Sarah Winchester Mystery House of Spirits

The Winchester Mansion was the home of Sarah Winchester from the time after her husband’s death until her own in September 1922. Sarah married into the Winchester family, and inherited approximately half of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company income after her father-in-law and husband died. Shortly after their deaths Mrs. Winchester visited a psychic about her suspicions that she and her family were cursed.

The psychic allegedly confirmed Sarah’s suspicions, explaining that all of the people that had been killed by Winchester riffles were haunting the Winchester family. The psychic also claimed that if Sarah built a house for herself and the spirits, and if the construction of the house never stopped, then the spirits would let her live.

This reading is what began the construction of the Winchester mansion in San Jose, California in 1884. Sarah listened to the psychic’s declaration about her safety and hired round-the-clock workers to continuously renovate the house. The layout of the house is extremely confusing and is one of the many reasons this location is known as a tourist attraction today. There are doors that open up into ceilings, stairs that lead to nowhere, and windows that look into other rooms. Servants had to carry around maps with them in order to navigate the household and were still subject to losing their way in due to the constant changes.

It has been said that new rooms are found all the time, and there’s a high probability that once you walk out of one room you may never walk into it again because you won’t be able to find it. As intriguing as all of this information is the most unique attribute about this house is the fact that the number 13 can be found everywhere.

There are 13 bathrooms with 13 steps on the stairs that lead to the 13th bathroom and 13 windows found inside. There are also 13 wall panels in the room preceding the 13th bathroom. The Carriage Entrance Hall is divided into 13 sections. There are 13 rails by the floor-level skylight in the South Conservatory, 13 squares on each side of the elevator, 13 holes in the sink drain covers, 13 glass cupolas on the Greenhouse, and 13 gas jets on the Ballroom chandelier.

There are even 13 hooks for the 13 different robes Mrs. Winchester wore for the séances she held every night. What’s even more interesting than all of that is that there are 13 parts to her will and she signed it 13 times.

Mrs. Winchester welcomed the good spirits into her life and did what she could to make them happy, which is why there were only three mirrors located in the entire house. Spirits don’t like mirrors because they can’t cast a reflection and they vanish when they look into one. Servants were forced to carry pocket mirrors or grow comfortable without the use of any. Legends state that she would also hold dinner parties for her spirit friends where she would serve them on gold plates. Similar to pleasing the good spirits Mrs. Winchester did everything she could to avoid the bad spirits.

Servants grew suspicious of Mrs. Winchester over the years from her odd behavior. They began to believe that she could walk through solid walls and unopened doors because she would often disappear and reappear all throughout the house. Whenever Mrs. Winchester believed that there was an evil spirit following her she would press a button and disappear into a wall where she would walk down a flight of stairs and back up, or into another room completely. She would do this because evil spirits often feel like they’re going to be trapped and these rouses would make them uncomfortable, so they would stop following her. Mrs. Winchester also never slept in the same room in the 38 years she lived in that house, explaining that this confused the evil spirits.

The Winchester mansion was known as “The Spirit House.” Through the years declarations of spiritual activity within the house have been made by various individuals. The Millers were caretakers of the home from 1973 to 1981. Mr. Miller explains that while tending the house he heard breathing coming from empty rooms and footsteps. Psychics from the Nirvana Foundation set-up electrical equipment to record psychic occurrences and note hearing definite organ sounds, Mrs. Winchester played the organ. They also claimed to have seen moving lights.

Other psychics have spent the night in the house dismissing any claims people have made about losing their eyesight, seeing locked doorknobs turn, or feeling cold chills in areas with no drafts. Regardless of the claims that these various psychics have made one thing is for certain, Sarah Winchester and her California home are one of the most interesting in the world.

Speculation is bound to pursue a wealthy, eccentric recluse like Mrs. Winchester. Many wild rumors circulated about her during her residence in San Jose – her house was even known locally as “The Spirit House” – and some say the rumors may have actually added to Mrs. Winchester’s isolation. But when she died peacefully in her sleep at the age of eighty-two, the curiosity of local people was unleashed.

