Helen Mirren has wrapped production on a scary movie called Winchester and it looks like it will be spooky AF. Based on the story of Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune, who was advised by a medium to build a labyrinthine mansion in order to escape the ghosts of those killed by the Winchester Rifle, invented by her dead husband. Sounds pretty juicy to us, and better yet, it is based on a true story.
The movie hits theaters this winter and stars Academy Award winner Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester, along with Jason Clarke as a skeptical San Francisco psychiatrist sent to evaluate Sarah’s mental stability, only to find she may not be so crazy after all.
Mirren, explaining the appeal of the role, tells PEOPLE, “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe people can be haunted, and Sarah Winchester is a haunted person.”
The movie is directed by Michael and Peter Spierig and is being filmed in Australia, and on location at the actual Winchester home in California. “It’s about a woman who is deeply troubled by the violence of the rifle and what she inherited,” says Peter Spierig, “She’s trying to come to terms with that.”
Michael Spierig says the movie will be a “classic haunted house scary movie,” explaining “From what we’ve done over the last couple of months, I think everyone will be pretty scared,” while it is also “very much a drama about people dealing with grief and loss.”
The real life Sarah Winchester was married to William Winchester, whose company, in 1860, developed the Henry Rifle, a gun utilizing a lever mechanism to load bullets into the breach. Its ability to reload rapidly made it a vast improvement over the muzzle-loading rifle, common for that time. As a result, the rifle became the weapon of choice for the Northern troops during the Civil War, and in turn, made Winchester filthy rich.
In 1862, William Winchester and Sarah Pardee married in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1866, Sarah gave birth to a daughter who tragically died a short time later due to a children’s disease known as “marasmus” in which the body wastes away. Sarah then collapsed into madness for a ten year period.
Tragedy struck again when, in 1881, her husband William died from pulmonary tuberculosis. Sarah inherited from him $20 million dollars, 48.9 percent of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company and a non-taxable income of $1000 a day. But all the money in the world could not alleviate Sarah’s deep depression over the loss of both her husband and child.
Thus, Sarah consulted a Spiritualist medium who said “your husband is here.” After describing what her husband looked like, the medium continued, “He says for me to tell you that there is a curse on your family, which took the life of he and your child. It will soon take you too. It is a curse that has resulted from the terrible weapon created by the Winchester family. Thousands of persons have died because of it and their spirits are now seeking vengeance.”
The medium instructed Sarah to sell her home in New Haven and move towards the “setting sun.” There, she would be guided by the spirit of her dead husband to “build a home for yourself and for the spirits who have fallen from this terrible weapon. You can never stop building the house. If you continue building, you will live. Stop and you will die.”
Sarah traveled to Santa Clara, California, and in 1884, bought a six room home under construction and began the process of building a sprawling mansion whose purpose was to trick, bewilder and confuse the ghosts that she believed were after her. Thus began a non-stop construction project that would continue for the next 36 years, employ 22 carpenters working year round, 24/7.
The house would eventually reach a height of seven stories and contain as many as 160 rooms. There were 47 fireplaces, three elevators and countless staircases which led nowhere; closets would open to blank walls; hallways that would double back and doors that would open to steep drops. All this in an effort to frustrate the ghosts seeking revenge on her.
Sarah Winchester eventually died in 1922 at the ripe old age of 83. The mansion has subsequently been declared a California Historical Landmark and has come to be known as the “largest haunted house in America.” Paranormal investigators consider the location a paranormal hot spot, with dozens of ghost hunters and psychics visiting yearly. Many sightings of ghosts have been reported there, including the ghost of Sarah herself.
The question remains - was Sarah merely an eccentric heiress with an overactive imagination, or was she really haunted by ghosts? Perhaps she was neither. Researcher Richard Allen Wagner throws a wrench into the case by presenting a totally different angle.
Wagner asserts that the mystery of the Winchester House as presented to the public is a sensationalized folk tale created to sell ghost tours and is not the legacy that Sarah Winchester handed down. Through his research, Wagner reveals that Sarah was a Rosicrucian and a Freemason, who most likely saw herself as the reincarnation of the genius Francis Bacon, a Rosicrucian and the writer who (allegedly) worked under the pen name William Shakespeare.
The Winchester House, rather than being a maze to entrap ghosts, is a repository of Rosicrucian symbolism, adorned throughout with numeric cipher code and Cabalistic references. For instance, the supposed “Seance Room,” located at the exact center of the mansion, is actually the Rosicrucian “Sanctum,” a sacred location for meditation and initiation.
There are Shakespearean windows featuring Francis Bacon’s “hide and seek” themes, “Switchback Staircases” which double as “Jacob’s Ladder” and iron wrought gates representing twin Masonic pillars of “Boaz and Jachin.”
In Wagner’s assessment, Sarah Winchester was a woman far ahead of her time, someone who built a house that was a three dimensional equivalent of an Escher painting, representing a fourth spatial dimension. Her use of upside-down pillars and hallways which double back display an understanding of gravity, light and the curvature of space as demonstrated in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
Certainly, this is the kind of multi-layered mystery that intrigues us at the Brooklyn Paranormal Society and, we’ll be sure to be first on line when Winchester opens in theaters on February 23, 2018. At least, we’ll be shooting for it.
This story by Andrew Arnett was first published on November 11, 2017 @ Brooklyn Paranormal Society.