It’s sitting on the street between the entrance to the mobile home park and the closed down movie theater complex. Tall windows and gables covered with gingerbread edging can be glimpsed over ivy-covered walls. Once past the gates, you see well-manicured lawns and gardens. You hear the sound of the tour guides leading people throughout the house, discussing this historical fact or that architectural oddity. It appears to be another well preserved Victorian mansion, perhaps larger than most. Then you notice the bush groomed in the shape of the number thirteen, and things take an eerie turn.
The Winchester Mystery House was originally designed and built by Sarah Winchester. Construction began in 1884. The house was continually built on and modified (according to rumor around the clock) until her death on September 5th, 1922. How did she fund this constant construction?
The source of her money was also the source of her reason to build the mansion. Her husband William Wirt Winchester, the founder of Winchester Repeating Arms, died in 1881, leaving her with income of $1000 a day and fifty percent interest in the company. Seeking solace over his death and the death of their infant daughter, Sarah sought the help of a medium. The medium, claiming to channel her husband, said that she was haunted by all who died by the Winchester rifle. In order to appease the ghosts, she needed to travel to the West and build a home for these wandering spirits. She moved to Santa Clara Valley, purchased a farmhouse, and began construction.
According to the tour of the building, Sarah held nightly seances where she would receive instruction. But because she was receiving blueprints from the beyond didn’t mean that her home didn’t have touches meant for her comfort, such as low rise stairs. Because of severe arthritis, the switchback configuration and one-inch steps to allow her to get from floor to floor. Windows in walls between rooms, and sometimes in the floor itself, allowed her to check on the servants. And just because it was a haunted house didn’t mean that it couldn’t be beautiful. She spared no expense when it came to the paneling, furnishings, and other decorations. There is a Tiffany window that was designed to cast a rainbow of light. Unfortunately, it is installed in a wall where the sun does not shine.
Despite the last seance having been held 90 years ago, the ghosts still have a presence in the building. The idea of a mansion constantly being built took a frightening turn in Stephen King’s Rose Red. Helen Mirren is the star of Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built. It has appeared on shows like The Ghost Hunters and The Ghost Adventures. Every Halloween and Friday the 13th, flashlight tours are offered, where you might see one of the resident ghosts.
It is the house that spirits built, and because of the spirits it still stands.