After losing her only child and then being widowed, a distraught Sarah Winchester asked a medium why she had suffered such terrible losses. The medium felt the Winchester family was cursed and was being pursued by the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles, which were made by Sarah's husband's company. Furthermore, the medium warned Sarah that if she didn't start building a house for the ghosts, she too would die. The medium also warned Sarah that the ghosts wouldn't be happy if the house was ever completed. Advice in hand, Sarah moved out to California and started building a home that would end up being under constant construction until she died. Sarah even built a séance room, which she used every night. According to the stories surrounding the home, every morning Sarah told the builders what to do, based on what the spirits had told her the night before during the séance.
The nonstop construction and unusual instructions Sarah gave the builders resulted in the now-famous "Mystery House," which has a host of bizarre features. Some staircases lead nowhere; some doors open to nothing. Tour groups visiting the house even have to be warned by guides not to wander off, lest they get lost for hours in the maze of confusing architecture. Stairs and doors are just the half of it. There are even secret passageways said to have been used by Sarah to move through her home in a less than logical manner, the better to confuse any ghosts that could be tracking her steps. It's theorized that some of the home's strange features may have had practical reasons behind them. For example, the "Switchback Staircase," with steps only two inches high and running up seven "flights" to go just nine feet up, may have been built to accommodate Sarah's severe arthritis and ease her difficulties [source: Winchester Mystery House].
It's anyone's guess whether or not the spirits ever told Sarah how famous her strange house would one day become. Perhaps they wanted to keep her in the dark.
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