Monday, February 29, 2016

HGB Ep. 109 - Winchester Mystery House

Moment in Oddity - Scratching Fanny
Suggested by: Robert Sherfield

The Cock Lane Ghost or - as she is more commonly known - Scratching Fanny, was a haunting that occurred in 1762 in London. The story behind the haunting is scandalous. William Kent was married to Elizabeth Lynes. She had become pregnant and tragically, she died while giving birth to their child. The heartbroken William soon took up with a new woman: Elizabeth's sister, Fanny. GASP! At the time, it was forbidden by law for the two to get married. That didn't stop them from living in sin together. They rented a place from a man named Richard Parsons on Cock Lane. Parsons soon borrowed a huge sum of money from William. There was no way he could ever pay it back. William had to go away on business and while he was gone Fanny became frightened by strange scratching noises on the walls. She thought for sure that her sister was haunting her. When William returned, they moved out. Tragedy struck again for William when Fanny died from small pox shortly thereafter. William began to press Parsons to pay back his debt. Parsons began telling everyone that William had poisoned Fanny with arsenic. He said he knew this to be the case because Fanny herself had told them, as a ghost. He claimed that she was haunting the Cock Lane property. He said she was scratching on the walls and that her full bodied apparition would appear. People started gathering outside on Cock Lane every day for a glimpse at the hauntings. The roads were impassible because of all the people. An investigation was begun to see if William was indeed a murderer and if the hauntings were really taking place. Was Scratching Fanny the real deal? After all was said and done, it was proved that Scratching Fanny was a fraud. It was Parsons teen aged daughter Elizabeth who had been scratching at the walls. Her father had made her do it. The fact that a man would force his daughter to pretend to be a ghost and that he would spread such an amazing and fraudulent story, that was meant to accuse a man of murder, all to get out of paying back a debt, certainly is odd!

This Day in History - Hattie McDaniels Wins Oscar

On this day, February 29th, in 1940, Hattie McDaniels becomes the first African-American person to be nominated for and win an Academy Award. Hattie was born in Kansas in 1893 to two former slaves. She was one of the first African-American women on the radio in the 1920s. Her break out role was in 1934's Judge Priest. In 1940, she won the role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind. This was the role for which she won the Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar. She said she hoped to be a credit to her race in her acceptance speech. Some were critical of her performance claiming that it enforced stereotypes. Her career took a downturn after this and she went back to radio in 1947 starring in The Beulah Show. She died on October 26, 1952 in Los Angeles, California from breast cancer.

Winchester Mystery House (Demanded by listeners *chuckle*) Research Assistant April Rogers-Krick and Ronda Williams

The Winchester Mystery House or Winchester Mansion is one of the most unique and bizarre homes ever built. The mystery part of the name refers to the interior infrastructure. It truly is a mystery why certain elements were constructed. There are stairways that lead to nowhere, doors that open to walls and windows on the interior of the house. Numerology plays a significant part in the design as well. Legends and rumors permeate the history of the home. Was the weird construction an elaborate attempt to fool spirits to keep them at bay? Many of the rumors about the house include tales of haunting activity. Tours are very popular here and listener Ronda Williams shares her experience with the Flashlight Tour in this episode. Come with us as we explore the mysteries, history and hauntings of the Winchester Mansion.

The story of the Winchester Mansion begins with Oliver Winchester. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1810. He originally went into the clothing business and sold dress shirts. In 1857, he purchased the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company and he changed out the name Volcanic for his own name. From 1866 through the turn of the twentieth century, the Winchester lever-action repeating rifle was a legendary part of America’s Old West. It was known as “the gun that won the West.”  The Winchester rifle was used during the Civil War and was used by American settlers. The gun helped to make Oliver Winchester a wealthy man.William Wirt Winchester was born in 1837. He was Oliver's son and was a part of the Winchester company for his entire life. When Oliver died on December 10, 1880, the Winchester company was worth over $3 million and his personal fortune another $1.5 million.  He left his estate in equal thirds to his wife, his daughter, and his only son, William.

