Today's episode examines the life of an eccentric, possibly mentally ill woman and the incredible house she built. We‘ll talk about possible hauntings, impossible architecture and the delusion of a heart broken woman. We are discussing Sarah Winchester and what some less than creative people have dubbed The Winchester Mystery House!
Her birth name was Sarah Lockwood Pardee. She was the fifth of seven children born to Leonard Pardee and Sarah Burns. There are no existing records or any other form of factual information to establish Sarah’s date of birth—even the year remains unknown. The scarce information that survives from the historical record indicates her birth must have occurred somewhere between 1835 and 1845.
At the time of Sarah’s birth, the Pardee’s were a respectable, upper middle class New Haven family. Her father Leonard was a joiner by trade whose shrewd sense of business found him moving up the ladder of polite society as a successful carriage manufacturer. Later, during the Civil War, he made a fortune supplying ambulances to the Union Army.
Young Sarah’s most distinguishing characteristic was that she was everything but ordinary. She was a child prodigy… a fire starter. Ok, no… By all accounts, she was also considered to be quite beautiful. By the age of twelve, Sarah was already fluent in the Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian languages. Furthermore, her knowledge of the classics (most notably Homer… no, not Simpson, and Shakespeare) along with a remarkable talent as a musician was well noticed. It is no wonder that New Haven Society would eventually dub her “The Belle of New Haven.”
In addition to Sarah’s brilliance and respectable place in society, there were several factors about New Haven that presented a unique influence on her upbringing. To begin, there was Yale University (originally known as Yale College). From its inception, Yale (and New Haven) was a hub of progressive, Freemasonic-Rosicrucian thinking and activity. By the way, we’ll most definitely be taking a train ride on the Freemasons.
As a result, Sarah was raised and educated in an environment ripe with Freemasonic and Rosicrucian philosophy. Several of Sarah’s uncles and cousins were Freemasons. But more importantly, at an early age, she was admitted to Yale’s only female scholastic institution known as the “Young Ladies Collegiate Institute.” Two of the school’s most influential administrators and professors, Judson A. Root and his brother N.W. Taylor Root were both Rose Croix Freemasons. In addition to the liberal arts, the Roots set forth a strict curriculum consisting of the sciences and mathematics. Sounds super fucking boring.
Furthermore, two of Sarah’s schoolmates Susan and Rebecca Bacon were the daughters of New Haven’s highly respected Reverend Dr. Leonard Woolsey Bacon (no relation to Francis Bacon, who was an English philosopher and statesman who served as Attorney General and as Lord Chancellor of England. His works are credited with developing the scientific method and remained influential through the scientific revolution, just in case you nerds were wondering.). While Sarah and the Bacon girls were attending the school, Dr. Bacon’s sister Delia, also a New Haven resident, attracted considerable fame and attention for writing her famous treatise that Sir Francis Bacon (with the aid of a circle of the finest literary minds of the Elizabethan-Jacobean Age) was the actual author, editor, and publisher of the original works of Shakespeare. Ah ha! See!
Her work was sponsored by the author Nathaniel Hawthorne and was later supported by the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Mark Twain! Good ol Samuel Clemens.
In addition to her writing, Delia Bacon gave numerous public lectures to the citizens of New Haven; thus, New Haven, Connecticut was the actual birthplace of the “Bacon is Shakespeare” doctrine. We’re here to learn ya, folks!
Given her direct exposure to the Baconian Doctrine, along with her passion for the Shakespearean works, it was inevitable that Sarah was drawn like an irresistible force to a more than passing interest in the new theorem. Moreover, the Baconian-Masonic preoccupation with secret encryption techniques using numbered cipher systems most certainly influenced young Sarah’s world view. This unique backdrop to Sarah’s early development played a crucial role which, in essence, defined what would become her life’s work. So much smarts!
As we’ll see, the Belle of New Haven became a staunch Baconian for the rest of her life. She just LOOOVED HER BACON! BLTs, Canadian bacon, pancetta… she loved it all! A completely strict diet of fucking bacon! Except turkey bacon. Fuck that fake shit.
No, but seriously, She also acquired a vast and uncanny knowledge of Masonic-Rosicrucian ritual and symbolism… SSSYMBOLISM. Additionally, she gravitated to Theosophy.
Theosophy is a religion established in the United States during the late nineteenth century. It was founded primarily by the Russian immigrant Helena Blavatsky and draws its teachings predominantly from Blavatsky's writings.
Author and historian Ralph Rambo (who actually knew Sarah and is a direct descendant of American bad ass and war hero John J Rambo) wrote “it is believed that Mrs. Winchester was a Theosophist.” Rambo didn’t elaborate on the matter, making him and his statement one of the more boring we’ve heard, but since he was close to Sarah he was certainly in a position to know some things about her. It should be noted that most Rosicrucians are theosophists.
