The Winchester Mystery House – is it really haunted?

Winchester Mystery House – Anything But an Ordinary Millionaire’s Mansion

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Shadowy figures moving along the corridor, disappearing as they ascend the staircase to nowhere. The sound of children’s laughter reverberating throughout the hallways. A man clad in clothing from the early 1900s walking around the basement. Door knobs turning without human touch. Wailing heard in certain rooms. Organs playing. Loud bangs, like that of gunshots.

This may sound like the opening chapter of a best-selling ghost novel or scenes from a Hollywood horror film. However, these are just a few of the things that people have allegedly experienced while visiting one of the most haunted places in America – the Winchester Mystery House.

The Winchester Empire

In the fall of 1862, William Winchester married Sarah Pardee. Their marriage solidified them as a powerful family connected to one of the most iconic products of American popular culture – the Winchester rifle.

Hand-tinted ambrotype of Sarah Winchester taken in 1865 by the Taber Photographic Company of San Francisco, 1865.

Hand-tinted ambrotype of Sarah Winchester taken in 1865 by the Taber Photographic Company of San Francisco, 1865. ( Public Domain )

This company’s guns are believed to have “won the West.” However, the Winchester didn’t really “win the West”, but the Winchester marketing campaign developed by Edwin Pugsley did a great job of convincing everyone that it did. On a more practical note, the Winchester Model 1873 is the rifle that supposedly tamed the West due to its use of steel for the receiver, instead of bronze used in early models, and its chamber which made it one of the most powerful calibers of its time. It was also readily available due to mass production, which made it very useful in war. 

Winchester rifles also gained popularity because of the film Winchester ’73 starring James Stewart, Shelley Winters, and Rock Hudson. Winchester products were venerated as guns of choice in cowboy culture and were the source of the Winchester’s fortune; however, they also caused the couple’s undoing.

Portrait of a cowboy or a scout, Bowden, Alberta.

Portrait of a cowboy or a scout, Bowden, Alberta. ( Provincial Archives of Alberta ) Winchester products were venerated as guns of choice in cowboy culture.

After four years of marriage, Sarah and William welcomed their first and only child, Anne Pardee Winchester. Their beloved Anne died 40 days later of a rare childhood disease known as Marasmus. This was the first devastating blow to Sarah’s emotional well-being. In 1881, approximately a year after the death of her father-in-law, Oliver Winchester, William also passed away at age 43. Their passing caused an enormous amount of distress for the already grieving Sarah and she began to seek answers for the mysterious and untimely deaths of her family members.

Sarah Builds Winchester Mystery House

Sarah sought the help of a medium and psychic in Boston by the name of Adam Coons . He performed a reading on Sarah and revealed to her that they were plagued by a family curse that was brought on by the same rifle that had made them rich and famous. For Sarah to prevent falling victim to the curse, he instructed her to build a home to appease the many wandering spirits killed by Winchester rifles. To stave off the swift death that had come to her other family members, Sarah had to continually add rooms to the home.

The Winchester building project began sometime in 1884 and continued until September 5, 1922, the day of Sarah’s death. It is believed that Sarah intentionally incorporated confusion into the blueprint of the mansion’s architecture because although she welcomed lost spirits to the mansion, she wanted to keep malicious ghosts out by keeping them confused in the maze-like design of the house.

The Ballroom Fireplace at the Winchester House.

The Ballroom Fireplace at the Winchester House. (Caitlin Childs/ CC BY SA 2.0 ) The Windows say: "Wide unclasp the tables of their thoughts"- Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, Act 4, scene 5 and "The same thoughts people this little world" - Shakespeare, Richard II, Act 5, scene 5

Haunting of The Winchester Mystery House

With all the mystery surrounding the purpose of building the Winchester House, it begs the question, “Is this place haunted?” Some people believe that it is. Visitors have allegedly heard voices, doors banging, and have felt cold spots in certain areas of the mansion. Tour guides have even reported seeing the ghost of one of the carpenters that helped build the mansion. Another person who used to work at the Winchester Mystery House as a tour guide mentioned that his co-worker saw the ghost of a little boy appearing and mysteriously disappearing somewhere in the mansion.

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