Hello to all those faithfully reading and hopefully enjoying this effort to make even the worst horror movie more watcha... aw, screw that - I'm not that good. If a movie makes you cringe because yet another batch of unlikable teens that are pushing 30 are inching toward their deaths, having a party no one does anywhere ever, a paranormal movie is boring you to tears with unending pans of empty rooms, or thanks to CGI technology when people finally bite it, their blood squirts everywhere except on the victim, the ground, the people next to them... you're in good company and this is the right place for you.

Monday, March 4, 2013

TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION





The Winchester House

(Note: This story has been updated as of 7/28/14 as I found some interesting information plus plans for a movie based on this house.) When I was little, among the many terrible stories I was told (no Goldilocks for me, they were usually spooky or grisly) was the story of Mrs. Winchester's mansion in California. I was told she was a demonized woman who compulsively had to keep building on her house or she would die.

I was also told that one day her workers didn't show and sure enough, she croaked. Of course, most of that was total BS, but the tale of Mrs. Winchester is still pretty strange and she obviously had some serious issues. Or did she? Recent info I dug up presents quite a different picture. But here is what everybody was told (mostly by the tour guides who were trying to sell tickets into the 'house of mystery')...

Sarah was the wife of the late William Winchester - yup, THAT Winchester, gun magnate. So she was extremely wealthy upon his death just from the inheritance alone. She also received  nearly 50 percent ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, giving her an income of roughly $1,000 per day, roughly equivalent to about $30,000 a day in 2012. That was one wealthy woman.


Before the 1906 earthquake...
There are a lot of stories as to why she felt compelled to take that money and sink it into a mansion that just didn't quit. When the extremities were reached, she created new extremities. Why? Some claim that the shock of losing her husband and baby daughter (some say she was told they were killed by the spirits of the Indians killed by a Winchester rifle) was too much and she went nuts. Despite that, on the front lawn of her California mansion stands a statue of an Indian, supposedly her greatest fear.

Some claim a psychic told her that her late husband commanded her to build a house and to never stop. Others say that a psychic claimed if she stopped building she would die. Most either dispute the details or the whole thing. But according to 'experts', Mrs. Winchester was afraid of something, and it ruined her life. After she moved into the mansion the only person allowed to see her was the servant who served her meals. There is one photo of her after she moved in, captured only because one of the servants hid in the bushes and took it without her knowledge.


Window in the floor...
Truth be told there is no solid story - only speculation. It was said that Mrs. Winchester did believe in the spirit world and had a special private seance room built in her new mansion and was thought to have consulted with 'them' daily. It is thought - again not solid truth but thought - that the many twists and turns, the doors and stairs leading to nowhere and other incongruities were specifically designed to 'confuse' spirits so they could not follow or find her. In like manner she also slept in different bedrooms in order to... well, you know. That was the story told anyway. 

It has been revealed by Richard Allan Wagner, a learned student in Philosophy and World History, that Mrs. Winchester, who had already been considered a genius because of the way she created designs for the house, to actually have been following the works of Francis Bacon as throughout the house, symbols and numeric cipher codes that he used are seen in some of the many 'puzzles' she incorporated into the house.

She was also a Freemason and Rosicrucian, philosophy being a big part of her life. In fact the so-called 'seance' room is actually thought to have been a room where she could meditate, not seek help from the spirits as claimed.


Stairway to nowhere... or to another dimension?
It is true that she constantly built, tore down and built again, but saying she did it without a plan, a scheme or any kind of theme may be a wrong assumption. Any thought she had of what she wanted built she would write on napkins and it would be up to the carpenters to figure out how to make it work. That is genius of a high order, to be able to think in three dimensions, scribble it down, and have it built to specifications.


Elaborate ballroom...
After years of construction the mansion grew to nine stories. It is said that in all there are roughly 160 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, 2 ballrooms (one completed that could hold 100 couples and one unfinished) as well as 47 fireplaces, There are 1,200 window frames and 10,000 window panes, 17 chimneys (with evidence of two others), two basements and three elevators. It has gold and silver chandeliers and hand-inlaid parquet floors and trim. There were all sorts of secret passages. There are 1,000 cabinets, 950 doors, 40 staircases and 52 skylights. 

Sarah's bedroom, well, one of them...
The home's conveniences included steam and forced-air heating, modern indoor toilets and plumbing, push-button gas lights, Mrs Winchester's personal (and only) hot shower from indoor plumbing. There are also three elevators, one of which was powered by a rare horizontal hydraulic elevator piston. Most elevator pistons are vertical, as this takes up less space, but to improve its function, she discarded the norm and included this model for its function over fashion. Though the home was built with the strangest of intentions, Mrs. Winchester never skimped on the many bizarre adornments that she believed contributed to its architectural beauty and also nods to the works of Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, and other geniuses.

Thirteen stones in a thirteen strand web...
Many of the stained glass windows were created by the Tiffany company. Some were designed specifically for her, and others by her, including the renowned "spider web" window. This piece features her favorite shape, the spider's web, and features repetition of the number 13, which was one of her preoccupations and another piece to this elaborate puzzle. A second famed window was designed by Tiffany himself for Mrs Winchester. This window was carefully designed so that when the light hits the crystals just so, the room will be filled with thousands of rainbow prisms. However, it is located in a room with no direct light, as well as being built facing a wall. It has never seen the light of day.

The cost for such constant building has been estimated at about $75 million in today's dollars. Construction carried on 24 hours a day for 38 years until her death in 1922 - immediately after which the hammers and saws were finally put down and construction stopped.


Today the six story home (the upper three stories were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake) is owned by Winchester Investments LLC and it retains unique touches that reflect Mrs Winchester's beliefs and her reported preoccupation with warding off malevolent spirits. These spirits are said to have directly inspired her as to the way the house should be built. The number thirteen and spider web motifs, which carried spiritual significance for her, occur throughout the house. That's what those who make money showing the house want you to believe anyway. Why else would you want to look through someone's mansion if there's no supernatural element about it?

For example, an expensive imported chandelier that originally had 12 candle-holders was altered to accommodate 13 candles, wall clothes hooks are in multiples of 13, and a spider web-patterned stained glass window contains 13 colored stones. The sink's drain covers also have 13 holes. In tribute, the house's current groundskeepers have created a topiary tree shaped like the numeral 13. Also, every Friday the 13th the large bell on the property is rung 13 times at 1 o'clock p.m. (13:00) in tribute to Winchester. Kind of sounds like something from a Lewis Carroll story, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, the maligning of this poor woman's reputation continues even now. As of 7/28/14, development of a movie about the house is continuing by Hammer films, who bought the rights in 2012. Filmmaking brothers Michael and Peter Spierig have come on board to direct “Winchester,” a supernatural thriller. The brothers are rewriting a script by Tom Vaughan that tells the story of Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester firearms fortune.

I shudder to wonder what they'll do to poor Mrs. Winchester's reputation with this one.