The Winchester Mystery House: A haunted home

The house was initially built on forty acres of land, but today, occupies only six.
The house was initially built on forty acres of land, but today, occupies only six.
Winchester Mystery House

As Amador celebrates its centennial, so does the famed Winchester Mystery House: a pillar in urban legend and Bay Area history. Complete with many strange architectural choices, thousands of people every day visit the sprawling mansion for its eerie vibes and history of supernatural activity.

The home initially belonged to Sarah Winchester, who was married to the heir of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, William. After losing her infant daughter, husband, and both parents, Sarah moved from her hometown of New Haven, Connecticut to San Jose, California. There, she bought a modest eight-room farmhouse and began renovating — a project that would last until her death in 1922.

Before the 1906 earthquake, the house contained seven floors. Today, it only has four. (Winchester Mystery House)

“[The house has] always been a home for people. Sarah had employees that lived here for decades and knowing how deep rooted this house is in not only San Jose history, but Santa Clara County history is something that I know I, and a lot of my other employees are really proud of,” said manager Olivia Maldonado.

A Maze Develops

Thirty six years and $5 million later (or $71 million today), Sarah left behind a sprawling 24,000 square foot mansion complete with ten thousand windows, two thousand doors, one hundred sixty rooms, fifty-two skylights, seventeen chimneys, thirteen bathrooms, six kitchens, and numerous strange passageways.

“I came here for the architecture and the legend, I stayed for the actual history. It’s something that I know I and a lot of my employees are really proud of and we’re able to tell that story more factually than ever,” said Maldonado.

The allure comes from the odd and often random additions Sarah included, such as staircases and doors to nowhere.

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  • Parts of Sarah’s house are unexplainable, like staircases that lead to the ceiling.

  • This piece of stained glass is the most expensive window in the house. Despite this, it gets minimal light as it has a room built over it.

  • Within Sarah Winchester’s house, there are many doors that open to walls or open to nothing.

  • The front entryway of the mansion was damaged by the 1906 earthquake. The earthquake made parts of the floor collapse and expensive wallpaper fall off, as seen on the left wall.

  • Located on the exterior of the house, this door opens to the outside and a fifteen foot drop into the gardens below.

Coupled with Sarah’s tragic background, the house quickly became the stuff of legend. While her exact reasoning for the continuous renovations on the house is unclear, many believe that Sarah — haunted by the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles — was advised by a medium to move out West, buy a home, and build nonstop. 

Some thought that Sarah believed that the hammering and sounds of construction would scare away malicious spirits. Others say she built the house like a maze to confuse ghosts and make her harder to reach. Unfortunately, Sarah’s labyrinth, reduced by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake left parts of the house irrevocably lost and damaged. This included a seven-story tower that had previously added to the mansion’s eerie, palatial aura.

“I do like seeing the third and the fourth floor, the little bit that we have, just because some of them have such an abrupt stop as to where things were cut off [by the earthquake]… and you can kind of imagine what could have been,” said Maldonado.

Murmurs of the Supernatural

The rumors of supernatural activity surrounding the house have drawn in many from across the world, including Harry Houdini, Buzzfeed Unsolved, and over twelve million guests in the last century. Since the house’s opening, many guests and staff have experienced odd occurrences such as sightings of spirits, odd sounds, and feelings of a ghostly touch. Despite all of this, those who work at the house can formulate their own opinions on supernatural happenings. 

“I consider myself a little bit of a skeptic. That’s only because with the house this large, if I believe in everything outright, I would be very scared. I have had quite a few things that I can’t really explain,” said Maldonado.

Located immediately across from the Santana Row shopping area, the Winchester Mystery House draws in thousands of visitors every day. (Wendy Connelly)

Halloween at the House

Playing into the legend and paranormal activity common at the house, the Winchester Mystery House holds an annual Halloween event.

“We typically do a haunt. This year, we are calling it Unhinged Housewarming, and we have an entire story surrounding it,” Maldonado explained. “This is all about Miles and Flora Taylor. [It’s a] fictitious, fake story for Halloween. They bought the house after Sarah passed away, [and on Halloween], the Taylors to welcome you to their home. Once they open the house, you can experience what they have inside, and maybe they’re not all as good as they seem.”

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