William married Sarah Lockwood Pardee in 1862. She was a 4 foot 10-inch 90 pound debutante.  Sarah was born in 1839, played the piano well, read voraciously and spoke four languages. William and Sarah had one daughter, Annie, in 1866. Annie died of marasmus, a disease that prevents the human body from breaking down protein and the afflicted starves to death. Sarah watched her daughter starve to death until Annie passed away at six weeks old. She is buried in New Haven, Conneticut. It took Sarah ten years to get past the death of her only child. In late March 1881, just three months after his father’s death, William succumbed to tuberculosis, leaving his one-third of the Winchester fortune to his widow, Sarah. She would make about $1,000 a day, from the Winchester Company.

After William's death, Sarah was encouraged by a friend to visit a medium so that she could speak to William again. Spiritualism was all the rage at the time, with seances taking place in the homes of many a Victorian parlor. Sarah already was a superstitious woman, as will be reflected later in the design of the Winchester Mansion. The medium she consulted was named Adam Coons. Sarah explained to him that she worried that the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles would come after to seek revenge. Coons supported this belief, although there was obviously no proof for this. He and Sarah both thought all the deaths in her family were because of these spirits, but disease was a part of life back then. Dying of tuberculosis was common as we all know. Coons encouraged Sarah to sell her home in Conneticut and move to California. She did move with her sister and claimed that William guided her to the Santa Clara Valley.

Sarah moved into a small, eight room farmhouse situated amongst apricot and prune orchards in San Jose, California in 1884 and became a millionaire recluse. There was something else that legend claims the medium told Sarah. He explained that when she bought her new home, she must continue construction on the place as long as she lived, so the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles would have somewhere to live and be pacified. Based on the interior of the house, we would think that the construction was meant to confuse the ghosts. Another legend says that Sarah was a Spiritualist who believed that as long as she kept building onto the house she wouldn’t die. Sarah almost immediately began construction on the small farmhouse. A third, then fourth story appeared above the trees. Towers and strange abutments materialized. A fifth and sixth story were added. The ongoing building was strange enough but the mismatched exterior architecture of the constantly growing Victorian styled house had the locals, who loved to gossip, convinced that the widow Winchester was more than just an eccentric recluse.

Neighbors would peek through the elaborate gardens.  They watched the construction in amazement, but most never saw the inside.  Sarah rarely invited guests into her home.  Gossiping servants added to the stories of her eccentric reclusive lifestyle and obsession with ghosts within the community.  Sarah’s neighbors and other residents of San Jose believed her as crazy as she was rich. Sarah ruled her household with a firm hand.  She would often spy on her staff, but few would quit their jobs, because she paid high wages.  All the employees, except for her personal secretary and the butler who served dinner, were forbidden to see her unless she wore a veil.  Even an accidental glimpse was instant dismissal. Servants needed maps to navigate the miles and miles of corridors. Hidden passageways were concealed by wall panels.  Behind one closet door was a solid wall.  Behind another was access to 30 more rooms.  Some doors opened onto unexpected dangers, such as a two-story drop to the floor below.  A fireplace chimney stopped short of the ceiling, a bathroom door was made of clear glass, and a wide balcony that suddenly narrowed to mere inches.

Whether Sarah was crazy or eccentric, she was rich, so she had the luxury of following her every desire.  Sarah arrived in San Jose with $20 million and in 1897 when Mrs. Oliver Winchester died she inherited 2000 more shares of Winchester stock. Sarah expected only quality materials and craftsmanship.  She ordered Tiffany glass designed with her favorite flower - the daisy, French wallpaper, Belgian crystal, and West African mahogany.  Redwood is used throughout the house. *Fun fact: Redwood is termite resistant.* Doorknobs were made of copper, silver, and gold.  She also had installed an automated elevator, the first seen on the west Coast.  She used only the latest technologies, including a few of her own inventions. When Sarah found a fabric she liked in town, she would buy it all up, so no one else in town would have the same design.The plaster was made with horse hair making it more insulated. One fireplace is inspired by a pagoda and made from West African Mahogany. The metal cupboard is the Spiritualist Society's Spiderweb. The brick is actually Minnesota Pipestone, which is used in the manufacture of peace pipes, and it is etched so that it appears to be brick.

