In 1906, a wealthy heiress got trapped in an attic room as one of the century’s strongest earthquakes raged outside. She thought angry spirits caused the earthquake and her brief captivity, so she boarded up the room and never set foot in it again.
In fact, no one did—until now.
A House Built on Loss
The story of the Winchester Mystery House is as intriguing as it is sad. Workers built this sprawling mansion over the course of 38 years, resulting in a mysterious maze of rooms and corridors. Now a historical landmark, the home still has surprises up its sleeve—and the uncanny attic room is one of them.
The infamous residence, located in San Jose, California, was the life-long creation of Sarah Winchester. Sarah was the late wife of William Wirt Winchester, the only son of Oliver Winchester, and heir of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Sarah and William married in 1862, but their happiness was short-lived.
Sarah and William had a daughter in 1866, but she sadly passed away six weeks later. Then Sarah’s father-in-law, Oliver, passed away in 1880. William followed the next year. This left Sarah with 50 percent ownership of the arms company, a healthy daily stipend, and a broken heart.
Here’s where the story gets eerie, at least as described by paranormal websites like Prairie Ghosts. These devastating circumstances convinced Sarah she was cursed. She sought help from a medium, who told her that the ghosts who lost their lives to a Winchester rifle haunted her family.
Smithsonian magazine reports that a relative later claimed that the medium told Sarah to move out West and continuously build a home to appease the spirits. Whether that claim is true, or Sarah just desired a new beginning, she left her home in New Haven, Connecticut. Soon, she would start building.
The Construction Begins
Sarah moved to San Jose with her sister and niece in 1884. She purchased an eight room farmhouse on 161 acres and immediately began construction on the home. Legend has it that construction crews worked on the house 24 hours a day, seven days a week until Sarah joined her husband 38 years later. However, historian Mary Jo Ignoffo, who wrote a book about the heiress, claims that this is ridiculous.
“Winchester’s own letters explain that she set workers away for months at a time,” Ignoffo told California Home Design.
Regardless of the details, it is certainly true that the house contains anomalies such as staircases and doors leading nowhere and windows overlooking rooms. The house grew up as well as out, reaching seven stories at its highest. However, the 1906 earthquake destroyed the top three levels, and Sarah never ventured past four stories again.
Many visitors to the house that came later believe that the strange, maze-like construction was designed to appease—or at the very least confuse—the ghosts who haunted Sarah. Again, Ignoffo begs to differ. Stairways to nowhere and doors to nothing were simply her quick way to seal off parts of the house that the 1906 earthquake damaged.
“After the earthquake, she moved to another house,” Ignoffo said. “She did not want to make the necessary repairs. It had nothing to do with spirits.”
The Eerie New Discovery
In total, the house contains 40 staircases, 2,000 doors, 47 fireplaces, and over 10,000 windows. You would think after all these years, historians would know every inch of the home, but that isn’t the case.
In 2016, the mansion’s preservation team discovered a new room in the attic of the home. CBS reports that this was the room that trapped Sarah in during the 1906 earthquake—the one that she quickly boarded up and neglected.
The hidden room contains a pump organ, sewing machine, Victorian couch, dress form, and paintings. This discovery brings the total room count of the home up to 161. Who knows what else hides behind the walls of the Winchester Mystery House? Do we really want to know?