The Winchester Mystery House
The Winchester Mystery House was built by Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Winchester, who was the son of the man who founded the Winchester rifle empire. After William died, a psychic in Boston told Sarah that the spirits of all the people and animals of those who had been injured by the Winchester rifles would seek to avenge their deaths. The only way to appease the spirits, said the psychic, was to build them a house. As long as the house was being built, the spirits would not haunt Sarah.
In 1884 Sarah moved to California and purchased an eight room farmhouse in San Jose. Then she began to build. For 38 years, until Sarah's death in 1922, carpenters worked 24 hours a day, 365 days a year building the strange monument to the spirit world. At the time of Sarah's death there were 160 rooms (in various stages of completion) in the house. However, it is estimated that over 600 rooms were built and then torn down over the 38 years.
Every night, Sarah would go to her Seance Room to receive messages from the spirits telling her what she should build. The orders from the spirits resulted in many strange constructions, such as doors that open onto walls, stairs that go nowhere, a cupboard that has only 1/2 inch of storage space, and tiny doorways and hallways just big enough for Sarah (who was 4'10" and of slight build) to fit through. Some other interesting features of the house include its 10,000 windows (including some priceless Tiffany stained glass), 47 fireplaces, and a beautiful garden.
Sarah had a fascination with the number thirteen. Many features in the house were built in sets of 13 or multiples of 13. For instance, in the 13th bathroom (the only one with a shower), there are 13 windows. One of the sinks has 13 drainage holes. There are 52 skylights, and the grand staircase has 13 steps. Thirteen palm trees line the driveway. As a final gesture, Sarah's will was divided into 13 parts and signed 13 times.
Two other numbers favored by Sarah were 7 and 11. There is one stairway in the house which has 7 steps down and then 11 steps up. Another, called the switchback staircase, turns 7 times and has 44 steps, but only goes up 9 feet! Some speculate that stairs were built so low because Sarah had arthritis; others think she had them built that way to confuse and/or slow down the spirits.
In the courtyard there is a hedge shaped like a crescent moon. Mysteriously, the hedge points to the bedroom where Sarah died.
The Bell Tower
At midnight every night, the bell in the bell tower was rung to summon the spirits. At 2 AM, it was rung again as a signal for the spirits to depart. The rest of the day the bell lay silent (although other sources say it was used to call servants during the day).
The tower was only approachable from the outside by climbing onto the roof of the mansion using a ladder. The bell was hung at the top of the tower, with a long rope hanging down a sheer, unclimbable wall. The rope was reached through underground tunnels, the precise layout of which was known only to the bell ringer and his assistant.
In 1906 Sarah was trapped in a bedroom by an earthquake. Because she slept in a different room every night, it took the servants over an hour to find her. She took the earthquake as an sign from the spirits that they were discontented with the way the construction was going. To appease the spirits, she had the front 30 rooms boarded up, and they were never used again during her lifetime. She also slept in the same bedroom (the one where she died) every night thereafter.
When Sarah died in 1922, the word spread throughout the house, and there are still spots visible where the workers stopped hammering the nails halfway in. After her death, all the furniture in the house was auctioned off. It took 8 weeks (6 truckloads a day) to remove it all. Later the mansion was restored and opened to the public. If you are ever in San Jose, I highly suggest you give it a visit!