Does this font look weird? It looks weird to me. Onward.
I’ve always harbored a sort of fascination with the occult. I think it stems from two things: Scooby Doo cartoons and exposure to Monster Macabre and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, in my formative years.
I loved a good ghost story when I was little, but it was the “real” stuff that was most interesting to me.
Enter Sarah Winchester.
My early childhood was spent in southern California, but we have relatives in the Bay Area and in Napa and Sonoma, so many holidays and vacations were spent there. When I was maybe 8, one of these vacations included a tour of the Winchester Mystery House.
I had no idea what to expect, but I was (and still am) that dorky kid that wanted to stop and read every historical marker at the side of the road. I loved tours of the Missions when I was little, and General Vallejo’s house and Jack London State Historic Park were favorite places of mine.
As I remember, on the trip during which we visited the Winchester house, we also toured Hearst Castle. No comparison. Hearst is grand and opulent, but Sarah’s house was creepy on a level I still have trouble describing.
Sarah Lockwood Pardee married into the Winchester family in 1862 and, following the deaths of her daughter, her husband and several other members of the Winchester family, she was left holding a 50% stake in Winchester Rifles.
Sarah was a troubled soul who became even more troubled following the deaths of her infant daughter and her husband. Out of desperation and thinking she was cursed, she consulted a psychic who told her that her trouble stemmed from the unrestful spirits of all those killed by the Winchester rifle.
The only way to appease those spirits and avoid sure death, the psychic told her, was to build a house. And to keep building it. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And so she did.
For thirty-eight years. Thirty-eight years.
The house still stands in San Jose, California. You can tour it if you like. This time of year, especially creepy flashlight tours are offered so you can truly get the feel of the place.
Sarah had no architect and no plan but the ones she sketched out in the Blue Room, where she was said to have spent many nights “communing with spirits” who told her what she should build.
Sarah had no architectural training, something clearly evident for anyone who has ever visited the house. Doors open to walls or to two-story drops to the ground below. Stairs were built that lead only to the ceiling. The house is secret passageways and other anomalies.
And, as Sarah was deeply influenced by the occult, the number thirteen figured prominently into her plans. Windows were specially made with thirteen panes. Rooms were fitted with thirteen oak panels when twelve would have sufficed. She had twelve-armed chandeliers fitted with an extra arm to suit her needs.
Sarah died in her sleep at the age of 83 unable to avoid death by continuing her construction project. When her carpenters were told of her death, they simply put their tools down and walked away. There are still places in the house where nails are only halfway driven into the walls. With Sarah gone, there was no reason to continue.
Some say that Sarah still inhabits the house and I, for one, wouldn’t be surprised at all. Go see for yourself. And think of Sarah the next time your home improvement projects take a bit longer than you originally anticipated.