San Jose, California – It has been the inspiration of movies, books, and imaginations, the subject of documentaries and television specials. If ever there were a “poster child” for haunted houses in America, it would be this one. Four acres of sprawling confusion attracts gawkers and the curious, but when the tourists are gone, the hallways are not quiet. No workmen are seen, but the building continues in possibly the most famous haunted house in America, if not the world. And it was built out of equal parts guilt, fear, and, some say, craziness.
No one can doubt its influence, and few dispute the fact that the Winchester House of Mystery is, in fact, haunted.
Over the past ninety-nine installments of Cold Spots, we’ve gone to some pretty interesting places, some well known and others obscure, in every state of the union. For this, our 100th installment, I wanted to do a story about one of my favorite haunted hot-spots. If you already know about the Winchester House of Mystery, you share my fascination. If you don’t, you’ll find out why this house is one of my favorite haunted locations in the world.
In 1862 Sarah Lockwood Pardee married into the famous Winchester family, makers of the Winchester repeating rifle. It was a storybook marriage, with the cultured young lady and her husband taking part in the highest levels of society and using their massive fortune to enjoy life to the fullest. However, just four years later, the couple faced tragedy when their infant daughter died of a mysterious illness. Devastated, Sarah fell victim to a depression that lasted the rest of her life.
Fifteen years later Sarah’s husband, William, died of tuberculosis, which brought the young widow to the depths of despair. Desperate for answers as to how much tragedy could befall someone like her, Sarah sought out a psychic. The medium told Sarah that the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles, ALL of them, were seeking revenge against her family. The psychic also told her that Sarah was next. But, she said, there was a way out.
At the suggestion of the psychic, Sarah moved out West and purchased a large farmhouse. According to the psychic, she had to make room for all the dead souls, and to do so, Sarah began one of the strangest and most interesting home improvement projects of all time. She began expanding the house, believing that as long as she continued building, the spirits would be appeased and wouldn’t kill her. Construction began courtesy of plans Sarah reportedly got during séances, which she held nightly. And construction never stopped. Until the day she died, Sarah had workers building around the clock, seven days a week, to make room for the ghosts. She hired the best cabinetmakers, carpenters, and artists to continue her dream, and the house is now well known for its design anomalies.
So dedicated to the house and her mission was Sarah that, when a massive earthquake struck and destroyed a large portion of the house in 1906, the workers didn’t even bother clearing away the rubble and just built on top of the collapsed section. She took the earthquake as a sign that she’d been spending too much time on the front section and subsequently ordered the front thirty rooms sealed. Construction continued until her death in 1922.
While most homes are haunted by echoes of the past, the Winchester House is the only one where the ghosts were invited by the builder. In fact, there have been so many ghost sightings in the various rooms and hallways that counting them is close to impossible. Given the nature of the haunting, some believe that there are hundreds of displaced spirits still roaming the halls. Some place the number even higher. Most reports come in the form of phantom footsteps, unlocked doors, and cold spots, but there are a few that are stranger than most.
One common apparition is that of a man who has appeared in hallways and in photographs. When seen, he appears to be working on the house, repairing the damage that age brings. He wears heavy carpenter’s overalls and is believed to be one of Sarah’s workers who is still trying to build onto the house. Others have smelled chicken soup cooking in kitchens that haven’t been used since Sarah died. Other guides have heard their names called from empty rooms.
There are two apparitions seen most often in the house. The first is a worker with a dark moustache in white overalls, who is always seen pushing a wheelbarrow. Dozens have seen him and identified him from an old photograph that hangs in the gardener’s toolshed. The other appears to be Sarah Winchester herself, still walking the grounds, her dress black and her face covered by a black veil. While many ask if she’s part of the promotion of the house, no such person has ever been employed there.
Present Day –
The mansion is now open to guests and offers tours of the house and grounds. While on the tour, people get to see the impressive structure in all its glory, from doors that open over open air, staircases that end at the ceiling, and small doors (for small ghosts) next to normal doors to the impressive rooms that show Sarah never used anything but the very best for her otherworldly visitors. It has inspired more than its fair share of movies and stories, most notably Stephen King’s Rose Red. Now at a sprawling three acres and 160 rooms, there is enough weirdness and beauty to impress even the most jaded visitor. And with volumes of ghost stories reported by guests and workers, the house is cemented as one of the most treasured places of its kind.
Best Times –
The Winchester House is open to the public every day, year-round. Due to the number of ghosts reported to inhabit the house, there’s no way to give a best time to visit. The best bet is to visit and be observant because one never knows who or what will come walking around the next corner.
To find out more about this house and see some truly incredible photos, as well as their schedule, be sure to visit The Winchester Mystery House Official Website.
See you next time!
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