Sarah Winchester (1839 - 1922)

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Sarah Lockwood (Pardee) Winchester
1839 - 1922
Born
1839
New Haven, New Haven County, Connecticut United States
Death
September 5, 1922
San Jose, Santa Clara County, California United States
Other Names
Sarah Lockwood Pardee
Summary
Sarah Winchester was born in 1839 in New Haven, Connecticut. She was born into the Pardee family and married into the Winchester family. According to her family tree, Sarah was mother to 1 child. She married William Wirt Winchester. They were married until William's death in 1881 in New Haven, Connecticut. They gave birth to Annie Pardee Winchester. She died on September 5, 1922 in San Jose, California at age 83.
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Updated: December 16, 2020
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Sarah Lockwood (Pardee) Winchester was born to Leonard Pardee and Sarah W. Burns in the summer of 1839 (or 1840 - records vary). She had at least 2 sisters. When she was about 20, on September 30, 1862, she married William Wirt Winchester, the only son of the owner of Winchester Repeating Arms Company. They had a daughter, Annie Pardee Winchester, who was born on June 15 1866 and who died on July 25 of the same year. She was thought to have died of marasmus, a disorder that creates malnutrition and at that time lead to death. They had no other children.

Sarah's husband, William, died about 15 years later in March of 1881 of TB. Since William's father had died the year before, Sarah inherited $20 million and 50% ownership in the Winchester company, as well as an income of $1,000/day. (To put this massive inheritance in perspective, $20 million in 2020 dollars would be over half a billion and $1,000/day would be about $25,500/day)

Sarah was devastated by the loss of her family and moved across country to the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1886, she bought a small farmhouse in San Jose CA called Llanada Villa (this property is now known as the Winchester Mystery House) and a couple of years later she bought 140 acres of land (now downtown Los Altos CA) to use as a ranch. (She also bought a farmhouse - now called the Winchester Merriman House - for her sister and her husband in Los Altos. ) She also bought a houseboat which was nicknamed "Sarah's Ark" that she kept near a eucalyptus grove at Winchester Road which burned down in 1929.) If you know Los Altos today, you know how valuable those 140 acres would be now!

The story about the "Winchester Mystery House" is that Sarah was told by a psychic that losing her husband and daughter was the result of the vengeful ghosts of people who had been killed by Winchester guns. The only way to protect against these ghosts was to continuously build, night and day. So that's what she did - she had builders 24/7 working on her small farmhouse in San Jose until the day she died - and so the Winchester House is what we see today. As someone who is native to San Jose and its environs, I believe something quite different. Sarah was clever and innovative (if you visit the house, you will see many interesting features that she invented). But she wasn't an architect so there are stairs that lead nowhere and steps that are too small as well as doors that lead nowhere. I also think that she was agoraphobic. I think that she kept building and creating because she couldn't leave her house - so she built her own world. (The only known photo of her at that time is the one below in her carriage - she would ride in her carriage on the grounds. ) She could certainly afford to indulge her whims - or limitations.

When Sarah died in 1922, she was first buried in California and then her remains, as well as those of her sister, were moved to New Haven CT. She was buried next to her husband and child.

Her will, in 13 sections, signed 13 times (yes, she was superstitious about the number 13, too) left the "Winchester Mystery House" and the contents to her niece, Marian Marriott. After Marian took what she wanted, the rest of the furnishings, as well as the house, were auctioned off. Since February of 1923, the house has been a tourist attraction. The rest of the estate was left to charity.

Scroll down to read a fascinating take on Sarah's life and her "Mystery House."
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Biography
Sarah Winchester
Most commonly known as
Sarah Lockwood (Pardee) Winchester
Full name
Sarah Lockwood Pardee
Other names or aliases
San Jose, Santa Clara County, California United States
Last known residence
Female
Gender
Sarah Winchester was born in in New Haven, New Haven County, Connecticut United States
Birth
Sarah Winchester died on in San Jose, Santa Clara County, California United States
Death
Sarah Winchester was born in in New Haven, New Haven County, Connecticut United States
Sarah Winchester died on in San Jose, Santa Clara County, California United States
Birth
Death
Heart failure (died in her sleep)
Cause of death
Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut United States
Burial / Funeral
Heritage

Ethnicity & Lineage

Caucasian

Nationality & Locations

United States
Childhood
Adulthood

Personal Life

According to an obituary from the Modesto Herald on Sept 7 1922, she "for many years had aided financially the department of the Connecticut state hospital devoted to the treatment of tuberculosis patients as well as being interested in other charitable activities" (Her husband died of TB)

Average Age

Life Expectancy

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From SFGATE Feb 7 2018

The story is so famous most locals can recite it by heart: An eccentric widow, heir to an American rifle fortune, is tortured by the horrors wrought by the weapon. She becomes convinced only building a labyrinthine house will keep her safe and, if construction stops, the spirits will find and kill her. The result of her delusion is the Winchester Mystery House, a monument to madness.