Sarah Winchester Mystery House
Mrs. Winchester The Spy

Bizarre explanations of how Mrs. Winchester had lived flourished. Many long-time employees became very superstitious over the years and even believed that Mrs. Winchester could walk through solid walls and unopened doors. She did, in fact, have elaborate spying features built into the house to keep an eye on her servants. There are also stories of how she sometimes appeared noiselessly behind them to watch them work.

An Amazing Memory

Mrs. Winchester was renowned for her memory. She knew the location of every item on her estate and kept track of it all, even down to the last screw. After her death, a workman told of the time he was asked to repair a gate, which he did using six colored screws from one of the storerooms. Later, when Mrs. Winchester discovered the screws were missing and asked if he knew where they were, she reportedly said, “Those screws were gold plated! I was saving them for something special. Let’s using something cheaper.”

The Lady’s Demands

Mrs. Winchester occasionally tested the loyalty of her help. Once she told a painter to paint the walls and ceiling of an entire room with red enamel; three days later, she had him repaint the same room white. Another time, she was trying to decide which of 3 applicants to hire as a new gardener. She asked each to plant a row of cabbages upside down. The first did so with-out saying anything, and the second refused her request. The third one agreed to do so but suggested to Mrs. Winchester that cabbages were normally planted with the roots in the ground. The third gardener got the job. He was not afraid to speak up, but recognized that Mrs. Winchester was the Boss!

A Nephew Comes To Call

Mrs. Winchester could be curt and dismissive, even to her own relatives – but she usually had her reasons. Once a nephew from the east coast made the long train trip, supposedly to pay his respects to “Auntie Sarah.” However, she guessed exactly what he was after. Upon his arrival, he was met by a maid carrying a silver tray with a check on it. The young man never set foot in the house.

The Visit Of A President

No amount of effort has resolved conflicting versions of current events, such as this one involving President Theodore Roosevelt. One story goes that the President, who was an ardent fan of Winchester firearms, was on his way to the nearby town of Campbell. Knowing that he would pass by Mrs. Winchester’s house, he sent a message to her saying that he would stop to pay his respects.

Some say the President personally knocked on the front door. No one answered, and one of the gardeners, failing to recognize him, told him to go around back “just like everyone else.” The President reportedly felt insulted and left. Another account says that the San Jose Chamber of Commerce tried to arrange this visit for President Roosevelt, but Mrs. Winchester turned them down with a sharp no!

Sarah Winchester Mystery House
Mrs. Winchester’s Organ

Mrs. Winchester was an accomplished musician. She regularly practiced the pump organ, and she undoubtedly fueled many rumors about the spirits in the great house by playing late at night. Later in life, Mrs. Winchester suffered from severe arthritis, and she felt the disease mainly in her hands. It is believed that by playing the organ she was able to keep her fingers from deteriorating.

The Safe

After Mrs. Winchester’s death, her safe was opened with much anticipation. However, no fortune was found within – only reminders of her deceased husband and daughter. The safe contained fishing lines, newspaper clippings, socks, underwear, and a lock of baby’s hair in a tiny purple velvet box. The New Haven newspaper clipping along with it was from the obituaries and read, “WINCHESTER. In this city, July 24, 1866. Annie Pardee, infant daughter of William Wirt Winchester and Sarah L. Winchester.”

The Wine Cellar

There may be a real treasure hidden away in the Winchester mansion. At one time Mrs. Winchester enjoyed the finest vintage wines and liqueurs. But one evening when she went to the wine cellar to locate a special bottle, she came across a black hand print on the wall. It was most likely a dirt smudge left by a workman, yet she took it as a omen and ordered the cellar boarded up. To this day the wine cellar has not been rediscovered, which means that there might still be spirits in the Winchester Mystery House™ – if only the intoxicating kind!

