This Heiress Built a 161-Room Mansion With Secret Passageways, Dead Ends, and a Ghost Room
From shortly after her husband died in 1881 until her own death in 1922, rifle heiress Sarah Winchester lived alone. Why, then, did she insist on ever-present construction that transformed her farmhouse's initial eight rooms into a sprawling 161-room mansion that spanned 24,000 square feet, complete with doors and stairwells that led to nowhere?
One theory is that Sarah wanted to relive happier times. According to the Los Angeles Times, she and her late husband had overseen the building of their former residence in New Haven, Connecticut together. "I think Sarah was trying to repeat that experience by doing something they both loved," said Janan Boehme, a historian who's worked at the Winchester Mystery House for almost 40 years.
Another theory posits that Sarah had philanthropic motives at heart. The widow employed dozens of carpenters who worked shifts around the clock every day for 36 years, paying them
The third and most bizarre theory claims Sarah was acting on the advice of a medium who, while supposedly
Whatever her reasons, Sarah Winchester herself was enough of an enigma to attract Hollywood's attention: A film starring Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren as Sarah, directed by the Spierig Brothers (of Jigsaw fame), hits
Born in 1840 in New Haven, Connecticut, Sarah Lockwood Pardee married William Wirt Winchester, son of Oliver Winchester,
"There are many understandings of her," Mirren told the L.A. Times during an interview that took place in the storied house last May. "Was she a Rosicrucian? Was she a straight-down-the-line Christian? Was she haunted? Was she crazy?"
"If you have made a fortune out of death, you have to pay the price, a psychological price and a spiritual price," Mirren continued. "And I can only imagine that people who make fortunes to this day from selling armaments have pause at some point, especially if they are Christians: 'Am I going to pay?'"
Some point to Sarah Winchester's reclusive nature as proof of her guilt. She also had a habit of sleeping in different rooms (to hide from ghosts perhaps?) which posed a problem after a 1906 earthquake caused three floors of her house to cave in. Staffers found her in a bedroom that had been obscured by rubble.
While the upcoming film plays up Sarah's spiritualism with scenes like a séance that may or may not have taken place in the house's front turret, also called the "witch's cap," not everyone is convinced the heiress had otherworldly motivations. Janan Boehme, the house's longtime historian, believes there's a logical explanation for the continual, maze-like construction Sarah commissioned during the second half of her life.
"She had a social conscience and she did try to give back," said Boehme. "This house, in itself, was her biggest social work of all."
From: Country Living US
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.