W – Winchester House – The House the Spirits Built

WH - RoofsThe Winchester Mystery House is one of the strangest tourist spots I have ever visited.  It is located in San Jose, California just south of San Francisco.  It is a sprawling Victorian House that sits on 6 acres.  The house is truly a beautiful property, surrounded by immaculate Victorian gardens and fountains.  And all of this I’m sure sounds very fascinating and enticing but it is the back story of the Winchester House that makes it one of a kind.

It is most undoubtedly haunted.  This piece of information makes the back story even more interesting.WH- overallMrs. Winchester,  the mistress of the house was quite eccentric.  She hailed from the Northeast part of the country.  She was born in Connecticut around 1840 into the wealthy family of the Pardees and lived a privileged childhood.  She met and married Oliver Fischer Winchester, the manufacturer of the famous Winchester Rifle.  They were a happily married couple and in 1866 they had daughter.  But tragedy befell the family when the infant daughter died of a marasmus (which is a severe form of malnutrition).  Fifteen years later her husband succumbed unexpectedly to tuberculosis.  And this is where the story really begins.

Because of these tragic events, understandably Mrs. Winchester sunk into the depths of the deepest, darkest depression and in an effort to understand why she was so tormented she went to visit a spiritualist in Boston. The Medium explained to her, the family and their fortune were being haunted and systematically eradicated by the spirits of all the Native Americans and the Civil War soldiers who had been killed by the Winchester Rifle. Mrs. Winchester was next in line to die.  Needless to say – this didn’t sit well with Mrs. Winchester.  The Medium advised her to move west and to build a house for the spirits and to keep building, never stopping in hopes it would pacify the spirits and afford Mrs. Winchester eternal life.

Mrs. Winchester dashed over to the West Coast and bought an unfinished farm house just outside of San Jose and immediately began on construction of the house.  She hired carpenters who worked in shifts around the clock.  Construction never ceased, work continued on weekends and even over the holidays.  There were never any blueprints made of the house, Mrs. Winchester would come up with ideas after her nightly midnight séance (I am assuming the ideas were spiritually derived), make sketches and hand them off to the foreman. This may be the reason for the numerous architectural oddities within the Winchester House, such as the stairway that leads to the ceiling, doors that go nowhere and doors which open to walls.  The building on the house continued over 38 years.  The end result was a very strange house indeed.  At one time, it was reported there were 500-600 rooms, but these were later reduced to a mere 160 rooms.  It is said there are secret passages within the walls of the house, some of which have never been found.  Legend says there is even a fully stocked wine cellar sealed off, hidden, somewhere in the depths of the house and has never been located.  WH - SkylightThe fact the building never stopped is astonishing in itself, but Mrs. Winchester had some other quirks which she built into the house.  She had an extreme fascination with the number 13.  On the house’s grounds there are topiary bushes in the shape of 13. There are 13 bathrooms in the house, the 13th bathroom has 13 windows.  There are 13 panels on each side of the Otis elevator, and she even had to add a 13th gas jet to the large chandelier.  She also believed mirrors were detrimental to spirits and so there were only 3 mirrors in the entire house.  She insisted the house staff used only hand mirrors in order to protect the spirits from disappearing.  She had a séance room, with 3 doors (I’m guessing the additional doors were escape routes in case things went awry during a séance) and 13 coat hooks.

WH - 13 topiaryMrs. Winchester was rather a strange duck (as I am sure you have gathered by now).  She was said to wear a black veil over her face at all times and if any staff member ever laid eyes upon her face, they were instantly fired.  It seems she lived in relative isolation – if one can consider being surrounded by incessant construction at all hours as isolated.  I can’t imagine listening to the banging and pounding and sawing that never stopped – it would have driven me batty.  Mrs.  Winchester was an extraordinarily wealthy women, hence her ability to afford the non-stop building.  It was estimated because of her shareholdings in Winchester Rifle Company her income was a 1000 dollars per day, every day.  Because of her wealth she wasn’t crazy – she was just eccentric.  She was said to have slept in a different bedroom every night, in order to keep the spirits confused as to her whereabouts.  She died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 82. WH - outside with cuppolasThe Winchester House is open to visitors.  As usual, because I have an almost fanatical interest in the paranormal I dragged my family on a tour.  The house is sprawling, the tour is long and mentally exhausting, because everything is just a little out of kilter.  I felt a real sense of dread in some of the rooms and was quite relieved when the tour was over.  I didn’t see anything paranormal but the overall atmosphere of the house was oppressive, dark and depressing.  I suspect it wasn’t like this when all the construction was taking place.  The constant sawing and hammering most likely gave the house an aura of promise, perhaps perpetual optimism and renewal. Mrs. Winchester’s spirit is said to roam the labyrinth of halls inside the house.  I wonder if she is enjoying the house more as a spirit, or if in fact she wished she had done things differently?

