Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, is full of ghosts, ghouls, and other horrors. It’s a time for scary movies, pumpkins, trick-or-treating, and haunting stories. But there’s usually a common theme to all of these ghost stories and hauntings — they normally involve buildings. There is one in particular that comes to mind. One that had construction going on 24/7 for 38 years, which is scary in its own right. I’m talking about the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California.
The Winchester Mystery House was once the residence of Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Wirt Winchester — the treasurer and son of the founder of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. It’s said that the property is haunted by the ghosts of those killed with Winchester rifles. The house has gained lore in popular culture and has been filmed in Ghost Adventures and Ghost Brothers for spiritual encounters.
But what made it so unique was the constant construction carried out on Sarah’s request. Here, we break down the Winchester Mystery House in a special Halloween edition of “by the numbers.”
A maze of oddities
In 1884, Sarah Winchester purchased an eight-room farmhouse in the Santa Clara Valley. Between 1884 and 1922, the house grew to over 24,000 square feet and seven stories. Rumor has it that Sarah never stopped construction in order to build a maze that the spirits could never find her in. There are doors and stairs that go to nowhere, windows overlooking other rooms, secret passages, and a skylight on the floor, to name a few.
A scary breakdown
Despite the house being under constant construction for 38 years, she never used an architect. Construction finally stopped on September 5, 1922, when Sarah Winchester died of heart failure. Construction was estimated to have cost $5 million in 1923, which equals roughly $71 million today. The house is 24,000 square feet and contains:
- 10,000 windows
- 2,000 doors
- 160 rooms
- 52 skylights
- 47 stairways and fireplaces
- 17 chimneys
- 13 bathrooms
- 6 kitchens
Carpenters and painters
Sarah had her own crew of carpenters that worked on the house day and night. Most of the house is made out of redwood, but she disliked the look of it so much she ordered the carpenters to put a faux grain and stain over it. Because of this, it took more than 20,000 gallons of paint to cover the house.
A floating foundation
The Winchester Mystery House is built using a floating foundation, which allows it to shift freely. It is believed that the floating foundation may have saved it from collapsing during the 1906 earthquake and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The house was once as high as seven stories, but the 1906 earthquake knocked it down to its current four stories.
No one truly knows Sarah Winchester’s motivation for constantly building and creating the world’s longest renovation project. Some say she was instructed by a psychic to move west and build the home. Others say it was to escape the ghosts of those killed by the “Gun that Won the West.” Regardless of what you believe, it is a beautiful and fascinating house that has been visited by more than 12 million people.