OPINION: Justice for Sarah Winchester

A majority of Californians know the story of Sarah Winchester. She was the heir to the valuable fortune of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Nowadays, she is remembered as the subject of a ghost story – a woman who spent her final days haunted by all those killed by Winchester firearms.

Sarah Winchester lost her only child to cot death, never birthing again. She lost her husband, never marrying again. She retreated into her home and was branded as unholy and ghastly for it due to her times’ perception. Although she was branded like this, the truth was that she suffered from severe arthritis, causing her to lack the ability to travel out of the home often. However, there is more to the story than it seems.

According to Growjo, a corporate valuation index, the Winchester Mystery House grossed $13.5 million in 2022. But it thrives off of sensationalist ghost stories, spooky tales and most importantly, sexism. Profit relies entirely on the old and bigoted perception of women and their mentality.

Much of the Winchester house’s modern-day perception is skewed, reaching an innate conclusion. Even the odd and eerie conflicting Victorian and labyrinthine styles of the house are viewed as Sarah Winchester building at breakneck speeds to appease the ghosts, which is a false belief as the house was built over several periods, being repaired after the carnage of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

The sources that paint Winchester as being infatuated with ghosts are unreliable too. She was supposed to have hosted many seances in her house. Mary Jo Ignoffo researched extensively into primary sources of the time in her book, “Captive of the Labyrinth: Sarah L. Winchester, Heiress to the Rifle Fortune.” Ignoffo found that much about Winchester was relatively normal. She laughed, joked and even maintained positive relationships with her house’s many workers and employees.

Still, society’s perception of women such as Winchester remains to this day. While fun for the whole family, Winchester Mystery House harbors many negative stereotypes and origins that are demeaning to women who do not fit society’s perception of their actions, even so that Winchester is judged by the standards of the 19th century and not modern day.