Winchester: The Legend, The Movie and The Truth

Here’s a challenge for you. Travel to San Jose, California. Once there, Google to see what one can do there to kill some time or have some fun. One of the places of interest will be the Winchester Mystery House.

An historic landmark in San Jose, CA

Winchester Mystery House

You probably have already heard all about the place. Built by a crazy heiress of the Winchester Rifle Company at the turn of the 20th Century. Construction on the house ran non-stop for 38 years. And by non-stop we mean 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Rain or shine, for 38 years, Sarah Winchester converted a simple farmhouse into a landmark.

Legend has it that this urban site was created to appease the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles. It is even believed that the house itself is still haunted by those spirits today. Back in February the movie, Winchester, hit the screens. While it is based on the mysterious house and its’ lone architect it does take a few liberties.

Winchester: The Movie

The best part of the film is having Helen Mirren playing Sarah Winchester. Jason Clarke portrays Dr. Eric Price, who is being sent down from San Francisco to evaluate Sarah’s mental state and her fitness to continue running the company.

Sarah Winchester saw dead people in her house. In the film at least.

Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester

We soon discover that the good Doctor was “killed” by a Winchester rifle – for all of three minutes before being resuscitated. His near-death experience as part of a failed murder-suicide attempt by his dead lover and this is the reason why Sarah requested him to do the evaluation.

It seems she intends to evaluate her evaluator.

Watch out for that first step after passing through this door!

As the movie progresses we see the occasional spirit or two. A young boy is being possessed by one spirit that is trying to kill off any Winchester he can find and it nearly succeeds once or twice.

Strange sounds and a single roller skate whizzing about the floors and stairs add to the spookiness of the place. And there are even some rooms that are sealed shut and no one may ever enter them.

In all it is a good film, with some flaws. It has an anti-gun message tied to Sarah and the legend of why she built the house. But the message, like the legend it is based on, are flawed.

Winchester: The Legend

So about that gun thing.  According to legend, Sarah felt guilt over every death delivered by way of a Winchester-made weapon. Even, apparently, those done in self-defense.

Spirits and non-spirits alike failed to navigate these steps.

The stairs to nowhere.

So, under advisement from a medium, she packed up and moved to California and built a house for those spirits. And as long as construction was going, she would be safe and the spirits would be appeased.

This is the storyline the folks running the tours of the house promote. Primarily because it keeps bringing in the tourists – and the dollars – and keeps the lights on.

Winchester: The Truth

Construction on the house went non-stop for 38 years under her careful watch.

The real Sarah Winchester

But the facts is, according to this website, she likely moved to California to be closer to her family, who had relocated to California during the Gold Rush days. She bought the house and decided to make it into a giant, interactive puzzle box that people could live in.

She appears to have been a bit of a visionary in many areas – including architectural design. There is no evidence that she believed spirits inhabited the house. Nor did she have any guilt over the Winchester family business.

So even though the urban legend surrounding the house appears to be without any basis in fact, it still persists today.

And to be honest I’m okay with that. Because adding that urban legend adds to the experience of walking inside that house with its door and stairs to nowhere. It even makes the movie an interesting urban fantasy film.

About the author

Richard Paolinelli

  • […] example, yesterday I talked about the movie, Winchester, as well as the house and the legends and lore that the film was based on. It is set in an urban […]


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