Beyond the Ghost Stories of the Winchester Mystery House

(gentle piano music)

- [Walter] Winchester Mystery House is a crown jewel

in the Santa Clara Valley.

- This house, an amazing house,

was built by Sarah Lockwood Pardee,

who married into the Winchester family.

- This place has been open for tour since 1923.

- You're going to see unusual things, like this.

- [Walter] There's architecture,

there's incredible craftsmanship, it's a very unique house.

- Some people believe that these were Sarah's methods

for dealing with unfriendly ghosts, baffling the spirits.

We don't really know.

After 36 years of remodeling,

maybe these are just a few of her building mistakes.

- It's an incredible story, you know,

it's a true American story.

- Sarah Lockwood Pardee Winchester

was the heiress to the Winchester fortune,

and she came out to California in about 1884-85,

and she bought herself a little house

and started a grand remodeling project.

(adventurous Western music)

And it never really ended.

So, is everybody ready to discover the unusual,

the bizarre, and the beautiful?

The house once stood seven stories high.

The 1906 earthquake caused a great deal of structural damage

to the top floors of the house.

Sarah was terrified.

At that time, all of this was removed,

she took all of it away.

And, after that, she built out instead of up.

This house grew over the years to encompass

about 24,000 square feet of space.

We can't be sure, there's no blueprints, there's no plans.

It's not just big, it's huge.

(mysterious electronic music)

The exterior is American Queen Anne, no question.

It was almost as if they had a checklist.

Turrets, check, columns, check, finials, check.

It's Queen Anne, but the interior is absolutely

aesthetic movement. (jaunty piano music)

So during the aesthetic movement, they didn't see any reason

why useful, everyday objects shouldn't be beautiful.

They felt that beautiful surroundings were

morally uplifting, they improved people's quality of life.

And so they decorated things, and not just,

you know, things you would expect to be decorated,

doorknobs with wonderful designs on them.

Hinges, everywhere you look there's something

that has a special detail to it.

That radiator, aside from being useful,

is also kind of pretty.

You'll find natural images: leaves, flowers,

inspects, birds.

Sometimes it's playful,

sometimes it's reminiscent of another culture.

Persian, Moorish, Egyptian, Greek,

and especially Japanese.

You'll see bamboo, all sorts of Asian painted wallpaper.

We recently reinstalled the original mantelpieces,

they're japanned, which means they're painted black,

and then they have incised decoration painted gold,

decorative tiles with the cherry blossoms,

the sunflowers in the vases with the fish images on them.

You can see there's also some of the finest

stained glass windows in the house right there.

The Japanese influence was very asymmetrical,

which is another aesthetic motif.

Another aspect of Sarah's decorating genius

was her love of stained glass.

She actually ordered about 25 windows

that were all variations on a theme.

And this is an example of one of her

beautiful stained glass windows.

They say it's the most expensive one in the mansion.

It's not only beveled crystal,

it's got what they call zipper cuts

all around the edges to detail it.

I mean, this is fine craftsmanship.

That particular window has 13 blue and gold stones in it.

Some of these were installed,

some were removed during remodeling projects.

Some of them were never used.

I've never seen a collection to rival Sarah's anywhere,

not here, not in Europe.

The so-called aesthetic movement was in high gear here,

it was just an explosion of creative energy.

This fireplace contains so many different decorative media.

It's got beautiful decorative tiles,

it's got carved wood, it's got beveled crystal.

It was art for the sake of art

was what this movement embraced.

This was the decorative art, windows, textiles,

hardware, wallpaper.

This is your first example

of the Lincrusta Walton wallcovering.

Sarah loved Lincrusta.

This was something elegant for the wealthy,

and it was used in places like rooms in the White House,

it was used in staterooms on the Titanic.

You can see three different patterns in here,

and you can see how elegant it can make a room look.

She started putting it all over the house,

on the walls, you'll find it on the ceilings,

in combination with wood paneling.

You can see that wonderful Lincrusta in some of the panels,

it looks kind of like a cosmic explosion up there.

The grand ballroom supposedly cost about $9,000 to build.

The floor is beautiful in here.

The edges have rosewood, oak, ash, maple.

