Top Five Inaccuracies in Winchester

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Two-thirds of the Frock Flicks Original Broadway Recording Cast lives within 2 miles of the Winchester Mystery House, so this one is a no-brainer. Another thing Winchester (2018) has going for it is that it stars Helen Mirren. However, that’s about the only two things about this film that held my interest. Beyond that, it’s a second-rate horror flick. For some reason, I kept wanting to draw parallels between it and Peter Jackson’s masterpiece, The Frighteners (1996), and it finally dawned on me why … Basically, The Frighteners is this film without the historical pretense and a way better plot.

So, without any more ado, here are the top five inaccuracies promoted by this film:

 

Sarah Winchester was not haunted by the dead

Most of the biographical evidence that exists about Sarah supports the fact that she was reclusive and a bit eccentric, but she didn’t appear to be particularly bothered by the spirits of the dead who were murdered by the guns her husband manufactured.

 

The stairs that lead nowhere actually did lead somewhere

This one gets a lot of press in every version of the house’s story that’s currently circulating. Stairs that now lead “nowhere” actually once led somewhere — after the 7.8 earthquake that struck Northern California in 1906, entire portions of the sprawling mansion were condemned as uninhabitable, but rather than repair those portions of the house, Sarah went with the cheapest option: She simply chose to block access to the unsafe bits, without bothering to tear out the stairs or remove doors.

 

There was no round-the-clock building

Construction on the house did cease, especially during one quintessentially hot San Jose summer, when Sarah wrote that she “dismissed all the workmen to take such rest as I might through the winter.”

That said, some historians argue that Sarah may have kept the building going on the house as a way of keeping the local economy going by providing a consistent source of employment for hundreds of people who might otherwise have suffered from an economic downturn in the late 19th century. It’s an interesting theory, to say the least.

 

The supernatural stories didn’t start until after Sarah’s death

After her death in 1922, the vast Winchester fortune was distributed to various charities, but the now-famous Winchester mansion fell into the hands of John H. Brown, a theme park designer, who turned the crumbling structure into the tourist destination it is today — and who also appears to have been the source for the supernatural stories that became inextricably linked with the house and the memory of the woman who built it.

 

There were no seances held at the house during Sarah’s lifetime

That seance room? According to the author of  Ghostland, a biography of Sarah Winchester and her mystery house, it was actually a gardener’s private quarters. Bummer, I know.

But if you’re into jump-scares, creepy children, and bleeding wallpaper, by all means, enjoy the flick. Just know that there’s literally nothing in it that is remotely historically accurate — hell, even the bulk of the film was shot on a soundstage in Australia and the actual house is only featured in exterior shots.

 

Have you seen Winchester? Have you been to the Winchester Mystery House?

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

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Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. Her undergraduate degree is in Clothing & Textile Design, and she has a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, Sarah enjoys reading true crime books, writing fiction, and sewing historical clothing from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century. One of these days, she might even start updating her old costuming blog again.

18 Responses

  1. Saraquill

    I remember going on a tour when I was little to a mansion owned by an eccentric woman. There was a couple of second story door that opened up to an abrupt drop to a first floor room. The docent explained those doors to nowhere was a convenient way to contact servants.

    My family also went on a road trip through California when I was six. I don’t think we saw the Winchester house, but it’s possible.

    Reply
  2. Stephanie

    The book, Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey has a chapter on the growth of the Winchester House legend. It’s a good read.

    Reply
  3. Christina Marta

    We did see it, twice! The second tour through we weren’t allowed to take pictures, for some reason. I was charmed, although it reminded me that Victorians really hated natural light (no big picture windows) or cooking smells. Something I think the open-concept people forget is that onions don’t need to be smelled in the rest of the house. Oh, how I wish we could have seen it in furnished splendor!

    Reply
      • Frannie Germeshausen

        My sister! I kept every one of my kitchen walls when I remodeled. It’s my woman-cave!

        Reply
      • Karen K.

        I loathe open-concept houses. Just stupid. No privacy, no quiet — I realized how much I hated it when I visited my in-laws and was forced to listen to football against my will. Literally no escape unless you left the house.

        Reply
  4. Susan Pola Staples

    I too hate the open-concept design favoured today. I also avoid horror movies like the plague. So despite Helen Mirren, I am not going to see it.

    Reply
  5. Donkey Option

    Thank you for this post. I wish the movie was more the story of a smart, ahead-of-her-time woman who lived her own life and didn’t answer to society instead of this retread fictional story. Ms Winchester was an amazing woman living at a time that had no patience for women who lived outside societal norms, and this just perpetuates the lies made up about her by people who didn’t like her independence.

    Reply
  6. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    Blergh, I had no interest is seeing this mess. Instead of setting a Victorian ghost story in the Winchester House, how about it being a school for witches and wizards ala Hogwarts. I think Sarah would have liked that much better…..

    Reply
  7. Charity

    Dreadful film… so much wasted potential in the hands of inexpert directors and a bland cast (minus Mirren, who is usually fabulous). She had gorgeous black lace costumes, though… I expected to be scared (the trailers I found pretty chilling) and instead was… bored.

    Reply
  8. Janette

    If only those who profit from arms sales really were haunted by the ghosts of those killed by their product..

    Reply
  9. Maryanne Cathro

    Thank you for a shout out to The Frighteners which I adore. It is enhanced for us locals by such delicious moments as a car pulling out of a street in Wellington in the north Island and turning into a street in Lyttleton which is in the South Island!

    Reply
    • Karen K.

      That’s hilarious. I always notice errors like that in movies, like Elevated trains in Chicago that run on non-existant lines. Also people in cars who must have that invisible turbo-feature like in Men in Black because there is NO WAY they could travel from Point A to Point B, even with absolutely no traffic.

      I also watched season 2 of Outlander and realized they were using the exact same shots of Paris (actually Prague) OVER and OVER. I get that they’re on a budget and it’s hard to find locations that resemble the 18th century, but they were literally repeating themselves in the same series

      Reply
  10. Kaite

    It’s such a shame to waste both an intriguing history and Helen Mirren (whom I absolutely adore) and turn it into a giant pile of lies and crap.

    Reply
  11. Suzanne Benning

    I haven’t seen the movie or been to the house. And I lived in the neighborhood for 8 years! It’s just so pricey.

    I miss that area…And Wilson’s Bakery.

    Reply

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