The house grew to seven stories with the installation of an observation tower. No official plans were ever drawn up of the Victorian style house and the foreman John Hansen followed Mrs. Winchester's plans rather than common sense or his own expertise over the years causing chaos. The floor plan changed constantly.  Many structures were built, torn down, then built again. Additions stick out in all directions. New wings were erected within inches of old ones.  A bell tower in the yard was eventually surrounded by the house. This made the bell tower accessible only through a secret underground tunnel.

The mansion is full of many oddities.  One room has a gaslight operated by an electric switch.  Another small room contains four fireplaces, four hot-air registers from a central furnace and two gas heaters.  There are stairways that lead into solid, blank walls and ceilings. Many of the 10,000 windows open onto solid walls and there are cupboards that open into another room like windows. There are 52 skylights, many opening into the floors of rooms above them. Sarah had only three mirrors in the immense mansion to appease the good spirits. The “séance room” has one entrance and three secret exits.

The Grand Ballroom was built almost entirely without the use of nails and contains two leaded stain glassed windows with mysterious quotes from the works of Shakespeare. The 7/11 Staircase goes down seven steps and then up eleven and in the end, you remain on the second floor. The Switchback Staircase is a winding staircase with 44 steps. In any other house, climbing that amount of stairs would put one three stories higher. In the Winchester Mansion, those steps are only two inches high and only rise nine feet. The reason for this could be very practical. Sarah had arthritis. *Fun fact: The house had to be brought up to code in 1949 and fire sprinklers had to be installed without the benefit of blueprints. There are 7.5 miles of piping in the system.*

And then there is the number thirteen. Almost every room is paneled with 13 sections, almost every stairway has 13 steps, most of the chandeliers have 13 lights, most of the outside rooms contain 13 windows, and there are 13 bathrooms. Nearly all of the windows contained 13 panes of glass. There are also 13 hooks each with a robe hung on it. The front drive is lined with thirteen palm trees. She even added 13 drainage holes to a hand-painted Italian antique sink.

Tragedy struck on April 18,1906. An earthquake that more than likely would have measured between 8.1 to 8.4 on the Richter Scale, struck California. It's effects were felt from Los Angeles to Northern Oregon. The Winchester Mansion held up fairly well considering the chaos in which it was built, but the observation tower toppled and the house was lowered to four stories. The front area of the house was badly damaged and Sarah had the entire front portion of the house sealed off because she thought the spirits were angry with her since they did not protect the house nor her from the quake.  She herself was trapped for several hours in her Daisy Room after the earthquake. The front entrance was never used again.

Sarah died on September 5th, 1922 and the construction immediately stopped. The construction had gone on round the clock for thirty-eight years. In the end, she had spent $5.5 million on construction. There are 160 rooms and the house covers 2400 square feet. There are 10,000 windows, which are more windows than the Empire State Building contains. There are 2,000 doors, 52 skylights, 47 fireplaces, 40 bedrooms, 40 staircases, 17 chimneys, 13 bathrooms, 6 kitchens and 3 elevators. The hammering ceased and left half driven nails sticking out from unfinished lumber.  The house was quickly sold and Sarah's furnishings were sent off to auction, meaning that the furniture in the mansion currently is not original. The Mansion is now a historical landmark.  Open for tours now, psychics, tourists, and tour guides all report strange occurrences in the mansion. *Fun fact: Harry Houdini visited the Winchester Mansion in 1924.*

