Winchester Mystery House

When the gun magnate William Wirt Winchester passed away in 1881, he left a hefty fortune to his widow Sarah Winchester (1839-1922), which over the next 40 years she ploughed into one of the most peculiar buildings in the United States. In a Late Victorian and Queen Anne styles, the Winchester Mystery House is an ornate, tile-clad muddle of gables, chimneys, conical towers and finials, with no logical plan. This sense of disorder, and the countless deaths at the barrels of Winchester repeating rifles, may be the source of ghost stories going back to the earliest days of construction. When Sarah died work stopped forever, but there are 161 rooms at the Winchester Mystery House, with 40 bedrooms, two ballrooms and more than 10,000 individual panes of glass. In the Escher-esque interior, doors open onto walls and stairways lead to sealed ceilings. The estate has been open for tours since 1923, amazing visitors with its blend of beautiful and just plain bizarre. San Jose’s Winchester Mystery House was built in 1884 by Sarah Winchester, the widow of the Winchester Rifle magnate William Winchester. Originally, it reached seven stories in height; however, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake did some damage. The house now stands at four stories.

During a total of the home’s 38 years of construction, Sarah’s belief that the house was haunted by those who had been killed by a Winchester rifle led her to have her house built without the direction of an architect. As such, there are numerous peculiarities in the construction such as stairways and doors leading nowhere. The house has 40 bedrooms, but only one working bathroom. She believed that these steps she was taking during construction served to confuse the spirits. The house now serves as a popular San Jose’s tourist attraction. On the premises of the Winchester compound sits the American Fire Arms Museum. The Winchester Mystery House® is an architectural wonder and historic landmark in San Jose, CA that was once the personal residence of Sarah Lockwood Pardee Winchester, the widow of William Wirt Winchester and heiress to a large portion of the Winchester® Repeating Arms fortune.

Tragedy befell Sarah – her infant daughter died of a childhood illness and a few years later her husband was taken from her by tuberculosis. Shortly after her husband’s death, Sarah left their home in New Haven, CT and moved out west to San Jose, CA. There, she bought an eight-room farmhouse and began what could only be described as the world’s longest home renovation, stopping only when Sarah passed on September 5, 1922. But what remained is indeed a mystery. Even before her passing, rumors of a “mystery house” being built by an eccentric and wealthy woman swirled. Was she instructed to build this home by a psychic? Was she haunted by the ghosts of those felled by the “Gun that Won the West”? Did construction truly never stop? What motivated a well-educated socialite to cut herself off from the rest of the world and focus almost solely on building the world’s most beautiful, yet bizarre mansion. Sarah Winchester was a woman of independence, drive, and courage who lives on in legend. And the mansion she built is world renowned as much for the many design curiosities and innovations (many ahead of their time) as it is for the reported paranormal activity that resides within these walls.

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