In the year 1906, a mansion in the United States had become the largest (and strangest) in the country. The construction had 200 rooms, 10,000 windows, 47 chimneys, 2,000 doors, traps and spy holes. The idea of its owner was to hide from a terrible reality.
The Winchester Mansion, a labyrinthine Victorian house located in San Jose, California, has been one of the most spooky homes in the United States. Conceived by the heiress, Sarah Winchester, and built for decades without a real plan, the house contains hidden passages, spy holes, twisted corridors, doors that lead nowhere.
Sarah Winchester had inherited a huge fortune, thanks to their famous weapon business. Her father-in-law, Oliver Winchester, maker of the famous repeater rifle, died in 1880, and her husband, Will, was also part of the family arms business as treasurer of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, although he died a year later.
For those who do not know, the firearms manufacturer was one of the first companies to produce mass rifles with the ability to fire multiple rounds between refills. The popular Winchester model 1873 gained a reputation as the “weapon that was won to the West”, as it was frequently used by foreign settlers and Native Americans during the wars between the Indians of the continent.
With more than 700,000 rifles produced between 1873 and 1916, the Winchester weapons had a profound impact on the history of the United States. Obviously also, the family business not only helped to promote that existing weapons culture, but also caused an incalculable number of deaths.
After the death of her husband, and inheriting an estate of 20 million dollars (early twentieth century), Sarah used the great fortune to commission the infamous mansion that bears the name of his dynasty.
That is how he dedicated a large part of the money to building a most enigmatic building. The woman built her house with shifts of a score of carpenters to whom she paid three times more and worked 24 hours a day, every day of the week, from 1886 until the death of Sarah, in 1922.
She did it compulsively and obsessively, built, demolished and rebuilt. Winchester hurriedly drew designs on napkins or paper so that later the carpenters could build additions, towers, domes, or rooms that had no meaning or purpose.
Sometimes, to cover them the next day with a wall . Only this way it is understood that in 1975 the workers discovered a new room. It had two chairs, an early-1900s speaker that fit an old phonograph, and a closed door under a 1910 lock. Apparently, Sarah had forgotten about it.
Over the years, newspapers began to wonder the reason for that architectural madness. What had led the rich Winchester heiress to raise such a fortress without beginning or end? Probably, that cost of human lives in the family business was terrible for Sarah Winchester, or so the story goes.
The mansion became for the media a terrible tale with ghosts and spirits killed by Winchester weapons. In fact, Sarah was terrified that her misfortunes, especially the death of her husband and her one-month-old daughter, were a cosmic retribution for all the spirits killed by the business.
Later stories were mixed. In the media there was a relative who said that decades later, Sarah had fallen under the yoke of a medium, who told her that she would be persecuted by the ghosts of the victims of the Winchester rifles unless she built, non-stop, as a way of elude them.
Tormented by the consciousness of the fortune that had been born of the blood of many, and in search of protection, or perhaps absolution, Sarah lived in almost complete solitude, in a mansion designed, paradoxically, to be persecuted, and not to be found .
The truth is that, because Winchester was quite eccentric, the stories about her life were very varied, many of them absurd. Mary Jo Ignoffo, author of the 2010 biography biography Captive of the Labyrinth , said that ” the media became scapegoats for the rich widow to alleviate that American collective guilt over the proliferation of deadly firearms .”
Of course, there are stories about the house “haunted” for all tastes, although they are nothing more than exaggerations or fabrications that have fueled the legend. However, behind these stories there is a more terrifying reality: that house “of terror” is because it was built thanks to the money of thousands of people who killed themselves with them.
Worse yet, it is a symbol and a perfect metaphor for the unique obsession of a country. The story of an heiress (of a gun) that a nation placed in the crosshairs anxious to exorcise its guilt for deaths by firearms. Of course, a reality much more spooky than any haunted house.