The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California has been a popular tourist attraction for many decades, and its bizarre and spooky history has made it one of America's most famous haunted homes.
Photo: John Pozniak
According to legend, Sarah Winchester, the widow of firearms tycoon William Winchester, was told by a psychic medium that the family estate was cursed by the ghosts of people killed by Winchester rifles. The only way Sarah could escape the curse, so the story goes, was to move west from Boston to California and build a new house... and keep on building it, non-stop, for the rest of her life. It seems she took this advice very seriously, supervising round-the-clock construction on the property from its groundbreaking in 1884 until her death in 1922.
Photo: Undercover American/Viator
Along with the paranormal rumors, the house's strange reputation also comes from the seemingly random pattern of construction (there were never any blueprints), which includes dead-end corridors, secret passages, and stairways that suddenly double back or lead outside the building. The randomness is allegedly due to Winchester's attempt to outwit or confuse the ghosts which wandered the mansion's halls.
It's been said she even conducted nightly séances to protect herself from the spirits as she worked on the building plans (the “séance room” is one of the house's attractions), and many of the house structures are based around variations of the number 13, possibly in an attempt to ward off troubled spirits.
But is the Mystery House really haunted? That remains to be seen, but there have been numerous reports of strange phenomena in the house over the years. Many paranormal investigators (including legendary showman Harry Houdini) have visited the mansion to determine if spirits were present, and the building's caretakers have reported strange, unexplained occurrences... including the sound of breathing in Sarah Winchester's bedroom.