Houdini Visits Haunted House in California

In 1924, on one of his many lecture and magic tours, Houdini stopped in at The Winchester House for a private midnight tour and séance at the Winchester House. Unfortunately, the results of his late-night excursion have been lost to time, but his visit was written about in the Portland Oregon Daily Journal, in November 1924.

The Boston Medium

The Boston Medium consulted by Mrs. Winchester (was it Margery?) explained that her family and her fortune were being haunted by spirits – in fact, by the spirits of American Indians, Civil War soldiers, and others killed by Winchester rifles manufactured by her late husband. Supposedly the untimely deaths of her daughter and husband were caused by these spirits, and it was implied that Mrs. Winchester might be the next victim.

However, the medium also claimed that there was an alternative, Mrs. Winchester was instructed to move west and appease the spirits by building a great house for them. As long as construction of the house never ceased, Mrs. Winchester could rest assured that her life was not in danger. Building such a house was even supposed to bring her eternal life.

Mrs. Winchester packed her bags and left Connecticut to visit a niece who lived in Menlo Park, California. While there she discovered the perfect spot for her new home in the Santa Clara Valley. In 1884 she purchased an unfinished farm house just three miles west of San Jose - and over the next thirty-eight years she produced the sprawling complex we know today as the Winchester Mystery House™.

The Haunted House That Mrs. Winchester Built

Winchester House In the late 1800’s, the Santa Clara Valley presented sweeping vistas of rural open space. It was a serene setting for Mrs. Winchester to begin her building project, which she did with steadfast determination. She immediately hired carpenters to work in shifts around the clock. By the turn of the century the eight-room house had grown into a seven-story mansion! The estate eventually grew to 161 acres of farmland, which included orchards of apricots, plum, and walnut trees to supplement Mrs. Winchester’s income. She also owned homes in Atherton, Los Altos, and Palo Alto.

Mrs. Winchester’s financial resources were virtually unlimited; upon her husband’s death she received several million dollars in cash and 777 shares of stock in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Upon her mother-in-law’s death in 1897, Mrs. Winchester received 2,000 more shares, which meant she owned just under fifty percent of the company’s capital stock. This provided her with an income of $1,000 a day – back in the days before income taxes.

The Eccentric Mrs. Winchester

The combination of her wealth and her eccentric building project gave rise to many rumors in the local community. On the one hand, Mrs. Winchester was generous with her employees, paying three dollars a day when the going rate was one and a half dollars. She often paid trades-people in gold coin, and when she went to town they would bring their wares right out to her carriage for inspection. Orphanages and many other local charities benefited from anonymous contributions. She welcomed neighborhood children and let them play on the grounds, even inviting them in to eat ice cream or play the piano.

On the other hand, Mrs. Winchester’s interest in seclusion was evident from the start. One of the first tasks of the gardeners was to plant a tall cypress hedge surrounding the house.

She reportedly kept her face covered with a dark veil at all times, and there are stories of her firing servants who caught a glimpse of her face by accident.

Then there were occurrences that defied explanation. Neighbors would hear a bell ring at midnight and 2 a.m., which according to ghost lore are the times for the arrival and departure of spirits. Some said that Mrs. Winchester never slept in the same bedroom two nights in a row, in order to confuse any evil spirits that might be waiting for her. At the very center of the house is the Blue Room, where Mrs. Winchester supposedly would go every night to commune with the spirits. This room consisted of a cabinet, a table with pen and papers, a closet, and a planchette board – used for transmitting messages from the beyond. Legend has it that she would wear one of 13 special colored robes and receive guidance from various spirits for her construction plans.

Mrs. Winchester Dies

Mrs. Winchester died on September 5, 1922 and was buried in New Haven, Connecticut beside her beloved husband. She was survived by her sister and many nieces and nephews, to whom she left cash and substantial trust funds. She also left cash sums to her favorite employees and a substantial sum to the Winchester Clinic of the General Hospital Society of Connecticut, for the care and treatment of tuberculosis patients. The clinic still exists today as part of the Yale New Haven Medical Center.

At the time of her death, the unrelenting construction had rambled over six acres. The Sprawling mansion contained 160 rooms, 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 stairways, 47 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, and 6 kitchens. Carpenters even left nails half driven when they learned of Mrs. Winchester’s death.