The Winchester Mansion in San Jose, California holds an impressive place in the list of mysterious and rumored haunted locations across the country

Winchester Mystery House

This famously mysterious mansion reportedly harbors a few phantoms from its eccentric history

Paranormal Claims at the
Winchester Mystery House

  • Doors and windows will reportedly slam shut
  • Shadow figures have been seen in hallways
  • The apparition of a man with a wheelbarrow has been spotted around the property 
  • Cold spots have been encountered around the house
  • Visitors to the home have reported hearing disembodied voices
  • People have claimed to be touched by unseen hands in the home
  • Strange anomalies have reportedly appeared in visitors’ photos and videos 
  • Unexplained footsteps have been heard in the house

The History of The Winchester Mystery (House)

Drive far enough down Winchester Boulevard in San Jose, California, and you’ll spot the road’s unmistakable namesake.

The aptly named Winchester Mystery House, a historic Queen Anne mansion, rivals some of its modern neighbors in size. The truly mysterious, maze-like mansion spans 160 rooms with some famously odd and eerie features.

The Mystery House’s strange design is only rivaled by the stories about its history.

Stories that the home was engineered by ghosts themselves and the owner was haunted by the dead. Today, the Mystery House remains a magnet for ghost stories and, well, mystery.

Timeline of Winchester Mystery House's History

Swipe or use timeline points to see Winchester Mystery House through the years

Every part of the Winchester Mansion is ornate and opulent, in contrast with the strange twisting and turning architecture


The history of the Winchester Mystery House begins decades before its construction. In 1862, Sarah Lockwood Pardee married William Winchester and joined a family of enterprising gunsmiths. Just a few years later, in 1866, William’s father founded the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in New Haven, Connecticut.

By the late 1870s, the company had made the whole family extremely wealthy. But, between 1880 and 1881, tragedy would befall the Winchester family.

Shadow figures are a frequent claim in the massive mansion


In 1880, William’s father, Oliver, died and left ownership of the company to him. But, William himself was deathly ill with tuberculosis by then. He succumbed to the disease in early 1881, leaving millions of dollars to his widow, Sarah. In 1885, Sarah Winchester left New Haven for the west.

She bought a small farmhouse in San Jose, California soon after, and started remodeling it. Sarah named the property Llanada Villa, a connection to the area’s Spanish history.

The spirit of a former worker, nicknamed Clyde, can often be found tending to area of the house as he would have in life


Little did anyone know, Sarah’s remodeling work on the eight-room farmhouse would go on for decades. Started in 1886 as an expansion to accommodate family, Sarah Winchester’s add-ons and renovations never ceased. Within just a few years, the farmhouse had transformed into a sprawling Queen Anne Victorian mansion.

The inside was constantly changing as well, with new staircases, doors, and windows being added, even if they went nowhere. By 1900, the mansion sported dozens of added rooms and a tower that reached up seven stories.

Windows were said to be of particular importance to Sarah Winchester as, rumor has it, she believed that they would confuse spirits


Disaster struck the region in 1906 when the San Francisco Earthquake hit. Llanada Villa saw extensive damage from the quake, including the loss of its seven story tower and most of the fourth floor. After the quake, the home was brought back to livable condition, but Sarah spent less time tending to it.

She bought a home closer to family in 1910 and spent much of her time away from her ever-expanding villa. When Sarah Winchester died in 1922, construction on her mansion stopped for good.

Many windows overlook the garden on the grounds


Over the years of constant expansion, Sarah’s mysterious mansion gained a lot of local fame. So much that just a year after Sarah’s death, in 1923, the home was leased and opened for tours. Operated by John and Mayme Brown, this first opening sparked the mansion’s ongoing life as a public attraction.

In 1924, Harry Houdini visited the mansion, and notably referred to it as ‘The Mystery House.’ The moniker stuck, and Llanada Villa soon after became the Winchester Mystery House.

Now that's a weathervane.


In 1970, a large renovation came to the Winchester Mystery House. The project hoped to bring the mansion back to its late 1800s appearance. In recognition, the house was made a state landmark and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Since then, restoration work has kept on going, as has public interest in the house.

And through the endless throngs of tourists, strange stories have come out of the home. Some visitors say the Winchester Mystery House is as spooky as it is sprawling.

The Winchester Mansion in San Jose California is claimed to be haunted by numerous ghosts

Is the Winchester Mystery House Haunted?

