Voices from the Past

Over the past years, many visitors to Sarah’ Winchester’s legendary home have shared stories of voices they’ve heard in the house—voices without visible sources. Spirits, in fact. You may have had such an experience yourself. Or you may be someone who scoffs at the very idea. But whether or not you believe in paranormal phenomena, it’s a fact that Sarah Winchester’s long- dead employees maintain a presence in her house to this very day, speaking to us in a silent but effective way.

Voices from the Past

Throughout the mansion—for those who know where to find them—there are messages from the past, written on the walls by Sarah’s workers as they measured lengths for moldings, calculated square footage, tallied up the crops they brought in through the hayloft doors, or simply signed their names, just to show they had been there and were part of Sarah’s story.

One day early in 2016, the single cryptic word “Damon” was discovered written behind the wallpaper on a ceiling panel during the restoration of the Parlor Hallway. Who “Damon” might have been was a mystery, until the serendipitous discovery in 2017 of a random note jotted on the back of an old picture of the mansion that said: “Henry Damon, worked 18 years.” A little research revealed Henry Page Damon, a carpenter from Maine, listed in the 1894 census of Santa Clara County as a resident of San Jose. We now know who he was and that he worked on Sarah’s house for nearly two decades. Henry most probably wrote his name on the hallway ceiling in June of 1896, just before it was decorated.

We know the hallway was decorated in June of 1896 because a helpful worker on Sarah’s staff (Mr. Damon?) was kind enough to write the date “06/3/96” on the back of the Lincrusta wall paper just before it was installed!

Voices from the Past

Similarly, we know that a good Jersey cow joined the Winchester establishment on March 20th, 1893 to provide milk for Sarah and her people, and that 9 tons of barley were brought in by the farm hands on December 3, 1890. Some conscientious soul penciled this and other information on the door frames of a second-story hayloft door, where it remains to this day.

One of my favorite graffiti is the signature of John Hansen, found on a board inside the roof of the original 4th Floor Balcony some 30 years ago. Hansen was Sarah Winchester’s ranch Foreman and right-hand man from the late 1890s until her death in 1922. John and his wife Nellie lived on the estate and raised their two sons Carl and Theodore here. Hansen’s own family photo albums provided most of the vintage photos of the Winchester estate that are displayed in the Mansion today.

As the board on which Hansen had signed his name was hammered into place, he must have wondered how many years would pass before someone saw his signature again, and how much the world would change in that time. As it turned out, nearly 90 years—an entire human lifetime—would pass before John’s hidden message was discovered, and the world had indeed changed remarkably.

If he could gaze down from the highest peaks of the mansion today, Hansen would never recognize the beautiful, peaceful Santa Clara Valley he knew in the far more populous, far less romantic “Silicon Valley” of the present. But he would certainly recognize the mansion, which miraculously survives nearly a century after Sarah Winchester’s death. And I know it would please him and his co-workers very much to know that we can still hear their voices across the distance of the years.