If a psychic claimed spirits would haunt you unless you never stopped building a house, most people would dismiss it. Sarah Winchester embarked on a building project that lasted until her death in 1922.
It was bad enough having our loft converted
The Winchester name is associated with some famous things: the rifle, hunky brothers Sam and Dean from Supernatural and the Winchester Mystery House.
Sarah Winchester, heiress of the Winchester Rifle fortune, suffered tragedy when her child and husband died. She consulted a psychic, who said she was cursed by the spirits of everyone killed by her father's rifles.
To appease them, she should move west, build a temple in their honour and as long as construction never stopped, the spirits wouldn't kill her in revenge. It sounds like a bizarre film plot, but real life is far stranger.
At four storeys, this is the tallest part of the house
She bought an eight room farmhouse in San Jose and for 38 years, builders worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at a cost of $5.5 million. She doubled their wages but the number of cups of tea consumed isn't mentioned.
Door to nowhere
There are 160 rooms, stairs to nowhere, doors opening onto walls, and windows set into floors. There are 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 47 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms and one shower. The Door to Nowhere opens onto an eight foot drop. All the pillars bar one are upside down, twisting a good luck tradition in which one pillar would be upside down.
Front of the house
Number 13 was significant to her and features around the house, such as in the number of panes in some windows. The front door was only used by 3 people, one of whom was Sarah.
This wing was originally seven storeys
One area of the house was seven storeys until a fire reduced it to four. We can't help wondering whether this secretly pleased Sarah, as it meant the damage needed repairing.
The estate was on 160 acres of farm and orchard land, so prunes, apricots and walnuts were grown and dried in the fruit drying shed then sold at market. Winchester Products made tools in the 1920s such as cutlery, torches, fishing tackle, roller skates, food choppers, electric irons, farm and garden tools. Her successful business seems a vast contrast to her eccentric house.
The garden contains 14,000 miniature boxwood hedges, large Carolina cherry laurels, flowers and statues. One crescent shaped hedge points to the room where Sarah died. It's often called the most haunted house in the world. Perhaps continuous construction did keep spirits away
Side view of the house
We visited the Winchester Mystery House in October with Neen and Marcia. It was an hour's drive from our San Francisco accommodation. It's incredible. We did the grand estate tour so visited the house, garden, outbuildings and basement. One room was deemed the most expensive in the house, because of the Tiffany glass stored there.
Our guide, David, was hilarious. And there wasn’t anyone in the group we wanted to feed into a woodchipper, which never happens
Replica of Winchester headstone
We visited 110 rooms but weren’t allowed to take photos or film, which was annoying. The furniture dates from the correct period, but isn't from the property, as that was sold after Sarah's death. The switchback staircase with narrow stairs that double back on themselves was our favourite.
As Cat walked through the doorway into the servants’ quarter, she felt a weird wall of energy. Hanging on the wall is a photo of the workers, including the man who haunts the basement. In the next room, she felt dizzy, but we didn't experience anything spooky.
Unfortunately, on the behind the scenes tour, there was a family we could’ve cheerfully fed to piranhas. The outbuildings tour consisted of the fruit drying shed, stables, garage, aviary and basement.
One of the turrets
The servant who haunts the basement is spotted wheeling his wheelbarrow and many visitors mistake him for an actual worker. We sadly didn't see him, but Lynx kept up her Calamityville clumsiness by hitting her head on a pipe. Good job we'd worn hard hats!
Basement where the ghostly worker is seen