April Fools’ Day is upon us! I love any day that is set aside for pranks and fooling people. In honor of April Fools’ Day, I’ve decided to explore the life of Sarah Winchester, the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune, and her folly of a house. Now, In case you’re not familiar with the Winchester Mystery House, let’s just say that it’s creepy and it’s kooky, mysterious and spooky. It’s all together ooky—the Winchester Mystery House! (Snap, snap.)
Sarah Winchester herself was a little unorthodox. She was… (What’s the word I’m searching for? Let’s see… Poor people are crazy. Wealthy people are eccentric.) She was eccentric! Now, I’m really not blaming her. She did have some circumstances in her life that would have thrown anyone for a loop.
In 1862, she married into the Winchester family and their massive wealth. (So far, so good!) In 1866, she and her husband lost their infant daughter and Sarah never fully recovered emotionally. And, in 1881, Sarah Winchester’s husband died of tuberculosis. It seems that it was all too much for her to bear. So, she went looking for answers to life’s problems. Where did she go? Legend has it that she went to a Boston medium for spiritual guidance.
Well Done, Rare Medium!
If the stories are true, then the medium sought out by Mrs. Winchester was a rare breed. If mediums are supposed to tell you comforting things about your future, this woman didn’t get the memo. Instead, Sarah Winchester was told her family and its fortune was being haunted by all of the people who had been killed with Winchester rifles. Yikes! When you consider the Indian Wars, the Civil War and the fact a lot of people seemed to “settle differences” with rifles in the 1800s, that amounted to a lot of very angry dead guys who were trying to make Sarah Winchester’s life miserable. Well, shucks, there she was with $20,000,000 in assets that she now considered to be “blood money.” Don’t worry; the medium offered up a solution!
Go West, Young Ma’am!
In order to keep the bad jujus at bay, all Sarah Winchester needed to do was move to the West and begin construction on a house for herself and the spirits of all of the people whose lives had been snuffed out by Winchester rifles. Finally! A doable plan! As with most plans, there was some fine print; this spook appeasement would only last as long as construction of the house continued. It is speculated that Mrs. Winchester was even promised immortality for as long as construction lasted. (I’m not entirely convinced that the Boston medium didn’t have a cousin in California with a contractor’s license!)
In 1884, Sarah Winchester moved from Connecticut to an unfinished farm near San Jose, California. (I imagine the conversation with the realtor went something like this: “Unfinished? Perfect! I’ll take it!”) Once at the farm, Sarah Winchester hired carpenters for her never-ending project. How many carpenters does it take to appease the spirits and secure a person’s immortality? Let’s just say that Mrs. Winchester wasn’t taking any chances. She hired carpenters to work in shifts, around the clock. Don’t you know those men were thrilled to have job security?
Built for Life
When Mrs. Winchester bought the farm, it included an eight-room house. By 1900, those eight-rooms were somewhere in the middle of what had grown to be a seven-story mansion! There were also 161 acres of farmland that included orchards and outbuildings out the wazoo! Do you remember those carpenters she hired? Well, they hammered, sawed and expanded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for 38 years!
Don’t Go off Half-Cocked!
How did Mrs. Winchester decide how to expand? Simple. The spirits told her. Of course they did! It’s so important for housemates to consult with each other. She kept a Ouija board in what is known as the “Blue Room” in the center of the house. That’s where she and her spirit-world building advisors met up for their cohabitation conferences. It is said that she communed with the spirits on a nightly basis. Who needs blueprints when you’ve got help from the spirit world and a virtually endless budget?
My People Call It a Maze
If you’ve ever tried to agree on building plans with just your spouse, you can imagine how challenging it must have been for one eccentric widow and a bunch of dead guys to agree on architectural details. There are stairways leading to nowhere, hidden passageways, doors that open into walls and windows with lovely views of adjacent rooms. Some staff members needed maps in order to find their way around the upscale maze!
Mrs. Winchester seemed to have a thing for the number thirteen. Thirteen is a running theme throughout the house. There are thirteen panes in windows, thirteen bathrooms and thirteen chandeliers.
It is believed that the house was built in such a perplexing manner in order to confuse any angry spirits. Columns were installed upside down. Rooms were renovated time and time again. It’s almost as if Sarah Winchester spent much of her life playing a colossal game of Hide and Seek with an angry mob of bullet-ridden evil spirits while cozying up with the friendly spirits. The house really is like one giant April Fools’ joke.
She Gave It Her Best a Shot
Sarah Winchester died of heart failure in 1922. Ah, well, immortality probably isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway. When the workmen learned of her death, the building stopped—with nails halfway driven!
If you’re ever in the San Jose area, you can stop in and pay a visit to the Winchester Mystery House. For all of the creepy aspects, Sarah’s folly is remarkably lovely. And that, my friends, is no April Fools’ joke!
Care to take a tour of the Winchester House? Watch this video!
Happy trails, y’all!,