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Winchester House: the true story of the Winchester widow

The story of the Winchester Widow and the Winchester Mystery House, because of its bizarre and ghostly being, has always fascinated me. It’s a story that has been written and read a lot, but given the imminent release of the film The Widow Winchester (Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built) I take this opportunity to write down a summary of everything you need to know before trying his hand at watching the film coming out on February 22, 2018.

The horror, with Helen Mirren under the direction of the Spierig twins, was partly shot right in the location from which it takes inspiration. But why is this story so magnetic? Why is this mansion so spooky? No no, it’s not just the charm of the unfinished. The fact is that the web is full of old haunted houses, but what we are about to talk about is one of the few houses built just for the spirits.

The true story of Sarah Winchester and Winchester Mystery House, the mansion built to house the spirits of people killed by Winchester rifles

The story of Sarah Pardee Winchester

Sarah Lockwood Pardee was born in Connecticut, the fifth of seven children, around 1839. She appears to be very intelligent, almost a child prodigy, and that she was so handsome that she was nicknamed “the beauty of New Haven”. He grew up among the comforts of a wealthy family, received a worthy education, learned to play the piano and speak four languages.

In her early twenties, Sarah married William Wirt Winchester, the son of the founder of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Four years later, on July 12, 1866, Sarah gave birth to a baby girl, Annie, who however died after just 40 days of life due to a childhood chaos, a metabolic pathology that causes malnutrition and decay. The grief over Annie’s loss made Sarah decide she didn’t want any more children. Yet unfortunately, this was only the first of mourning that affected Sarah Winchester’s life.

In 1880 his 70-year-old father-in-law, Oliver Winchester, died, leaving the company’s assets and reins to his only son, William. The life of William, Sarah’s husband, was however cut short by tuberculosis just a year later, in 1881. Sarah found herself so alone and a widow, but with a fortune of 20 million dollars, a daily income of 1,000 green and 50% of the Winchester industries in your hands. However, in addition to the grain, the widow Winchester also inherited a lot of grain …

The curse of the Winchesters

In the second half of the nineteenth century the boundary between superstition and science was so blurred that spiritism took hold, a doctrine according to which many phenomena could only be explained by the existence of extracorporeal intelligences (spirits, ghosts, ghosts, do you). Spiritual sessions cheered up European and American salons and asking a medium was on the agenda. A glimpse of this era was recently provided to us by the Alias ​​Grace miniseries, and it is in this perspective that we must look at what is about to come out.

Alone and in despair, the widow Winchester turned to a medium who told her to be in communication with the spirit of her husband William. What had made Sarah, the infamous Winchester rifle, luck was also his conviction. The medium told her that a terrible curse weighed on the Winchester family, precisely because of the thousands of deaths caused by its profits. To get rid of it, according to the medium, Sarah would have to leave New Haven and move west, where she would have to build a house that would house her … and all the spirits of the people killed by means of the weapon. Not only that: the medium told her that the construction work should never stop or those same spirits would find it and take it away with them, as they had already done with their daughter and husband.

Thus, in 1884 the widow Winchester left New Haven and moved to San Jose, California, where she purchased a small farm still under construction, with just eight rooms. Here Sarah Winchester began the most bizarre and absurd building of all time, stuff that even I with The Sims 2.

The construction of Winchester House

Without ever contacting a designer, Sarah hired bricklayers and carpenters who worked day and night, 365 days a year at the mansion, until it became a seven-story villa. Every day Sarah assigned the assignments by means of sketches on sheets of paper and it was not uncommon for her to dismantle what had been built the previous day. There was never a project at the base, also for this reason the house is a real labyrinth and still today it contains numerous oddities such as windows overlooking other rooms or on the floor, stairs with almost negligible risers and fireplaces without chimney. My favorite useless architectural element, however, is the horizontal hydraulic piston lift.

The unskilled workers, however strange as they were from the duties of the widow, were well paid and therefore continued to be employed by him without hesitation. The servants, for their part, were unable to move inside the house without an appropriate map, which obviously had to be updated frequently. The widow Winchester, on the other hand, had no problem orienting herself in the residence and chose every night, without a precise criterion, the room in which she wanted to spend the night. According to some of his employees, this constant changing of the bedroom was aimed at sidetracking the male ghosts of the hotel …

Rumors and superstitions aside, the Winchester mansion was an avant-garde structure. The house was in fact thermally insulated by some wool inserts in the walls; there was a sort of centralized steam heating system; the lighting could be operated by means of wall switches and even today it is possible to see the complex speaker system that the widow used to contact the servants. How could a woman, even with a lot of money and as much time, but without any engineering knowledge, design all this?

Depression, spiritism …

Until now we have assumed that Sarah Winchester had approached a medium and that she had started construction work for fear of the curse. According to reports from those who knew her well, however, the Winchester widow was an extremely rational and unusually cultured woman, who would never ever succumb to this type of superstition.

