Sarah Winchester was the wife of William Winchester (as in, Winchester rifles) and heiress to the Winchester fortune. Sarah and William had only one daughter, who died when she was six weeks old because of malnutrition due to a digestive disease. A few years later, Sarah's father-in-law also died and, a year later, her husband. Rumor has it, a distraught and grief-stricken Sarah visited a fortune teller/occult specialist who told her that all her woes stem from her family's history with the "gun that won the West" - the Winchester rifle. The occultist instructed her to find an unfinished home and begin construction, but never complete it, to appease the spirits of those who died at end of a Winchester rife. As long as she continued building and renovating the home, she would live a long and peaceful life.
I know. And it gets crazier.
Sarah headed west and settled on a 160+ acre property with an eight-room Victorian farmhouse that had not yet been complete. So, she bought it and got to work. Simple, right? Except that Sarah was not an architect, nor was she an engineer or a designer. Please don't misunderstand - she was no dummy. She set a system in place to dry and process 140 acres' worth of peach and plum trees and fully operated a fruit drying business on the property. She also had genius ways of heating, lighting, and cooling the massive mansion in a fully sustainable way and made the absolute most of all her resources. Nothing went to waste. But the fact remained that she had absolutely no experience with building a house. So what did she do? Well, she did the only reasonable thing a person could do. She had a seance room built that only she was allowed to enter. And she held nightly seances so the spirits could tell her what to build next. And if the spirits told her to stop mid-build, she did. There are dozens of incomplete rooms and hallways that, apparently, the spirits didn't care for very much. She also had a special window built in her seance room so she could spy on her servants in the kitchen below. And a door that drops you straight down an eight-foot elevator shaft. Because, why not?
Her foreman did his best to interpret her daily-changing architectural design plans and managed to keep construction going nonstop 24-hours a day for thirty-eight years. THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS!! There all kinds of quirks and oddities around the house, including windows that open onto walls and doors that literally lead to nowhere - you just drop right off the second story and down onto a little sidewalk.
But, at the same time, the woman had taste and an eye for detail (almost too much detail, actually), which definitely makes for an interesting tour. We weren't allowed to take photos inside the house, but the gardens were fair game. There were so many unique and brightly colored roses, plus other luscious florals, a vine-covered trellis leading to an aviary, serene statues, and tall palm trees swaying in the wind. It was more than enough to keep my shutter-happy self satisfied.
If you're in the Bay Area and want to be totally impressed and confused at the same time, I highly recommend a visit to the Winchester House.
And PS - how creepy is that over-sized tomb stone?