I crammed my car full of black trash bags, containing nothing but clothing and a couple of other necessities. My mother cried. Watching her eighteen year old pack up and move to San Diego on a whim was not something she was ready for. Ready or not, I was leaving.
Instead of being in a hurry to move, I decided to make an adventure out of this drive. I wanted to visit several fascinating historical spots along the way. One of my favorite stops was The Winchester Mansion in San Jose, California. Some of you know that my love for the eccentric or macabre runs deep. This historical mansion was no exception; Sarah Winchester and her tormented psyche are palpable in every square inch.
Born around 1840 to a prominent family in New Haven, Connecticut the highly educated Sarah Paredee married William Winchester, heir to the Winchester Rifle. The happy couple decided to start a family of their own. Tragedy struck when their infant daughter died suddenly from a mysterious childhood Illness. Sarah, utterly consumed with grief and depression found it nearly impossible to move on. Fifteen years later her husband died of tuberculosis. Her anguish unbearable, sought out the help of a psychic medium.
The medium gave Sarah information that would forever alter her life. She was told that the spirits haunting her were the victims of her family’s famous Winchester rifle. The spiritualist even went as far as to say that these spirits were the cause of her husband and daughter’s deaths and that she would be next. Her suggestion to Sarah to help satisfy these spirits was to move and build a home- A home with never ending construction. Having inherited endless amounts of money from both her husband and later his mother, she could afford anything she desired.
Peculiar Sarah took this advice. Perhaps needing a break from her despair and something else to focus her energy on, she found land and began building. Construction was relentless for the next thirty eight years- Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.
As I strolled up to the expansive property, in all of its Victorian style beauty, it looked like a Fun House. Having built, renovated, re-renovated rooms countless times none of it made sense. 10,000 windows are randomly scattered on the outer walls of this seven-story monstrosity. However, the true perplexity is the inside of the estate. Staircases lead up to the ceiling, cabinets open to nothing, 46 fireplaces with only 17 chimneys. It is a labyrinth. One staircase winds back and forth for 7 flights, only rising 9 feet. Each step only two inches high.
The tour guide warns us to stay with the group or we could be lost for hours, attempting to navigate our way out of the confusion. It is said that Sarah held nightly séances in a special room to appease the spirits that haunted her. The deeper into the home you travel the more baffling the configuration and stories. In complete contrast to her obscure layout, Sarah had impeccable taste. Once each room was finished, she adorned it in the finest Tiffany’s glass, extravagant chandeliers, imported drapery and furniture. However odd, the estate was exquisite. I spent as much time as was allowed taking in all of the stain glass, the tiny details that made each room breathtaking.
I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if you gave other severely eccentric and troubled people endless sums of money. Perhaps that is what the unconventional, creative Hollywood types are like. Instead of attempting to build away their demons, they drink or smoke them. I prefer Sarah’s imaginative way of dealing with her grief.
She donated heaps of money to local charities, schools, hospitals and family. After her death in 1922, her estate was finally sold and became the museum it is today. Sarah only allowed her niece and the workers into her home. I question how she would feel, knowing countless strangers occupy these hallways of insanity. I picture her spirit drifting from room to room, unhappy of its inhabitants. The unnerving sensation while exploring this structure made me consider, I may be right.
Though you may anger poor Sarah, I would definitely recommend making the trip and experiencing all of the fascinating legends that accompany it. Have you been before? What was your experience like?