Sarah adhered both to Bacon’s Kabbalistic theosophy, which is the eternal belief in the Mortal Kombat franchise no matter how bad their movies are… ok, that was stupid. Anyway, she was also super into the theosophical perspective held by Rudolph Steiner (1861- 1925). Steiner viewed the universe as a vast, living organism in which all things are likened to individually evolving units or cells that comprise a greater universal, synergistic body that is “ever building.” As we shall further see, the “ever building” theme was at the core of Sarah’s methodology.
William Wirt Winchester was born in Baltimore, MD on July 22, 1837. He was the only son of Oliver Fisher Winchester and Jane Ellen Hope. In keeping with a popular trend of the day, he was named after William Wirt, the highly popular and longest serving Attorney General of the United States .
Soon after William’s arrival, the Winchesters moved to New Haven where the enterprising Oliver, along with his partner John Davies, founded a successful clothing manufacturing company. Gradually, the Winchester patriarch amassed a considerable fortune. Later, Oliver channeled his efforts into a firearms manufacturing venture that eventually (1866) evolved into the famous Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Fuckin’ Winchester! Woo!!
According to historical documents, the Winchesters and the Pardees were well acquainted, particularly through the auspices of New Haven’s First Baptist Church. Additionally, Sarah Pardee and William’s sister Annie were classmates at the Young Ladies Collegiate Institute.
Not far away, William attended New Haven’s Collegiate and Commercial Institute—another arm of Yale College. Here, William’s teachers included N.W. Taylor Root (one of Sarah’s instructors) and Henry E. Pardee who was another of Sarah’s cousins. Thus, Young Sarah and William found themselves studying virtually the same curriculum under very similar circumstances. Moreover, like the Pardees, the Winchester family was not lacking in members who were Freemasons.
Sarah and William were married on September 30, 1862. Their only child, Annie Pardee Winchester came into the world on July 12, 1866. Unfortunately, due to an infantile decease known as Marasmus (a severe form of malnutrition due to the body’s inability to metabolize proteins), Annie died 40 days later.
In 1880, Ol Oliver Fisher Winchester died, leaving the succession of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to his only son. One year later, William died of fucking Tuberculosis at the age of 43. Dammit, TB! The double loss of Annie and William was a staggering blow to Sarah. However, the loss did leave the widow Winchester with an inheritance of 20 million dollars (510 million today) plus nearly 50% of the Winchester Arms stock—which, in turn earned her approximately $1,000 dollars per day (25,000 today) in royalties for the rest of her life—the result of which made her one of the wealthiest women in the world. Get it, girl!
According to Ralph Rambo, john j rambo’s great great uncle, Sarah went on a three year world tour with her new band “Rifles and Posies”, who sold 3 million records worldwide and had a huge hit with their single “fuck tuberculosis” before settling in California in 1884.
“The New Haven Register,” dated 1886, lists Sarah as having been “removed to Europe.” No other information has survived to tell us exactly where Mrs. Winchester went during those years or what her activities consisted of. But we can project some well educated theories.
Although Freemasonry has traditionally barred women from its membership, there are numerous documented cases in which some head-strong women have gained admittance into liberal, Masonic Lodges as far back as the 18th Century. A movement in France called Co-Freemasonry, which allows for male and female membership was already underway when Sarah arrived in that country. Given her social status, a predilection towards Freemasonic tenets, and a mastery of the European languages, Sarah could easily have been admitted into any of the permissive French Masonic lodges.
Another possible scenario involving Mrs. Winchester’s activities while abroad could well have included visits to esoteric, architectural landmarks such as the French Cathedral of Chartres. Sarah’s Masonic-Rosicrucian interest in labyrinths would have drawn her to Chartres with its 11 circuit labyrinth, a puzzle-like feature that stresses the discipline of the initiatic tradition of the ancient mystery schools. Likewise, she would also have found inspiration in the Freemasonic symbolism and the mysterious structure (including a staircase that leads nowhere) of Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland .
In 1884, Sarah took up residence in the San Francisco Bay area—eventually moving inland to the Santa Clara Valley (now San Jose) to buy an eight room farmhouse from one Dr. Robert Caldwell. Her apparent motive for the move was to live in close proximity to her numerous Pardee relatives, most of whom had come to California during the 1849 Gold Rush, and were scattered from Sacramento to the Bay area.
One of these Pardee relatives, Enoch H. Pardee, had become a highly respected physician and politician while living in Oakland. Later his son George C. Pardee followed in his father’s footsteps rising to the office of Governor of California (1903- 1907.
