Mystery House

Shortly before the beginning of the Civil War, Sarah Lockwood Pardee met a man by the name of William Wirt Winchester, the heir to the considerable Winchester Repeating Arms Company fortune. The war was a boon for the company and the marriage went swimmingly -- until 1867, when their infant daughter Annie died from an unusual disease. By the time William died (of TB) fifteen years later, Sarah had become convinced of the existence of a family curse.

One day, a friend suggested that she visit a medium. She did, and was told that the family was indeed cursed by the spirits of those who had been killed by Winchester rifles. The medium further informed her that the spirits had taken her daughter and husband in revenge, and that she herself would also die unless she acquired a home and continued making additions indefinitely. She promptly bought a house in San Jose and started lavishing her $20 million fortune upon new construction, which continued uninterrupted 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year... for the next 38 years.

The result? An eight-story monstrosity with miles of hallways and secret passages, 48 fireplaces, and 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, and dozens of staircases -- many of which open upon or lead to solid walls.

[The twisted architecture is often said to reflect Winchester's desire to confuse malicious spirts. It may also reflect her state of mind. She spent some $5 million (at a time when laborers were lucky to earn 50 cents a day) and left enough materials to continue building for another 80 years.]

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