The Lore

Fact or Fiction?

The Lore

Speculation is bound to pursue a wealthy, eccentric recluse like Mrs. Winchester. Many wild rumors circulated about her during her residence in San Jose – her house was even known locally as “The Spirit House” – and some say the rumors may have actually added to Mrs. Winchester’s isolation. But when she died peacefully in her sleep at the age of eighty-two, the curiosity of local people was unleashed.

Mrs. Winchester The Spy

Bizarre explanations of how Mrs. Winchester had lived flourished. Many long-time employees became very superstitious over the years and even believed that Mrs. Winchester could walk through solid walls and unopened doors. She did, in fact, have elaborate spying features built into the house to keep an eye on her servants. There are also stories of how she sometimes appeared noiselessly behind them to watch them work.

An Amazing Memory

Mrs. Winchester was renowned for her memory. She knew the location of every item on her estate and kept track of it all, even down to the last screw. After her death, a workman told of the time he was asked to repair a gate, which he did using six colored screws from one of the storerooms. Later, when Mrs. Winchester discovered the screws were missing and asked if he knew where they were, she reportedly said, “Those screws were gold plated! I was saving them for something special. Let’s using something cheaper.”

The Lady’s Demands

Mrs. Winchester occasionally tested the loyalty of her help. Once she told a painter to paint the walls and ceiling of an entire room with red enamel; three days later, she had him repaint the same room white. Another time, she was trying to decide which of 3 applicants to hire as a new gardener. She asked each to plant a row of cabbages upside down. The first did so with-out saying anything, and the second refused her request. The third one agreed to do so but suggested to Mrs. Winchester that cabbages were normally planted with the roots in the ground. The third gardener got the job. He was not afraid to speak up, but recognized that Mrs. Winchester was the Boss!

In 1924, Harry Houdini toured the house on a midnight visit in his attempt to communicate with the spirits.

A Nephew Comes To Call

Mrs. Winchester could be curt and dismissive, even to her own relatives – but she usually had her reasons. Once a nephew from the east coast made the long train trip, supposedly to pay his respects to “Auntie Sarah.” However, she guessed exactly what he was after. Upon his arrival, he was met by a maid carrying a silver tray with a check on it. The young man never set foot in the house.

The Visit Of A President

No amount of effort has resolved conflicting versions of current events, such as this one involving President Theodore Roosevelt. One story goes that the President, who was an ardent fan of Winchester firearms, was on his way to the nearby town of Campbell. Knowing that he would pass by Mrs. Winchester’s house, he sent a message to her saying that he would stop to pay his respects.

Some say the President personally knocked on the front door. No one answered, and one of the gardeners, failing to recognize him, told him to go around back “just like everyone else.” The President reportedly felt insulted and left. Another account says that the San Jose Chamber of Commerce tried to arrange this visit for President Roosevelt, but Mrs. Winchester turned them down with a sharp no!

Mrs. Winchester’s Organ

Mrs. Winchester was an accomplished musician. She regularly practiced the pump organ, and she undoubtedly fueled many rumors about the spirits in the great house by playing late at night. Later in life, Mrs. Winchester suffered from severe arthritis, and she felt the disease mainly in her hands. It is believed that by playing the organ she was able to keep her fingers from deteriorating.

The Safe

After Mrs. Winchester’s death, her safe was opened with much anticipation. However, no fortune was found within – only reminders of her deceased husband and daughter. The safe contained fishing lines, newspaper clippings, socks, underwear, and a lock of baby’s hair in a tiny purple velvet box. The New Haven newspaper clipping along with it was from the obituaries and read, “WINCHESTER. In this city, July 24, 1866. Annie Pardee, infant daughter of William Wirt Winchester and Sarah L. Winchester.”

The Wine Cellar

There may be a real treasure hidden away in the Winchester mansion. At one time Mrs. Winchester enjoyed the finest vintage wines and liqueurs. But one evening when she went to the wine cellar to locate a special bottle, she came across a black hand print on the wall. It was most likely a dirt smudge left by a workman, yet she took it as an omen and ordered the cellar boarded up. To this day the wine cellar has not been rediscovered, which means that there might still be spirits in the Winchester Mystery House™ – if only the intoxicating kind!

Mrs. Winchester And The Spirits

It has been said that Mrs. Winchester slept in a different bedroom every night, supposedly in order to confuse evil spirits. Some say that she also held special dinner parties for her spirit friends. Legend has it that she would serve her phantom guests in gold plates, offering them dishes like caviar, truffles, and pheasant stuffed with pate. On the other hand, this theory might have come from rumors about the mansion’s well-fed servants!


Though Houdini is the most remembered for his magic shows and his feats as an escape artist, he also devoted much of his time to exposing fraudulent practices by mediums. In 1924, on one of his many lecture and magic tours, he stopped in for a private midnight tour and séance at the Winchester House. Unfortunately, the results of his late-night excursion have been lost to time, but his visit was written about in the Portland Oregon Daily Journal, in November 1924.

A Caretaker’s Story

Over the years many people have occupied the massive home, wither the caretakers or as students of psychic phenomena. Brent Miller and his wife were caretakers of the mansion from 1973 to 1981.

He reported several odd incidents, like hearing someone breathe in an empty room, and hearing footsteps in the bedroom where Mrs. Winchester died. One night, he was awakened by the sound of a screw being unscrewed, then hitting the floor and bouncing onto a carpet runner. He jumped out of bed and explored the house, but found nothing.

In another incident, a friend of Miller’s came over one New Year’s Eve and took pictures of the house with a brand new camera. When the film was developed, there was a picture of moving lights and a ghostly figure of a man in coveralls. Only one negative produced this image, and the rest of the film was normal.

Paranormal Investigators

In the Winchester Mystery House™, some people have temporarily lost their eyesight, felt icy chills in spots where there were no drafts, and seen locked doorknobs turn. Researchers of the paranormal have spent the night in the house, employing their special skills to investigate these claims and dispel any wild rumors.

The Nirvana Foundation

Five researchers from the Nirvana Foundation, a psychic research institute in California, spent the night in the mansion, setting up electric equipment to record any psychic occurrences. Definite organ sounds were picked up by the tape recorder, and while walking through the house, the entire group saw moving lights.

Two members of the group, psychic investigators Sylvia Brown and Antoinette May, claimed to see great balls of red light in Mrs. Winchester’s bedroom. Brown also described two spirits, a man and woman, watching the group across the room. The clothing they wore was appropriate to the time of Mrs. Winchester, and it was thought that they might be the spirits of departed servants.

A Modern-Day Séance

On Halloween in 1975, Jeanne Borgen, one of California’s foremost psychic investigators, conducted a midnight séance in the bedroom where Mrs. Winchester died. The results were reported by Alvin T. Guthertz in the magazine Psychic World:

“Suddenly it appeared as if Mrs. Borgen’s face had somehow aged – her hair appeared grey and deep lines creased her forehead. She felt staggering pain and was unable to walk. It was as if she were having a heart attack and, as she started to fall, she shouted, “Help me. Someone get me out of here!”

Jeanne Borgen awoke a short time later. Her breathing was then normal; the pain, or what had seemed like pain, was gone….”She was an overpowering woman, a powerful woman. I felt a tremendous buildup of energy.”

Continue: The Number 13

Wander through 110 of the 160 rooms of this Victorian mansion, designed and built by the Winchester Rifle heiress. Tour the estate daily. Keep up to date on all the happenings, worldly and otherwise, only with the exclusive "13th Hour" newsletter.

In recognition of Mrs. Winchester's contribution to San Jose and Santa Clara Valley, the Winchester House was designated California Registered Historical Landmark #868 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.