In the heart of the virtual capital city of the technology-rich Silicon Valley, San Jose, with its miles and miles of functional characterless modern IT buildings sits a bizarre anachronistic house built over 100 years ago. Belonging to Sarah Winchester, wife of the famous rifle maker William Winchester, this haunting (and haunted) mansion, set in superb gardens, took over 38 years to construct (working 24 hours per day on every day of the year) and features around four stories, 160 rooms, over 1200 windows and three elevators. It has never been completed, work stopping the day she died.
Apparently Mrs. Winchester was a deeply spiritual woman and remained deeply aggrieved at the loss of her husband. She sought out and was told by a medium that the rifle created by her husband had caused much death and misery and that the spirits were extremely upset. To gain peace and appease the spirits, she would need to build a new home for herself and never stop building (maybe the spirits were carpenters!).
Though apparently lucid, Mrs Winchester must have been seriously disturbed as her mansion proceeded haphazardly and she directed the builders to construct a number of strange oddities designed to confuse the spirits. Some doorways are hidden in cupboards while one opens onto a steep drop to the lawns below. Most chimneys are false including one which doesn’t even extend to the roof. One doorway is blocked by a brick wall and one staircase leads nowhere at all. An unusual staircase simply travels in a circle.
Her unsettled mind demanded that she slept in a different bedroom each night – mind you, she had 40 from which to select. Standing less than five foot tall, the scant furnishings suit her diminutive stature.
With an inexhaustible supply of money from her husband’s estate, the house also includes magnificent gilded lights, wooden-inlaid floors, Tiffany glass windows and many modern conveniences for the time. These include push-button gas lights, state-of-the-art indoor toilets and plumbing, cooling and steam heating systems, hot showers, and special elevators to help the aged owner up stairs.
To add to the mansion’s obsession with luck, many decorations are centred around the number “thirteen”. Most windows have thirteen panes of glass, most staircases contain thirteen steps and the walls are constructed with thirteen panels. A kitchen sink contains thirteen drainage holes. One story tells of an expensive European chandelier being altered to add a thirteenth candle and many common fittings have thirteen elements.
This strange travel wonder sits incongruously in this ultra-modern area of the United States, yet provides a novel afternoon touring the chaotic, rambling mansion of an eccentric, obsessive woman with more money than sense.
Aerial and staircase photo are courtesy of Winchester Mystery House, San Jose.