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Sarah Winchester lost her only child, Annie, at six weeks old. Her beloved husband William, heir to the Winchester Rifle fortune, died at a young age from tuberculosis. Sarah never recovered from her two heartbreaking losses and channeled her grief into two building projects. Both stand today, 97 years after her death.
In San Jose, California, Sarah built an architectural marvel, a mansion in the American Queen Anne revival style reflecting great beauty and great innovation. Rumor suggests that the grief-stricken widow sought comfort from a medium in Boston who told her that as the heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company fortune she was being cursed by the spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle. She should move west, the medium said, build a house and never stop building. As long as construction continued, she was told, she would not die. The rooms would shelter the good spirits and the sound of hammers would drive away the bad spirits.
A less notorious part of her legacy can be found in West Haven, Connecticut, where Sarah funded the building and operation of a hospital for patients with tuberculosis. The hospital was named the William Wirt Winchester Annex for Tuberculosis, in honor of her late husband. Sarah was especially concerned with helping those of limited economic means. Over the years thousands of lives were saved through the work of this hospital. Although the hospital is no longer operational, the fund Sarah created continues to support the Winchester Chest Clinic, now part of the Yale New Haven Hospital.
Sarah’s hospital remains virtually unknown, whereas the mansion is toured by a steady stream of visitors from around the world. Sarah Winchester: Beyond the Mystery presents historical documents including newspaper and magazine articles, personal correspondence, and interviews with Sarah’s contemporaries to develop a truer version of Sarah Winchester, focused not on her grief but her profound acts of compassion.
Bennett Jacobstein lives in San Jose, CA. He is a retired librarian and founder of Toucan Valley Publications, publisher of demographic materials and children’s social studies titles. He is the author of The Joy of Ballpark Food: From Hot Dogs to Haute Cuisine, a culinary tour of the food offering of each of the major league baseball stadiums.