WRITTEN BY Blake Stilwell
Blake Stilwell is a traveler and writer with degrees in Graphic Design, Television & Film, Public Relations, International Relations, and Business Administration. He is a former military combat p…See full bio
The famous Winchester Mystery House has earned a reputation for being one of the most peculiar haunted houses in California, but do you know the ghostly history behind this must-see mysterious attraction?
In 1881, firearms magnate William Wirt Winchester, son of Winchester Repeating Arms founder Oliver Winchester, passed away. He left his wife, Sarah, a sizable fortune. She moved from the family home in New Haven, Connecticut, to a small, eight-room farmhouse in San Jose, California. In the 38 years after her arrival, she built more than 150 rooms in the home, complete with 10,000 windows, numerous trap doors, spy holes and stairwells that went to nowhere.
Sarah Winchester was uncomfortable with her $20 million fortune, which adds up to more than a half-billion dollars when adjusted for inflation. Legend has it that she was wracked by the death of her husband, the death of her one-month-old child, and the ghosts of people killed by her husband’s rifles. So, she built a home that would not only house their spirits, but also confuse and confound them. She believed that if she ever stopped the “improvements” on the house, she would die, and her 50-percent ownership of the Winchester Arms Company ensured she would be able to continue the work for as long as she wanted.
Without any kind of plan or blueprint, Sarah hired workers to add on to the home 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the 38 years she lived there—and the results were impressive: San Jose’s Winchester Mystery House occupies a sprawling 4.5-acre landscape and features a labyrinth of rooms. She designed a house filled with truly bizarre architectural additions, including skylights that cut into the floors above, indoor balconies, doors that open into walls, and other oddities. It’s said that the closest Sarah ever came to creating a plan was drawing designs on the backs of napkins that she would hand over to workers, only to remove or reshape them within the same week. (It’s also rumored that she never slept in the same room twice.) Work only stopped when she died in 1922.
While some of the changes Sarah desired were strange, others were extraordinary. An avid gardener, she constructed a conservatory with an indoor irrigation system, one where plants could be watered at multiple levels. The conservatory also had a steam-driven, forced-air heating system, indoor plumbing, and heated water in a personal shower. Equally awe-inspiring is the interior of the mansion, which is adorned with gold and silver accents and shimmering chandeliers. Much of it is made with California redwood, though stained with a different color and grain (the lady of the house never liked the look of the redwood).
While the usual hour-long tour isn’t currently available due to the pandemic, the Winchester Mystery House is offering 40-minute virtual tours, so you can learn more about the California historical landmark’s fascinating past. The only thing you could miss out on during a virtual tour versus an in-person tour is witnessing the incidences of hauntings and spirits throughout—employees have reported strange sounds, crying, icy chills and self-turning door knobs.
What do you think about the Winchester House, and would you dare to visit? Let us know in the comments below.