Demystifying the Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, was the home of Sarah Winchester, widow of rifle magnate William Winchester. She spent 30 years having the house built and expanded and rebuilt and remodeled until it was a sprawling jumble of strange architectural details that made no sense, like staircases that ended in a wall and closets that were only an inch deep. The house was turned into a tourist attraction after Winchester's death. But there were plenty of places that tourists didn't see, due to disrepair, safety concerns, or the fact that some rooms were never finished. Locking up some areas also made taking tourists through just plain easier -after all, the tour already went through 100 rooms. When new manager Walter Magnuson took over in 2015, he made it a point to unlock those rooms.    

He did eventually gain access to these hidden spaces, and what he found was both astounding and in keeping with the home’s reputation for eccentricity. Some rooms were missing floorboards, others had been closed off after sustaining severe damage in the 1906 earthquake, and still more were just full of broken tiles. There were entrancing finds, too. He saw jewel-like wallpaper that scattered sunlight into tiny orbs, rows of stained-glass windows mounted inexplicably at waist height, and secret balconies that offered a bird’s-eye view of the many-gabled roof. “It was just in a constant state of becoming,” says Magnuson, who came to Winchester from a senior position at Disneyland. “Some of these spaces, you have a lot of questions: What was this room’s purpose? Who stayed here? What was Sarah thinking?”

Two years of work ensued, and now those hidden spaces are open the public. Read about the restoration project at the Winchester Mystery House at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: Spiel)

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