Sarah Lockwood Pardee was born in New Haven, Conn. in 1839, the daughter of Leonard and Sarah (Burns). Her father owned Leonard Pardee & Company on East Water Street, manufacturing sashes, blinds and doors, and offering architectural carving services.
The well-bred young woman married William Wirt Winchester, the son of Oliver Fisher Winchester who founded the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in 1866. After their marriage, Sarah moved into the Winchester family home on Prospect Street in New Haven, where a host of Scottish and Irish servants included gardeners, coachmen and domestic workers.
Sarah and William had a daughter they named Annie in June of 1866. The child died the following month. In 1869, Sarah’s father died of spinal disease. Her mother died of cancer in May of 1880 and her father-in-law passed away seven months after that. As if she hadn’t suffered enough loss, her husband succumbed to tuberculosis on March 7, 1881 at the age of 44.
All those she loved were now on the other side of life and Sarah became greatly interested in spiritualism and the mysteries of the unknown. Having left New Haven after her husband’s death, she relocated to California where she purchased an eight-room farmhouse in a secluded area of San Jose.
Legend has it that Sarah had been so happy in the previous years that she had expressed to William her fear of the bliss being taken away. Allegedly he told her that she had nothing to fear as he would be leaving her enough money to build any type of house she wanted. As that legend goes, she felt his mention of building a house to be an omen.
Still another tale is that a psychic told Sarah to construct a house and never stop adding to it because if she did, she would die. Supposedly the ghosts of those who suffered fatally from the use of her husband’s Winchester rifles were upset.
Sarah hired builders to begin enlarging her home. Year after year the work went on, eventually costing her over three million dollars as the mansion grew in size. The 160 rooms were a labyrinth of hallways which went on for miles, windows and doors that opened up to walls, staircases that led nowhere and rooms within rooms. A seven-story tower rose up from this strange architectural masterpiece filled with rich woodwork, gold fixtures and rare objects from around the world.
Sarah lived out the rest of her life as a hermit, the mysterious property guarded by bloodhounds. Her marriage had left her incredibly wealthy with cash accounts, stocks, shares and bonds in the Winchester Company as well as railroads and other companies. But her fear of death allegedly overshadowed it all and she spent the rest of her earthy existence within the strange abode she shared with a large staff of Japanese gardeners, chauffeurs, cooks, waiters and nurses.
On Sept. 5, 1922, Sarah died in her sleep of heart failure. The hammers and saws finally ceased. She was brought back to New Haven and laid to rest in Evergreen Cemetery near her husband and daughter.
In 1923, the public was allowed to step through the veil of mystery. Over the past 97 years, millions of people have toured the Winchester house, a 24,000 square foot structure containing 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 17 chimneys and 52 skylights. Now you don’t have to cross the country to visit this historical site thanks to virtual reality.
You may rent access to the virtual tour of the Winchester Mystery House for a two-hour period for $5.99 or purchase permanent access to the tour for $13.99 by visiting www.winchestermysteryhouse.com