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The Haunted Winchester House

 

By James Donahue

 

Within the lush beauty of San Jose, California, stands the massive Winchester Mansion, known as a home of spirits. It carried that strange nick-name almost from the day construction began.

 

That is because it was built by Sarah Winchester with the fortune left by her husband, William, who was son and heir of the man who produced the famous Winchester repeating rifles, the “Gun that won the West.” After the death of her husband and their only child, Anne, Sarah became convinced that the family was cursed by the spirits of all the people killed over the years by those rifles.

 

In 1892 she left her home in Boston and moved to San Jose, the site she chose to build a mansion that she hoped would not only appease the restless spirits but give her a place in which she might hide from them.

 

She purchased an eight-room house on 150 acres and began adding on to it. By the time she died in 1922, the massive Victorian mansion contained an estimated 160 rooms and was filled with so many unexplained features it became known as a mystery house.

 

With great wealth in her grasp, Sarah Winchester kept a staff of up to 20 domestic servants, as many as 22 carpenters, and 18 gardeners and field hands. She had no master plan for her house so the construction involved building on, remodeling and tearing down portions of the structure at her every whim.

 

Some said the woman kept in constant touch with the spirits through a local medium and that the work was altered repeatedly because of new directives by the ghosts she communicated with. Whatever the reason, the construction work continued steadily, 24 hours a day for 38 years, until Sarah’s death.

 

Some historians estimate that over 600 rooms were built and demolished during those years.

 

There is a bell tower in the mansion where they said Sarah rang a bell at midnight, apparently to summon the spirits for a nightly sťance. The bell was run again at 2 a.m. which was a signal that it was time for the spirits to leave.

 

She once was reputed to have said that the “good” spirits gave her advice on how to build the structure so it would confuse the “bad” spirits so they couldn’t get her. But that may just be a story that goes with the lore of the house.

 

The house seems to be haunted, all right, and ironically, the ghost appears to be that of Sarah Winchester.

 

Visitors claim to hear organ music coming from the Blue Room where Sarah died. Cold spots and red balls of light are seen in the bedroom where she slept. People also sense that they are being watched in various parts of the building.

 

A caretaker working at the house told of hearing breathing in one room and also that he followed the sound of footsteps in the doorway of Sarah’s bedroom. Another worker claimed to have heard his name whispered. Still others say they have caught the odor of chicken soup coming from the front kitchen that has not been used for years.

 

Apparitions of Sarah have been both seen and photographed. There also appears to be a man in overalls haunting the house.

 

There have been episodes of lights turning off and on when the house is empty and locked for the night. One room was found as if it were flooded, every item soaked, yet the ceiling and walls were completely dry.

 

The house is open for daily tours. It is said that visitors who return find that rooms and hallways they remember have changed and that the mansion still seems to be constantly altering itself, without the help of carpenters.

 

But that, too, may be just legend. With 160 rooms, who can remember how to traverse so many halls and stairways without becoming confused?