Monday, October 19, 2009

The House that Sarah Built

Magnet # 68: Winchester Mystery House

Material: Resin

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

Set amidst the modern sprawl of San Jose is a structure oddly out of place, a Victorian-style mansion and its manicured, decorated grounds - the Winchester Mystery House. This mammoth structure has the dubious honor of being one of the strangest residences in the United States. It's also reportedly haunted. No one is quite certain how many rooms are in this 4-story behemoth, but it's estimated to be 160. It's a testament to what great fortune and an unstable recipient can create and it packs in throngs of intrigued visitors every year.

When her young daughter and spouse died, Sarah Winchester was devastated. According to the legend, she visited a medium who channeled the spirit of her late husband, William Winchester, heir of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The medium claimed William said a curse against their family had killed him and his daughter. The firearms they produced had killed countless people and some of their vengeful spirits were after the family. He told Sarah to move West and buy a house there and never stop building onto it, for if the construction ended, she would die. Sarah had been left a fortune by William's death, so she wasted no time moving to California, where she found a six room house being built in the Santa Clara Valley and was able to buy it from its current owner. In 1884, she hired a construction team and began making her own alterations to the house, work that would not end for another 38 years.

Working 24 hours a day for every day of the year, a team of 22 men brought Sarah Winchester's twisted vision to life. The house gained all sorts of oddities. Staircases stopped at ceilings, doors opened to sharp drops outside or blank walls, and all of the stair posts were mounted upside down. People believed Sarah did this intentionally to confound and mislead the spirits who pursued her. She also formed an obsession with the number 13. Quite a few staircases have 13 steps, and many windows had 13 panes, and there are 13 bathrooms in the house. There are 13 hooks for robes in the seance room where Sarah communicated with the spirits each night. When a chandelier with 12 candle-holders, another one was added on. Sarah even signed her will 13 times in 13 different places. She may have formed her attachment to the number in the hopes it would ward off her evil spirits.

Eventually, the house rose as high as seven stories until the great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, when part of it was destroyed. Sarah was convinced the earthquake was caused by the spirits who tormented her and that they were furious she had nearly completed the house. With a newfound fervor, she had thirty rooms boarded up and began both reconstruction and expansion. This continued until 1922, when Sarah died in her sleep at age 83 and all construction on her home ceased immediately, and the house was eventually converted to a tourist attraction.

It's believed that the spirit of Sarah herself now haunts the home that consumed her in life. A figure of a woman in Victorian clothing that is most likely her has appeared throughout the house. There are all sorts of odd goings on around the house. People have claimed to hear voices, footsteps, and the sound of an organ in the Blue Room. Cold spots can be felt throughout the house, doorknobs turn on their own, and sometimes windows spontaneously bang so hard they break. Some have even claimed to smell chicken soup boiling in the kitchen that hasn't been used for years. The sounds of hammering and construction which resounded through the house for 38 years are also said to be still heard, even when there are no renovations underway. Perhaps they are made by the ghost of a construction worker that people have claimed to see toiling away in the basement, pushing a wheelbarrow filled with coal. Clearly, odd forces are underway at this unusual mansion.

The Winchester Mystery has worked its way into popular culture, inspiring Stephen King to write Rose Red, a story of a malevolent mansion that is as odd as its predecessor. I've always wanted to see Sam and Dean Winchester take a trip there on the television show Supernatural. Not only do they have their last name in common, they also fight evil spirits, so all the writers would have to do is add a poltergeist and we'd have a perfect fit. They might not be able to film on location, though. That was impossible for the Rose Red television miniseries because of the surrounding traffic and the enclosed nature of the house itself. But it would still be very cool - I certainly hope it happens sometime. For now, you can catch the Travel Channel's 7-hour live Most Haunted special on the mansion, which airs tonight. I think it may just be available on their website, but you can check out for more details. Regardless of what they have found, this bizarre residence is now rightfully included in lists of the creepiest places in the world, and its reputation will likely only continue to grow scarier still, all part of Sarah Winchester's abnormal legacy.

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