Sarah Winchester: Spirited Lady or Spiritual Believer?

Janan Boehme

Probably the most persistent legend revolving around Sarah Winchester is that she not only believed in Spiritualism, but practiced the art herself.

Well-worn tales depict Sarah wending her lonely way to a special Séance Room every night to consult with the spirits about plans for her ever-expanding mansion, or locking herself into this very private chamber to commune with her lost loved-ones.

How much truth there is to these stories remains a mystery. Sarah herself never spoke of it. But if she did actually dabble in the occult, she would not have been unusual for her time. Spiritualism was extremely popular during Sarah’s life, especially among educated middle- and upper-class women.

The appalling loss of human life during the American Civil War left hundreds of thousands of heartbroken women searching for a way to reconnect with those they had so tragically lost. To many, spiritualism and the “mediums” who practiced it seemed to offer such a way. And though there were plenty of charlatans looking to exploit wealthy women’s grief, there were also no doubt many who operated in good faith, out of a genuine desire to help.

There were even those who dabbled in the occult for amusement—treating séances as a sort of parlor game to entertain themselves and their friends.

But as far as Sarah Winchester is concerned, unless some secret cache of papers is one day discovered that answers the question of her beliefs once and for all, the truth will remain hers alone. Either way, the stories of this enigmatic woman’s belief in the occult will no doubt continue to be passed down for at least another hundred years.