The 13th Floor

If You Stop Building, You Will Die: The True Story of the Winchester Mystery House

This vast mansion is a labyrinth of hallways that lead to nowhere, staircases that end abruptly at the ceiling, and some of the doors lead to a sudden drop-off on to the floor below. The Winchester House of San Jose, California is a home built without a plan. Construction on this modest residence began in 1884 and didn’t end until 1922. But it wasn’t architectural hubris that created this anarchistic masterpiece, but rather the thousands of ghosts who still walk its halls.


Winchester House was the home of Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The Winchester rifle was the choice of frontiersmen traveling west, most commonly called the “Gun that Won the West.” And as America expanded westward, many people met their demise at the business end of a Winchester Rifle.


Sarah was a woman surrounded by tragedy. Her only daughter died only a few weeks after childbirth. In 1880, she lost her father-in-law to tuberculosis, then a year later her husband succumbed to the same disease. Distraught from loss, Sarah believed her family to be cursed.  An extremely spiritual woman, Sarah sought out the help and advice of psychics and fortunetellers to comfort her.


One of the spiritualists Sarah sought solace from was Boston psychic Adam Coons. Coons informed Sarah that her family was cursed by the ghosts of everyone what had been killed by a Winchester Rifle and advised Sarah that she needed to travel west where she could build a home for the ghosts. Coons went even further telling her that if construction on the house ever stopped, then Sarah too would die.


In 1884, Sarah Winchester purchased an eight-room farmhouse and her unending construction project began. With a twenty million dollar inheritance, Sarah employed crews working around the clock, every day of the week, year-round. Without the aid of an architect, crews went to work adding rooms wherever they could fit them.


From the moment Sarah Winchester took residence and began building to this very day, many workers and visitors alike claim to have experienced some form of paranormal activity. Windows and doors open on their own. Some folks believe that the addition of doors and windows leading nowhere are an attempt to confuse spirits and keep them lost and wandering instead of making themselves nuisance to the guests.


In the several ballrooms, organs play on their own as the supposed sound of disembodied feet dance across the ballroom floor. In some instances, visitors claimed to have seen ghostly apparitions wandering the home’s many hallways. This excessive activity is perhaps evidence that Sarah was successful in creating a home for the victims of her family’s legacy.


Construction ended when Sarah Winchester died on September 5,1922. At the time of her death, the house would feature 160 rooms, 47 fireplaces, ten thousand panes of glass, 17 chimneys, two basements, and three elevators. Damaged by the 1906 earthquake and believed to be completely useless because of its strange construction, the home only sold for $135,000. The house was eventually opened to visitors and is still open to tour today.



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