Mrs. Winchester And The Spirits

It has been said that Mrs. Winchester slept in a different bedroom every night, supposedly in order to confuse evil spirits. Some say that she also held special dinner parties for her spirit friends. Legend has it that she would serve her phantom guests in gold plates, offering them dishes like caviar, truffles, and pheasant stuffed with pate. On the other hand, this theory might have come from rumors about the mansion’s well-fed servants!

Houdini

Though Houdini is the most remembered for his magic shows and his feats as an escape artist, he also devoted much of his time to exposing fraudulent practices by mediums. In 1924, on one of his many lecture and magic tours, he stopped in for a private midnight tour and séance at the Winchester House. Unfortunately, the results of his late-night excursion have been lost to time, but his visit was written about in the Portland Oregon Daily Journal, in November 1924.

A Caretaker’s Story

Over the years many people have occupied the massive home, wither the caretakers or as students of psychic phenomena. Brent Miller and his wife were caretakers of the mansion from 1973 to 1981. He reported several odd incidents, like hearing someone breathe in an empty room, and hearing footsteps in the bedroom where Mrs. Winchester died. One night, he was awakened by the sound of a screw being unscrewed, then hitting the floor and bouncing onto a carpet runner. He jumped out of bed and explored the house, but found nothing.

In another incident, a friend of Miller’s came over one New Year’s Eve and took pictures of the house with a brand new camera. When the film was developed, there was a picture of moving lights and a ghostly figure of a man in coveralls. Only one negative produced this image, and the rest of the film was normal.

Paranormal Investigators

In the Winchester Mystery House™, some people have temporarily lost their eyesight, felt icy chills in spots where there were no drafts, and seen locked doorknobs turn. Researchers of the paranormal have spent the night in the house, employing their special skills to investigate these claims and dispel any wild rumors.

The Nirvana Foundation

Five researchers from the Nirvana Foundation, a psychic research institute in California, spent the night in the mansion, setting up electric equipment to record any psychic occurrences. Definite organ sounds were picked up by the tape recorder, and while walking through the house, the entire group saw moving lights.

Two members of the group, psychic investigators Sylvia Brown and Antoinette May, claimed to see great balls of red light in Mrs. Winchester’s bedroom. Brown also described two spirits, a man and woman, watching the group across the room. The clothing they wore was appropriate to the time of Mrs. Winchester, and it was thought that they might be the spirits of departed servants.

A Modern-Day Séance

On Halloween in 1975, Jeanne Borgen, one of California’s foremost psychic investigators, conducted a midnight séance in the bedroom where Mrs. Winchester died. The results were reported by Alvin T. Guthertz in the magazine Psychic World:

“Suddenly it appeared as if Mrs. Borgen’s face had somehow aged – her hair appeared grey and deep lines creased her forehead. She felt staggering pain and was unable to walk. It was as if she were having a heart attack and, as she started to fall, she shouted, “Help me. Someone get me out of here!”

Jeanne Borgen awoke a short time later. Her breathing was then normal; the pain, or what had seemed like pain, was gone….”She was an overpowering woman, a powerful woman. I felt a tremendous buildup of energy.”

The Number 13

Which many believe was intended to ward off the Haunted Souls

Whether or not one believes in Mrs. Winchester’s superstitions about spirits, it’s harder to dismiss occurrences of the number 13 throughout the house. Many windows have 13 panes and there are 13 bathrooms, with 13 windows in the 13th Bathroom. There are also 13 wall panels in the room prior to the 13th Bathroom, and 13 steps leading to that bathroom. The Carriage Entrance Hall floor is divided into 13 cement sections. There are even 13 hooks in the Séance Room, which supposedly held the different colored robes Mrs. Winchester wore while communing with the spirits.

Here are even more thirteens: 13 rails by the floor-level skylight in the South Conservatory, 13 steps on many of the stairways, 13 squares on each side of the Otis electric elevator, 13 glass cupolas on the Greenhouse, 13 holes in the sink drain covers, 13 ceiling panels in some of the rooms, and 13 gas jets on the Ballroom chandelier. (Mrs. Winchester had the thirteenth one added!)
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