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Monday, August 20, 2012

Exploring The Winchester House

I've now added the Winchester House in San Jose, California, to my list of Haunted Places in America to visit. A few words to describe the Winchester House: intriguing, beautiful, bizarre, curious, and definitely eccentric. It seems like it would definitely be a very interesting place to visit. It once was the personal residence Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Winchester, son of Oliver Fisher Winchester, Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut and manufacturer of the famous Winchester repeating rifle. The house was continuously under construction for 38 years; from 1884 until Sarah's death on September 5, 1922, at which time work immediately ceased.
     
   This picture is of the windows inside the house.  The Queen Anne style mansion is known for its size and complete lack of any master building plan. Sarah Winchester believed that the house was haunted by the ghosts of the people who fell victim to Winchester rifles, and that only continuous construction would assuage them. William and Sarah's 6 month old baby girl died suddenly. This begun what Sarah believed to be a curse.Then, in March 1881, William died suddenly of tuberculosis. When he died, Sarah inherited $20 million and roughly a half of the ownership in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The money did little to comfort distraught Sarah when she had just lost the two people she loved most in the world. Heartbroken and inconsolable, she sought out the help of a medium. Apparently, the medium had told her, "You must never stop building a house. If you continue building, you will live forever. But if you stop, then you will die." She really took this to heart. In 1884 she purchased an unfinished farmhouse in Santa Clara Valley, and began building her mansion.
    The home itself is built using a floating foundation, which is believed to have saved it from total collapse in the 1906 earthquake. Sarah died in her sleep in September 1922, at the age of 85. She was buried alongside her husband and daughter. They say that upon the workers leaving this, all construction stopped immediately, even to the extent of leaving hails half hammered in.Sarah had never stopped construction so, in her mind, her work would never truly completed to her satisfaction. Is it possible that Sarah Winchester's ghost wanders about the halls of the Winchester as well as the other ghosts? Does she linger, feeling she has unfinished business because she stopped building due to her death? Was she angry?
     Sarah made no mention of the mansion in her will, and appraisers considered the house utterly worthless because of the damage caused by the earthquake in 1906, the unfinished design and the impractical nature of its construction. It was sold at auction to a local investor for $135,000, and in February 1923, five months after Sarah Winchester's death, it was opened to the public. Harry Houdini toured the mansion in 1924, and in the newspaper account of his visit; which was displayed in the rifle museum on the estate, called it the Mystery House.
    Since 1923, when the house opened to the public, the people who work in the mansion have described strange experiences.  The caretaker claimed to have heard footsteps and breathing in the empty house at night, long after the mansion emptied out. On one lonely night, he heard the sound of a screw slowly turning, followed by a "plink" as it fell to the floor, but when he turned on the lights he could find nothing out of place. Could it have been one of Mrs. Winchester’s carpenters continuing his work even after his death? If so, perhaps he was the same ghostly stranger who appeared in a photograph the caretaker’s friend took at the house one New Year’s Eve. After all, the man, whom neither of them recognized,  appeared wearing  workman’s heavy coveralls. Another longtime employee at the Winchester House said he was often a target for the sort of pranks a mischievous spirit would play. As he closed the mansion up one evening, he locked the heavy doors to the main courtyard and then set the burglar alarm. When he turned back to check the doors, he found them unlocked. Of course, he was alone in the house at the time. Another evening, after conducting a walk through of the house at the end of the day, he carefully locked all of the doors and turned off every light, but as he walked to his car, he looked up to discover that all of the lights on the third floor were on. While anyone could forget to turn off just one light, he couldn’t imagine forgetting to turn off an entire floor’s worth of lights. A final bit of mischief occurred in his absence, but it seems clear that he was the target. One morning, he arrived to find his desk drenched with water. All of the paperwork he’d left the night before was soaked through, and his pencil cup was filled to the brim. There had been a light rain the night before, but the walls and ceiling around the desk were bone dry and undamaged.
   So that all being said, there is such an intriguing history of the Winchester House, even to this day, people claim to have ghostly encounters. I myself, would love to go there and have a ghostly encounter, while others would run the other way screaming. To each their own i suppose. But this is definitely a must for my Top Haunted Places in the United States to visit.


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