The Life and Times of Mrs. Winchester
Unlike Sarah Winchester, the modern superstitious among us might think of the number 13 as a mark for bad luck. Back in her time this wasn’t the case. Thirteen was considered to be a lucky number long ago, and Mrs. Winchester agreed. She also believed spider webs, both real and manufactured, could capture evil spirits. This isn’t far removed American Indian "dream catchers" which supposedly filter out the frightening moments from sleep induced forays, a belief held long before Mrs. Winchester's time.
Nevertheless, I learned from my Winchester Mystery House tour guide that this interesting woman began her trek down the supernatural path after she lost her only child at a young age and her husband then died of tuberculosis not long after. She believed her plague of bad luck had to have a reason behind it, and visited an oracle seeking protection.
After being informed that her home and family were being negatively influenced by all the spirits of people killed by Winchester weapons, she began to build on her home continuously, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for 38 years. You see, the soothsayer predicted that if Winchester ever stopped construction on her home, she too would suffer the same ill fate as her beloved family members.
The Consequence of Mrs. Winchester’s Work
The result of Mrs. Winchester’s self-directed architecture and twisted construction is a maze comprising 160 rooms. My tours took me through 110 of them, some refurnished with décor of the period, for a walk of more than one mile. For such a large space, most of the rooms are very small. Perhaps Mrs. Winchester, standing only 4 feet 10 inches, didn’t feel the need for the spacious rooms found in many Victorian mansions of the time. Or, maybe those confined spaces are a result of architecture guided by the spirit world.
It probably won’t surprise you that there was a séance room in the home just off Mrs. Winchester’s bedroom where only she could gain access. She visited this room nightly to consult with the spirits so she would know how to proceed with construction the following day. She could also spy on her many servants through a window in this room, who were paid handsomely for the day and provided not only with room and board, but education for their children as well.
Antique Treasures within the Home
One of the not-so-bizarre highlights of the tour was the gorgeous display of Victorian stained glass throughout the house. Some panes are still intact in the home’s windows, while others, including a multi-million dollar display of Tiffany examples were shown to visitors behind a glass partition.
Of course, Mrs. Winchester’s superstitions crept into the glass here and there throughout the large house. One of the Tiffany pieces conceived by the mistress herself contained 13 colorful orbs and a spider web woven into the design. And in the bedroom, known as the Daisy Room, where she was trapped for several hours during the earthquake of 1906, the gorgeous glass reveals lovely daisies comprised of 13 petals apiece.
Results of the Earthquake of 1906
Mrs. Winchester took her incarceration by the earthquake to be a sign that the front of the house had seen enough attention from her large staff of hired carpenters and those 30 rooms were promptly boarded up. All future work was focused on the back half of the house at that time and continued until her death in 1922.
Visitors today can still witness the unrepaired damage sustained to the home more than 100 years ago. Sarah Winchester took her signs from the spirit world seriously and they are honored, if not revered, by the home’s current curators.
Ghost Tours at Winchester Mystery House
Adventurous souls taking a behind the scenes tour through other areas of the house and the two basements beneath it, must wear hardhats to participate. One of my guides told me the basements are where some of the numerous ghost stories surrounding the home are shared with visitors, as that seems to be a common area in the home for apparitions to appear. Every Friday the 13th and the weekends leading up to Halloween, flashlight tours are led through the home in search of eerie delights.
Conclusions about Mrs. Winchester and Her Mystery House
I’ve shared Sarah Winchester’s story with a number of people during the last couple of years, and they’ve usually come to the conclusion that she was a little cuckoo or, at the very least, quite eccentric. But maybe Mrs. Winchester knew something about the supernatural that we aren’t privileged to understand. It’s a fun topic to contemplate and a fascinating place to visit, no matter what you believe.