Learn the Secrets of the Winchester Mystery House

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Interview with Janan Boehme, the Historian at the Winchester Mystery House

Holding many accounts of both historical and paranormal lore, the Winchester Mystery House is perhaps the most famous house in America. It is both beautiful and bizarre. The mansion was built by Sarah Winchester, the heiress of the Winchester Repeating Arms fortune.

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The mansion gained its fame primarily due to its strange architectural developments. The Winchester Mystery House was built almost continuously for 38 years, with construction only briefly stopping after the 1906 earthquake. The home was a marvel for its time, as it was self-sufficient with its own water, drainage, sewer, gas, and (later) electrical systems. The house began with only 8 rooms, but by the time Sarah Winchester died, the house had 160 rooms, 40 bedrooms, 40 staircases, 13 bathrooms, 6 kitchens, 47 fireplaces (but only 17 chimneys), 2,000 doors, and 10,000 window panes. This monstrous estate is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the longest continuous house construction”. The continuous work and strange designs lead people to ask, “Was Sarah Winchester ahead of her time with new and innovative design choices or were there paranormal forces at work behind her designs?”

In fact, the reason many people know of the famous house is because of its architectural oddities and the ghost stories that surround Mrs. Winchester’s home. It’s been told that Mrs. Winchester built onto the home to appease the spirits who were killed by the Winchester rifles, believing that if construction stopped, something terrible would happen. There are also tales that Mrs. Winchester’s actions were led by a psychic medium. There are many design features that contribute to the odd lore of the house, including doors that open into walls, a staircase that goes into the ceiling, a chimney which stops a foot from the ceiling, a door that drops fifteen feet at the front of the house into the garden, a cupboard with ½ inch of storage space and a cupboard to nothing. Not to mention, there are curious nods to the number 13 throughout the house. While some oddities can’t be explained, there are some logical explanations to others- such as the switchback staircase with 2-inch-high riser stairs. These stairs were put in to accommodate Mrs. Winchester’s debilitating arthritis. What’s also intriguing is that during construction, Mrs. Winchester never had a master set of blueprints. She sketched her own per room on any paper that was handy. The only real blueprint that exists is that of the elevator.

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The door to nowhere opens directly to a drop down into the garden below.

Many times, the Winchester Mystery House has been called “the most haunted mansion in the United States”. In fact, this building inspired the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland, specifically the grand ballroom. Adding to the paranormal allure of the location, many members of the team at the Winchester Mystery House have had their own ghost experiences. It’s a lot of fun to take the tour and hear the personal experiences that the staff has had.  

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The Grand Ballroom at the Winchester Mystery House

Whether or not you believe in the haunted lore, Mrs. Winchester was very detailed in her designs, so when you visit the house be sure to look at all the details around you- including in the small details of the door latches and hinges. For instance, Mrs. Winchester included decorative brass fittings in the corners of each stair on the main staircase to keep dust from accumulating. And the wooden counters in the kitchens have slanted grooves to help send excess water back into the sink, a very useful idea.

An example of the detail work in the design of the Winchester Mystery House

Like when Mrs. Winchester was alive (but obviously not as non-stop), work is continuously being done to restore and preserve the Winchester Mystery House. A lot of the materials used in the restoration are from Mrs. Winchester’s supply that she left with the house.

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Today, the house sits as a historic landmark in San Jose, CA. It’s an exciting location filled with history, mystery, and lore. Whether you are excited to try and spot the spirits for yourself or you’re just a history buff, it will be an exciting visit. We encourage you to come visit the mysterious house yourself. The Winchester Mystery House offers daily “Mansion Tours” that guide guest through the famed areas of the house, and an even more expansive tour is offered called the “Explore More Tour”, which shows guests areas that have been off-limits to the public for 90 years. They also offer fun seasonal tours that shouldn’t be missed. So, get out there and experience more historical locations, starting with the Winchester Mystery House.

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In the “Explore More Tour”, you can see rooms damaged by the 1906 earthquake.

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Written by Malorie Mackey
Malorie Mackey is an actress and writer living in Los Angeles, CA. Malorie's first published book entitled "My Playboy Story: Hopping from Richmond to Hollywood" was published in 2017. Since then, Malorie's short story "What Love Has Taught Me" has been published in the anthology "Choices," and she has been writing and blogging about travel and adventure in hopes to publish her next book about travel soon. She believes that everyone should enjoy a little adventure in their lives.