It is interesting that Wikipedia makes particular note of Enoch Pardee having been “a prominent occultist.” Most likely the occult reference has to do with the fact that both Enoch and his son George were members of the highly secretive and mysterious ( California based) Bohemian Club which was an offshoot of Yale’s Skull and Bones Society. Moreover, Enoch and George were Knights Templar Freemasons.
Also interesting, is the fact that President Theodore Roosevelt (another member of the Bohemian Club) came to California in 1903 to ask Governor Pardee to run as his Vice Presidential candidate in the 1904 national election. The offer was turned down. During the same trip, Roosevelt attempted to visit Sarah Pardee Winchester. Again, Roosevelt’s offer was turned down.
THE STORY BEHIND THE HOUSE
The story goes that after the death of her child and her husband she moved to California and bought the 8 room farmhouse and began building. It is said once construction started it was a continuous process. Workers in the area would work in shifts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We're going to explore the stories about her mental state, the construction of the house, and the reports of ghosts and spooky stuff.
The story supposedly starts like this:
There was no plan – no official blueprints were drawn up, no architectural vision was created, and yet a once-unfinished house took shape on a sprawling lot in the heart of San Jose, California. Inside, staircases ascended through several levels before ending abruptly, doorways opened to blank walls, and corners rounded to dead ends.
The house was the brainchild of Sarah Winchester, heir by marriage to the Winchester firearms fortune, and since the project began in 1884 rumors have swirled about the construction, the inhabitants, and the seemingly endless maze that sits at 525 South Winchester Blvd.
Today, the house is known as the Winchester Mystery House, but at the time of its construction, it was simply Sarah Winchester’s House.
Newly in possession of a massive fortune and struggling with the loss of her husband and daughter, she sought the advice of a medium. She hoped, perhaps, to get advice from the beyond as to how to spend her fortune or what to do with her life.
Though the exact specifics remain between Sarah Winchester and her medium, the story goes that the medium was able to channel dearly departed William, who advised Sarah to leave her home in New Haven, Connecticut, and head west to California. As far as what to do with her money, William answered that too; she was to use the fortune to build a home for the spirits of those who had fallen victim to Winchester rifles, lest she be haunted by them for the rest of her life.
So there's that… Spirits from beyond told her to build!
After this is when she ended up in San Jose and purchased the farm house.
Winchester hired carpenters to work around the clock, expanding the small house into a seven-story mansion. The construction of the House was an “ever building” enterprise in which rotating shifts of workers labored 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. the House gradually mushroomed outward and upward,By the turn of the century, Sarah Winchester had her ghost house: an oddly laid out mansion, with seven stories, 161 rooms, 47 fireplaces, 10,000 panes of glass, two basements, three elevators, and a mysterious fun-house-like interior. It was built at a price tag of the $5 million dollars in 1923 or $71 million today. Due to the lack of a plan and the presence of an architect, the house was constructed haphazardly; rooms were added onto exterior walls resulting in windows overlooking other rooms. Multiple staircases would be added, all with different sized risers, giving each staircase a distorted look.
Gold and silver chandeliers hung from the ceilings above hand-inlaid parquet flooring. Dozens of artful stained-glass windows created by Tiffany & Co. dotted the walls, including some designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany himself. One window, in particular, was intended to create a prismatic rainbow effect on the floor when light flowed through it – of course, the window ended up on an interior wall, and thus the effect was never achieved. Even more luxurious than the fixtures was the plumbing an electrical work. Rare for the time, the Winchester Mystery House boasted indoor plumbing, including coveted hot running water, and push-button gas lighting available throughout the home. Additionally, forced-air heating flowed throughout the house.
Adding further to the mysterious features, the prime numbers 7, 11, and 13 are repeatedly displayed in various ways throughout the House—the number 13 being most prominent. These numbers consistently show up in the number of windows in many of the rooms, or the number of stairs in the staircases, or the number of rails in the railings, or the number of panels in the floors and walls, or the number of lights in a chandelier, etc. Unquestionably, these three prime numbers were extremely important to Sarah.
In 1906 something happened that would change the landscape of california and the Winchester house. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck the coast of Northern California at 5:12 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18 with an estimated moment magnitude of 7.9 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of XI (Extreme). High-intensity shaking was felt from Eureka on the North Coast to the Salinas Valley, an agricultural region to the south of the San Francisco Bay Area. Devastating fires soon broke out in the city and lasted for several days. More than 3,000 people died. Over 80% of the city of San Francisco was destroyed. The events are remembered as one of the worst and deadliest earthquakes in the history of the United States. The death toll remains the greatest loss of life from a natural disaster in California's history and high on the lists of American disasters. Although The impact of the earthquake on San Francisco was the most famous, the earthquake also inflicted considerable damage on several other cities. These include San Jose and Santa Rosa, the entire downtown of which was essentially destroyed. Since if the damage in San Jose was located at, you guessed it, the Winchester house. Standing 7 stories at the time, the house was damaged badly and the top three floors were essentially reduced and the house said at for stories from then on due to the damage.
