In just a few days Winchester, starring Helen Mirren arrives in theaters; the Oscar-winning actress plays an elusive heiress who spends the majority of her life surrounded by ghosts. One of the most intriguing aspects of the film (and a major hook) is that it’s based on a true story.
Sarah Winchester was heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune; she built a sprawling mansion in San Jose, California, that still stands today. Recently, Dread Central was given unprecedented access to what’s been called “The House That Ghosts Built”. Our goal: To determine if the estate deserves its reputation as one of the most haunted locations in America.
We assembled some of the country’s most prominent paranormal investigators and mediums who employed a variety of techniques, all in an effort to detect the supernatural forces long rumored to roam these halls. Most importantly, we were joined by historian Janan Boehme, an expert on the life of Sarah Winchester and the mansion, who was able to immediately validate some of the details provided by our mediums.
Our group consisted of Tim Wood, founder of the TV series In Search of the Paranormal which launched in 2006; he was joined by team members Kristin Manning, a medium who uses her drawing talents illustrate what she senses, and photographer Patrick Langdon who utilized specific camera techniques and film stocks to detect paranormal remnants.
Tim Meunier is the founder of American Paranormal Investigations as well as the founder of both the Sacramento Horror Film Festival and the bi-annual Sinister Creature Con. Michael B. Chochla is a medium and member of River City Paranormal; Michelle Goyette has been working as a professional spiritual medium for over 5 years, and Chloë Tatro is an empath and Reiki Master.
Sarah Winchester lived a long and sad life. The heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune lost her infant daughter and husband very early into her marriage. Widowed and childless, she sought the aid of a spiritualist in Boston, something that wasn’t uncommon in the 19th Century. And it was there, the story goes, that she received a message from the ghost of her husband, William.
“Move out west, start building a giant mansion, and never stop.” Failure to oblige would result in terrifying consequences. What Sarah realized that day was that her wealth was a source of incredible luxury and privilege, but it was also a terrible curse.
The house was intended to hold thousands of guests—none of the alive. Sarah was charged with attending to the restless spirits of everyone who died by Winchester Rifles. From those who fell in the Civil War to Native Americans whose lands were stolen and anyone murdered in a crime of passion; they were all to be welcomed. And those spirits who couldn’t be appeased by the mansion’s many treasures? They’d be contained within an ever-changing labyrinth, trapped by numerological talisman and their own confusion.
Construction began in 1880 on a stately yet modest estate, but legends abound about teams of carpenters working non-stop for almost forty years, only ending their efforts on the morning of Sarah Winchester’s death. What had started as an 8-room home had grown to over 160 rooms connected by miles of corridors and, at one point, towering seven stories tall.
The investigation exceeded all of my expectations; you can see much of what transpired in the video below, produced by Matthew Galvin of Active Matrix Networks.
- A medium was overcome by the pervasive sadness of The Winchester Mansion; another felt compelled to speak the name Daisy—one of Sarah Winchester’s favorite nieces who had her own bedroom in the estate.
- On our initial walk-thru, two members of our team got lost. It’s a testament to the labyrinthine nature of The Winchester Manson, where a simple wrong turn can get you hopelessly confused.
- One of our mediums saw a “shadow person”, something supported by photographic evidence; another drew an image of an inhuman, dark entity she believed tormented Sarah, feeding off of her sadness.
- An EVP experiment seemed to produce detectable responses.
- Finally, we utilized an early 20th Century Ouija board in an attempt to contact Sarah Winchester herself. It included a ganzfeld experiment, a method of sensory deprivation utilized by psychic Elise Rainier (played by Lin Shaye) in the Insidious movie franchise.
I’ve always considered myself, objectively, a skeptic. But part of what draws me to horror movies is that question of “What if?” As long as humans have been able to express themselves, we’ve been obsessed with the afterlife. What happens when we die and are those who meet with violent ends somehow trapped in a realm just beyond our detection?
I approached this opportunity with a skeptical, yet opened mind, allowing myself to become immersed in the ambiance of The Winchester Mansion. While my core beliefs remain intact, there were moments that affected me deeply. Our investigation produced evidence that seems to support past reports of supernatural activity—provided you already believe such forces exist.
There’s a profound sadness here, likely to infect anyone who visits the Winchester Mystery House. You can’t help but hope that Sarah Winchester finally found happiness when she was reunited with her husband and daughter in the afterlife. After decades of attending to the dead, we hope she’s finally at peace.
Be sure to check out Winchester when it arrives in theaters on Friday; we’ll have a review here at Dread Central posted shortly!