Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, 571113
If there’s one thing that little old ladies with way too much money and time on their hands are good for, it’s eccentricity. Such is the case with a one Mrs. Sarah Winchester, the widow of Mr. William Wirt Winchester. She was heiress to the massive Winchester Repeating Arms Company and the creator of the legendary Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. The story behind the sprawling, misshapen and believed-to-be-haunted mansion is just as fascinating as a peek inside its endless corridors and doors that lead to nowhere. And now, according to Variety, the Spierig Brothers (Predestination) are taking the whole tale to the big screen with Winchester.
After the premature deaths of her infant daughter (to marasmus in 1866) and her husband (to tuberculosis in 1881), Sarah Winchester sought the guidance of a spiritualist, who gave her some rather unconventional advice. Her misfortune was being caused by the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles — Native Americans, Civil War soldiers and anyone else who caught the misfortune of stepping in front of the barrel of their brand of gun. The only way that Sarah could escape the same fate as her baby and husband was to flee the East Coast for California and continuously build a home for herself to appease these malevolent spirits. As long as she kept building the great house, she would never die.
And build she did. Sarah Winchester used her vast fortune (she received several million dollars and 777 shares in the family business upon her husband’s death and then 2,000 more shares when her mother-in-law died in 1897, giving her an income of $1,000 a day) to purchase a simple farm house in San Jose, California in 1884. And she did not cease her around-the-clock construction of the property until 1922, when she died. Immortality did not work out for Mrs. Winchester, but she did make sure to get the best bang for her buck while she could.
Affectionately dubbed the Winchester Mystery House, the home was originally seven stories — it dropped to four after the earthquake of 1906 — and is a beautiful maze-like Victorian marvel that defies all logic from an architectural standpoint. If you’re building a gigantic house in order to live forever and ward of ghosts, then it makes complete sense. There are features like the Switchback Staircase, which is seven flights with 44 steps, each two inches high. There are staircases that just lead into walls, hallways that go in circles, doors that open to the side of the house on the upper levels and secret passageways in the walls.
There’s also a séance room, where Sarah would visit every night for a chat to hopefully discourage a malevolent spirit from following her around the mansion. It’s also thought that the reason she built such an elaborate maze of passages and hallways is spirits are apparently easily confused and tricked. What better way to keep them off your trail then to get them mixed up on their way to your bedroom at night?
Winchester will be the first film to ever be shot in the infamous location, which means the Spierig Brothers will get to find out firsthand if it is actually “the world’s most haunted house,” as it is often touted. Hopefully they’ll at least get an orb of white light flashing across one of their shots, because the vision they’re going for with this film, which gets its script from Tom Vaughan (What Happens in Vegas) is “supernatural thriller.” It is believed that when Winchester passed in 1922 her spirit joined up with those already haunting the place to look over her creation.
Like any respectable haunted mansion, there’s plenty of lore concerning the property that the filmmakers can sink their teeth into while shooting on the grounds. There are even reports of lost treasure hidden somewhere on the grounds. And famous faces like Harry Houdini and President Theodore Roosevelt stopped by for visits, as well.