A visitor describes California’s Winchester Mystery House (1937)
The “Winchester Mystery House” is in Santa Clara County, three miles west of San Jose, Calif., in the Santa Clara Valley.
The mystery house is one of the world’s wonders. It was planned and built by the late Sarah L Winchester as the spirits directed.
Many of the rooms were built for departed spirits. This wonder house was under construction for 36 years. She believed she would live as long as she continued to build.
Millions of dollars were expended in its construction, and wonderful materials and workmanship are there. Gold and silver chandeliers, art glass windows and doors have the glass inlaid with German silver and bronze. Many art windows are valued at $1,000 each.
Entrance doors cost $2,000
The front entrance doors are valued at $2,000, and were made by Tiffany.
The mystery house and outbuildings cover six acres. The house has 160 rooms, with thousands of windows and doors. (The butler had two buckets of keys to those doors.)
The front entrance doors were only opened once during Mrs. Winchesters’ lifetime. That was when her daughter was married. She opened the doors to allow the bride and groom to enter. She is said to have refused “Teddy” Roosevelt (who at that time was President of the United States) entrance. She demanded he go around to the side door if he cared to visit with her.
Blind stairways and stairways that go nowhere, only to the ceiling and stop also are included. Blind chimneys, one of which ends just beneath the fourth floor ceiling, are numerous. Therefore the fireplace is of no use whatsoever. There are hundreds of closets. Some open into space, some onto blank walls. Some are six to eight feet from the floor.
There are secret passageways and false closets, doors, and false drawers in the walls. There is one room with a floor composed of trapdoors that lead nowhere. Hardwood floors in the kitchens are covered with linoleum.
Inside rooms have doors and windows screened. Screen doors also lead to some of the bathrooms. There also are laundry tubs having washboards and soap trays molded into the porcelain tubs. Gas lights can be turned on or off, or lighted by pressing a button, that looks like our modern electric light switch.
Winchester Mystery House has glass doors in bathroom
All the turned posts in or about the house have been installed upside-down or topsy-turvy. Of the 13 bathrooms, some have glass doors. One of the bathrooms in the servants quarters has the bathtub in the center of the room with a glass door on either side. Window shutters can be opened or closed; by turning a crank. There are 18-pound sashweights on windows which do not open.
Has own heating plant
The house also has its own heating, lighting, water and sewer system. There are 13 sewers. It has three elevators, one of which raises only two feet from the floor. One runs four stories up, but is situated in a part of the house that is only three stories, therefore the top part of the elevator shaft rises above the roof.
The house has 40 stairways, most of them having 13 steps, and some of the steps are not more than two and one-half inches high. There are 47 fireplaces, and at one place in the house, you may stand and see seven fireplaces.
Chandeliers with 13 lights, rooms with 13 windows, and ceilings with 13 panels are also seen.
There is a ballroom which has never been used. The contract for this ballroom was let for $10,000, but by the time it was finished, the contractor had lost $4,000 on the deal, as it cost him $14,000.
Works of art in the Winchester Mystery House
The mystery house, in addition to having many mysterious things, has many marvelous and beautiful things that are really works of art. There are warerooms filled with all kinds of beautiful materials, light fixtures (gold and silver) sash and doors, art glass windows and doors.
High-grade interior finish woods such as cedar, ash, oak, mahogany, walnut, maple, cherry and rosewood; hardware, shutters, tile, plumbing, wallpaper (some of which cost $100 per roll).
The woman who built the house had one room which she called her seance room. There was no furniture or light. The room contained two closets, one of which has two rows of 13 hooks on which she kept 13 gowns. She wore the gowns to commune with the spirits. She claimed she could only talk to certain spirits when she wore certain gowns.
In this room also was a large window and skylight through which Mrs. Winchester could watch her servants, whom she feared were trying to put something over on her. There also are windows with sash locks which could never be used, as the upper and lower sash overlap about two feet in the center of the window when closed. Then there is a large indoor and bird aviary.
Mrs. Winchester had enough of different kind of building materials to have kept building for a few years more, but she died before she could rebuild all the damage done by the 1906 [San Francisco] earthquake.
She put in a window (at the top of a stairway) that cost $1,000. Then she feared the spirits would be angry, so she put a plain glass window against a blank wall to keep them pacified.
There are shrubs from all over the world on the grounds surrounding the house and outbuildings. ■
Winchester Mystery House: Fear-ridden widow heiress built crazy, mixed-up house (1967)
By David Lamb
SAN JOSE, California – Its coat sunburned with age, its labyrinth still imbued with an aura of suspense, the Winchester Mystery House stands as a monument to eccentricity.
Inside the rambling 160-room mansion, secret passageways wander throughout the four stories, doors lead into blank walls, staircases end in midair, trap doors spring to the floors below, bathrooms have glass doors.
The Winchester Mystery House, operated today as a museum, was the creation of an insular heiress who ordered that construction continue until her death.
For 38 years, the carpenters worked on, night and day. They built balconies in the middle of rooms. They installed 47 fireplaces, 40 staircases and 13 bathrooms, 10,000 windows and 2,000 doors. They built addition after addition until the mansion had spread over six acres like a malignant growth.
But Sarah Pardee Winchester knew no peace. Her world had crumpled in 1888 when her husband, William Wirt Winchester, son of the firearms manufacturer, died of tuberculosis in Hartford, Conn. With his death came the haunting fears.
She feared the spirits of all those who may have been killed by the family-made weapons. Would their vengeance follow her and her fortune?
Built what became the Winchester Mystery House to evade vengeful spirits
Mrs Winchester consulted a seer, who did little to quell her anxieties. Only by perpetuating a building project, the widow was told, could she evade the spirits and continue to live.
Confused and apprehensive, she crossed the continent to San Francisco and in San Jose purchased a nine-room farmhouse, hired 22 carpenters. 30 servants and seven Japanese landscape gardeners.
Rooms and extensions were built, torn down, and rebuilt. Every corridor, every twist of an architect’s pen was designed to confuse the wraiths Mrs Winchester suspected were lurking beyond the 70-foot trees that surrounded her house.
One staircase makes seven 180-degree turns, contains 80 steps, and yet rises only 10 feet, because each step is just two inches high. Others lead only to the ceiling. Still others lead downward, where they are met by a second staircase which returns to the same level.
Lavishly appointed inside, the mansion’s downstairs leads neither to the cellar nor the upstairs to the roof. A bell tower is inaccessible, a conservatory is flooded with skylights, windows freckle the floors.
Outside the dwelling which curious townspeople once called “the ghost barracks,” the wooden stream flowed to a barn, adhered to it, finally engulfed it. An observation tower shot up, only to be choked by other structures. Gables and cupolas spiked the mansion in checkerboard sequence, then became dwarfed by new domes, vanes and towers.
Mrs Winchester, her 4-foot-10 frame partially crippled by arthritis during her later years, remained a recluse as the workmen labored without regard to the hour or day. If her servants caught a glimpse of her, it was that of a veiled, almost ghostlike form flitting down a distant hallway.
Only the widow’s niece and secretary, Miss Margaret Merriman, and a Chinese butler who served meals on the Winchester $30,000 gold dinner service, saw the widow regularly.
Despite her anguish, Mrs. Winchester managed to escape the spirits — but not death. For one night in 1928, at the age of 85, the eccentric heiress died of natural causes in her splendid bedroom.
And for the first time in 38 years, the clamor of hammers and saws was stilled. ■
Vintage photos & postcards from the Winchester Mystery House