Sarah did not leave the home after her death.  She reportedly haunts the home.  Brent Miller was caretaker of the home from 1973-1981 and he heard breathing and footsteps in the room where Sarah Winchester died. This is not necessarily the room she always slept in because Sarah slept in a different bedroom every night hoping to avoid contact with the ghosts. She also had a ritual that she followed to keep spirits from following her into the Seance Room. At exactly midnight, the bell in the tower would toll.  This would signal Sarah to scurry along the twisting corridors and secret passageways.  Up and down elevators and odd-sized staircases.  In and out of windows.  Her roundabout route discourages anyone from following her.  With a final glance over her shoulder she would enter the Séance Room through a one-way door.  This room was deep in the heart of the mansion and was off limits to all but her.  At least all the living.  This is where it is said she would receive her building instructions from the spirits.  After the meetings, she often hosted a dinner party, with 13 settings.  Her chefs fixed gourmet meals, which were served on gold plates.  It is not known if her guests were living or dead.

Most haunting activity is centered on the third floor. A tour guide said she had once been taking a group of young boys around the house and when they got to the third floor, one boy claimed about being extremely cold. He started to shiver. The other boys felt his skin and he was ice cold. None of the rest of them felt cold. When the group left the third floor, the boy warmed right up. A friend of Miller's caught a picture of an apparition in coveralls when he came to visit.  Could this be the carpenter ghost that has been seen laying the floor? Another caretaker turned off all the lights and locked up one night and when he got into his car he glanced at the house and saw that every light on the third floor was lit.

Unused kitchens sometimes give off the scent of a warm meal, particularly chicken soup.  A manager at the Mansion named Janet started working here when she was a teenager. One day she was mopping when she heard bustling coming from one of the kitchens. She walked into the kitchen and found it empty. She went back to mopping and again heard pots and pans banging around. She checked the kitchen and found it empty again. It happened a third time and then stopped. Janet also had another freaky experience. She was watering plants and heard a loud rapping several times. She checked each  of the three times that it happened to see if anyone else was in the house with her, but she was alone. The final time she heard the rapping, she figured out it was coming from the roof area. She went up to investigate and something closed and locked the door behind her. That door has only two keys. Janet had one of the keys with her, thankfully, so she could unlock the door. The other key was with the other manager. She called him to verify that he had the key. He did. So who locked the door?

Paranormal investigators report feeling icy spots, hearing organ music, seeing orbs and locked doorknobs turn and moving lights. Some windows slam shut hard enough that they shatter. A tour guide named Elizabeth was walking to the Oriental Rooms that contain items from the Orient, that were common in Victorian homes. She claims that something compelled her to turn around and she looked at the fireplace that had been behind her. She noticed an elbow on the mantle and realized it was attached to a full body apparition of a twenty something young woman, wearing period clothing from the 1920s. She was around 5'4" with dark hair. Elizabeth looked away and then looked again and the ghost was still standing there. She was sure of what she saw. When she looked away and then looked back one more time, the female figure had disappeared. The staff believes that the ghost belongs to Marion Marriott who was Sarah's niece and personal secretary.

According to ghost lore the mansion’s odd features make sense.  Spirits like to use fireplaces to enter and exit a place and it is said they dislike mirrors.  The mansion contains 47 fireplaces but only three mirrors.  Ghosts do not cast shadows so Sarah arranged light fixtures so that the ghosts would not feel conspicuous and humiliated because they did not cast shadows. Legend claims that the mansion also reflects Sarah’s attempts to control which ghosts visited.  By catering to their wishes and providing extravagant luxuries she welcomed good spirits.  The confusing floor plans and oddities such as hand carved wooden posts and railing installed upside down were meant to discourage the spirits of outlaws killed by Winchester rifles.

