The Lore Behind the Winchester Mansion’s Construction

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William J. Bennett said- “Home is a shelter from storms- all sorts of storms.”

But what if the home is a maze to confuse ghosts?

While everyone finds comfort in the four walls of our homes, all would agree that the work of constructing the house is the most troublesome of all. We always wish to get over with the construction part as soon as possible but there is a house that was continuously in construction for 38 years or so to say as long as the owner was alive!

The Winchester Mansion from the outside looks like a place meant for fairy tales and folklore but in its folds, it hides behind some untold stories and mysteries. This odd labyrinth-like mansion was commissioned to be built by Sarah Winchester. She spent a whopping $5.5 million on her 24000 square foot home. The mansion consists of 160 bedrooms, 47 fireplaces, 40 staircases, 13 bathrooms, and has around 10,000 windows and 2,000 doors! If that isn’t enough to fan the fire of been intrigued then hold on, there is much more to come.

Who was Sarah Winchester?

Born as Sarah Lockwood Pardee to a working-class family in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1839, Sarah married William Winchester at the age of 23 and then came to be known as Sarah Winchester. Sarah was a very private person and stood just 4 feet 10 inches tall. Her husband, William Winchester was the heir to a rifle company known as the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, they developed the repeating rifle, a gun that was easy to reload and it fired quickly with a rate of one shot every three seconds. The gun was used in the Civil War and was famously known as “the gun that won the West”. Sarah and William had a girl child, Annie, who died when she was just six weeks old and they did not have any other children thereafter. William Winchester died of tuberculosis in 1881 at the age of 43, leaving all his fortune to the childless and widowed Sarah.

 After her husband’s death, Sarah Winchester first lived in San Francisco but her arthritis bothered her hence she bought 40 acres of land in Santa Clara Valley, California, and decided to build a small farmhouse and shift there. But the project of constructing the farmhouse went on for as long as she was alive and what was to be a small farmhouse turned into the most bizarre mansion ever constructed.  

Why is the Mansion odd?

The house has staircases that lead to nowhere, abruptly ending with a wall before it. There are doors in the house that have walls behind it and people never could exactly count the rooms in the mansion as they kept getting lost. The approximate number of rooms was put to be 160. There are passages and tunnels in the house that meet dead ends, Stair posts were fitted upside down, and chimneys that were of no purpose are all over the house. The mansion has cabinets that are less than an inch deep. There is a carriage room in the mansion that has a door that opens to a wall and another door which is too small for anyone to walk through. Near the carriage room, there is a very odd staircase that has seven turns and a total of 44 steps just to reach the second floor!

There is an odd little room in the mansion where people believed that Sarah Winchester performed séances. That room has only one entrance and three exits but two of the exits are as weird as they come. This room has bars on the windows and one of the exit doors opens straight into the kitchen sink of the first floor, several feet below and on using the second door that serves as an exit, one would find themselves in the closet of the adjacent room.

There is a door on the second floor of the house that opens to the outside, which could result in a big fall for anyone who might be careless enough to try and exit that way. There are conservatories in the mansion as well; the first conservatory leads into a small space that is popularly known as the ‘Hall of Fires’ because there are as many as seven heat sources, comprising of four fireplaces and three hot air vents for the small room. There is another conservatory to the south of the mansion which houses the most number of windows in a room. This conservatory has windows on the floor as well as the ceiling.

That’s not all; Mrs. Winchester seemed to have an odd fascination with the number 13. This number crops up time and again, all around the house. For instance, the entrance hall to the house is divided into 13 sections, there are 13 bathrooms with precisely 13 windows in the 13th bathroom, 13 stairs in each staircase, 13 coat hooks in the séance room, 13 gas jets on the chandeliers, 13 sections of flooring, sinks have 13 drain holes, there are in particular 13 stones in the “Oriental Bedroom”, and some fireplaces have 13 bricks. There are even 13 parts to Winchester’s will!

Today, in the honor of the house’s creator, Mrs. Winchester, on every Friday the 13th, a large bell at the Winchester House is rung 13 times at 1300 hours.

The lore behind the Mansion’s Construction

There are many conspiracy theories and tales that rage on regarding the how and whys of the construction of the mansion but there is a story that most people believe to be true. It is said that after the death of her husband, Mrs. Winchester practiced spiritualism as it was quite popular during the Civil War days. Women lost so many loved ones during that time so they searched for ways to communicate with the departed souls. As per the beliefs, Sarah Winchester approached a spiritualist who informed her that she was being haunted by the spirits who died because of the rifles that were made by their company. He informed her that since Sarah was living off the company’s fortune she had to appease the spirits and suggested her to move to California and build a house that could confuse and trap the spirits. It was for this reason that people believed Mrs. Winchester kept up with the construction of the house until she died in her sleep in 1922. It is also proclaimed that she slept in different rooms of the house to throw the spirits pursuing her off the track.

Ghostly Sightings 

To add to the mystery of the mansion, people claim to have had many ghost sightings in the mansion as well as in the lawns surrounding it. The mansion opened for daily tours since the year 1923 and guests have frequently reported strange occurrences in and around the mansion. Time Magazine once bestowed the Winchester mansion with the title of being one of the most haunted places in the world. 

Guests have sighted a bushy-haired woman staring out of one of the windows on the second floor and there have been photographs taken with the same silhouette in the background of the window that people have pointed out. Some videos are still accessible where ‘orbs’ can be seen floating in the stables of the mansion.

Is any logical explanation available for the oddities?

The home’s historian Janan Boehme provides some logical explanations for the oddities of the mansion. She says that the room like the hall of fire could be a space used as a sauna where Mrs. Winchester could find relief for her arthritis. She also explains that the staircase had so many stairs as they were of very less height, to make it easy for Sarah Winchester to climb upstairs. Boehme asserts that Mrs. Winchester had a passion for building homes and remodeling and that’s why the construction of the house went on till the time she died. As for the oddities of the house, the historian states that Mrs. Winchester didn’t have a blueprint for the structure and no formal design experience so maybe the bizarre designing of the house was just mistaken or simply change of mind. 

But even though Boehme provides some logical and realistic theories to the house, she admits to having heard her name whispered behind her back when no one was in the room.

To conclude, the mystery of the Winchester mansion is fresh to date. Since Sarah Winchester did not leave behind a diary or any sort of communication, nobody knows what went through her mind. All we are left today is with a mystery that no one can seem to solve. Different people have a variety of opinions regarding it and people who do believe in the stories say that spirits are involved but Sarah Winchester took the truth with her to the grave. All we are now left with is a mansion that beckons everyone into its jigsaw puzzle that has remained unsolved thus far. 

By Mobani Biswas, Dhumanganj, Prayagraj,India

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