Inside the Winchester Mystery House

For 38 years, construction never stopped on the Victorian home.

ByABC News via logo
October 26, 2008, 5:04 PM

Oct. 27, 2008 — -- For 38 years workers never stopped building. With 160 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, 40 staircases and three elevators, the Winchester Mystery House is a Victorian mansion filled with unexplained oddities.

One room had one entrance with three ways to get out, including a door that drops to a kitchen, another door to a cupboard and a secret room behind it.

The home, located in San Joes, Calif., was the project of a wealthy widow named Sarah L. Winchester, the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune. The residence is an architectural marvel and wholly unlike most homes of its era. It had modern heating and sewer systems along with gas lights.

The building is a massive maze of secret rooms and hidden chambers, and the construction, which began in 1884, continued until Winchester's death 38 years later.

Part of the reason she had the home built in such an extensive manner was because Winchester believed the ghosts of those gunned down by the Winchester repeating rifle the rifle that won the West were haunting her.

A medium told her the only way to calm the vengeful spirits was to use her $20 million inheritance to build a home that would confuse the apparitions. If she ever stopped building, the ghosts would claim her life.

So each night Winchester held séances to get building instructions for the next day from the spirit world, from spirits like caretaker Clyde.

Clyde still walks the halls, according to local psychic Annette Martin, who claims she unlocked the secrets of the Winchester house by channeling Clyde. He communicates to her through scribbles.

Martin said Winchester told Clyde to stay and take care of the house.

"He comes here to remember the happy, happy times with Sarah and her wonderful organ music," Martin added.

The total cost to ensure ghosts didn't follow her: $5.5 million for one home with two basements, four stories and 467 doorways.

When Winchester died in 1922, the construction stopped. And with her death, all the mysteries of the home may never truly be understood its odd twists and turns, or doors leading to nowhere and stairs headed to the ceiling.