San Jose, California
The Winchester Mansion may seem to be a typical haunting: there's noises in the night, voices, and many have felt the tell-tale cold spots or other eerie feelings. So, what makes it so exceptional?
To fully grasp the bizarre story, one has to start in September 1862, when young Sarah Pardee married William Wirt Winchester, the heir of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, in New Haven, CT, at the height of the Civil War.
On July 15, 1866, Sarah gave birth to their only daughter, Annie. Tragically, the infant died of marasmus after only nine days. Sarah took the baby's death exceptionally hard, and teetered precariously on the brink of insanity for the next ten years.
Not long after, she returned to her former self, Sarah faced another tragedy - her beloved husband became ill with pulmonary tuberculosis. Upon his death in 1881, Sarah inherited over $20 million dollars, in addition to a healthy daily allowance from the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.
The money did little for her. Grief for her husband consumed her and reminded her of the loss of her daughter again. She sought peace through a medium who told her that her husband was present and described him. She went on to repeat her husband's warning: there was a curse on their family, and the curse was to be blamed for the two deaths. Because of the terrible weapons created by the family company, thousands died and their spirits wanted revenge.
The medium continued, telling her to sell her New Haven property and go towards the sunset. She would be guided by her husband and recognize her new home when she saw it. Then, the medium uttered the words that would change Sarah forever. "You must build a home for yourself and for the spirits who have fallen from this terrible weapon. You can never stop building the house. If you continue building, you will live. Stop, and you will die."
Armed with this 'advice,' Sarah headed west and found a six room house under construction. It stood on 162 acres, so there was plenty of room for expansion. Sarah threw out previous plans and began operating under her every whim.
For the next 36 years, she had carpenters and craftsmen working around the clock, under the belief that this would confuse the spirits. She built doors that opened to walls or drop off's to the yard below, as the house grew upwards. Stairways went right to ceilings. Chimneys stopped inches short of the ceiling. On every staircase, the stair posts were installed upside down. Many of the bathrooms had glass doors.
Each morning, she met with the foreman and discussed her hand-sketched plans from the night before. Rooms turned to wings, and as floors were added, so were elevators.
Sarah's preference for the number 13 was prevalent throughout her designs. Many rooms contained 13 windows; the windows held 13 panes of glass; walls had 13 panels; some of the wood floors had 13 sections; and all the staircases but one had 13 steps. The final staircase had 42 steps, yet only rose nine feet.
By 1906, the house was seven stories, until the great San Francisco Earthquake happened. Portions of the house collapsed in ruins and the fireplace in the room Sarah slept in trapped her inside. She took it as a sign from the spirits, that they were furious about the nearly completed construction. As a result, she had 30 rooms sealed, to remain forever unfinished. She also figured the spirits in that part of the house at the time of the quake would be trapped forever.
Expansion began again and continued until Sarah's death at age 83 in 1922.
Robert Ripley, of Ripley's Believe It or Not first featured the incredible house. It was advertised as having as having 148 rooms total, but it was so confusing inside that each time someone counted, a new total was given. When the moving men moved the furniture out, it took six weeks because of the maze of rooms. The final estimated room count is 160, but to this day, that number can't be proven.
The Winchester Mansion has been declared a California Historical Landmark and registered as a 'large, odd dwelling with an unknown number of rooms.' It is open for tours, and an amazing, confounding place.
It's said that chimneys are supposed to be some sort of doorway for ghosts, and it's believed that this is the reason the chimneys within the mansion stopped inches from the ceilings. Sarah also believed that ghosts are afraid of their reflections and for this reason she had only two mirrors. It's impossible to understand Sarah's reasoning for things since the whole reason for the constant carpentry was her fear of the spirits and the curse, and yet she 'communed' with the spirits nightly over building plans and protected them from their own reflections.
Some believe it was Sarah's own guilt over the guns manufactured and her own inability to stop the deaths of her daughter and husband. Perhaps the mansion is haunted. Perhaps it was simply something to keep Sarah from plunging into complete madness, although to us, it appears she was already there.
Stephen King fans might find something oddly familiar about the Winchester Mansion. After hearing of it, he thought it would be a good idea for a novel and the main 'character' in Rose Red, is the mansion that continually rebuilds itself, and is based on Sarah's massive house.