Recently I finished reading this book, The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red, which is the novel prequel to Stephen King’s Rose Red, a mini-series that aired in 2002. If that’s not complicated enough. I never saw the mini-series but a friend thought I would get a kick out of the book (love me a good ghost story) so I bought it and promptly left it sitting on a shelf for over ten years. But, I have been going through a rash of haunted house stories this Halloween and this title seemed to fit in with the group so I picked it up, dusted it off, and gave it a chance. It was decent. Certainly entertaining. The fictional home, Rose Red, bore a great resemblance to Hill House in Shirley Jackson’s phenomenal The Haunting of Hill House. But it was also clearly based on another house, a real house. The Winchester Mystery House.
The Winchester Mystery House was built, starting in 1884, by Sarah Winchester, window of William Wirt Winchester of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. After her husband’s death Winchester consulted a medium who told her she should move across the country and build a home for herself and the victims of Winchester rifles. She did just that, moving to San Jose, California and started construction on her home. Of course, with most building projects there comes the time that the building stops. That didn’t happen with Sarah Winchester’s house until her death in 1922. At which point she had spent approximately $5.5 million dollars (roughly $75 million when adjusted for inflation) and built the mammoth building up seven stories. However, the 1906 earthquake, which devastated San Francisco, claimed three of the top floors of the Mystery House.
Throughout her life Winchester became more and more paranoid about the ghosts and spirits she believed were haunting her and her money. To confuse and deter the phantasms, she built her house to be deliberately confusing. Not only its vast size and sprawling layout, which she designed herself without the use of an architect, but windows in the middle of rooms, doors that lead out a second story wall, and staircases that lead to nowhere.
In the end the house ended up 24,000 square feet, with 160 rooms; 40 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, six kitchens, two basements, 47 fireplaces, 52 skylights, 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 3 elevators, and one shower. [statistics courtesy of the official website]
The Winchester Mystery house is now open to the public and available to tour. Needless to say the house is considered haunted by countless ghosts including the ghost of Sarah Winchester herself, who built the house that just wouldn’t quit.