Paranormal | History | Weird

The Terrifying True Story Of The Winchester Mansion

If you're a horror movie fan, you've probably heard about Winchester, the spine-tingling new ghost movie starring Helen Mirren.

The movie's trailer teases a story about a wealthy heiress haunted by the ghosts who dwell in her incredibly creepy mansion. But the scariest part of this story is that it's true.

Left: the only known photograph of Sarah Winchester. Right: Helen Mirren in 'Winchester.'Bettman Archive

The Winchester Mystery House is a very real mansion in San Jose, California, and every year thousands of visitors tour the spooky building.

It was the product of Sarah Winchester's haunted imagination. Winchester's father was the wealthy founder of the famous rifle company, and her husband was also a successful gun manufacturer.

The Winchester Mystery HouseWikimedia

But by the 1880s they had both died. Living alone in an eight bedroom farmhouse, Winchester began adding extensions to the building.

Then, things took a strange turn that no one can explain. Winchester spent the next 40 years obsessively building, tearing down, and re-building her massive home.

An aerial view of the house.Strux Travel

The final product is totally eerie, and there's a chilling paranormal explanation behind Winchester's designs.

What started out as a two-story cabin eventually morphed into a 160-room mansion covering 24,000 square feet.

It's hard to make heads or tails of the Mystery House.SF Chronicle

The Mystery House features 2,000 doors, including some that open onto brick walls or drop over thin air. There are staircases that lead to nowhere, and visitors have noticed a creepy connection to the number 13 in Winchester's designs.

The famous staircase to nowhere.Winchester Mystery House

The unlucky number shows up everywhere around the house, from the number of steps on her staircases to the designs of her stained glass windows.

Winchester was a recluse, so we're still not sure what drove her to build her giant home. The best explanation from a close friend of the heiress is that she was terrified of ghosts murdered by her family's Winchester rifles.

Winchester Mystery House

Maybe the home was built to confuse the ghosts. Or maybe they instructed Winchester to build it for them.

“Everything I read about her, the people who worked with her loved her and because they were so loyal to her, nobody knows much about her because nobody spilled the beans about her," Helen Mirren told People magazine.

A door to nowhere on the outside of the house.CYA

That loyalty came at a price: to keep work on her mansion underway at a moment's notice, Winchester paid a team of 16 carpenters three times the usual rate, and kept them on-call 24 hours a day.

Some say Winchester's loyal workers still roam the halls of her house, trying to finally finish it. One of them, named the "wheelbarrow ghost," has been spotted by many visitors.

Winchester Mystery House

“Generally he’s dressed in overalls, and he carries an old wooden toolbox or is pushing a wheelbarrow,” Mystery House historian Jason Boehme says.

“The other place he’s been seen is in the basement pushing a wheelbarrow, which is why we call him the wheelbarrow ghost. He’s still looking after the place.”

Are you brave enough to step inside this haunted mansion?

[H/T: People, Smithsonian]