The Real Winchester House

January 18, 2018

Written by Capt McNeely

Georgia Division ZADF Twitter: @ZADF_ORG

If you’ve seen the trailer for the upcoming film Winchester you’re probably one of two people, you’re familiar with the Winchester House or you’re not. If you’re the latter, I got you covered, here we go.
Yes, the Winchester House is a real location where you can visit but before we do let’s go back to its origins. In 1866 Oliver Winchester made his mark in the world by manufacturing the model 1866 repeating rifle that we always see in old western movies and TV shows. With the popularity of Winchester’s repeating rifles that were being used by both civilians and the military, Oliver was the 19th century’s version of Tony Stark, made his fortune by designing, manufacturing, and selling rifles to anyone who would pay.

The Winchester Model 1866 repeating rifle

The Winchester Repeating Arms Company eventually was headed by Oliver’s only son William after his death in December of 1880. Calamity soon struck the family again when three months later, William died from Tuberculosis in March 1881. From here the legend is born, William’s widow, Sarah Winchester, became suspicious that the two head’s of the Winchester company died months apart because of otherworldly causes. At this time America was interested in the occult and spiritualism, séances became a national pass time for aristocrats who wanted to communicate with the other side. Sarah searched and reached out to spiritual mediums to help her find answers.

Sarah finally got her answer and it was what she feared. According to the medium she consulted, the Winchesters became cursed thanks to her late Father-in-law’s inventions. From here it depends on who you asked but some say the family was cursed by all those who were killed by Winchester rifles since 1866 or cursed by Native Americans who were slaughtered by both the US government and settlers who were pushing towards the west coast. Sarah would be connected strongly to the curse because after William’s death she inherited (by today’s standards) $507,172,414 and owned a %50 share of the company where she was paid $25,359 DAILY. Sarah was given hope when she was told that she could keep the spirits at bay by building a house and to never stop building it.

Sarah left her home in New Haven, Connecticut in 1886 and traveled to California with her sister and niece where she bought an eight-bedroom farmhouse in what’s now San Jose and began to spend her inheritance. Sarah had the farmhouse renovated before expanding the farmhouse into a mansion that continued to grow; if it could not be built out it was built up! Today the Winchester House is four stories tall but its highest peak originally was seven stories. The adding on to the house continued for 38 years where it’s said that construction ran nearly 24 hours all year long, work did not stop till Sarah’s death in 1922.

A staircase going nowhere.

The Winchester House, was a work of beauty externally even though a contractor was never brought in to design anything, but when one goes inside, it was pretty…interesting. In the end, the house went from being an unfinished eight-room farmhouse to having 161 rooms 40 of them being bedrooms, 2 ballrooms, 47 fireplaces, 17 chimneys, 2 basements, and 3 elevators. The legend says that Sarah slept in a different room every night. The most notable features inside the house are staircases that lead nowhere, doors that are part of the walls, windows on walls overlooking other rooms, doors on the ceiling and even a doors that open to the outside from the upper floors! Staff working at the house while Winchester was alive had to have maps so they could find their way around the complex home. After the 1906 earthquake, Sarah did not have any of the damages made to the house repaired which is believed to have played a role in the final appearance.

The infamous ‘Door to Nowhere’

After Sarah’s death, the Winchester House became a tourist attraction wherein 1924 Harry Houdini toured the house and the newspapers covering his trip in the home reportedly called the house, The Winchester Mystery House in their article, the name stuck. Even as recent at 2016, the mysteries of the House are still being found, a hidden room in the attic was located that’s said to have an old pump organ and other furnishings. In 2017 rooms that were never seen by the public are now part of the tours of the inside of the house that ghosts built.

Costumes from the upcoming ‘Winchester’ movie on display at the Winchester Mystery House.

You can visit the Winchester Mystery House website here

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