The Winchester Mystery Mansion Before The 1906 Earthquake
When Sarah Winchester’s daughter, Annie, died at the age of only 6 weeks in 1866 and her husband died of tuberculosis in 1881, no one could have known how she would react. Depression, of course. A feeling of desperate loss – goes without saying. A desire to build the most enormous house with staircases that lead nowhere and doors that open onto sheer drops… ummm, can’t imagine they saw that one coming.
Misleading: One of the staircases that goes nowhere.
Sarah Winchester was a fantastically wealthy woman, being the widow of William Wirt (brilliant middle name) Winchester (of Winchester Rifle fame), and had serious amounts of cash at her disposal. And she did her very best to dispose of as much of it as she could, too.
The Winchester ‘Mystery’ Mansion is a vast, rambling monster of a house that Sarah Winchester began building in 1884. Builders worked on the mansion for 38 years straight (we’re talking 24 hours a day, 365 days a year) and at its peak the house was a staggering seven stories tall, although in 1906 an earthquake reduced it to a meagre four stories. But why would someone want to build such a thing in the first place? Well, there are various stories floating around but the most popular tale is that Sarah spoke to a spiritualist after her husband’s death who told her that the spirits of all the people who had been killed by Winchester rifles were rather miffed and wanted their revenge. That might lose you some sleep at night, I suppose. Sarah was then told she would need to build a house to home all these cranky ghosts. If she kept building she would live forever, but if she stopped… she’d die too. Sarah got building.
Sarah died in 1922 and only then did construction finally grind to a halt. The Winchester Mansion erupted into existence with no official floor plans and makes no architectural sense whatsoever. There are about 160 rooms including 40 bedrooms, 2 basements (because when is one ever enough?) and numerous doors and stairways that lead nowhere, designed to confuse and confound the spirits of the dead.
Is the mansion really haunted or was Sarah wasting her time creating her bizarre house of wonders? If you study the various accounts available, there certainly seems to be a few odd things going on within the mansion’s countless walls.
A long term employee at the mansion reported that one evening he had made his way around the house, as usual, and had meticulously turned off all the lights before locking up. When he got outside he glanced up and found that all the lights on the third floor were merrily blazing away again. It’s easy enough to miss one light, but an entire floor? Seems unlikely.
The delicious aroma of chicken soup occasionally invades the kitchens of the mansion even though the kitchens haven’t been used for decades and tour guides have had their tours interrupted by a disembodied voice calling their name.
Also, a few years ago the office manager at the mansion was heard complaining that she had come across a woman dressed up in Victorian clothing and she wanted to know why, as the office manager, she hadn’t been notified that there was some kind of promotional day going on. No one knew what she was talking about and despite a search for the Victorian woman, no trace was ever found. Perhaps the office manager had unwittingly witnessed the ghost of Sarah Winchester, back from the grave to keep an eye on her beloved mystery mansion. Or perhaps the house is such a maze even Sarah herself can’t find her way out…
©Nicola Kirk and http://www.nicolakirk.wordpress.com 2010