The House of Spirits

after Sarah Winchester, 1839-1922

When I was born this town was young;
The street lamps had yet to be hung,
The infant dust lay in the street
And slept upon work-hardened feet
In coarse boots in the sun.

Great rooms will not bring back my son
Or husband; living has become
One endless staircase, incomplete.
(When I was born this town was young.)

I sought domestic refuge from
The spirits, every single one
A victim of my husband's heat,
His enterprise, his greatest feat,
the way the West was won--
When I was born, this town was young.

Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company fortune, believed that her family was cursed after she lost both her husband and her son. She sought the guidance of a medium, who told her to move west and build a house for all the spirits--the ghosts of all those poor souls killed with Winchester rifles--and that should Mrs. Winchester ever cease construction on the house, she would surely die. Mrs. Winchester did as she was told, and moved to San Jose, California, where she began building what came to be known as the Winchester Mystery House. Construction did not stop until the heiress died at the age of 83; years of useless additions turned the house into a labyrinth of doors that led nowhere, staircases to the ceiling, and everywhere windows, steps, ladder rungs, in multiples of thirteen. You can learn more about the Winchester Mystery House here.

photograph by Shawn McClung

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