Superstition also caused Sarah to board up a cellar room where she kept a wonderful wine cellar. One evening she went to get a bottle to enjoy and noticed a black hand print on the wall. She assumed that an evil ghost had made the print. Common sense tells us that it was more than likely one of the dozens of workmen that came through the house. Nevertheless, she walled up the room and no one has ever been able to locate the wine cellar to this day.

Some people claim that the story about Sarah fearing spirits was baloney. In the 1950s, a series of interviews of Sarah's nephew William Winchester Merriman were conducted by an author and the book claims she had not been obsessed with gun-fearing ghosts and spirits.  According to the author, William, said his aunt had simply decided to take up the hobby of architecture to get her mind off her past traumas. The author also claims he explained that many of the bizarre things in the house had been added after her death to make the house more intriguing when it opened for public tours.  This story also claims that she had actually lived in a houseboat at the tip of San Francisco Bay at times.  This has since been debunked as the author taking creative license to sell more books and articles.

One of our listeners, Ronda Williams, went on the Flashlight Tour at the mansion a couple of weeks ago and she shared her experiences and pictures with us. Ronda said, "Before the tour we had some time and were strolling around the garden. My boyfriend saw a light hovering on a wall and he couldn’t find any source for it. I didn’t see that unfortunately, but he did. This picture shows him looking at the wall in question. If I knew he was seeing an orb I would have pointed the camera elsewhere!"

Photo courtesy of Ronda Williams

During the tour, Ronda said a bunch of people including her boyfriend heard faint music. It wasn’t electronic sounding like it came from a phone. Neither I nor the tour guide heard it, but she said it’s common. Ronda took a picture of the Wheelbarrow Man. She said, "This photo I took of another photo. The man who is highlighted was one of the groundskeepers and is a spirit called “Wheelbarrow Ghost”, He’s been seen by different people over the years pushing his barrow around the grounds. When I took the photo it was completely lit up but the actual image on my phone mainly highlights the Wheelbarrow Guy.” Kind of cool I thought. A weird trick of lighting that didnt really make sense when I took it."

Photo courtesy of Ronda Williams

Other photos Ronda took during the tour:

Photo courtesy of Ronda Williams

Photo courtesy of Ronda Williams
Comments from our listeners who have visited the house:

Beth Edwards Lang: Very interesting story. Kinda feel asorry for the lady always thinking something was after her. We did the flashlight tour on Friday the 13th. The house is amazing.

Michelle DePriest: It was an amazing home! Unfortunately our guide really rushed us! I never had any experiences there (I think I might have at the Whaley House) but if you look on you tube they have a video of the chandelier moving "on its own"

Shelley Emary: What a place! Windows in the floor, doors that open to walls, doors that open to a three story drop... etc etc.... I didn't have any experiences though... but what an amazing place!

April Gaea Garaci: It's so gorgeous the architecture alone is worth the visit but the history and supernatural stories makes it even better

Lianna Sapien: Amazeballz! And it's short person friendly! My brother felt a presence behind him during a tour when he was behind a door that had no knob on his side. Regardless of the creepy, it's just a fun house!

Lisa Linderman: I went in summer of 2014. Took the regular tour and the behind the scenes tour. I never felt creeped out or scared, had no "experiences" except for missing a bottom stair and falling into a post. To say I fell in love with the place is putting it mildly. So beautiful, and I actually found it quite peaceful. I am determined to go back, and if I could swing it I would absolutely stay overnight. Incidentally, I was strongly persuaded both by the tour and by some poking about that the "being pursued by ghosts" was either entirely fabricated or at least extremely exaggerated. She was unbelievably rich, bored, lonely, and eccentric. And possibly a Freemason...that would explain some features of the house too. I love Sarah Winchester, and her amazing house. But Dean will always be my favorite.

There is no doubt that the Winchester Mansion reflects the eccentric nature of a fascinating woman. Did she really fear bad spirits? Did she take construction advice from friendly spirits? Is she still in her home in the afterlife? Have other spirits made this mansion their home? Is the Winchester Mystery House haunted? That is for you to decide!

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