With a bit of imagination and the right ambience, spooky houses aren’t that difficult to manufacture. Add a vintage tape recorder with some indiscriminate wailing and you’ve got yourself a nifty tourist attraction.
However, the Winchester Mystery House is a real oddity - part architectural miracle, part bizarre embodiment of grief, it’s become a legendary must-see for supernatural obsessives. The story of the house and the reclusive woman at the centre of it was recently made into a Hollywood horror starring Helen Mirren. While that film follows genre conventions of jump scares and frights, the truth behind the famous mansion is sometimes even stranger than fiction.
Of all the mysteries of the Winchester mansion, one of the strangest may be the mysterious woman at its heart. Born Sarah Lockwood Pardee, she married William Wirt Winchester in New Haven in 1862, as the American Civil War raged in the background. Her husband was the only heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, notable manufacturers of firearms in the USA. Unsurprisingly, the war was a lucrative time for Sarah Winchester’s new family.
Fairly little is known of her actual character. Sarah Winchester’s life was to be one of tragedy; the couple’s only daughter died just a month old. The Winchesters didn’t have another child and their life spent together is largely unknown. The only photograph of Sarah was taken surreptitiously by a contract worker years later. Before then, Sarah was to go through another great loss.