It’s a memorable explanation for the unfathomable strangeness of Sarah Winchester’s mansion. But, as far as historical record goes, there’s scant proof for any of it.


The insanity of Sarah Winchester is, in short, a lie.

The myth of Sarah Winchester begins in 1895, over a decade after Winchester bought a modest farmhouse in San Jose. Although legend would have you believe Winchester was on the run from an army of ghosts, the reason for her move was familial, not supernatural. After the death of her husband, William Wirt Winchester, of tuberculosis in 1881, Sarah decided to leave the East Coast to be with family. Her brother-in-law was the president of Mills College, and two of her sisters already lived in the Bay Area. Some historians believe she initially bought the San Jose farmhouse with an eye for expansion — as the family’s wealthiest member, she could afford to build a place to house them all.

Upon the death of her husband, Sarah, a bright young woman from New Haven, Connecticut, instantly became one of the wealthiest women in the world. Her share of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company amounted to a $20 million inheritance, 50-percent ownership in the company and an income of $1,000 per day (over $25,000 in today’s money). Flush with cash and full of architectural ideas, Winchester set out to renovate her new property.

From the start, she had a hard time squaring her ambitions with conventional architecture. She parted ways with several architects before deciding to start drawing up plans herself. With no professional training, it didn’t always go smoothly.

"I am constantly having to make an upheaval for some reason,” Winchester wrote to her sister-in-law in 1898. “For instance, my upper hall which leads to the sleeping apartment was rendered so unexpectedly dark by a little addition that after a number of people had missed their footing on the stairs I decided that safety demanded something to be done."

Far from an exercise in spiritualism, Winchester’s labyrinth arose because she made mistakes — and had the disposable income to carry on making them. It didn’t help her reputation that she was naturally reserved. While most Bay Area millionaires were out in society, attending galas and loudly donating to charities, Winchester preferred a quiet life with the close family who occasionally lived with her. In the absence of her own voice, locals began to gossip.

By 1895, the house was large enough to draw the speculating eyes of the community. The Feb. 24, 1895 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article that almost single-handedly laid the foundation for the Winchester Mystery House legend.

"The sound of the hammer is never hushed,” it reported. “... The reason for it is in Mrs. Winchester's belief that when the house is entirely finished she will die."

The ghostly motivation that is so famous today is never mentioned. Instead, Mrs. Winchester is strictly concerned with the house as the source of her immortality.

"Whether she had discovered the secret of eternal youth and will live as long as the building material, saws and hammers last, or is doomed to disappointed as great as Ponce de Leon in his search for the fountain of life, is question for time to solve,” the story concludes.

The story was so popular it was picked up by newspapers around the state. But the narrative is dubious at best. For one, the hammers did stop — and often. In one letter to family, Winchester said she’d suspended construction for the summer, as it was too hot to work.

"I became rather worn and tired out and dismissed all the workmen to take such rest as I might through the winter,” she wrote.

Colin Dickey, author of “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places,” speculates the growing rumors around Winchester were rooted in economic uncertainty. In 1893, America was hit with a years-long depression. Unemployment soared, hitting over 40-percent in some states. In Sarah Winchester, the Bay Area found a perfect villain: a reclusive widow, wasting her money on a pointless mansion while people starved outside its gates. Her house, Dickey writes, was a "gaudy reminder of the haves versus the have-nots."

With this in mind, it’s interesting to note the 1895 Chronicle piece focuses not the fountain of youth aspect — that only gets a few lines in a two-column story — but on the home itself. The majority of the article describes elaborate grounds and luxurious furnishings. A 1909 article about Winchester that ran in the Chronicle also notes not the supernatural, but the wastefulness of her endeavors.

"The lonely heiress to millions has found her sole pleasure during the last seven years in directing the efforts of workmen who are called upon to construct one month what they destroy the next,” the story reads.

Some modern-day historians speculate one of the reasons Winchester kept building was because of the economic climate. By continuing construction, she was able to keep locals employed. In her unusual way, it was an act of kindness.

"She had a social conscience and she did try to give back," Winchester Mystery House historian Janan Boehme told the Los Angeles Times in 2017. "This house, in itself, was her biggest social work of all."

Of the dozens of articles we found about the heiress in California newspaper archives, none written during her lifetime mention her desperately hiding from ghosts. Often, she’s described as an eccentric with too much money. But in other cases, she’s praised for her ingenuity. In 1905, the San Francisco Call wrote a glowing article about another real estate project of hers: a medieval castle in San Mateo County.

The house will be “an imitation of the beautiful baronies of feudal times,” the Call proclaimed. It would be “one of the most unique estates in California.”

Although it was ultimately never built, Winchester planned to have a castle with a moat and drawbridge — a novelty, not another escape from water-abhorring spirits.

---

When Sarah Winchester died in 1922, the news made barely a ripple. Back in New Haven, her hometown paper wrote excitedly of the over $1 million gift she’d bequeathed to a local hospital. In the Bay Area, only her small circle of friends mourned her.

