

There are those who claim the Winchester Mystery House is not haunted and represents nothing more than the outpouring of a woman driven mad by grief. That may very well be true, but there is still something to consider:

For the last 38 years of her life, with the exception of her servants, Sarah Winchester had lived alone and invited spirits to visit her. Would it be any great surprise to find out that a few decided to take Sarah up on her offer?

© The Ghosts of Ohio