Here is an interesting video on the Winchester House.

If you are interested in the stories of encounters with the paranormal while touring the Winchester House – look here (Spirit Sightings).

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28 replies »

  1. Do they still show you the hallway with no real floor (only show you because obviously, you can’t walk through it?) I heard they were thinking of barring that off for fear someone would try to walk across.

    • I don’t remember that. Although – the whole thing was kind of freaky – like being inside a massive fun house (luckily no whacky mirrors). Have you been there?

      • Many years ago. The hallway I speak of had slats of wood from on edge to the other, and doors to nowhere along the sides, but you could see there was no real floor beneath the slats. The guide said she believed the evil spirits would be fooled and fall through the floor and have to start over in chasing her.

      • It is an incredibly sad story because she was really smart – I think somewhere she was fluent in 4 languages and quite musically inclined. And she lost her mind. She must have been very lonely, wandering the halls and secret passages, having midnight séances. She played the organ in the middle of the night – how eerie is that?

  2. Wow what an interesting story. I live not too far away from a village that is supposedly the most haunted in England. I’ve never visited it as such, just driven through on a number of occasions. Doesnt look especially interesting except for the number of Tudor houses there.

    • Do you feel weird when you drive through it. I know I felt awful inside the Winchester House – was so glad to get out to the gardens (but of course I am always glad to be out in the gardens).

      • Not really. Its a small village and you’re through it in no time. The first time we drove through the nearby river had recently burst its banks and every house was still having flood water pumped out and I remember feeling guilty as we looked like a bunch of tourists viewing the disaster!

      • She must have really believed it. She did choose to confront it and not commit suicide or something to get it over with quickly.

      • It seems as if she was a really tough woman and quite brilliant. When I was reading about her I came across all these inventions and special features she had in her house that seemed incredibly innovative.

  3. Monkey brought home a book in haunted houses and Winchester House is mentioned. I read this to her and she actually LISTENED! I remember watching a show on Winchester House because I remember the staircase that leads nowhere and the crazy turning halls. I would really like to your this place one day-and I get freaked out easily!

    • They do flashlight tours, but I figure I had a hard enough time walking around in the day time, I can imagine what would happen if I tried to walk with a flashlight. Oh you can also have a sleepover there – my question is WHY?

      • Because some people enjoy being scared outta their whits. And they really want to communicate with spirits. NSLM and I watch Ghist Asylum and it’s actually really good. They aren’t into antagonizing, they’re into helping, and they go into some of THE scariest places! This past Sunday they went to a prison in Ohio and it was…WHOA!

      • Oh is that the Eastern Penitentiary? I saw that on Ghost Adventures and they caught this huge evil looking shadow thing that looked like it had frayed robes on and that freaked me out. I will have to see if I can find that show. Sounds good.

    • It’s a really cool place. Unfortunately most of the furniture and accessories were auctioned off after Mrs. Winchester dies, so only a few rooms have some furniture – which is a shame, because she was supposed to have spared no expense. Now that the rooms are mostly empty – it gives the place a sense of forlorn desperation. It’s weird.

  4. Ooh, I love a good ghost story. Yes, I do remember seeing the Ghost Hunters investigate there. What an odd thing to do, instead of giving to charity (if she felt bad about deaths). If someone is messing around with spirits in seances every day, they’re bound to call out something negative (IMO). I have a sensitivity to energies, and I do think that if you felt dread, there is something to dread there. Kind of sad and fascinating all at once. Thanks for sharing.

    • Lori, thanks for the comments. I think I read on the Winchester House website she did give a lot of money away to children’s groups and those kind of things.

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