Ghost stories have been a fixture of the Winchester Mystery House since before construction even ended. Sarah Winchester’s peculiar project and her reclusive personality fueled rumors about what she was doing…and why.

After her death, and the home’s popularized ‘mystery’ moniker, tales snowballed and turned the Winchester Mystery House into one of the nation’s most perplexing pieces of lore.

Unsettling features of the building like oddly terminated staircases give the building a foreboding and maze-like feeling

Did Ghosts Instruct Sarah Winchester To Build The Mystery House?

There are conflicting tales about just who or what haunted Sarah Winchester during her life. Some claim it was spirits of people killed by Winchester rifles, while others suggest the specters had been following Sarah for much of her life. Regardless, one aspect of the stories remains the same: Sarah built the Mystery House because of the ghosts haunting her.

The motives differ from story-to-story, with some saying she held seances to get design plans from the spirit world every night. In other versions, she was forced to build and communicate with the spirits because if she stopped building, the specters would take her life.

The Winchester Mystery House is an incredibly popular attraction in the San Jose area

Who Haunts the Winchester Mansion?

As the outlandish, eerie stories about the Winchester Mystery House continued to spread, the legend of the house built by ghosts solidified. But, in recent years, simpler explanations have started to be uncovered. Sarah Winchester was known for having an interest in design and architecture, and tales of her seances were widely dispelled by her family.

Many of the old reports of nightly seances and construction-craving ghosts are considered nothing more than myths. But some still say there’s something spooky lingering in the house, even if it’s not specters of Winchester victims or Sarah’s lingering tormentors.

After Winchester's death, construction on the building stopped immediately – seemingly in the middle of work

The Ghost of Clyde in the Winchester Mansion

While they don’t have the paranormal allure of curses from firearm victims, some of the modern ghost stories of the Winchester Mystery House seem to fit its history. Shadow figures and strange apparitions are common ghostly reports around the house.

A well-known figure is said to be the spirit of one of the home’s former construction workers. Named Clyde, this shadowy figure can most often be seen wheeling a wheelbarrow around the house and gardens, still working dutifully on Sarah’s requested expansions. This spirit is also often blamed for the sounds of footsteps echoing through the mansion’s empty corridors.

Strange Shadows & Paranormal Photos

Other shadow figures are known for darting around corners, down long hallways and from room-to-room. While no one can say for sure, some swear that the quick moving shadow looks like the silhouette of Sarah Winchester herself.

Across the years of tours, many tourists have claimed to capture these strange figures, and other unexplained shapes, in the photos taken around the house. From strange light anomalies to figures and faces appearing in windows, photos of the Winchester House can apparently be just as mysterious as the house itself.

Reports of Disembodied Sounds and Eerie Sensations

There are also reports of Winchester House spirits reaching out and touching people. From news reports dating back to the 1980s, tourists and workers alike have claimed to feel the touch of hands that weren’t there. Sometimes the phantom hands brushed over people, while other witnesses claim they pulled at their hair or clothing.

Along with being touchy, the spirits of the Winchester Mystery House can be talkative. Disembodied voices are commonly reported in the house. Oftentimes, the voices will sound distant, coming from some far-flung area of the maze-like manor.

The house is built with a near obsession with the number 13, from panes in windows to doors to stairs

Slamming Doors at Winchester Mansion

Paranormal reports seemingly permeate every level of the massive house. Reports of both seeing and hearing doors slam are frequently reported. There have also been claims of door handles turning and shaking when there’s no one on the other side.

People have also reported windows opening and closing without known causes as well. Cold spots have also been noticed throughout the house, including some that have reportedly moved around and between rooms.

The Enduring Mystery of the
Winchester Mystery House

Between the tall tales about its design to the stark oddity of its structure, the Winchester Mystery House exists happily in a realm where fact and fiction blend together through corridors that would make M.C. Escher giddy.

Between its attractive, historic peculiarity and the lingering ghost stories within, the Winchester House remains a major tourist draw in San Jose. Countless people tour the home each day and several different kinds of tours are offered, even one aimed specifically at the mansion’s spiritual past.

The spooky side of its history remains as popular as ever, with the home’s numerous features on paranormal TV shows like Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and SyFy’s Ghost Hunters helping bring its ghost stories to a national audience.

Though the Winchester Mystery House likely wasn’t designed by ghosts themselves, it still makes for a perfectly one-of-a-kind place for both people and phantoms to get lost in.