Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Winchester Mystery House

In San Jose, California, you can tour one of the strangest buildings in the world - the Winchester Mystery House. Sarah Winchester, the wealthy widow of arms magnate William Winchester, believed that the spirits of all those killed by her husband's rifle would haunt her unless she appeased them by constructing a home for them all. In 1884, she bought a farm in San Jose and began construction of a home, the likes of which the world had never seen before.

Construction on the mansion continued around the clock, every single day for 38 years, until the day she died. Often Sarah would hand her carpenters plans that she had drawn up the night before. There was no master plan to be followed, and eventually the house stood seven stories tall and was full of eccentric oddities like stairways and doors to nowhere. Some were supposedly designed to confuse the ghosts, hallways that dead ended and the like, to keep Sarah safe in her own home. Others were practicalities that only an incredibly rich eccentric could afford, such as a stairway with 40 steps, each only 1 inch tall, built late in her life because she had debilitating arthritis and could only raise her feet a few inches. Sarah was also obsessed with the number 13, and that number turns up constantly throughout the home. Newly hired servants were given maps of the house so they could find their way around without getting lost.

As odd as she may have been, Sarah Winchester had exquisite taste, and in many ways the house was ahead of its time. There were modern conveniences like a hot shower, forced air heating and electric lighting. During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Sarah Winchester was trapped in her bedroom for several hours. After the earthquake, the top three stories were removed and today the mansion is only four stories tall.

Tours of the mansion are offered daily, and here's the official website of the Winchester Mystery House.

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