Winchester Mystery House – Anything But an Ordinary Millionaire’s Mansion
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.
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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. (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. (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.
Even popular paranormal television show crews have experienced paranormal activity while visiting the mansion. The crew of “Ghost Adventures” reportedly experienced mysterious occurrences in the house when they were filming there back in 2011. The activity there was so intense that the entire crew stopped taping the show due to the heightened negativity.
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Not everyone is convinced that the house is haunted; however. One group, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, claims that Winchester Mystery House isn’t haunted. Joe Nickell had this to say about the allegedly haunted mansion:
“I have learned that people’s level of ghost experiences is approximately proportional to their psychological tendency to fantasize—evidence for psychologist Robert A. Baker’s wise saying that there are no haunted places, only haunted people.” A couple of members of The Atlantic Paranormal Society – most popular for their paranormal show on SyFy called “Ghost Hunters” – also concluded that when visiting the mansion they “didn’t find anything of a supernatural origin”—and even concluded that “odd banging sounds” were probably “the result of a plumbing problem.” Upon investigating the mansion they concluded that the “house certainly is mysterious, and they can see why people think it's haunted.”
Winchester Mystery House Interior, Main House. (Charleen Mullenweg/CC BY ND 2.0)
It has been over a century since the Winchester Mystery House was first constructed, but there are no plans to ‘finish’ the project in the future. There is no consensus on whether this is a haunted mansion; but, one thing that is certain is that Sarah and her staff were devoted to this project. This resting place for the dead may be a conundrum for the living, but legend has it that it was and still is the place for those killed by the Winchester rifle to congregate.
The Winchester Mystery House before the 1906 earthquake. (San José Public Library/CC BY SA 2.0)
Top Image: The Winchester Mystery House – is it really haunted? Source: Public Domain
Schwing, N. (2004) ‘Winchester Pocket Guide: Identification & Pricing for 50 Collectible Rifles and Shotguns.’
Guns.com (2012) ‘How did the Winchester 1873 Win the West?’ Available at: http://www.guns.com/2012/07/19/winchester-1873/
IMDB (2017) ‘Winchester ’73.’ Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043137/
Heathline (2017) ‘What You Should Know About Marasmus.’ Available at: http://www.healthline.com/health/marasmus#overview1
The Truth About Sarah Winchester (2015) ‘The Truth About Sarah Winchester.’ Available at: http://thetruthaboutsarahwinchester.com/
Wetzel, C. (2008) ‘Mysteries Unwrapped: Haunted U.S.A.’
Travel Channel (2017) ‘A Ghostly Picture.’ Available at: http://www.travelchannel.com/videos/a-ghostly-picture-0172233
Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. (n.d.) ‘Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.’ Available at: http://www.csicop.org/
Nickell, J. (2010) ‘Scientific Investigation vs. Ghost Hunters.’ Available at: http://www.csicop.org/sb/show/scientific_investigation_vs._ghost_hunters
The Atlantic Paranormal Society. (2015) ‘The Atlantic Paranormal Society.’ Available at: http://the-atlantic-paranormal-society.com/
Syfy (2017). ‘Ghost Hunters, Season 2, episode 11 recap.’ Available at: http://www.syfy.com/ghosthunters/episodes/season/2/episode/11/rms-queen-mary