Demystifying the Winchester Mystery House

Demystifying the Winchester Mystery House:

[Sarah] Winchester inherited
$20 million
 after her husband died in 1881, and not long afterward
moved from New Haven, Connecticut, to an eight-room farmhouse in
orchard-studded Santa Clara Valley. She got to work almost immediately. A
dedicated crew of carpenters built new rooms so quickly that no one bothered to
draw up blueprints. And she didn’t hesitate to make unorthodox building
decisions—a stairway ascending to a wall, a closet about an inch deep, a “door
to nowhere” that opens to empty space. After she died in 1922, businessman John
Brown rented the house, christened it a tourist attraction, and later purchased
it outright. It has been a beloved piece of quirky, creepy Americana since it
opened. More than 12 million slack-jawed visitors have followed a planned route
through Winchester’s singular vision.

Other than household staff, few saw the home’s interior
during Winchester’s lifetime. She kept to herself following the deaths of her
husband and infant daughter, Annie, from illness. For the most part, no one was
permitted even to photograph her. “There’s a story about Teddy Roosevelt making
an appearance in San Jose and wanting an audience with the Winchester widow,”
says Magnuson. “He knocked on the front door and was not even let in.” Her
eccentricity and the ghost stories—not to mention the scandal of a woman living
autonomous and alone—have always been amplified in the house’s history. More
striking, though, is the extraordinary artistic freedom she exercised in
creating it, as well as the lengths to which today’s staff must go to keep the
house intact and open.

more at Atlas Obscura