The Winchester House
The Winchester House
There were 153 sales in June in the fourteen communities covered by this Lakes Region real estate market report. The average sales price came in at $467,666 with the median price point of $433,466. That brings the total number of sales for the first half of the year to 635 units at an average of $427,872 with a median price point of $427,872. That is up from the 600 sales at an average if $365,632 and a median of $259,900 for the same period in 2018.
Question; who would build a 24,000 square foot seven story home with 160 rooms, 40 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms (with only one working toilet,) 6 kitchens, 2 ballrooms, 47 fireplaces, 52 skylights, 3 elevators, and two basements?
Answer; No…it is not someone trying to outdo their neighbor on Governor’s Island (but had to cut the plumbing budget.) The answer is Sarah Winchester who built a home in order to evade the ghosts of all of the victims that were killed by Winchester rifles… a home in order to evade the ghosts of all of the victims that were killed by Winchester rifles…or so the story goes. That would be a good reason, if it were really true.
Sarah Winchester became the heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company’s vast fortune when her husband William Wirt Winchester (that’s a mouthful!) died in 1881. After his death, the legend is that she was told by her deceased husband, through a medium of course, that his death and the death of their infant daughter a few years earlier were a result of the blood money they made off the sales of the Winchester rifles. He told her that she must move from New Haven Connecticut to somewhere out west and to continuously build a grand home for herself and the ghosts to appease them. He told her if she were to stop building, she would die….
In 1884 she did just that and bought an eight-room farmhouse on 162 acres in San Jose, California and immediately went to work adding on rooms. She immediately employed crews of carpenters and tradesmen who worked around the clock constructing rooms and additions that she herself designed. There were no plans, just her drawings. No expense was spared and only the finest materials were used. There were gold and silver chandeliers, inlaid parquet floors, paneled walls, and elaborate woodwork throughout the home.
She incorporated the latest and greatest features in the home including steam and forced hot air heating systems, indoor plumbing including a shower, elevators, wool insulation, and push button gas lighting. There were stained glass windows by Tiffany including “spider web” designs that she liked, and she incorporated and repeated the number 13 into many design elements. There were 13 pane windows, 13 step staircases, and 13 paneled ceilings and even the 13th bathroom that has 13 windows with 13 panes. The reason there was only one working bathroom was that the other twelve were there to confuse the ghosts. OK, right?
As the building continued things got even weirder and Sarah became a recluse. She slept in a different bedroom every night in order to evade the ghosts that haunted her. Under her direction her craftsmen built stairways to nowhere, secret passages and hidden rooms, rooms within rooms, trap doors, upside down pillars, skylights in the floor, a labyrinth of hallways, doors that opened into walls and a second-floor door that opened out into thin air. The house was constructed out of redwood but Sarah hated the look of it, so everything was covered by a stain and faux grain. It took over 20,000 gallons of paint.
But is this the truth or just a ghost story? The house is certainly real, and you can take a tour of it if you are out there. It is eerie and bizarre, and I am sure the people that own it make money off the tours and merchandise promoting the ghostly legend. I watched a horror movie about Sarah and her mansion called Winchester last week. It starred Helen Mirren and it certainly painted Sarah as a ghost fearing recluse hell bent on staying one step ahead of the ghouls with not much focusing on the structure itself.
There have been many books written disputing the ghost story and painting a more realistic explanation of this mystery house. One theory is that Sarah was using her wealth to keep large numbers of people employed and she liked to design and construct as a kind of a hobby. She was one of the wealthiest women in the country and could certainly afford to do so. She was a philanthropist as well, spending her final years setting up an endowment for the Winchester Chest Hospital in New Haven. There was never any proof that she was ashamed of the 51% interest in the Winchester Repeating Arms and the $1,000 a day she received until her death (that’s $26,000 a day now.)
She was highly intelligent and a follower of Charles Bacon and his theories using numbers to explain everything in the world. They were both Freemasons and Masonic symbols and references are everywhere in the house along with Shakespearean influences. It is really a puzzle house, not a haunted house, as Sarah’s work was intended to take you into the fourth dimension. Apparently, the clues are everywhere…if you can understand them.
The earthquake in 1906 damaged a lot of the house and the top three floors had to be taken down. That could explain the stairway to nowhere and some other strange features as well. Much of the property was sold off and it now sits on just a 4.5-acre lot. It’s probably a lot easier to take care of now…except for the 10,000 panes of glass that need to be cleaned. Check out the movie…it is pretty cool…
Data compiled using the NEREN MLS system