Go Inside The "Haunted Mansion" In California That Took 40 Years To Build

Brilliance | Dec. 19, 2017

When the wealthy twenty-something Sarah Lockwood Pardee married William Wirt Winchester—heir to the company that made the famous Winchester repeating rifle—in 1862, her future looked bright. But in 1866, the couple's infant daughter Annie died of a mysterious disease. Sarah was still in a deep depression from the tragedy when her husband died of tuberculosis 15 years later. Distraught, she sought help from a medium, who told her she was being haunted by spirits that could only be appeased if she moved out west and built them a great house. With a heavy heart, $20 million, and all the time in the world, Sarah Winchester moved to San Jose, California and began construction on what would come to be known as the Winchester Mystery House.

Mrs. Winchester is said to have held a nightly séance to help her with building plans, which she would sketch and hand to John Hansen, her foreman. Nightly is no exaggeration: for the 38 years Mrs. Winchester lived there, construction never ceased, with new additions being built and existing ones being remodeled daily. One craftsman worked for 33 years on nothing but the ornate parquet floors, which he built, installed, and tore up, just to begin again. Miles of twisting hallways, trap doors, and windows that opened into other rooms helped the lady of the house outrun evil spirits, while "switchback" staircases made of dozens of 2-inch steps had the practical purpose of letting her access other floors without pain from her crippling arthritis. By the time she died in 1922, there were at least 161 rooms, 47 fireplaces, 17 chimneys, 40 staircases, and nine kitchens, though new features are still being discovered. Today, the house is open for tours, but stay close to your tour guide—it's easy to get lost. Want to see it for yourself (without flying to California)? Check out the video below. Then, see some other mysterious mansions.

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