What Is the Winchester Mystery House?

(Last Updated On: November 1, 2019)

What Is the Winchester Mystery House?

If you’re in the mood for weird haunted houses, you’ve come to the right place. This post is all about the Winchester Mystery House, perhaps the most famous haunted house of them all. For those who have not heard of this ghostly abode, it’s the place that helped inspire Walt Disney to create his famous Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland. So what’s up with this place? Can you actually go there? What is the Winchester Mystery House exactly?

Further Reading: Why do People Like Haunted Houses?

The Name Winchester

You might recognize the name “Winchester” from that rifle used by cowboys. Like seriously, they were once marketed as “The Gun that Won the West”. But alas, the Winchester Mystery House is not an armory, as interesting a setting it may be.

It is, though, tangentially related to the Winchester Repeating Arms company. The place was the residence of (and constructed under the order of) Sarah Winchester, widow to William Wirt Winchester. The latter was the treasurer for the firearms company, hence the connection. 

However, the Winchester Mystery House (why not mystery mansion?) was not constructed while William Wirt Winchester was alive. He died of tuberculosis, netting Sarah a pretty neat inheritance. We’re talking over $500 million in now money (it was about 20.5 million back in the 1880s). It probably helped that she received almost 50% of the firearms company, which gave her the equivalent of $25,000 per day in today’s money (back then it was like $1,000).

Aside from the hauntings being associated with Winchester, there isn’t much more to it. To put it quickly; it’s been said that the place is haunted by those killed with Winchester rifles. It also probably didn’t help that Sarah Winchester herself believed in ghosts.

Building the Winchester Mystery House

With the funds in place, Sarah started her project in 1884, purchasing an incomplete farmhouse in San Jose, California. Once she’d acquired the land, she had a crew working day and night to make what would become a 7-story mansion. 

Sarah Winchester was not herself an architect–and she neglected to hire one for herself as well. This probably goes on to explain what the house is known for–namely how weird of a layout the place has. The mansion today (earthquake damage has reduced the place to about 4 stories), has some 160 rooms and like 17 (maybe 19 at one point) chimneys. While logically, simply not looking ahead and planning out the mansion may explain why it’s so funky; but many blame Sarah’s belief in ghosts.

And it turns out, those claims are by no means unfounded. There are over 10 bathrooms, but only one has plumbing–Sarah decided the others were to confuse spirits. With some 40 bedrooms, she would sleep in a different one every night for the same reason. 

The Winchester Mystery House is also big on valuable things–it even has a stained glass window designed by Tiffany. Like the Tiffany and Co. guy. 

The Winchester Mystery House Today

Of course, Sarah Winchester isn’t around today to read this article (at least in a physical form). After passing away, all of her stuff, aside from the estate itself, was given to her niece and secretary. A good chunk of Sarah’s possessions would be sold for a pretty penny–and moving the stuff out of the mansion reportedly took more than a month of full work days. 

Eventually the estate was bought and down the line has become open to the public as a tourist attraction. It’s now owned by Winchester Investments. 

They do have a lot of tours, of which you can buy tickets if you’re feeling like dropping some cash. They turn the place into a haunted house attraction (like the ones where you walk through and actors jump out and scare you), as well as hosting trick-or-treat events for kids. So the real ghost is capitalism and Adam Smith’s invisible hand, we guess.

But Is the Place Haunted?

Given the Winchester Mystery House’s frequent listings as one of the “most haunted places ever,” you’d think you’d find a plethora of stories about how haunted the place is. 

Turns out, one of the best sources is the Winchester Mansion’s own website. So uh… Take that for what you will.

Regardless, many employees who tend to the grounds, as well as many visitors, do make comments about the place being haunted. There are stories about a mustached ghost named Clyde in the basement. Sometimes people report feeling tugs on their clothes, or some weird stories about footsteps and the like. 

Considering the fact that there is a Halloween event where actors play the roles of ghosts during a haunted house style walk through, we can safely say there will be hauntings on your bank account. Plus, the actual ghosts are probably haunted by the spectre of their home being commodified, or something.

Need more haunted house shenanigans? Here’s a logic puzzle about them.



About Kyler 728 Articles
Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.