What would you do if your family was cursed?
There are places where horrific events happened and have turned them into mysterious touristic spots for lovers of horror stories. Contrary to that, there are others that have a strange aura, so people just assume it’s because something spooky happened. Then we encounter the invention of a story that turns the place into a touristic spot. To what group does this house actually belong? I’m still not quite sure, but what’s true is that this house, or better-said mansion, is considered one of the most haunted places in the US, and every year tons of tourist visit this really astonishing place. This is the Winchester Mansion and the story is as creepy as its bizarre structure.
The protagonist of our tale is Sarah Lockwood Pardee, a woman born in 1839 who was married to William Winchester, son of the owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. It would seem that all her life was tainted with tragedy and bad luck, and just when she thought it was all over, tragedy found her again. The couple's first years were wonderful in terms of both business and in life. They shared a passion for real estate, so they would go together to spot the properties they wished to acquire and redesign. Some years later, they became even happier when they welcomed their daughter Annie. But that bliss wouldn't last for so long, since she passed away only a month after her birth.
The Winchester family’s luck was coming to an end when suddenly Sarah's father-in-law and director of the family weapon company died. Just some months later, Her husband died of tuberculosis, leaving her alone and in the worst depression ever. She inherited 20 million dollars as well as part of the company, but money wasn’t something she was really looking for. Life had snatched away all her happiness just like that. One of the first things she did with her new fortune was funding the Winchester Chest Clinic in New Haven.
According to some versions of the story, by that time she started seeing a medium, since she was convinced there was something causing all these horrible events. Others even claim that she sought for this character to contact her husband. Anyways, it just adds suspense to the story. Not to sound like a hater, but of course, the medium agreed with her and told her that the Winchester family was cursed by all those spirits that had been killed by their guns. In order to escape the horrible curse, she was advised to put some distance with her past and move West. Moreover, she had to acquire a house to appease the spirits haunting her family.
And so she did. She moved to California and bought a huge manor in San Jose, where her workers didn’t stop working until she died. The property she got was originally an eight-room mansion, but when she passed away, the house had hundreds of rooms of all sizes, bizarre stairs that would take you anywhere, windows on the floor, and doors even at the façade of the house. According to the story, this weird maze-like house was built that way not only to ease the spirits but to fool them and keep them busy so they wouldn’t go after her. Now, this is weird, since she never left the house. She lived there, which doesn’t sound like the best way to end with the issue. Anyhow, every time she saw one tiny space, she would call the contractors to put something there so that more spirits could come and live in the famous haunted house.
Her life seemed to be calmer, until a strong earthquake hit California in 1906, destroying one part of her impressive house. She was trapped for several hours in one of the small rooms until she was rescued from the rubble. Again, she felt the curse was punishing her again (I still don’t get why she wouldn’t just close the company and stop the production of Winchester rifles). She had hit rock bottom, so she abandoned the house and moved to one of her other properties. The constructions ended as well, which is why if you visit it, you’ll see there are some parts that are unfinished.
Sarah Winchester died of heart failure in the twenties, when she was about 83 years old. However, her house and her story might live forever since the Mansion (later called the Winchester Mystery House) has become a National Historic Landmark opened to the public. Now, is all this story real? I guess not, and just like me, there are many who don’t buy the ghost story at all. Janan Boehme, a historian that has worked at the House for over forty years, claims that the obsession with the remodeling of the house was actually Sarah’s attempt to revive all those happy years she lived with her husband doing their favorite hobby: looking for strange properties and remodeling them.
Pamela Haag, a researcher for the Smithsonian and author of The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of an American Gun Culture, believes that it was all part of her philanthropic nature more than dealing with the haunting spirits of a horrible curse. Haag claims that the most likely theory is that she hired dozens of carpenters and gave them the housing project to employ them for nearly 36 years. So every time they ended one of her requests, she would ask them to do something else. She’s come to believe that, since there are records proving she even paid them triple of what regular carpenters used to earn. She had inherited an immense fortune, and this was just one way to give back.
Of course, none of these theories will ever be as highlighted, since what attracts people to this historic place is actually the supernatural part of the story. And even when this is quite unlikely, I do think that, at the end of the day, what matters is the wonderful and mind-blowing house she worked on for most of her life.
There are many amazing architectural wonders around the world, take a look at these:
Cover photo from the upcoming movie Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built.