Sarah was rich. She had inherited twenty million dollars. Plus she had an additional
income of one thousand dollars a day.
That's a lot of money any day, but it was immense in the late 1800s.
Sarah was well known. She was the belle of New Haven, Connecticut. No social event was
complete without her presence. No one hosted a party without inviting her.
Sarah was powerful. Her name and money would open almost any door in America. Colleges
wanted her donations. Politicians clamored for her support. Organizations sought her
Sarah was rich. Well known. Powerful. And miserable.
Her only daughter had died at five weeks of age. Then her husband had passed away. She
was left alone with her name, her money, her memories, ... and her guilt.
It was her guilt that caused her to move west. A passion for penance drove her to San
Jose, California. Her yesterdays imprisoned her todays, and she yearned for freedom.
She bought an eight-room farmhouse plus one hundred sixty adjoining acres. She hired
sixteen carpenters and put them to work. For the next thirty-eight years, craftsmen
labored every day, twenty-four hours a day, to build a mansion.
Observers were intrigued by the project. Sarah's instructions were more than eccentric
... they were eerie. The design had a macabre touch. Each window was to have thirteen
panes, each wall thirteen panels, each closet thirteen hooks, and each chandelier thirteen
The floor plan was ghoulish. Corridors snaked randomly, some leading nowhere. One door
opened to a blank wall, another to a fifty-foot drop. One set of stairs led to a ceiling
that had no door. Trap doors. Secret passageways. Tunnels. This was no retirement home for
Sarah's future; it was a castle for her past.
The making of this mysterious mansion only ended when Sarah died. The completed estate
sprawled over six acres and had six kitchens, thirteen bathrooms, forty stairways,
forty-seven fireplaces, fifty-two skylights, four hundred sixty-seven doors, ten thousand
windows, one hundred sixty rooms, and a bell tower.
Why did Sarah want such a castle? Didn't she live alone? "Well, sort of,"
those acquainted with her story might answer. "There were the visitors..."
And the visitors came each night.
Legend has it that every evening at midnight, a servant would pass through the secret
labyrinth that led to the bell tower. He would ring the bell...to summon the spirits.
Sarah would then enter the "blue room," a room reserved for her and her
nocturnal guests. Together they would linger until 2:00 a.m., when the bell would be rung
again. Sarah would return to her quarters; the ghosts would return to their graves.
Who comprised this legion of phantoms?
Indians and soldiers killed on the U.S. frontier. They had all been killed by bullets
from the most popular rifle in America -- the Winchester. What had brought millions of
dollars to Sarah Winchester had brought death to them.
So she spent her remaining years in a castle of regret, providing a home for the dead.
You can see this poltergeist place in San Jose, if you wish. You can tour its halls and
see its remains.
But to see what unresolved guilt can do to a human being, you don't have to go to the
Winchester mansion. Lives imprisoned by yesterday's guilt are in your own city. Hearts
haunted by failure are in your own neighborhood. People plagued by pitfalls are just down
the street .. or just down the hall.
There is, wrote Paul, a "worldly sorrow" that "brings death." A
guilt that kills. A sorrow that's fatal. A venomous regret that's deadly.
How many Sarah Winchesters do you know? How far do you have to go to find a soul
haunted by ghosts of the past? Maybe not very far.
Maybe Sarah's story is your story.
Max Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm, Word Publishing, 1991,