No one knows the actual birthdate of Sarah Winchester. A small mystery compared to the rest of this peculiar woman’s intriguing life.
Born Sarah Lockwood Pardee, she was the one of seven children born of Sarah Burns and Leonard Pardee. She grew up in the usual way, but there was nothing usual about this child. She was quickly recognized as a prodigy for her adeptness with language and music, giving her the apt title of “the belle of New Haven.” By the age of twelve, she had mastered Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian, and was extremely well versed in Shakespeare and Homer.
Sarah’s musical ability came as no surprise since one of her driving passions in life was numbers, and music is intrinsically tied to numbers and patterns of numbers. It was also no surprise, with her high intellect, that she ended up attending school at Yale’s Young Ladies Collegiate Institute. There she underwent a strict and rigorous curriculum of liberal arts, science, and mathematics. It is at this school that we can find the roots of her oddness and the numeric obsession that consumed her later years.
Sarah was fascinated with number sequences, and strongly believed that there were numerical messages in everything. She incorporated symbols and numbered code into every aspect of her life, including the house she would one day build. Sarah’s love of Geometry and specific symmetrical numbers is prominently displayed throughout the Winchester House. But most importantly, Sarah adopted the numeric, cryptographic techniques of Francis Bacon, incorporating them into her architecture along with specific Baconian symbols.
After Sarah finished her schooling, she was married to William Winchester. After several years of marriage and the loss of their only child, William inherited his father’s successful gun company, The Winchester repeating Arms Company. Shortly after that, William died of tuberculosis, leaving Sarah a childless widow, with a 20 million dollar inheritance and owner of almost 50% of the company stock. She spent a few years in Europe after that, then settled down in California, in what is now known as the Winchester Mystery House.
Sarah began furious construction on her new house as soon as she occupied it. There were teams of workers working in round the clock shifts so construction never stopped, even when she was sleeping. The construction itself is what has spurred the legend of this house. There are anomalies and oddities to be found anywhere you look. Skylights in ceilings look through to other rooms, stairways that lead to nowhere, doors that lead to open air, and countless, seemingly haphazard elements compromise the house, which at it’s peak was over 7 stories high and had over 600 rooms.
There are a several theories running as to what spurred Sarah to purchase and begin renovations on the house. Many mathematicians will tell you about her connections to the Freemasonic and Rosicrucian philosophy through her schooling and connections from family who were members, as well as a good many of her teachers. Some say she was obsessed with numerical ciphers, and believed ( as many of the Freemasons did) that there were meaningful, secret, numerical encryptions everywhere, in people’s names, birthdates, even hidden in the works of Shakespeare. These people will tell you that every action she took in her adult life up to and including the construction of the Winchester House was based on the teachings of the Freemasons and her perceived messages from these encryptions.
The second theory is definitely a more sinister version of events. After the death of her husband, it is rumored that Sarah went to see a then famous Boston medium named Adam Coons. Coons told her that she was being haunted by the spirits of all the people murdered by Winchester guns, and that to appease the angry spirits, she would have to go to California, and purchase the Winchester house, which she did. She then started the perpetual, 24 hour a day construction on the house which the spirits that tormented her demanded. . She would hold nightly seances in her home for the spirits with the use of a Ouiji board, and 13 different colored robes for each specific ritual.
It has been speculated that the constant construction was done to stave off her own death. Not only was she tormented by the spirits, but she was convinced that if construction stopped, they would be her doom. She even slept in a different room every night as an extra measure to throw the spirits off her trail. She would ring her alarm bell every night at midnight to signal the spirits that it was séance time, and then again at 2:00 am, signaling the spirits that it was time to depart.
Nobody really knows what provoked Sarah Winchester to move to California, purchase a farmhouse, and begin nonstop renovations that would not cease until the moment of our death. Was it an obsessive compulsion that was allowed to run free? Spirits? Insanity? The world may never truly know what inspired the woman behind the house.
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