Oct. 11, 2010— -- Many people are afraid of ghosts. But probably none has gone to such extremes as Sarah Winchester, who spent decades building and rebuilding her Victorian mansion in an effort to confuse any ghosts that might be following her.
She had been married to William Wirt Winchester, son of the rifle manufacturer of the Winchester repeating rifle. The first four years of their marriage were happy but disaster struck in 1866, when their infant daughter, Annie, died of a then-mysterious childhood disease.
Winchester fell into a deep depression from which she never fully recovered. Fifteen years later, her husband's premature death from tuberculosis added to her distress.
It is said that she ultimately sought help from a spiritualist. That led to the creation of one of the most bizarre homes ever constructed: the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, Calif.
For nearly 38 years, Winchester hired crews to work around the clock renovating an eight-room house into a seven-story mansion with more than 160 rooms. Quirky architectural features dominate: doors that lead nowhere, a staircase that descends seven steps and then rises eleven and columns installed upside down.
So why the continuous building and the odd features? It all has to do with the spirits. Winchester believed she needed protection from bad spirits. So she built a house that was ever-changing and designed to confuse them. It was also built to be large enough and accommodating to welcome the good spirits.
Confused? Think about the construction site's foreman, John Hansen, who would get new orders each morning after Winchester held nightly seances to guide her with the building plans.