By Diane Ako
Winchester Mystery House™ is an extravagant maze of Victorian craftsmanship – marvelous, baffling, and eerily eccentric. It's a huge house with 160 rooms built with no obvious architectural plan, constructed for 38 years until the homeowner died.
As the story from the website tells it, "In 1862, Sarah married William Wirt Winchester, son of Oliver Fisher Winchester, Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut and manufacturer of the famous Winchester repeating rifle. The couple’s life together was happy, and they moved in the best New England society. However, in 1866, disaster struck when their infant daughter, Annie, died of then mysterious childhood disease marasmus. Mrs. Winchester fell into a deep depression from which she never fully recovered. Fifteen years later, in March 1881, her husband’s premature death from tuberculosis added to Mrs. Winchester’s distress. It is said, she ultimately sought help from a spiritualist.
According to some sources, the Boston Medium consulted by Mrs. Winchester explained that her family and her fortune were being haunted by spirits – in fact, by the spirits of American Indians, Civil War soldiers, and others killed by Winchester rifles. Supposedly the untimely deaths of her daughter and husband were caused by these spirits, and it was implied that Mrs. Winchester might be the next victim.
However, the medium also claimed that there was an alternative, Mrs. Winchester was instructed to move west and appease the spirits by building a great house for them. As long as construction of the house never ceased, Mrs. Winchester could rest assured that her life was not in danger. Building such a house was even supposed to bring her eternal life.
Mrs. Winchester’s financial resources were virtually unlimited; upon her husband’s death she received several million dollars in cash and 777 shares of stock in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Upon her mother-in-law’s death in 1897, Mrs. Winchester received 2,000 more shares, which meant she owned just under fifty percent of the company’s capital stock. This provided her with an income of $1,000 a day – back in the days before income taxes."
In today's dollar, that would be $23,000 a day.
There are staircases that lead to the ceiling or into an eight foot drop to the floor below, miles of twisting hallways, doors of various sizes, rooms that she had sealed off to appease the spirits, a seance room, and the number 13 worked into many rooms and features (including 13 parts to her will.) It is unusual - and best experienced in person.
We enjoyed our Mansion tour, and our self-guided stroll in the gardens afterwards. I wonder what this place is like at night on a Friday the 13th?
If you go:
I recommend walking shoes as the shortest tour is 65 minutes. Reservations recommended. For more information to go http://winchestermysteryhouse.com/index.cfm.