Why does the Winchester Mystery House have stairs leading nowhere?

Visiting the Winchester Mystery House

Mrs. Winchester probably didn't get too many trick-or-treaters at this door.
Mrs. Winchester probably didn't get too many trick-or-treaters at this door.
Molly Edmonds

­Mrs. Winchester died in her sleep in 1922, and the house was sold to a group of investors who wanted to create a tourist attraction. To this day, it's hard to know exactly how many rooms are in the house, because people kept getting lost whe­n they counted. Even the home's California Historic Landmark description calls it a "large, odd dwelling with an unknown number of rooms" [source: Taylor]. It's estimated that about 160 rooms are in the house [source: Winchester Mystery House].

You can see the room where Mrs. Winchester died on the tour, as well as the Daisy Room, where Mrs. Winchester was trapped for several hours after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. According to legend, Mrs. Winchester slept in a different room each night so that the ghosts couldn't find her, but unfortunately, the servants couldn't find her either after the earthquake. Mrs. Winchester was convinced that the spirits were going to get her during the earthquake, and that the earthquake was a sign from the spirits that they were angry that she might finish construction on the house. To appease the spirits, Mrs. Winchester boarded up the rooms damaged by the earthquake so that they would never be repaired, and thus, never finished. She may have also been hoping to trap some of the evil spirits inside that suite of rooms.

The house had reached seven stories by 1906, but the top three floors collapsed after the earthquake. Some other famous numbers associated with the house include its 47 fireplaces, 17 chimneys, two basements, six kitchens, 10,000 window panes and 467 doorways [source: Winchester Mystery House]. Despite these impressive numbers, there are only two mirrors; Mrs. Winchester thought that ghosts were afraid of their own reflection [source: Taylor].

Mrs. Winchester also had an obsession with the number "13." Many things installed in the home feature 13 of something: 13 window panes, 13 wall panels, 13 sections of flooring, 13 stairs in each staircase. There are 13 bathrooms, sinks have 13 drain holes and the séance room has 13 coat hooks.

Beyond the stairs and windows to nowhere, there are other architectural oddities all over the house. Stair posts were installed upside down, and chimneys that served no purpose are all over the house. There are cabinets that are less than an inch (2.54 centimeters) deep. Mrs. Winchester ordered a beautiful and outlandishly expensive Tiffany glass window, but after she installed it, a wooden wall was built behind it, so that sunlight could never shine through the panes. There's a storeroom of other expensive windows, wallpaper and furnishings that Mrs. Winchester never got around to using that was valued at $25,000 at the time of her death [source: Grant]. That's just a drop in the bucket of the $5.5 million that Mrs. Winchester eventually spent building her house. However, due to the unrepaired earthquake damage and the crazy design, the house sold for a mere $135,000 [source: Strangetastic].

See the spooky links on the next page to learn more about the Winchester Mystery House.