The house that fear built: On Friday the 13th, step inside the Winchester House ... if you dare

A maze of mystery, this house was designed to ward off ghosts, with stairs that lead to nowhere and doors that opened to walls.

John Millen |

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The Winchester House was designed to confuse ghosts.

The Winchester House is a massive wooden mansion built at the end of the 19th century near the town of San Jose in California. Construction began in 1884 and ended when the owner died in 1922.

It is a building that makes no sense. The house has staircases that lead to nowhere, doors that open onto solid walls, windows that look onto other rooms, and passages and tunnels that lead to dead ends. Builders worked on the house 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for 38 years.

There was never a plan to the house. Each day, the owner gave the builders orders to build a room there, or a staircase there, or add a passageway there.

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The Winchester House has 160 rooms, including 40 bedrooms and two ballrooms. It has 47 fireplaces, more than 10,000 windows, 17 chimneys, and 47 staircases. There are windows in floors and doors in ceilings. The house is a gigantic puzzle of a building. Who would build and want to live in such a strange home?

When William Winchester died in 1881, he left his widow, Sarah, a massive fortune. Winchester owned the company that made the Winchester Rifle, the gun that soldiers, cowboys, cattlemen and ranchers all over America used on a daily basis.

On her husband's death, a psychic told Sarah that she was going to be haunted for the rest of her life by the spirits of people who had been killed by the Winchester rifle. The only way she could avoid this terror was to build a special house that was so complicated in design that no evil spirit would be able to find her.

Sarah Winchester feared she would be haunted by the ghosts of the people killed by the Winchester rifle.
Photo: Wikimedia

So Sarah Winchester did just that. As the house took shape, Sarah slept in a different room each night. Each midnight, she would go to a special Spirit Room, where for two hours she consulted good ghosts who didn't want to harm her.

On September 5, 1922, Sarah Winchester died in her sleep at the age of 83. Her house had done the perfect job of protecting its owner.

13 facts about Friday the 13th

In many Western countries, the number 13 is regarded as very unlucky. But Sarah Winchester thought that the number would help to protect her from evil spirits. Many of the windows in her house have 13 panes, and there are 13 bathrooms, with 13 windows in the 13th bathroom.

The entrance hall to the house is divided into 13 sections. The house is packed with 13s: 13 steps in many of the staircases, 13 gas jets on the chandeliers, 13 glass domes in the greenhouse and even 13 holes in the sink drain covers.

Today, on every Friday the 13th, a large bell at the Winchester House is rung 13 times at 1300 hours (1pm) in honour of the house's creator.