The Winchester Mystery House (WMH) is presently closed for tours while we isolate for COVID-19; however, you can watch a 41-minute tour of the property. The video is entertaining with lots of historical perspective and facts woven into the story.
Sarah Lockwood Pardee Winchester (1840-1922) was a wealthy woman known for continually renovating her home in San Jose, California. Back East, Sarah was known as the “Belle of New Haven” and was a desirable—and wealthy—woman in New Haven, Connecticut. On 1862, she married William Wirt Winchester (1837-1881), the only son of Oliver Winchester, owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Tragedy befell the young couple. Four years into marriage, the couple welcomed Annie Pardee Winchester into the world on June 15, 1866. Forty days later, on July 25, Annie succumbed from marasmus. The couple would not have any more children.
Sarah and William’s marriage struggled. Sarah’s father-in-law Oliver died, leaving William to handle the entire business. Within a year after Oliver’s death, William died from TB at the age of 44. Sarah inherited $20 million dollars in cash, plus 3,000 shares in the business. Her daily income was $1,000, which would be roughly $26,000 per day. Sarah was a very wealthy woman.
Sarah sought to live near Pardee family members, choosing to move to California. The young widow, presumably age 41, purchased an 8-room farmhouse that sat on 161 acres in California. Sarah worked every day hiring contractors, employees, and gardeners to fashion one of the largest and most mysterious homes in America.
The Winchester Mystery House documentary does a decent job guiding virtual tourists around the property. An interesting fact: Sarah stood 4 feet 10 inches tall. Therefore, some of the strange or odd building features are built for a woman of her size.
Sarah had the financial ability to indulge in extravagances. She loved to garden; therefore, it seems reasonable that she would have 2 conservatories: One to the North and the other to the South.
She had 6 kitchens. However, a couple were used for her large staff. Between 41-43 people worked and lived on the property. It is said that Sarah paid her employees well above minimum wages.
The video exaggerates a few items. The series could have gone into the more plausible theories about Sarah’s fascination on renovating the house. For instance, there isn’t any historical record of Sarah being a member of an occult group or visiting a psychic who supposedly told her to build a house across the country to confuse the spirits of people killed by the Winchester guns. These are merely anecdotes.
The question people want answered is: Why? Why did she keep on building? We will never know. Nor will we know if the “Séance Room” (as it is called in the documentary) was actually used for seances. Only one person—Sarah—had access to the room. She sat alone in the room. Sure, the room is designed a bit odd, that doesn’t mean that she held seances there. In fact, it shows she wouldn’t. Instead, I proffer that the room was more for meditation and prayer.
What we do know is that she liked to build rooms and used the most expensive materials available. Her favorite stained-glass pattern was the Spider’s Web, possibly purchased through Tiffany’s. And, boy, there are a lot of stained-glass windows in the house.
Twenty-two years into the project, and the house was 7 stories high. After the April 18, 1906 San Francisco earthquake, several top floors became unstable and were compromised. Today, the house has 4 stories.
The site offers pre-sale tickets for when the property re-opens on April 7. Take a look, https://winchestermysteryhouse.com/. It was very satisfying.