First Model Henry Rifle 

The Henry Rifle, itself an improvement on the Volcanic Repeating Rifle, would evolve into the famed Winchester repeater, the so-called “Gun That Won the West”. Produced in small numbers in the early 1860s, the Henry Rifle was one of the most popular of repeating rifles during the Civil War.

(Cowan’s Auctions)

50 States of Horror: California

This is the story of Sarah Pardee, who become the widow of the famous William Winchester, and her decent into madness.

If you’re unaware the Winchester is one of the most famous and popular types of guns to this day.  In 1857, the company would take over the assets of a firm which made the Volcanic Repeater, a rifle that used a lever mechanism to load bullets into the breech. The volcanic repeater was a vast improvement over the muzzle-loading rifles of previous years, and yet still the Winchesters saw room for continued improvement and innovation. In 1860 the Winchesters would develop the Henry rifle, which was easy to reload and could fire rapidly; it the first true repeating rifle and soon became a favorite of Union soldiers during the civil war. With a growing fortune, Sarah Pardee and William Winchester were married on September 30, 1862. Four years later Sarah gave birth to a little girl named Annie Pardee Winchester, but tragically she died of marasmus, a form of energy deficiency that causes severe undernourishment, less than 2 weeks later. This horrible loss drove Mrs. Winchester to the edge of insanity as it caused extreme depression and erratic behavior, and eventually she did recover. However little more than a decade later another tragedy struck and William Winchester died from a form of tuberculosis in 1881. This left Sarah with over $20 million, half of the company’s worth, Mr. Winchester’s estate, and a heart filled with woe.

Unable to recover from her grief of friend of Sarah’s suggested she see a spiritual medium, and so she did. The medium informed Sarah of her husband’s existing presence and delivered a message onto a grieving Sarah,

“He says for me to tell you that there is a curse on your family, which took the life of he and your child. It will soon take you too. It is a curse that has resulted from the terrible weapon created by the Winchester family. Thousands of persons have died because of it and their spirits are now seeking vengeance.”

The last of the message revealed that Sarah should sell her house and head west towards the setting sun, and so she did. Under her dead husband’s guide Sarah made it all the way to California where she bought a house under construction that originally had 6 rooms and 162 acres. Sarah continued construction on her house, turning it into a giant towering mass, using 16-22 carpenters year round, 24 hours a day, until her death in 1922 (but hey they were paid far more than the going rate, so theres that). She built, demolished and rebuilt. Aside from a growing number of rooms Sarah’s house included: three elevators, 47 fireplaces, countless staircases which led nowhere, a chimney that stops short of the ceiling, doors that opened to blank walls, trap doors, double-back hallways, skylights that were located one above another, doors that opened to steep drops to the lawn below, and dozens of other oddities. Even all of the stair posts were installed upside-down and many of the bathrooms had glass doors on them. These were all attempts to mislead and confuse any hostile spirits that would invade Sarah’s home under the Winchester curse.

Among her architectural oddities, Sarah also had a weird obsession with the number 13. Nearly all the windows in the house had 13 panes of glass, the walls and 13 panels, the greenhouse had 13 cupolas, floors contained 13 sections, rooms contained 13 windows, and every staircase had 13 steps, with only 1 exception. The 1 staircase without 13 steps had 42 and  yet only rose to be 19 ft high since each step was only 2 inches high.

By 1906 the house was an astonishing 7 stories high, but again tragedy struck. A massive earthquake in California turned portions of the house into ruin, and Sarah herself was actually trapped Daisy room after it occurred. Sarah became convinced that this was a move by spirits who were upset her house was almost complete, and construction began again, although it was a special type of construction, one which would ensure the building of the house would never be complete.

Sarah boarded up 30 rooms in her house. The number of bedrooms rose to 25, more  unnecessary chimneys were added, and yet only 2 mirrors were installed throughout the whole house. In total its believed 160 rooms exist in the house, some built over and around one another. On September 4, 1922, after a conference session with the spirits in the seance room, Sarah went to her bedroom and died sometime in the night at the age of 83. Sarah left her house and what remained of her fortune (which had dwindled considerably) to her niece Frances. It was rumored that somewhere in her house Sarah had hidden what remained of her fortune in gold, in a safe, which has yet to be discovered to this very day.

Whether or not the Winchester house is truly haunted is up to debate.  There have been reports of strange events occurring within the house; cold spots, things moving by themselves, moving lights, and psychics who have visited are convinced spirits still wander the place. The ghost of Sarah Winchester is said to still linger, as are the spirits who haunted her.

(As always sites we used to help us write this piece can be found under our references tab)