Sarah Winchester, formerly Sarah Lockwood Pardee, married William Wirt Winchester on September 30, 1862. Despite the fact that the Civil War was on, the wedding was a big social occasion in New Haven, Connecticut. The Winchesters were as close to royalty as could be found in that part of the world. They owned the famous Winchester Repeating Arms Company and had raked in a huge fortune with their brilliant invention, the Winchester Rifle or the Henry Rifle. This was perhaps one of the best known firearms in the world. The gun that had enabled the White Man to bring the American West under his sway, wasting along the way, deservedly or undeservedly, the lives of countless human beings and other living creatures. After a time, Sarah began to entertain such thoughts herself.
Post the most lavish wedding of the year, Sarah settled down happily with her husband and busied herself with becoming the social entity of her town. It wasn't at all difficult. She had a pretty face and charm and a considerable fortune like that always usually corrects everyone else's manners. With the Civil War had come a greater demand for guns and the Winchesters had landed some new, lucrative governmental contracts which only enlarged their coffers further. It was a happy time. And to add to it, Sarah, in the July of 1866, gave birth to a baby girl and named her Annie. It seemed she had everything anyone could possibly want.
Only a short while later, Annie became ill with Marasmus, a wasting disease that affects mainly very young children, and died. It was a devastating blow to Sarah and she became mentally unbalanced and reclusive. It took her a very long time to recover and she never had any other children. Fifteen years later her husband, William contracted tuberculosis, a deadly disease in those times, and died on 7 March 1881. His death left Sarah as a very wealthy widow, with a $20 million inheritance and a half-share in the company that fetched $1000 daily. It was no consolation―she was alone and terribly unhappy.
Sarah began to think that there was a curse on her family, and this idea was reinforced when she soon took to visiting psychics. One of the psychics convinced her that she had lost her daughter and husband due to the posthumous ill-will of all those killed by the Winchester Rifles. And she would be next in line for their evil attention―unless she lived in a house that was never, ever completed.
Sarah took the psychic's advise to heart and, in 1884, shifted base from New Haven to San Jose. There she purchased a six room farm house that stood in the middle of 161.919 acres of land, and moved in. She began construction work on it almost immediately, and kept it up continuously for the next 38 years. Just imagine! The construction work went on for 24 hours every single day, without faltering, for 38 entire years.
Sarah never prepared any blue-prints for the house. She drew the rooms that were to be added on table cloths, bits of paper, in fact on anything that was convenient and at arms reach. She had no sense of designing and it probably wasn't her intention to create anything terribly aesthetic either―the main thing was to keep on building and so she did, adding rooms haphazardly wherever she felt like it. The house eventually became such a maze that both she and her servants needed maps to navigate around it.
It is said that she built over 600 rooms across seven floors and two basement levels. The San Francisco Earthquake of April 1906 reduced the floors to four and many of the rooms either collapsed during the earthquake or were pulled down for various reasons. At present, there are 160 rooms―amongst these are 40 bedrooms, 6 kitchens, 2 ball-rooms, and 13 bathrooms. Some of the rooms are rooms within rooms. There are around 47 fireplaces, some with no smoke outlets. There are 40 flights of stairs - quite a few of these leading to nowhere - and over 450 doorways. 2000 doors and about 10,000 windows, many with beautiful glass doors make a sight that would make you think. Some of the windows are placed in the floor or on blank walls, and some of the doors are actually dangerous―opening without warning into a sharp fall, either into the garden or into the kitchen sink. No doubt these traps were for the spirits, but one wonders what would have happened if Sarah had lost her map and stepped out herself.
Sarah was obsessed with the number 13, and that is evident by many of the features around the house. Many of the glass doors have thirteen panels, many rooms have thirteen windows, the kitchen sinks have thirteen drain holes, the gas chandelier has thirteen lights, all the stairs (except one that has 42 steps) have thirteen steps.
After the Earthquake hit and trapped her for a while inside her bedroom―Sarah took this to be the spirits' way of telling her that she was spending way too much time and money of the front parts of the house. She thus, did not clear up the broken house and told the people working on the property to not fix those parts and ignore it completely.
Sarah was a recluse and never saw anybody―except her favorite psychics. She never invited visitors to stay and she didn't like the servants coming across her too much either. She once dismissed a workman for seeing her face. She paid the servants and workers a daily wage of $3, which was a very good wage back then, and if she didn't like anyone at the end of the day they were summarily dismissed. She reportedly slept in a different room every night to tackle the spirits and so that they would never find her.
On 22 September 1922, when she was 85, Sarah died peacefully in her sleep. The work on the perpetually unfinished house ceased then and there.
Sarah was buried alongside her child and husband. Her will―which she wrote and signed in 13 sections, left her servants some money, her niece some furniture which required six and a half weeks to haul away with eight truckloads of it being moved every single day. The Winchester Fund for the treatment of Tuberculosis received $2 million in bequest . Aside from her will, her safe had contained only the locks of hair of her husband and child and their obituaries.
The Winchester House is now a National Historic Site and is a major tourist attraction today. There are daily tours except Christmas Day and special night tours on Halloween and every Friday the Thirteenth. It is supposedly haunted and various people have claimed to have seen ghosts or heard strange piano music, and so on and so forth.