Thursday, April 4, 2013

Winchester: The Sad Widow

Sarah had lost her one-month old baby daughter and then her husband to tuberculosis in the same year. As if this grief was not enough, Sarah also carried a burden that she rarely spoke about. 

She approached a Boston friend, anxious and not sure what to do next. This friend knowing she had the financial means suggested that a fresh start and a new home might help ease part of Sarah’s burden. 

Taking this advice, Sarah left her home in New Haven, Connecticut, and headed west.

Wealthy, she bought a home that was already under construction and made plans to change it according to her Boston friend’s advice. 

It wasn’t long before she was able to host dinner parties at her table that seated twelve. She took pleasure in picking out only the finest wines from her cellar. 

She spent most evenings in the home’s grand ballroom. This area was her pride and joy. Despite arthritis in both hands, she played her piano or organ regularly.

She hired the best carpenters in the area to build her home with care. Sarah retained these carpenters, so they were always ready to change something to her liking. 

As time passed her home became larger. Sarah slowly became a recluse. She lived in this home for forty years until she died at the age of eighty-two in 1922. 

She left her home to her beloved niece.

This widow’s story could apply to many except for the unspoken burden I mentioned. 

Sarah was a firm believer in the Victorian Spiritualism movement. Her Boston friend was a Medium whose advice was to build a house large enough to contain the “spirits” that plagued Sarah. 

These spirits were the ones who wanted her to move west. Once in San Jose, California Sarah hired twenty carpenters to work around the clock on her home for forty years. 

This was done to confuse these spirits so they could not find her.

When Sarah entertained in her dining room, it was these spirits that were her guests. 

She picked out the finest wines for these dinners until she saw a black handprint on the wine cellar door and had it walled up forever. 

The guests Sarah played her music for were these spirits. 

She became obsessed with the number thirteen. She had thirteen steps built that led to nowhere. In her sewing room, she had thirteen windows and doors built. She had thirteen bathrooms built. 

The will she left for her niece had thirteen sections, and Sarah signed it thirteen times. By the time Sarah died her Victorian-style mansion, it had one-hundred and sixty rooms.

So was Sarah insane? Or was she driven by guilt? Did these spirits force her to keep changing her home for forty years? 

What did she do in her life to have such a burden? 

It was not Sarah but her father-in-law’s doing for he manufactured and sold the Winchester rifle that bore his name. This rifle killed countless people. He made a fortune in the process, and this wealth was passed on to Sarah Winchester. 

She felt part of her penance was to lose her baby and husband. 

Because of these spirits who haunted her--she spent most of her life in fear. She believed they all were the victims shot by the Winchester rifle.

In Sarah’s will, she requested that these spirits should always be welcomed and provided for. 

In 1923 the Winchester House was opened to the public. Many employees who have worked at the mansion can attest to the fact that these spirits are still around. 

Winchester House is considered one of America’s most haunted. Witnesses state that the “ghosts” that reside at the mansion are mischievous in nature.

A caretaker late one night heard footsteps then breathing. He listened to a screw slowly turning then he heard it drop to the ground. When he turned on the lights, he didn’t find this screw. 

One longtime employee felt that one ghost was targeting him. One night just after he locked the heavy gates that enclose the Mansion’s courtyard and set the alarm, he turned to find them unlocked. 

What puzzled him was the alarm had not gone off.

Yet another night as he shut off all the lights and left, he noticed as he walked to his car all the lights on the third floor where on. He felt that he might have forgotten to turn off one light but an entire floor? 

One morning as he entered his office in the mansion, he found all the papers on his desk where soaked. His pencil cup was filled with water. It had lightly rained the night before, but when his office was checked it was found, there were no leaks.

Several tour guides have had their own unique experiences. Part of their duties includes cleaning and maintaining the mansion. 

In the late 1980s, one guide was in one of six kitchens in the home cleaning. She smelled what she thought was chicken soup cooking. This was odd because this kitchen had not been used for years.

 She saw what she thought was steam coming off the stove, so she walked over and placed her hand above this area. She drew back as she felt something hot on her hand. She checked, and the stove wasn’t on.

Another tour guide leading the last group of the day around the second floor was going through her script when she heard her named called. 

When no one chimed in, she asked if someone had a question. They replied, no. As she continued her presentation, she heard her name called once more. This time when she questioned the group, they all looked confused. 

After this every time she began to speak, she was interrupted. She asked the visitors if they had heard her name being called. No one had. Frustrated she left her group to check the rest of the floor and the stairs --no one else was on the second floor.

For eighty years the mansion had areas that were off-limits to visitors, but in more recent years this changed when the Winchester House began hosting what they call “Behind The Scenes” tours. 

In preparation for this tour, guides started clearing out and cleaning the basements. During this time, several of them encountered the same ghost. 

They all saw a man they didn’t recognize with dark hair, a mustache, and wearing white overalls. He was seen pushing a wheelbarrow.

When these guides approached their supervisors to report this man they were told no one of that description was working on the property. 

This caused a lot of confusion because security is tight at the mansion. 

The mystery was solved as the gardener’s tool shed was cleared out for one of these new tours. An old photograph was found that showed several of the carpenters that worked for Sarah for many years. 

When this photo was passed around several of the tour guides who had seen the man with the wheelbarrow identified him as one of the men in this old photo.

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