There is little more “American” than the Wild West of the mid 1800’s and the Winchester Repeating Rifle was known as “the gun the won the West.” A popular rifle among the settlers of the savage and wild western territories of the United States, the Winchester rifle was the method of sending many a man to his maker.
The Winchester Repeating Arms Company, manufacturers of its namesake rifle was owned Oliver Fisher Winchester of New Haven Connecticut. Upon his passing his son William Wirt Winchester took over. Four months after that, he keeled over dead. Already mourning the loss of her young daughter, Sarah Winchester, the widow of William, was left holding 50% of the shares in a very successful arms manufacturing company.
And this was the beginning of the Winchester Mystery House. When you give crazy people lots of money they do crazy things with it. Sarah Winchester was no slouch in the crazy department. Mrs. Winchester was convinced by a medium that she was cursed. The death and heartache visited upon her family was the result of vengeful spirits seeking retribution for the many deaths caused by the Winchester arms. The only way to stave off her own death at the hands of spirits was to build a house. A big house. That makes no sense and is never finished.
The Winchester Mystery House was under continuous construction for 38 a years. Thirty. Eight. Years. Continuously. Twenty-Four hours a day, seven days a week, workers built the Winchester Mansion in San Jose, California. Mrs. Winchester thought the only way to hide from the spirits seeking vengeance was to continually build upon a twisted labyrinth of a home. Working without a masterplan, or any real idea of a finished product, The Winchester Mystery House is a Queen Anne Victorian mansion sporting roughly 160 rooms, 40 of which are bedrooms, 1 completed ballroom, 1 unfinished ballroom, 47 fireplaces, 10,000 windowpanes, some of which are on the interior of the home and face inside walls, 17 chimneys, two basements and 3 elevators. There are doors that open to walls and stairs that go nowhere. And most importantly, is Mrs. Winchester’s Seance Room where she would go to commune with the afterlife. If built today the cost would be estimated at A $70 million.
Mrs. Winchester also had a preoccupation with the number 13 and spider web shapes. The “Spider Web” window designed by Tiffany contains the repetitive motif of 13. There is supposedly a 13 candle chandelier, the wall clothes hooks are in multiples of 13, the sink drain covers have 13 holes. There is also a 13th bathroom with 13 window panes.
Construction stopped on September 5, 1922, with Mrs. Winchester’s death at 83. The house was left to her niece in a will written in 13 sections, which she signed thirteen times.
Now a curiosity attraction, The Winchester Mystery House hosts Fright Nights at the property starting September 30th as well as ghost tours. In addition to holiday festivities, the grounds maintain a lovely garden, the Winchester Firearm Museum and tours of the twisty, crazy, mystery house. Every Friday the 13th the large bell on the property is rung 13 times at 1 o’clock p.m. (13:00) as a tribute to Mrs. Winchester.
The Travel Channel did a special on the Winchester Mystery House