The life of Sarah Winchester is one surrounded by myth and intrigue. Though she is remembered as a prominent historical figure, she is most remembered for the Winchester Mansion, which has made headlines since is original construction.
Her life remains one of tragedy, guilt and myth. Here is the story of her demise and obsession with the paranormal.
The Mystery House
The Winchester Mystery House is a famous landmark. The massive 160-room mansion in San Jose, California, is a popular destination with history and paranormal buffs alike, with its winding staircases, doors to nowhere, and widely reported ghostly inhabitants.
The construction of the mansion got people talking, and not just because of it’s unique design. People began to speculate about Sarah’s mental demise, as well as her paranormal obsession. Despite this, much of her life remained behind closed doors, and remained open to speculation.
The death of her husband wasn’t the only tragedy to strike. In June 1866, Sarah gave birth to a daughter, Annie Pardee Winchester. Sadly her daughter passed away during infancy.
According to some accounts, Sarah never got over the death of Annie. She became more conscious of the negativity in her life, and began to blame the source of her wealth. The Winchesters had made tremendous profit from death. This was something she always struggled to come to terms with.
In 1880 William’s father Oliver, died. He left the company to his only son, William. Then, just a year later, William fell ill, and died from tuberculosis. Sarah inherited a company she could never justify.
After the death of her Husband, William Winchester, Sarah inherited a business fortune of around $20 million ($500 million today).
Though she inherited such a colossal sum of money, she was never at peace with how it was made – conscious of how much blood had been spilled in the process of making her fortune.
The Winchester Rifle became so pivotal in history, it became known as the ‘gun that won the west.‘
After inheriting her fortune, she turned to the paranormal for help. She sought help from a medium in Boston. With the guilt of her wealth weighing heavily on her heart, she asked the medium what she should do next.
The medium explained to her, that in order to find peace, she needed to appease the spirits of the victims that had died as a result of Winchester firearms.
The medium told her to travel west, and build a house for the lost souls. She followed the advice.
Work on the seven story mansion soon began. Spiritualists and mediums regularly visited Sarah, and according to legend, she asked them for their advice on how she should build the house, in order to escape eternal torment from the spirits.
Though the advice from the spiritualists is unknown, work on the house never stopped. Construction was ordered around the clock, and constant changes made, all to appease the spirits within.
The spirits would get the final say on how the mansion was built. Sarah would hold séances every midnight, in order to receive building instructions for the following day.
Her séances reportedly involved a Ouija board and planchette, with other accounts suggesting Sarah took a more ritualistic approach.
At midnight, she would ring her alarm bell, to signal the spirits that it was time for a séance, and then again at 2:00 am, telling the spirits that it was time to leave.
In 1906, an earthquake devastated the area surrounding the house, and one of the rooms that Sarah was in, was heavily damaged. She was trapped in the room, until her workers managed to set her free. After she was freed, she had the room sealed shut.
The Building of the House
Although Sarah sought direction from the spirits, she also wanted to confuse them. Doorways would open to huge drops and solid walls, and corridors would circle back on themselves.
Lots of strange features and symbolism was incorporated into the building of the house. The numbers 7 and 11 were embedded into the architecture because she regarded them as lucky numbers. She also used the traditionally unlucky number of 13, to ward of evil spirits. Every Friday the 13th, the bell rings 13 times on the 13th hour.
She also slept in different rooms of the house each night to further confuse spirits.
Despite the paranormal playing a central role in it’s construction, the house was still lavishly decorated, with running hot water and central heating, using the best technology at the time.
Despite a tumultuous life, Sarah died peacefully in her sleep on 5 September 1922.