Listen to a lecture in a course on architecture.
Today we‘re going to take a look at one of the more unusual houses in America, the Winchester House in San Jose, California. This house was built by Sarah Winchester, the nineteenth-century heiress of the Winchester family. I don‘t think I need to tell you why the Winchester family is famous. That‘s right. The Winchester family is the owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, the company that accrued its wealth in the business of manufacturing Winchester rifles, the rifle of note and notoriety in the American West.
Let‘s take a look at this rather incredible house that Sarah created. She began construction on the home in 1884, and she created an unbelievably wild profusion of rooms, corridors, stairways, doors, and windows. She continued to add to the house until her death in 1922. By the time of her death, the number of rooms had reached 160, and it had…can you believe it…more than 2,000 doors and 10,000 windows.
Why do you think someone might build such a house? Well, here is Sarah‘s story. Sarah Winchester was married to the son of Oliver Winchester, who‘d founded the Winchester Repeating Arms Company and made a huge success of it. In 1881, Sarah‘s husband and their month-old baby daughter died. Because Sarah‘s husband had been heir to the Winchester fortune, on his death, Sarah inherited the fortune. The fortune notwithstanding, Sarah was devastated by the loss of her beloved husband and daughter.
In the aftermath of her loss, Sarah was convinced by a trusted advisor that the family‘s misfortune was due to the fact that the family‘s massive fortune had been obtained through the manufacture of weapons responsible for uncountable deaths. Sarah became convinced that the family was being haunted by the ghosts of those victims of the Winchester rifle. To thwart the ghosts that Sarah believed were haunting her family, it seems that her plan was to build such a confusing house that the ghosts who were haunting it wouldn‘t be able to find their way through it. Sarah dedicated the remainder of her life to adding onto the house in such a way as to make the ghosts get lost and disappear.
This is the story of how the Winchester House came to be the way it is. Whether or not you believe in ghosts yourself, and…well…not everyone does…you can see that Sarah did. The world of architecture has one huge, very tangible, and eye-catching reminder of Sarah‘s belief in ghosts.