After all, Sarah might have wanted to move away from New Haven to change the air, as it were after that series of misfortunes. The widow might have wanted to start these construction works because she was perfectly at ease in the role of the one who gives the orders. Sarah might have wanted to continue the work in order to avoid visiting friends and relatives, as evidenced by some letters she wrote. Moreover (we will see it shortly), some architectural absurdities could be explained by the consequences of the 1906 earthquake.

Or maybe not.

Among her employees, rumors began to circulate that she was often engaged in spirit sessions, to which a separate room (of at least 160) had been allocated. After the session, the widow gave the workers the sketch with the project, explaining that the spirits had shown her how to proceed. When an element did not suit the ghosts, it was dismantled and rebuilt. But the spirits of Winchester House were not all good and graduate, eh: just to confuse the evil ghosts, the widow had numerous secret passages built that would help her escape quickly in case of need.

Or obsession?

It is not known whether the Winchester widow was obsessed with spirits, simply devastated by pain or even devoted to masonry (as some sources would like). Certainly, however, we know that Sarah was suffering from a severe form of rheumatoid arthritis, which caused her suffering and deformation of her hands and feet. In her rare outings, Sarah showed herself completely dressed in black, with gloves covering her and protecting her hands and a dark veil on her face, since it seems that she had lost most of her teeth.

It also seems certain that the Winchester widow had an obsession with the number 13. Each window had 13 panels, each staircase 13 steps; the house had 13 bathrooms and in all there were 13 candelabra, with 13 candles each. Sarah drew up her will in 13 sections, each signed 13 times. This obsession – added to some details such as the orientation of the house, the patterns of stained glass and tapestries, the seven-flight staircase – also generated the esoteric hypothesis, according to which the Winchester House was not intended for spirits, but represented rather an initiatory path to the Rosicrucian masonry.

The San Francisco earthquake of 1906

In 1906 a violent earthquake caused severe damage to Winchester House, causing several portions of the upper floors to collapse. Of the original seven floors, only four remained intact.

The widow Winchester was trapped in the rubble for a few hours in one of the rooms. When they released her, she gave orders to stop the work on the facade of the building (which she had covered by wooden planks) and to simply close the accesses to the collapsed portions of the building. Some of the elements currently considered absurd, such as the stairs that point to the ceiling or the door to nowhere, would find a rational explanation precisely in this event.

Perhaps convinced that the earthquake was a sign of the anger of the spirits for the too much attention that, in the construction, had been given to the rooms on the facade, Sarah continued and ordered the works in other portions of the mansion, expanding it to the point of hosting, in special outbuilding, the workers themselves and their families. Upon Sarah Winchester’s death, the property boasted 162 acres.

The death of the widow Winchester

Sarah Winchester died in her sleep on September 5, 1922. According to some sources, she died in a bedroom in Winchester House. It was with his death that, after 38 years, the works ceased.

Despite the 13 sections, the woman made no express mention of the mansion in the will and left all her belongings to a granddaughter and servants. Sarah’s granddaughter evidently did not attach great value to the house, partly because of the damage from the earthquake, partly because it was never actually completed. The house was then auctioned for 135,000 “presidents” to a local investor, who in turn sold it to John and Mayme Brown.

It was the Browns who had the stroke of genius: they opened the mansion to the public for guided tours. Among the visitors, in 1924, there was also a Houdini who, conducting some experiments inside it, coined the expression “Winchester Mystery House” (the house of mysteries).

Winchester Mystery House today

Who knows how much the descendants of Sarah Winchester’s granddaughter will be biting their hands knowing that today the mansion is owned by Winchester Investments LLC, which – despite that name – represents the heirs of John and Mayme Brown.

The house, recognized as California’s historical heritage, is now a tourist attraction, complete with a café and gift shop. Inside there are currently 160 rooms, 40 bedrooms, 2 ballrooms, 6 kitchens, 13 bathrooms, 64 fireplaces and fireplaces, 52 skylights, 1257 windows and 40 flights of stairs.

There are a dozen sightings per year, some of which are inherent in the specter of an elderly lady dressed in black … Anyone who has had the good fortune to visit the Magione, tells of loud sudden noises and unexplained frostbeats. Not infrequently a new room is discovered which is made safe and open to the public … at a higher price. The fresher the discovery, the more the visit costs: the traditional Mansion Tour (for the modest sum of 40 bags) is joined by the Explore More Tour ($ 49, guaranteed spectra).

And that’s it. Is it or is it not a “shocking at times shocking” story? What do you think about it? And who was Sarah Winchester for you, an extremely superstitious widow or a lonely, rich and bored woman? Don’t forget to let me know in the comments!

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6 Comments

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