The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California is one of the most beautiful mansions in the world.
It’s also one of the most bizarre. Windows in the floor. Doors that open to a two-story drop. Secret passageways. Stairways to nowhere (which could have been a famous song by Led Zep had they ever written it).
Why such an odd construction? It was built by ghosts.
The mansion was the brainchild of Sarah Winchester, the wife of William Wirt Winchester, who was the heir to the Winchester rifle fortune. After her infant daughter and husband died, Sarah Winchester sought the guidance of a spiritualist.
The Boston Medium explained to her that her family was cursed by the ghosts of all those who died by the “The Gun That Won West.” The only way to appease the spirits and save her life was to move west and use her blood money to build the spirits a house.
Legend has it that Mrs. Winchester literally let the spirits design the house. She would conduct nightly sances where good spirits would give her instructions that she passed to her foreman every morning.
That turned the mansion into a sprawling 7-story maze of 160 rooms, 47 stairways, and 13 bathrooms. In fact, the number 13 appears quite a bit in the house: rooms with 13 windows, walls with 13 panels, chandeliers with 13 candles, even walls with 13 coat hooks.
The unusual design of the mansion was also spawned by Mrs. Winchester’s attempts to disorient evil spirits that were stalking her. She allegedly never slept in the same room two nights in a row and would often sneak through secret passages to deter ghosts… because ghosts can’t pass through walls or anything.
Mrs. Winchester also believed that if construction never stopped, she would live forever. So her crew worked around-the-clock, even on weekends and holidays, for 38 straight years, until Mrs. Winchester died of heart failure in 1922. Today, her eccentric $5.5 million construction (that’s around $20 million in today’s money) still remains in an unfinished state… which I’m sure didn’t look good on the architect’s resume.
The tour of the house was an informative and entertaining look inside the mind of a woman gone mad. And you have to stay with the group because if you get lost, they literally have to send a search and rescue team to find you (if the bad ghosts haven’t gotten you yet). I always had the feeling that one wrong turn would lead us into a portal to nowhere; after all, the mansion is basically a mirror maze away from becoming a carnival funhouse.
Unlike the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, however, when you leave you don’t hear a man say, ” a ghost will follow you home!” Bummer – that would have been a cheap souvenir.