“Winchester,” a new thriller starring Helen Mirren, may have taken some cinematic liberties with the true story behind the Winchester Mystery House. But the real-life home that inspired the movie has just as many thrills.
In 1884, Sarah Winchester, the Winchester rifle heiress, bought what was a modest, two-story home in San Jose, California and kept adding on to it for nearly 40 years until, at one point, it had at least 160 rooms and stood seven stories tall. She funded her projects with an inheritance that would be valued at about $500 million in 2017. The building didn’t end until her death in 1922.
Listed below are seven intriguing facts we do know about the Winchester Mystery House.
1. Construction Never Stopped For Long
While builders did not always work on the house day and night (there were some breaks, notably during a 1906 earthquake), construction projects were pretty much continuous from the time Winchester moved into the home until her death in her early 80s.
2. You Can Easily Lose Your Way Inside
3. Stairs To Nowhere Used To Go Somewhere
One of the most famous parts of the Winchester Mystery House are its numerous staircases that lead to nowhere. But they used to have a purpose. A major earthquake in 1906 severely damaged the home, leading several upper floors to be torn down. Other parts of the house were closed off after that natural disaster.
4. There’s A Lavish Ballroom That Was Eerily Empty
The Grand Ballroom inside the home cost $9,000 alone, at a time when an entire home could be built for around $1,000. Rich hardwoods cover the walls and floors. Two stained glass windows contain mysterious Shakespeare quotes like “Wide unclasp the tables of their thoughts.” Despite the beauty and extravagance of the room, it was apparently rarely used when Winchester was alive.
5. It Has A “Witch’s Cap”
The home has undergone renovations recently to open more of the mansion to visitors. That now includes access to the “Witch’s Cap,” an attic space where, if you stand at its center, the sound of your voice echoes around you.
6. It Had Sadness Literally Locked Away
After Winchester died, a well-protected safe inside the sprawling home was opened. All that was inside it were the obituaries for her husband and infant daughter, as well as a lock of the baby’s hair.
7. The House Might Still Have Some Mysteries
The sprawling estate might still have some hidden rooms. “There’s very possibly things we haven’t discovered yet, just because we don’t have blueprints,” Walter Magnuson, the house’s general manager, told Atlas Obscura.
Check out the trailer for “Winchester” below. It’s sure to make the legendary home even more popular for a new generation of thrill seekers.