When I was a kid, there was this house around the corner from me. It was a two-story house, and fairly small. I didn’t know the people who lived there at all. I didn’t know one damn thing about them. One thing that stuck with me, though, was that, for some reason that I couldn’t grasp as a child, there was a door on the second story that just opened up into nothing. It was smack in the middle of the house. The closest thing I could imagine for an explanation? Obviously, it was to trick burglars, who’d see the door, attempt to run out, and severely injure themselves on the way down.
When I got older, though, I drove by one day and saw they’d put up a balcony. I guess it had always been meant to be there.
Or a clever burglar built it and left it behind like some really expensive calling card.
Because, really, who’d build a house with stuff like doors that lead into nothing to trick people? Who even has that kind of time and money? Apparently, Sarah Winchester had both, but lacked a little in the sense and sanity departments. She spent 38 years (and the modern equivalent of $71 million) building just such a house. And it wasn’t necessarily people she was intending to trick.
That’s 38 times longer than the Chocolate Rain dude’s entire music career.
There are plenty of rumors about why she began this massive project, but the most common story goes like this: After her husband, William Wirt Winchester, son of the creator of the Winchester Repeating Rifle, died in 1881, he left her a massive inheritance. (About $20.5 million and another $1,000 per day. That’s not adjusted for inflation.)
She fell into a deep depression, however, and reportedly consulted a psychic in Boston for guidance (though some variations on the tale say there was no psychic at all, but Sarah was instead guided by a prophetic dream.) Supposedly, Sarah Winchester was told that her father-in-law’s invention had taken many lives, and it would take many more. Eventually, the psychic warned her, the spirits of those people would seek vengeance against her. And so, Sarah Winchester decided that she would need to take drastic measures to deal with these spirits.
Building a time machine to go 100 years in the future and hire fictional characters might actually be a less elaborate scheme.
She decided she needed to build a house. And not just any house, but a house made of pure crazy. She would keep the vengeful spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles at bay by building stairs that lead nowhere, rooms that were mirror images of each other, windows opening onto blank walls, and, as previously noted, doors that opened into nothing. Winchester also had a particular obsession with the number thirteen. Many rooms had thirteen windows, some staircases had thirteen steps, and there were thirteen total bathrooms in the house.
A construction team worked on the house 24/7 for the entire 38 year construction period, which only ended upon Sarah Winchester’s death. She would reportedly hold a séance each night and ask the spirits what she should do next. Then, in a move that was either really clever or really fucking insane, she’d draw up new additions for the house that were the opposite of the spirits’ recommendations.
“Hold this up to a mirror, throw in a couple of fake doors, don’t wall the cat in, and I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
Winchester’s desire to keep building even led to neglect for the already existing parts of the house. When the top three stories of a seven story section of the house collapsed in an earthquake, she opted not to rebuild that section, instead leaving it at four stories and continuing to expand outward. It’s claimed that, when the house needed to be re-painted or have new carpeting put in, it would take the workers so long that by the time they were finished, the paint or carpet would need to be replaced again at the spot where they had originally begun working.
When Sarah Winchester died, the house took up six acres and had 160 rooms with 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 sets of stairs, and 6 kitchens. Legend has it that carpenters left nails half-hammered when they heard Winchester was dead.
“From that day forward, I swore I would only take up a hammer out of anger.”
Shortly after Winchester’s death, the house was sold to a local investor, who opened it to the public as a tourist attraction. The noble practice of making money off of confused outsiders continues today, and the house has even gained a reputation for being haunted by the ghost of Sarah Winchester herself. Ironically, her ghost is supposedly unable to leave the house because it’s too complicated to navigate.