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The Winchester Mystery House, located in San Jose, CA, holds the title as being one of the most haunted mansions in the U.S. But what gives it that title? And is it really as haunted as its reputation maintains?

Construction at the Winchester Mansion

The Winchester mansion started its existence as a much more reasonably-sized farmhouse. Sarah Winchester purchased it in 1885. Sarah’s late husband, William Winchester, was the son of the Winchester Rifle Company founder. Inheriting nearly half of the Winchester company upon his death, Sarah put her large fortune toward constant additions and construction on the farmhouse.

She designed each addition room herself. The remarkable home continued to expand. Eventually, it became a vast maze of strange rooms, hallways, stairways, and unusually-placed doors and windows that—in its heyday—rose seven stories above the ground.

Purchase this drawing as a print here.

After the 1906 San Francisco quake toppled much of the top floors of the home, Sarah chose to rebuild the mansion. She topped its new height at 4 stories. Construction on the mansion continued until Sarah’s death in 1922. Today, the sprawling, unusual estate has over 160 rooms and 13 bathrooms, and a labyrinthine series of hallways throughout.

Lore of the mansion

Popular legend holds that Sarah Winchester overlooked constant construction of her mansion as a way to hide from angry spirits. The spirits were the ghosts of those who had been slain by the Winchester rifle. Indeed, if a human can easily get lost in this home, it’s easy to imagine a ghost could have trouble finding their way around as well.

Other opinions maintain that Sarah had a philanthropic spirit and wanted to support her community. She did so by employing contractors and tradesmen. Perhaps she used construction as a way to occupy her mind. She grieved over the loss of her husband and infant daughter. Or maybe she just really enjoyed designing, experimenting, and building.

The home is full of many inventive marvels. It contains an over-heated room to create a sauna effect, and a staircase of many incredibly shallow stairs (accessible for an arthritis sufferer such as Sarah herself).

Winchester Mystery House haunted with Diana, co-hot, in front of the door to nowhere
Diana in front of the Door to Nowhere at the Winchester Mystery House

But is the Winchester Mystery House really haunted?

Even if Sarah never intended for the house to be home to spirits, it is easy to see why the Winchester Mystery House is haunted. After all, Victorian architecture has a reputation for being a breeding ground for spirits. Ornate details, nooks and crannies, and twists and turns are notorious for catching ghosts and holding on to them, so even if a ghost were merely passing through, he might find himself stuck, and right at home, within the Winchester walls.

Furthermore, in our podcast we’ve heard many creepy stories of places that seem to have become haunted because enough people believed they were haunted. These would be hauntings occurring from mass collective unconscious manifestation, if you will. Maybe that is possible; maybe it’s not. Regardless, certain places throughout the world attract ghosts for whatever reason. And the Winchester Mystery House could very well be such a place.

Certainly, plenty of tour guides and visitors alike report hauntings within the Winchester walls. So no matter how the ghosts got there, enough people experience things to give its haunted reputation some validity.

Whether or not you believe in ghosts, or believe the folklore surrounding the construction of the Winchester Mystery House, one thing is certain: Sarah Winchester herself was a creative mastermind, and the bizarre genius of the Winchester mansion is something everyone can enjoy experiencing. If you’ve visited the Winchester House, get on our Facebook group and tell us a story about your spooky day!