“A few days ago, a quiet woman went quietly out of life, leaving a fortune of some millions, all of it for philanthropy,” an unsigned editorial in the Mill Valley Record wrote. “She had no children, so she gave her stocks and bonds, her wealth of whatever form, to the public, in the most advantageous manner possible... This woman was Mrs. Winchester…

“How many thousands of lives will be blessed by Mrs. Winchester's bequest, yet the newspaper accounts of her going and its attendant circumstances were brief and unadorned.”

Winchester’s will gave most of her wealth to charity, and all that remained went to her niece. Her many real estate holdings — she lived in a different, more modest home in her final years — were auctioned off. The famed Winchester mansion fell into the hands of John H. Brown, a theme park worker who designed roller coasters.

One of his inventions, the Backety-Back coaster in Canada, killed a woman who was thrown from a car. After her death, the Browns moved to California. When the Winchester house went up for rent, Brown and his wife Mayme jumped at the chance and quickly began playing up the home’s strangeness.

Less than two years after Sarah Winchester’s death, newspapers were suddenly beginning to write about the mansion’s supernatural powers.

“The seance room, dedicated to the spirit world in which Mrs. Winchester had such faith, is magnificently done in heavy velvet of many colors,” the Healdsburg Tribune wrote in 1924. “... Here are hundreds of clothes hooks, upon which hang many costumes. Mrs. Winchester, it is said, believed that she could don any of these costumes and speak to the spirits of the characters of the area represented by the clothing.”

(It is worth noting here: There are no contemporary accounts of Winchester holding seances in the home, and “Ghostland” writes that the “seance room” was actually a gardener’s private quarters.)

The myth took hold, though, and the home, with its dead ends and tight turns, is easy to imagine as haunted. Although the spirits are fun, the ghosts shroud the real life of a fascinating, creative woman. Winchester was "as sane and clear headed a woman as I have ever known,” her lawyer Samuel Leib said after her death. “She had a better grasp of business and financial affairs than most men."

The legend of Sarah Winchester, Dickey writes in "Ghostland," combines our "uneasiness about women living alone, withdrawn from society" and "the gun that won the West and the violence white Americans carried out in the name of civilization."

"It's a compelling story, perhaps, because it's one in which Sarah Winchester is punished for her transgressions," Dickey writes. "... We've projected shame on her."
Kathy Pinna shared this memory
on Dec 07, 2020 9:38 PM

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Married: Unknown - March 7, 1881
Cause of Separation: William's Death
Ended: New Haven, New Haven County, Connecticut United States
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Kathy Pinna
Kathy Pinna
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Kathy Pinna commented
As difficult as it may be to believe now, San Jose when I was growing up was a small town (maybe 25,000 people) full of orchards and food processing plants. If you said "I'm from San Jose", people would say "where?" and you'd have to say "60 miles south of San Francisco. So when people came to visit, there were only two places to take them: the Rosicrucian Museum and the Winchester Mystery House. Lots of visits - many many times of visiting both places.
Dec 07, 2020 · Reply

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Sarah Winchester, mother to 1 child, passed away on September 5, 1922 in San Jose, California at 83 years old. She was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut. She was born in 1839 in New Haven, Connecticut. According to her family tree, she married William Wirt Winchester. They were married until William's death in 1881 in New Haven, Connecticut. They gave birth to Annie Pardee Winchester.

Refresh this page to see various historical events that occurred during Sarah's lifetime.

In 1839, in the year that Sarah Winchester was born, in Mississippi the first state law was passed allowing married women to own property in their own name. Other states had previously allowed women who were deserted by their husbands to own property, but Mississippi was the first state in which women could now own and control property while their husband was alive and present.

In 1844, by the time she was only 5 years old, on June 6th in London, George Williams set up the first YMCA based on the idea of a healthy "body, mind, and spirit" - what he considered Christian values. Now headquartered in Geneva Switzerland, there are over 57 million worldwide beneficiaries and 125 national associations.

In 1854, by the time she was just 15 years old, on May 30th, the Kansas–Nebraska Act became law. The act created both the Kansas Territory and the Nebraska Territory, which would determine for themselves if they would be pro-slavery or free. Both territories allowed slavery but it caused contention within the territories.

In 1863, when she was 24 years old, in January, British scientist John Tyndall proved the greenhouse effect - which had been widely theorized, but not proven, by scientists.

In 1922, in the year of Sarah Winchester's passing, on November 4th, British Egyptologists George Carnarvon and Howard Carter unearthed the first step leading to King Tutankhamen's tomb in the Valley of the Kings. By the end of the month they had unearthed the steps and broken through the door into the intact tomb. This was the only tomb that had remained unlooted that had been found (and is, to date). Filled with gold, jewels, and ancient everyday items, the find was priceless - in terms of money and history.

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Created on Jun 04, 2020 by Daniel Pinna
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