It isn’t too often that you come across a story about a millionaire heiress that goes a tad cray cray. If you love a good mystery, you will love this!
This bizarre property located in San Jose, California, has an even more bizarre story. It is known as the Winchester Mystery House after its resident and benefactor, Sarah Winchester. It was also called ‘The House that Guilt Built’.
Born in 1840 into a wealthy family living in New Haven, Connecticut, Sarah Lockwood Pardee, enjoyed all of the finer things in life. She moved in all the right circles and quickly hooked up with one of the most eligible bachelors of the time, William Winchester. He was the son and heir of the inventor and manufacturer of the famous Winchester repeating rifle. As the first true repeating rifle, it became the weapon of choice among the Northern troops at the outbreak of the Civil War and the Pioneers and law men moving west. Soon the Winchester Repeating Arms Company was worth a fortune due to Government contracts and private sales.
The wealthy couple married and had a daughter, Annie. and lived happily ever after…. or so they thought.
A few years later, poor little Annie died of a childhood disease and then William died of tuberculosis. As a result of his death, Sarah inherited over $20 million dollars and 48.9 percent of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. These shares gave her an income of about $1000 per day. Tax free at the time. This was huge money, especially in those days.
However, money doesn’t buy happiness and Sarah was inconsolable. She turned to a psychic for help. Now don’t laugh.This was a very fashionable thing to do at the time. The psychic told Sarah that her tragic losses were not due to bad luck rather to the legacy of the family business. The psychic went on to say that it was the angry spirits of all the Native American Indians and soldiers that had lost their lives due to this rifle and its fast loading action and she was next. To appease these spirits she was to move west, build a beautiful home for the spirits and never cease construction. This would ensure her own safety. And in a way it worked. She didn’t finish the home and she died at a ripe old age of 82.
No one really knows what went on in that house as she was a very secretive person. It is said that every night she would enter a seance to get instruction from the spirits as to what to build and how, often asking the builders to rebuild a section 5 times. It never seemed to be a problem though as the staff were all paid twice the going rate, the budget was endless and there was no deadline.
The “Mystery” tag comes from all of the architectural oddities throughout the mansion…
Secret passageways, doors to nowhere, stairways that hit the ceiling, deceptive closets, private stairwells and miles of twisting narrow hallways. It is said Mrs Winchester had these installed to confuse any mischievous ghosts that might be following her. She spent every night in a different bed to confuse the ghosts which must have been a nightmare for her staff. She was very superstitious. The number 13 featuring throughout the home and also the beautiful gardens she designed.
Sarah was a millionaire – don’t forget.
She inherited the Winchester fortune and could live as she pleased without consideration for the cost. It is said that she being an accomplished musician, build a music room costing ten times what it would cost to build the average home at the time. She had wonderful taste. Importing fabric from the orient, wallpapers from England, the finest timbers from all over the world, chandeliers from Austria and so on. All 160 rooms of the mansion were fitted out with the finest furniture from across the globe.
There is close to 10,000 window panes in the house and many of them are pieces of art themselves. Some of these were designed by herself. She liked to use a daisy design often and it seems she also liked include spiderwebs. Many were made to order in Austria and imported by Tiffany’s of New York. At the time of her death, 1922, a room was discovered containing $25,000 worth of windows and doors yet to be installed. These are priceless items now and are stored in the museum on site.
All this it seems to appease the angry spirits and it was working until the San Francisco Bay Earthquake of 1906 that rocked the house and levelled some of the highest towers. This was a sign for Mrs Winchester so after the repairs were done she sealed up over thirty rooms in the front of the house and started on the back. That is some ouija board she had. Anyway she kept going.
No expense was spared on the exterior either. Featuring cupolas, cornices, and balconies, turrets, towers, curved walls and all outlined with ornate trims this home looked more like a Disneyland Castle than a shrine to the dead. But I get it….I love a good turret. All this set in a spectacular garden. She imported 1,000s of plants from all over the world and commissioned many beautiful statues and fountains.
Mrs. Winchester had 161-acres of working orchards producing crops of plums, apricots, and walnuts. She employed many workers to tend the crops, pick and process the fruit.
Today you can visit this stately home and wander around the amazing gardens she designed.
More Information on the Winchester Mystery House: Visit the Winchester Mystery House Website!
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