Beyond the Ghost Stories of the Winchester Mystery House

Beyond the Ghost Stories of the Winchester Mystery House


(gentle piano music) – [Walter] Winchester Mystery
House is a crown jewel in the Santa Clara Valley. – This house, an amazing house, was built by Sarah Lockwood Pardee, who married into the Winchester family. – This place has been
open for tour since 1923. – You’re going to see
unusual things, like this. – [Walter] There’s architecture, there’s incredible craftsmanship,
it’s a very unique house. – Some people believe that
these were Sarah’s methods for dealing with unfriendly
ghosts, baffling the spirits. We don’t really know. After 36 years of remodeling, maybe these are just a few
of her building mistakes. – It’s an incredible story, you know, it’s a true American story. – Sarah Lockwood Pardee Winchester was the heiress to the Winchester fortune, and she came out to
California in about 1884-85, and she bought herself a little house and started a grand remodeling project. (adventurous Western music) And it never really ended. So, is everybody ready
to discover the unusual, the bizarre, and the beautiful? The house once stood seven stories high. The 1906 earthquake caused a
great deal of structural damage to the top floors of the house. Sarah was terrified. At that time, all of this was removed, she took all of it away. And, after that, she
built out instead of up. This house grew over
the years to encompass about 24,000 square feet of space. We can’t be sure, there’s no
blueprints, there’s no plans. It’s not just big, it’s huge. (mysterious electronic music) The exterior is American
Queen Anne, no question. It was almost as if they had a checklist. Turrets, check, columns,
check, finials, check. It’s Queen Anne, but the
interior is absolutely aesthetic movement.
(jaunty piano music) So during the aesthetic movement,
they didn’t see any reason why useful, everyday objects
shouldn’t be beautiful. They felt that beautiful surroundings were morally uplifting, they improved
people’s quality of life. And so they decorated
things, and not just, you know, things you would
expect to be decorated, doorknobs with wonderful designs on them. Hinges, everywhere you
look there’s something that has a special detail to it. That radiator, aside from being useful, is also kind of pretty. You’ll find natural
images: leaves, flowers, inspects, birds. Sometimes it’s playful, sometimes it’s reminiscent
of another culture. Persian, Moorish, Egyptian, Greek, and especially Japanese. You’ll see bamboo, all sorts
of Asian painted wallpaper. We recently reinstalled
the original mantelpieces, they’re japanned, which
means they’re painted black, and then they have incised
decoration painted gold, decorative tiles with the cherry blossoms, the sunflowers in the vases
with the fish images on them. You can see there’s
also some of the finest stained glass windows in
the house right there. The Japanese influence
was very asymmetrical, which is another aesthetic motif. Another aspect of
Sarah’s decorating genius was her love of stained glass. She actually ordered about 25 windows that were all variations on a theme. And this is an example of one of her beautiful stained glass windows. They say it’s the most
expensive one in the mansion. It’s not only beveled crystal, it’s got what they call zipper cuts all around the edges to detail it. I mean, this is fine craftsmanship. That particular window has 13
blue and gold stones in it. Some of these were installed, some were removed during
remodeling projects. Some of them were never used. I’ve never seen a collection
to rival Sarah’s anywhere, not here, not in Europe. The so-called aesthetic
movement was in high gear here, it was just an explosion
of creative energy. This fireplace contains so many
different decorative media. It’s got beautiful decorative tiles, it’s got carved wood,
it’s got beveled crystal. It was art for the sake of art was what this movement embraced. This was the decorative
art, windows, textiles, hardware, wallpaper. This is your first example of the Lincrusta Walton wallcovering. Sarah loved Lincrusta. This was something
elegant for the wealthy, and it was used in places
like rooms in the White House, it was used in staterooms on the Titanic. You can see three
different patterns in here, and you can see how elegant
it can make a room look. She started putting it all over the house, on the walls, you’ll
find it on the ceilings, in combination with wood paneling. You can see that wonderful
Lincrusta in some of the panels, it looks kind of like a
cosmic explosion up there. The grand ballroom supposedly
cost about $9,000 to build. The floor is beautiful in here. The edges have rosewood, oak, ash, maple. The interesting thing in this room you might wanna take a look at, behind this beautiful carved door is a very utilitarian metal
door, behind that is a safe, another door, finally,
