Winchester Mystery House


The Winchester Mansion, or referred to by its other title the Winchester Mystery House, is a very eccentric and interesting place that has some beautiful Victorian architecture. The house is said to be a maze; this is understandably so considering it has 160 rooms, 3 elevators, and 2 basements (Junker). The architecture throughout the house is very odd, with staircases that lead to nowhere, a door on the second story that opens to the outside, and many other adornments that don’t quite seem to go together. Sarah Winchester, the widow who built this house, inherited the Winchester rifle fortune when her husband died. Apparently, Sarah was told by a medium that she needed to build a house out west with the fortune she had. The medium explained that the cause of her daughter and husband’s death was because of spirits that had been killed by the Winchester rifle. The only way to pacify them was to build a house and as long as she continued to build that house, they would not harm her. Since then the house has acquired many things before its time and many architectural elements that caused it to stand out, but it is still known as “the house built by the spirits” (Winchester site).

This mansion sounds very familiar to the Big House on the Corner in The House of the Spirits. Both were built with the fortune that the owners had. Not to mention, each supposedly had spirits all throughout the house. Even though the odd architecture may not seem that reminiscent of the Big House on the Corner, there is one line that states otherwise. This quote sounds like something right out of the Winchester Mystery House. It states that Esteban “could hardly guess that solemn, cubic, dense, pompous house, which sat like a hat amid its green geometric surroundings, would end up full of protuberances and incrustations, of twisted staircases that led to empty spaces, of turrets, of small windows that could not be opened, doors hanging in midair, crooked hallways, and portholes that linked the living quarters so that people could communicate during the siesta, all of which were Clara’s inspiration” (Allende 93). Even though both houses and the stories around them have similar elements, the Big House on the Corner has come to represent something more than the house of the spirits.

The Big House on the Corner has come to represent Clara and who she is. Clara is her own person and follows the beat of her own drum. Much like Clara being different, the house itself is different from the beginning because Esteban “wanted it to be as far removed as possible from the native architecture” (Allende 93). Even though Esteban created this house and built it, the house is more representative and attached to Clara. It becomes this way even later when Esteban goes to Tres Marias and Clara stays at the Big House on the Corner. This house, much like Clara, can’t be contained or even what Esteban truly wants. Clara and the three Mora sisters start to fill the house with spirits and the house slowly starts to become more like Clara with all of her spirituality and quirks, and it becomes a lot less of what Esteban had intended. In a way, I feel as though Allende might have done this in order to show that no matter what aspect of Clara that Esteban tries to control, Clara will not be controlled; this is such a strong message especially given the feminist aspect that the book has overall.

By Cassy Busto

3 thoughts on “Winchester Mystery House

  1. I agree that Clara and the house are not what Esteban really wants. What he wants, I think, is to possess something completely; because Clara is not the typical personality, he, at least in my perception, seems to assume that she will be easily conquered, that she will be easily won, and that, as she is different and, in his opinion, lesser somehow, will show little protest to being conquered or won.

    Peculiarly, when he is able to possess someone completely, he is also not satisfied. He doesn’t appreciate Pedro Segundo, whose life has been dedicated to maintaining property that doesn’t belong to himself, and he never pays much mind to Pancha, besides for the initial rape scene; it doesn’t even occur to him that he could have sired a child with her. I would like to make a counter-argument (maybe a supposition is a better term?) that perhaps the house, as Esteban’s creation, is equally as reflective of his own conflicting ideologies and perspectives as it is of Clara’s.

    On the subject of Clara’s unwillingness to be controlled, I think too that the house is a bit like water. Where there is a crack, water will seep through, going where it will go regardless of the creator of the container’s intent. Clara is a bit like that, as she tends to do as she pleases, remaining opposed to humiliations deemed fit for others. Is she crazy, with the tangible evidence of her confusing home to consider? Does that make her any less significant, in the context of a story where a socialist President could spend decades campaigning and then be deposed two years later by a military coup in a democratic country?


  2. The amazing part about all of this is that the house and the story behind it are as sad, if not more depressing than that of the house in Ana Castillo’s novel. A home built from loss and meant to forever calm tormented souls is something straight out of fiction. I completely agree that the house represents Clara in many way. And might also represent her in the sense that her life much like the house is all simply a maze that one that was not the product of our own choice. I find it wild and unbelievable that they would continue to endlessly build this house in the hopes of warding off spirits.
    One could also make the argument that this house grew with time like the unimaginable power that Clara possesses. As the years continued to move onward so too did her powers. Both are untamed and wild in their own right. I really need to travel to this house now, but I imagine I will be lost within a matter of minutes and need someone to help me escape. The only thing I contemplate on from your passage is the idea of Clara refusing to be controlled.
    Though this is true and cannot be denied, it differs slightly from the house because Clara did not grow over time from fear while the house did. The one I feel that grew and was built the most out of fear in the story would be Esteban. Many agree that though he is a terrible human, if one can even call him that, he is simply a product of his environment and era. So too was the house built out of the era it was made in and built with an idea behind it the whole time.


  3. I find it interesting that the Winchester Mansion is not only similar to The Big House on the Corner because of its immense size, but also because of the mysterious qualities that each house holds. The Big House on the Corner is a grand representation of the life that Esteban wishes he had. He wants to control every aspect of his life and everyone in it, including Clara. She treats the house like a piece of her character and Esteban is left with no control over its condition or quality. I think this was the perfect artifact to compare The Big House of the Corner with because it correlates in so many ways to Allende’s novel.
    The Winchester mansion, interestingly enough, was built because the words of a medium told Sarah to spend her fortune on its construction, where in The House of the Spirits, Clara lives in the house and she is the medium. The Winchester House was built in order to keep spirits away from Sarah, an interesting comparison to The Big House on the Corner, which was built for Clara to move into and invite spirits in. Each house has its own story and becomes a part of the person living in it. Sarah’s residency was out of fear for the unknown spirits the medium identified, and Clara’s was out of comfort and belonging to embrace her clairvoyant abilities and become one with the house.


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