Here’s why the Winchester Mystery House is the best haunted house
There are some places throughout the world that just exude the feeling of “yep, there’s definitely something spooky going on there”. The Island of the Dolls in Mexico, the catacombs of Paris, the Tower of London in London, Aokigahara or the Suicide Forest in Japan, these places all just scream haunted. In America, there are a few places like that. Nothing, however, stirs up the feeling of “here there be ghosts”, then the Winchester Mystery House.
Steeped in the American cultural consciousness of mysticism and haunting, the Winchester Mystery House is, perhaps, the best known haunted house in the United States, possibly the world, with its odd design and almost urban legend story attached to it. But that just adds to a spooktacular sort of fun that comes with visiting the house, even if it is mired in the tragedy of Sarah Winchester.
Tragedies of Sarah Winchester
Sarah Winchester, maiden name Pardee, is a woman that has become defined by the great tragedies in her life. She married her husband William Wirt Winchester, the only son of Oliver Winchester, the owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms company. The Winchester names, before Supernatural happened, were associated with the Wild West and the Civil War.
The Winchester Model 1873 Rifle is commonly referred to as the “gun that won the West” in American folklore. On the flip side, however, the Winchester weapons were used to a horrifically devastating effect during the Civil War.
Tragedy would befall Sarah and William when their daughter and only child, Annie Pardee Winchester died as an infant from marasmus on July 25, 1866, only a little over a month after her birth. Sarah’s father-in-law Oliver would die in 1880 and William passed from tuberculosis in March 1881.
Following the death of her husband, Sarah inherited a vast fortune of $20 million USD (equivalent to $529,862,069 in 2019). She also held 50% ownership in the Winchester company and received $1,000 USD per day (equivalent to $26,493 in 2019). Sarah was an insanely wealthy woman though the tragedies apparently changed her.
Myth of Sarah Winchester
Here’s how people hear the story of Sarah Winchester. While living in Boston, she went to a psychic, as spiritualism was big at the time, and asked why these tragedies befell her family. The psychic said that the spirits of those killed by the Winchester weapons were angry at the family and cursed them.
In order to appease these spirits, Sarah had to move out West and build a house for them to live. She had to keep building the house or she too would befall the anger of the spirits. The good spirits, the ones who wished to help her, would tell her how to build the house to protect herself.
So Sarah did just that.
Here’s the thing about it though. We have no record of this spiritualist that Sarah consulted. While she was interested in the occult, Sarah also was pretty interested in architecture. It’s possible that the odd house isn’t the result of ghosts haunting Sarah, but of an eccentric woman driven by grief to explore what made her happy. Still, the myth of Sarah Winchester persists.
(Note: A great podcast to listen to about this more likely theory to listen to is Criminal’s “The Widow and the Winchester”.)
Even so, the ranch was worked on routinely from when Sarah bought the property in 1884 to her death in 1922. While the rumors are that the work was continuous, it wasn’t as a biographer of Sarah Winchester found that Sarah would dismiss workers for a spell so that she and they may rest.
The house is wild. It’s been open to the public since 1923, but in 2016 a brand new room was found in the house.
Ghosts of Winchester
Even if Sarah wasn’t driven West by ghosts, ghosts still roam the halls of the house. Sarah would host spiritualist sessions and attempt to communicate with the dead. Anyone who has ever messed around with an Ouija board or attempted to contact the dead knows, this can leave spiritual doorways open for the other side to cross over.
Visitors and employees have claimed spectral and ghostly encounters over the many years of the Winchester Mystery House’s existence. From the official website for the Winchester, they confirmed the ghosts of “Clyde”, who is “a mustached man sometimes seen pushing a wheelbarrow in the basement, or trying to repair the fireplace in the Ballroom”.
Others claimed to have seen Sarah Winchester herself as she walks the halls of her home or appears in her bedroom to visitors. The Winchester Mystery House even holds seances as well, trying to connect with Sarah.
Guests and staff have also reported clothing being tugged, feeling someone behind them, hearing footsteps when they were alone in the building, and the spectral sound of builders at work.
The Winchester Mystery House welcomes all from psychics to skeptics to investigate and explore the property. From noted skeptic Harry Houdini in 1924 to Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej of Buzzfeed Unsolved, there has been a gamut of people who have explored the house.
As they should, the Winchester is pretty much like a weird Disneyland with the Hall of Fires, a hall lined with fireplaces, to doors that lead to nowhere or stairways that stop into a wall. There is just a plethora to explore at the Winchester Mystery House, even if you don’t see a ghost. You will see something truly unique.
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