the interior of the safe. She was protecting something in here, and, according to legend, when she died, all they found was the
obituaries of her husband and daughter, and a lock of
her baby daughter’s hair. Sarah and William only
had one child named Annie, who sadly died when she was
only about six weeks’ old. 15 years later, William
himself died of tuberculosis. Sarah pretty much grieved
for the rest of her life. It was very difficult for her. We’re going to head to the seance room. This is, according to legend, where Sarah would
communicate with the spirits. Spiritualism was a huge movement
during her entire lifetime. It started in Europe,
came to the United States, and was fed by the Civil War. Women were losing their sons, their brothers, their husbands, and they were looking
for some kind of solace. She wasn’t unusual if she practiced it. This exit was built to
look like a cabinet. It is actually an exit that leads into the
closet of the next room. The house itself has 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, it has 47 fireplaces, 40 staircases. Through the doorway here you can see another one of Sarah’s
architectural oddities. Staircase begins here, goes
up, turns and ends right there. Although Sarah’s house is unusual and it teems with unexpected corners and stairways that go
nowhere and things like that, it really was, in many
ways, very well thought-out. Sarah was a very petite woman,
she stood four foot ten. She also suffered from
rheumatoid arthritis, which, in her later years,
made it impossible for her to lift her feet more than a
couple of inches off the floor, so she devised these small steps, and we call them easy risers. She worked things so that
the world adapted to her. She had, for example, three
elevators in her home. She was constantly trying out new ideas. During Sarah’s life, most
people used bathtubs. She ordered a special shower to be made. It was being advertised
as a needle shower, and the water came out from little holes in those U-shaped pipes. And, generally, in those days, women weren’t encouraged to shower. Picture the tiny Sarah with
her rheumatoid arthritis trying to get into a bathtub. It would have been horrible. So this would have been a
godsend for someone like her. Plumbing was extravagant for the time, and one of the things she did
was to put faucets everywhere. She loved gardening and she had these two
indoor conservatories where, as she got older, she could
garden here in the house and not have to go outside. This room in particular is
interesting because of the floor. She had wonderful systems
for watering her plants, where she could lift up her floorboards and put the plants down on
an underfloor made of metal, water the plants on the
floor, and it would then the water be carried away
by special drainpipes. (dreamy harpsichord music) You’ll notice there is a
hose reel and a faucet. Garden hoses were a brand new innovation. She not only seemed to
wanna make her life better, but her servants’ as well. In order to keep her
maids from having to be constantly sweeping
dust out of the corners, she put these little corner pieces in, so that the dirt never gets in there. You have built-in laundry trays. They have built-in scrub
boards, built-in soap holders, and hot and cold running water. And this was state of
the art at that time. Every fireplace, except for the gas, has a very clever door in the bottom, but all the ash goes down a tube, ends up in the basement somewhere, and there’s a little door down there that you can then clean out. – I guess today you’d
call her an early adapter. There are systems that
she could communicate with her team throughout the house. – She could press a button
like this anywhere in the house and bell would ring,
(bell buzzing) and a number would drop into the window, and that would tell the servants where they could find Sarah in the house. She also had a system
of call tubes that went through the walls, and you could actually hear people, say, on the fourth floor, talking to you down on the ground floor. So you would be aware if
someone wanted to talk to you, the bell would ring,
you’d come to the tube, and it’s perfectly audible. They would send them down to
the basement, these tubes. Then they would shoot across, you know, under the house, and then come up in the part of the house
where she wanted them. – Sarah Winchester was a true pioneer. She was a woman ahead of her time. – I think she just enjoyed
the process so much, she just wanted to keep on working. So she would get different ideas and they would try them out, and if it worked, great, if not, they would tear it
down and try something new. – You know, in Sarah
Winchester’s lifetime, this house was in a
constant state of becoming. You know, for 38 years
construction never stopped. Sarah Winchester would
be so proud to know that, for 93 years, millions of
guests have come into her home and admired it and been inspired by it, and, for the next 93 years,
that’s gonna continue.