Haunted houses are a popular feature of horror novels and films, and the stories behind the Winchester Mystery House are especially intriguing. The house was built without a master plan by its owner, Sara Winchester, who was the heir to the Winchester Repeating Rifle Company fortune. According to popular (but undocumented) belief, Sara Winchester consulted a medium after the early deaths of her child and husband and was advised that she needed to move West and build a house for herself and the spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle. The construction had to be non-stop: otherwise she would die. Another version of this story is that the medium advised her to build the house in order to thwart the evil spirits that killed her husband and child. This version of the story might account for the maze-like construction of the house and its many dead ends to trick the spirits and keep them from finding her.
Mrs. Winchester moved to California from Connecticut and purchased an unfinished farmhouse in northern California. Work began immediately on the house by 13 workers, who labored night and day for almost 38 years. Construction only stopped upon her death at the age of 83.
Today the house is a major tourist attraction. Among its features are the following:
- 160 rooms
- 47 fireplaces
- 10,0000 windows
- 17 chimneys
There are stairs and windows opening onto walls, as well as a staircase leading to a ceiling, and doors and staircases leading nowhere. The number “13” (perhaps intended to ward off spirits) is prominent in the design of the house. (The newsletter for the mystery house is called The Thirteenth Hour.) As well, there is a séance room with one entrance, three exits, and an eight-foot drop through a secret door to a kitchen below. Visitors are warned to stay with the tour group or risk getting lost for hours in the labyrinth of the house.
Visitors have reported cold spots, and one of the long-time restoration workers reported seeing an apparition inside the house. One psychic stated that he could hear ongoing sawing and hammering by the 13 dead laborers in the other world as they continued to build the house.
For the website of the Winchester Mystery House, see www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/, which provides a detailed history of the house, as well as an explanation of the “13” numerology in its design. For a YouTube video by the Travel Channel on the world's creepiest destinations, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dy0TnZ_vpk. (Both sites, as well as Wikipedia, were used as sources for this post.) There are numerous photographs and other YouTube videos online for you to explore.
Happy touring (but don't get lost)!