Winchester Mystery House

From Academic Kids

The Winchester Mystery House is a unique mansion located at 525 Winchester Boulevard in San Jose, California. Its construction began in 1884, and was financed and built by Sarah L. Winchester, the heiress of the man who invented and manufactured the Winchester rifle. Construction continued 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, until her death 38 years later in 1922. This has been estimated to have cost about 5.5 million dollars.

View from the Northwest
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View from the Northwest

The mansion is famous for its large size, and the fact that it followed no overall plan, except to be continually rebuilt. Sarah Winchester believed it to be haunted, and many continue this belief today. The mansion now lies on Winchester Boulevard, a main thoroughfare for San Jose, named in honor of the estate.

Background

With the death of her husband in 1881, Sarah inherited over $20 million. She also received 48.9 percent of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company resulting in an income of about $1000 per day, none of which was taxable until 1913.

Sarah had lost her husband and also her only child, a daughter, who died in infancy 15 years earlier. Deeply grieved and seeking solace, she consulted a spiritualist on the advice of a friend. Known as the Boston Medium by those who follow this mystery, the medium, among other things, told her that there was a curse upon the Winchester family because of the guns that they manufactured which had taken so many lives. She told Sarah, "Thousands of persons have died because of it and their spirits are now seeking vengeance."

Although this is disputed, many believe that the Boston Medium told her she needed to travel west, leaving her home in New Haven. The medium did tell her to leave, but it is unknown if he or she told her for certain it was westbound she had to go. Regardless, there she would start a new life, "and build a home for yourself and for the spirits who have fallen from this terrible weapon too. You can never stop building the house. If you continue building, you will live. Stop and you will die."

She moved to Santa Clara County in California in 1884. She was convinced that she was guided by the hand of her late husband.

The direction from the medium is the reason why she built her house in such a haphazard fashion and some believe it was to distract the spirits who were seeking her. She was reported to have slept in a different room each night for some time.

Many believe that she selected Santa Clara County, California because of the climate. Sarah Winchester suffered from horrible arthritis, and the Mediterranean-like climate is known to help sooth aching joints. Thus why she would wish to reside there.

The house today

Prior to the 1906 earthquake, the house had been built up to seven stories tall, but now most parts are less than four. The house is predominantly wood frame construction, although some sections are brick. There are 160 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, 47 fireplaces, 1260 windows, 17 chimneys (with evidence of two others), two ballrooms, two basements and three functional elevators. It was originally set on 161.8 acres (650,000 m²) but is now on just 4 acres (16,000 m²) - the minimum to contain the building. It has gold and silver chandeliers, inlaid parquet floors and trim. There are secret passages and stairways, doors and halls that lead nowhere, and a vast confusion of colors and materials. Before the availability of elevators, special "easy riser" stairways were installed to accommodate the infirmities of the owner. Roughly 20,000 gallons (76,000 litres) of paint are required to paint the house. Due to the sheer size of the house, by the time every section of the house is painted, the workers must start repainting again. Thus, in a sense, the Sarah Winchester's beautiful and mysterious estate still lives on in the same sense she meant it to.

The house also has many conveniences that were rarely found at the time of its construction, including steam and forced-air heating, modern indoor toilets and plumbing, push-button gas lights and a hot shower from indoor plumbing.

Today, several different tours of the house are available. The tours feature different aspects of the estate, such as main parts of the house or the garden. A flashlight tour of the mansion is given at midnight on Halloween and Friday the 13th. Many tour guides have stories of their personal encounters with ghosts or other paranormal events.

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