This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Why Mrs. Winchester was afraid of ghosts in San Jose, California


Great fortunes are made on guns, and the Winchester company has been one of the most successful. That's the Winchester '73 at the top of this post, for those of you who appreciate the very finest Winchester ever made. 1873.

The Winchester is the gun that won the West, and it sold well, because it was a magnificent weapon. We often think of "six-shooters" as the guns of the west, and there were plenty of them, but the Winchester repeating rifle was an absolute necessity. It was remarkably accurate, and it could mean the difference between living and starving to death for someone who was out hunting.

But, unfortunately, it was also used on people. Of course not as much as the stories that are told, but enough to really put the fear of ghosts in Mrs. Winchester. And if you've visited her house, in San Jose, you know what she did - she just kept adding on rooms to give the ghosts some place to go. I understand it's a good place to go ghost hunting to this day, and well worth a look if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

Speaking for myself, I wonder about Mrs. Winchester. She had all that money, but it didn't protect her from the ghosts of men who had died because of her husband's invention. Well, that's the way she saw it. And whether you're talking about a fortune built on guns, or whiskey, or anything, there's gonna be a reason to feel nervous about how that money came about.

The West of the Imagination, and the real west are two very different things, and I enjoy them both. I'm not one of those people who gets upset that John Ford insisted that Texas looked liked Monument Valley, or that there should be any numerical limit to the number of bullets that the good guy can shoot before reloading. There are times when I think about how difficult it was for people in "the old west", looking for clean water, food to feed their families, that kind of thing. And those were the people who populated the west mostly, and the things they shot with rifles were mostly skunks, and occasional bears. And Winchesters were excellent. They didn't blow up in people's faces, like some of the less well-made brands did. They didn't jam as often. They had a handle to bring another bullet up to fire in seconds. And since most people in the old west were as bad a shot as people are today, that saved lives if a grizzly bear was attacking.

I'm sorry that Mrs. Winchester felt the way she did. She spent a huge amount of her fortune building onto her house to accommodate the ghosts. It must have been good business for the local contractors! And nowadays it's just an interesting old house that people like to visit, and the ghosts they they imagine have nothing to do with the corpses that Mrs. Winchester imagined were rising up to haunt her.