Take a look inside the famously creepy Winchester House, which has 160 rooms, staircases that lead to nowhere, and doors that open into walls

Take a look inside the famously creepy Winchester House, which has 160 rooms, staircases that lead to nowhere, and doors that open into walls

Sarah Lockwood Pardee grew up in Connecticut in the 1800s and eventually married into the wealthy Winchester family.

black and white photo of sarah Winchester

The only known portrait of Sarah Winchester.

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In 1839, Sarah Lockwood Pardee was born in New Haven, Connecticut, to a working-class family. During the Civil War, at age 23, she married William Winchester, the heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, a rifle company. 

“Winchester was quiet, which suited Sarah because she was very quiet herself,” the home’s historian, Janan Boehme, told Insider. “She was also a very tiny lady. She stood at about 4 feet 10 inches. She was a private person.”

Over the next few decades, Sarah experienced several tragedies that would shape her life forever.

black and white photo of winchester grave site

William Winchester’s gravesite.

Winchester Mystery House

William and Sarah had one daughter, Annie, who died at just 6 weeks old. They never had any other children, and William died 15 years later from tuberculosis, in 1881 at age 43. William’s fortune from the gun company was left to Sarah. 

In 1885, a widowed Sarah Winchester moved to California to start a new life in a farmhouse she built on 40 acres.

black and white photo of srah winchester in front of a farm house

Winchester in front of the farmhouse.

Winchester Mystery House

At the time, newspapers were filled with advertisements, luring people to move across the country and settle in the newly incorporated California. Winchester first lived in San Francisco, but the weather bothered her arthritis. Instead, she decided to buy 40 acres of land and build a small farmhouse in the Santa Clara Valley. 

Winchester quickly started to remodel the home to make it bigger so that her three sisters could move in with her.

black and white photo of the Winchester house

The Winchester mansion.

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According to Boehme, Winchester had a passion for remodeling and building homes after she helped construct one back in Connecticut. Boehme said the remodels were nothing but a passion project for Winchester. 

“It was something to keep her busy,” Boehme said. “It helped her employ people and share her wealth that way. She just never really stopped building.” 

But many think that Winchester’s remodels had other, more eerie motives.

black and white aerial shot of winchester house

The Winchester mansion.

Winchester Mystery House

There are many conspiracy theories surrounding the mansion, but the most popular lore is that Winchester went to a spiritualist and learned that she was being haunted by spirits who died at the hands of the Winchester gun company. Because she was living off the gun company’s fortune, the spiritualist told her to move to California and build a home that would appease and trap the ghosts who follow her. 

Boehme said there is no proof of that story, but Winchester did likely practice spiritualism.

“It was quite popular during and after the Civil War,” she said. “Women had lost so many of their loved ones. They were looking for some way to communicate with them.”

No matter the motive, Winchester remodeled her mansion nonstop for 38 years.

black and white photo of winchester mansion and its roof

The Winchester mansion.

Winchester Mystery House

Although there are theories that the construction went on for 24 hours a day, Boehme said that is fiction. It is true, however, that the remodeling of the house went on for decades. Winchester would employ around 13 workers at a time. She was known for paying her workers well above the usual rate. Oftentimes, she would buy homes for her employees’ families to live in while they worked on her home. 

Today, the house is not only known for its creepy history but also for its massive size.

aerial shot of the modern winchester mystery mansion

The mansion today.

Barry King/Getty Images

Winchester spent $5.5 million on her 24,000-square-foot home, which has 160 bedrooms, 40 staircases, 13 bathrooms, and 47 fireplaces. There are a whopping 10,000 windows and 2,000 doors. Boehme said the house “grew organically.” 

Odd design elements, like stairways that lead to nowhere, also make this house so well known.

staircase leads to a wall at the winchester house

This staircase leads to a wall.

Winchester Mystery House

Throughout the house, you can find staircases that lead to nowhere, doors that open onto walls, and rooms with windows on the floor. The bizarre design elements feed into the theory that Winchester was trying to trap and confuse the ghosts that haunted her, but Boehme said there’s a more realistic explanation. Winchester designed the home with no blueprints and no formal design experience. These design oddities may have been mistakes or a simple change of mind. However, it is unclear to this day if these choices were deliberate or accidental. 

Despite the home’s oddities, it’s still a gorgeous example of Queen Anne Revival architecture.

front of house at the winchester mansion

The front of the house.

Winchester Mystery House

The pointed spires, the wraparound porch, the shingles, and the elaborate columns are all popular features of a Queen Anne Revival, according to Boehme. 

In its heyday, the home stood seven-stories tall. Today, after the 1906 earthquake badly damaged it, it’s just four levels.

front of the winchester house with green grass in front

The front of the house.

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The great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 damaged the Winchester mansion all the way out in San Jose. After seeing the damage, Boehme said Winchester decided to remove the top few floors because it was too dangerous. 

One of the best rooms in the older part of the house is the Venetian dining room.

a table, couch, and fireplace in the ventian dining room at the winchester mansion

The Venetian dining room.

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After this conservatory, visitors pass from the newer part of the house to the older part, using a small set of stairs that once acted as exterior porch steps. The Venetian room is in this part of the house.

Overall, there are three dining rooms in the house and six kitchens. 

While the ballroom has only two stained-glass windows, the home itself is known for them, as Winchester was famously infatuated with them.

a stainglass window at the winchester mansion

Stained-glass window at the Winchester.

Winchester Mystery House

Winchester became known for her stained-glass windows. She commissioned most of these glass pieces in 1890. Boehme said the windows share similar motifs and similar glass, but they have different types of designs. The Daisy Bedroom has daisies in its stained-glass windows, for example. 

Guests have also reported strange occurrences throughout the house.

the gardens, fountains, and house at the winchester mansion

Winchester’s gardens.

Winchester Mystery House

Time magazine once named the Winchester house one of the most haunted places in the world. 

“Outside in the front gardens of the mansion, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. It was what appeared to be a bushy-haired woman staring out of one of the windows on the second floor,” a guest identified as N.R. told the Winchester Mystery House staff, per Boehme. “As soon as she saw me, she turned and walked away. I originally thought nothing of it, but a few weeks later I learned that when photos were taken with these specific second-floor windows, sometimes a bushy-haired woman had appeared in the background.” 

Others claim to have observed ghosts in the gardens.

gardens outside the winchester mansion

Gardens at the house.

Winchester Mystery House

“I was going to clock out for the day and on the way, I saw a small woman dressed in black near the picnic gardens. It put me a little on edge, so I hurried to clock out. On my route, back through the estate, the women was not there anymore. The woman looked like Mrs. Winchester,” a person identified as N.B. told the Winchester Mystery House staff. 

Although historian Boehme said she has had similar paranormal experiences, she hopes people will understand that the Winchester history is more than just a ghost story.

the exterior of the winchester masnion at night

The exterior of the mansion.

Winchester Mystery House

Despite providing more realistic theories for Winchester’s mysteries, Boehme admitted that she has heard her name whispered behind her back when no one else was in the room. However, she hopes people come to the house to learn more about how Winchester was a creative businesswoman.

“I’d like to think that [people] come to appreciate Sarah as more than just this eccentric, ghost-ridden, tragic figure,” Boehme said. “She was actually a pretty interesting person, a smart lady, and she was good to her employees. She was never afraid of trying something new. She really was a good person.”


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