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A House Built on Guilt and Lost Souls: The Winchester Mystery House

Written by Cindy Marie Jenkins on Tuesday, October 31st, 2017 at 9:55am.

Here at Nook, we have a passion for people, places and properties. There is a reason that we say people first, for what makes a neighborhood special if not the people who live there? Welcome to #TastemakerTuesday, where we’ll feature the visionaries in our favorite nooks who are dedicated to building a better community through their talents. 

I don’t even know where to start with the Winchester Mystery House. I’m the kind of person who would never enter a house of mirrors alone in fear of never finding my way out of it, so just pictures of The Winchester give me the spooks.  

Starting as a typical Queen Anne style Victorian farmhouse, it changed the moment that the widow and heiress to The Winchester Repeating Arms Company moved there in 1884. Convinced by a medium that she was cursed by all those souls shot with Winchester rifles, Sarah hired 22 carpenters who worked 24/7 to keep the good spirits happy and ward the evil spirits away.  

“It’s an extraordinary, wonderful, American story,” said Dame Helen Mirren with columnist Robin Abcarian from The Los Angeles Times. Mirren portrays Mrs. Winchester in a new movie due out early 2018.” I think it could only happen in America actually...it had to be in a new country. There are no rules, and that’s what’s wonderful about Sarah and this house.”

With a twenty million dollar inheritance, Mrs. Winchester had no lack of available resources, which led to the latest in innovative home renovation. Surely while remodeling or adding more than 160 rooms, her carpenters were more than happy to try new things. “The fortune, resources, the raw materials, the amount of wood in this house is incredible” Dame Mirren said after she and the film’s team finally got to shoot scenes in the house itself, after months of filming in Australia. 

Some of the highlights you can see on one of the many tours, only led by candlelight, include hand cut stained glass windows, switchback hallways, that infamous gas lighting that may have caused haunts by hallucinations, and more. There are stairs that lead nowhere, and two sets of staircases for every destination, as Mrs. Winchester was not able to take a full step herself because of a physical ailment.. 

With only one known photograph of the heiress, her memory lives on only in the many stories told around her life.  She slept in different bedrooms every night to confuse the spirits. Over 38 years, her workers built 10,000 windows, 2.000 doors, 47 fireplaces, 40 staircases, nine kitchens and 13 bathrooms. About that number 13…..Truth Documentaries details how the infamous house leaned into superstition: “The thirteenth bathroom has 13 windows. The thirteenth staircase has 13 steps. 52 skylights ( a multiple of 13). The driveway has 13 palm trees. One sink has 13 drain holes.” Where there was a chandelier holding 12 candles, the stories go, she added a thirteenth. Of course she did. 

Named one of the Top 10 Haunted Places by TIME magazine, The Winchester House recently opened an “Explore More Tour,” which includes viewing a safe, secured behind four doors; it holds only her husband and daughter’s obituaries and a lock of her baby daughter’s hair. We can only imagine these to be her most prized possessions. 

At midnight every night, a bell rang, and Mrs. Winchester moved to the seance room, or “The Witch’s Cap”,  to summon the ghosts. I suppose she would check on their feelings and see if there was enough house for both spirit and widow to live together yet. Then at 2 a.m., a second bell rang, and she retired to one of her multiple bedrooms before the 24/7 work on the house resumed. In 1906, she was stuck in that room when the earthquake hit. I can only imagine how frightening that was...on second thought, I won’t. It would be nice to get some sleep tonight. 

If you want to find a great Victorian to make all your own, Search With Style on your iPhone or Android. 

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