Aside from its immense size and Victorian style architecture, the House has a number of unique characteristics. To begin, it is undeniably a labyrinth. There are literally miles of maze-like corridors and twisting hallways, some of which have dead ends—forcing the traveler to turn around and back-up. There are also some centrally located passages and stairways that serve as shortcuts allowing a virtual leap from one side of the House to the other. Traversing the labyrinth is truly dizzying and disorienting to one’s sensibilities.
The House abounds in oddities and anomalous features. There are rooms within rooms. There is a staircase that leads nowhere, abruptly halting at the ceiling. In another place, there is a door which opens into a solid wall. Some of the House’s 47 chimneys have an overhead ceiling—while, in some places, there are skylights covered by a roof—and some skylights are covered by another skylight—and, in one place, there is a skylight built into the floor. There are tiny doors leading into large spaces, and large doors that lead into very small spaces. In another part of the House, a second story door opens outward to a sheer drop to the ground below. Moreover, upside-down pillars can be found all about the House. Many visitors to the Winchester mansion have justifiably compared its strange design to the work of the late Dutch artist M.C. Escher.
Practically a small town unto itself, the Winchester estate was virtually self sufficient with its own carpenter and plumber’s workshops along with an on-premise water and electrical supply, and a sewage drainage system.
On September 5, 1922, she died in her sleep of heart failure. A service was held in Palo Alto, California, and her remains lay at Alta Mesa Cemetery until they were transferred, along with those of her sister, to New Haven, Connecticut. She was buried next to her husband and their infant child in Evergreen Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut. She left a will written in thirteen sections, which she signed thirteen times.
In accordance with her will Sarah had her entire estate divided up in generous portions to be distributed among a number of charities and those people who had faithfully spent years in her service. Her favorite niece and secretary, Marian Marriott, oversaw the removal and sale of all of Sarah’s furnishings and personal property. Roy Lieb, Mrs. Winchester’s attorney of many years, had been named in her will as executor to her estate. He sold the House to the people who, in 1933, preserved it as a “living” museum—today, it is known as the Winchester Mystery House also known as California Historical Landmark #868. Although no mention has ever surfaced as to any specific guidelines or special instructions by which Mr. Lieb would select a buyer for the property, one gets the distinct impression that Sarah wanted the House to stand intact and perpetually preserved… and so it does.
SOME OF THE FOLKLORE
Some of this stuff we've touched on already but here's a rundown of the folklore behind the house.
Despite the fact that Sarah Winchester was extremely secretive about herself, nearly all of what the public thinks it knows about her reads like a mish-mash of gossip out “The National Enquirer.” some refer to this body of misinformation as “The Folklore.” Indeed, on a research visits to the Winchester Mystery House, a senior tour guide informed one writer that “in the old days, the tour guides were encouraged to make up stuff just to give some spice to the story.”
The Folklore about Sarah says that, after William’s death in 1881, the highly distraught Mrs. Winchester sought the advice of the then famous Boston medium Adam Coons. During a séance with Coons, Sarah was told that because of the many people who had been slain by the Winchester Rifle, she was cursed by the Winchester fortune. Coons further instructed Sarah that the angry spirits demanded that she move to California and build them a house.
Upon her arrival in California, Sarah began holding her own séances every midnight so that she could receive the next day’s building instructions from the spirits. Her séances allegedly involved the use of a Ouija board and planchette, and 13 various colored robes she would ritualistically wear each night (for the edification of the spirits) within the confines of her “Séance Room.”
To further appease the angry spirits, Mrs. Winchester made sure the construction of the House went on, nonstop, 24 / 7, 365 days a year for fear that should the building ever stop, she would die.
For some inexplicable reason, however, Mrs. Winchester took precautions in the building design so as to incorporate all of the strange features of the House to “confuse the evil spirits.” Moreover, she would ring her alarm bell every night at midnight to signal the spirits that it was séance time, and then again at 2:00 am, signaling the spirits that it was time to depart. Which begs the question “who was in charge of whom?” And, why would spirits’ have an inability or need to keep track of time?
Whenever people make mention of Sarah Winchester the typical response you get from people is “Oh yeah…wasn’t she the crazy lady who built that weird house because she was afraid the spirits would kill her?” Many of these people have never been to the Winchester House. Their source is usually television. “ America ’s Most Haunted Places” tops the list of TV shows that grossly reinforces the Folklore of the house.
The misinformation is further compounded by the “Haunted House” tour business thriving in San Jose as the commercial enterprise known as the “Winchester Mystery House” which profits by perpetuating the Folklore myth. In fairness to the management of the “WMH,” they try to present Mrs. Winchest