The interesting thing in this room

you might wanna take a look at,

behind this beautiful carved door

is a very utilitarian metal door, behind that is a safe,

another door, finally, the interior of the safe.

She was protecting something in here,

and, according to legend, when she died,

all they found was the obituaries of her husband

and daughter, and a lock of her baby daughter's hair.

Sarah and William only had one child named Annie,

who sadly died when she was only about six weeks' old.

15 years later, William himself died of tuberculosis.

Sarah pretty much grieved for the rest of her life.

It was very difficult for her.

We're going to head to the seance room.

This is, according to legend,

where Sarah would communicate with the spirits.

Spiritualism was a huge movement during her entire lifetime.

It started in Europe, came to the United States,

and was fed by the Civil War.

Women were losing their sons,

their brothers, their husbands,

and they were looking for some kind of solace.

She wasn't unusual if she practiced it.

This exit was built to look like a cabinet.

It is actually an exit

that leads into the closet of the next room.

The house itself has 2,000 doors,

10,000 windows,

it has 47 fireplaces, 40 staircases.

Through the doorway here you can see

another one of Sarah's architectural oddities.

Staircase begins here, goes up, turns and ends right there.

Although Sarah's house is unusual

and it teems with unexpected corners

and stairways that go nowhere and things like that,

it really was, in many ways, very well thought-out.

Sarah was a very petite woman, she stood four foot ten.

She also suffered from rheumatoid arthritis,

which, in her later years, made it impossible for her

to lift her feet more than a couple of inches off the floor,

so she devised these small steps,

and we call them easy risers.

She worked things so that the world adapted to her.

She had, for example, three elevators in her home.

She was constantly trying out new ideas.

During Sarah's life, most people used bathtubs.

She ordered a special shower to be made.

It was being advertised as a needle shower,

and the water came out

from little holes in those U-shaped pipes.

And, generally, in those days,

women weren't encouraged to shower.

Picture the tiny Sarah with her rheumatoid arthritis

trying to get into a bathtub.

It would have been horrible.

So this would have been a godsend for someone like her.

Plumbing was extravagant for the time,

and one of the things she did was to put faucets everywhere.

She loved gardening

and she had these two indoor conservatories where,

as she got older, she could garden here in the house

and not have to go outside.

This room in particular is interesting because of the floor.

She had wonderful systems for watering her plants,

where she could lift up her floorboards

and put the plants down on an underfloor made of metal,

water the plants on the floor, and it would then

the water be carried away by special drainpipes.

(dreamy harpsichord music)

You'll notice there is a hose reel and a faucet.

Garden hoses were a brand new innovation.

She not only seemed to wanna make her life better,

but her servants' as well.

In order to keep her maids from having to be

constantly sweeping dust out of the corners,

she put these little corner pieces in,

so that the dirt never gets in there.

You have built-in laundry trays.

They have built-in scrub boards, built-in soap holders,

and hot and cold running water.

And this was state of the art at that time.

Every fireplace, except for the gas,

has a very clever door in the bottom,

but all the ash goes down a tube,

ends up in the basement somewhere,

and there's a little door down there

that you can then clean out.

- I guess today you'd call her an early adapter.

There are systems that she could communicate

with her team throughout the house.

- She could press a button like this anywhere in the house

and bell would ring, (bell buzzing)

and a number would drop into the window,

and that would tell the servants

where they could find Sarah in the house.

She also had a system of call tubes that went

through the walls, and you could actually

hear people, say, on the fourth floor,

talking to you down on the ground floor.

So you would be aware if someone wanted to talk to you,

the bell would ring, you'd come to the tube,

and it's perfectly audible.

They would send them down to the basement, these tubes.

Then they would shoot across, you know,

under the house, and then come up

in the part of the house where she wanted them.

- Sarah Winchester was a true pioneer.

She was a woman ahead of her time.

- I think she just enjoyed the process so much,

she just wanted to keep on working.

So she would get different ideas

and they would try them out,

and if it worked, great,

if not, they would tear it down and try something new.

- You know, in Sarah Winchester's lifetime,

this house was in a constant state of becoming.

You know, for 38 years construction never stopped.

Sarah Winchester would be so proud to know that,

for 93 years, millions of guests have come into her home

and admired it and been inspired by it,

and, for the next 93 years, that's gonna continue.