Built by grieving widow Sarah Winchester in 1884, the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, is a sprawling Victorian mansion containing 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors and 40 staircases. It’s a literal maze of corridors and hidden secrets – and is supposedly home to many restless spirits.
According to legend, Sarah was told by a spiritualist that the ghosts of those killed by a Winchester rifle (which her late husband, William Winchester, manufactured) sought vengeance, and were the reason for the death of her husband and young daughter. To keep the ghosts at bay, Sarah kept the house under constant construction until her death in September 1922.
Was Sarah driven to madness from grief? Did she simply have a flair for eccentric architecture? Or was this mysterious house really plagued by vengeful spirits?
You can see this terrifying tale brought to life when Winchester arrives in Cineworld on 2nd February with acting legend Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester. But, if you can’t wait until its cinema release, you can always visit the house (pictured below) yourself – if you’re brave enough, that is. Here are five other real-life haunted houses you definitely wouldn’t want to spend the night in…
1. Mary King's Close – Edinburgh
What’s scarier than one house full of ghosts? How about sprawling underground streets full of them? That’s exactly what you’ll find under Edinburgh’s Old Town in Mary King's Close.
In the 1600s, Mary King's Close was a dense area full of traders, but these once vibrant streets were believed to have been abandoned in 1645 after it was hit with an outbreak of the plague. Those infected were left behind. Over the centuries as the city expanded, the area became buried under the new buildings, but below still lies the close’s mysteries, history, and ghosts.
Paranormal sightings date back to 1685 where one family reported witnessing apparitions and experiencing vivid nightmares. Other frightening features include the ghost of the ‘worried woman’, a girl named Annie who interacts with those who leave gifts in her room, and the sound of footsteps following you down the deserted streets. This is one part of Scotland that isn’t so bonnie.
2. Banff Springs Hotel – Alberta, Canada
If you thought The Shining’s Overlook Hotel would make for a creepy holiday destination, you need to know about the Banff Springs Hotel in scenic Alberta, Canada.
It opened in 1888 and was built to resemble a Scottish castle. But don’t let its style fool you: the Banff supposedly plays host to many spectres.
The Banff’s most famous ghoul is the Ghost Bride. The story goes that on the day of her wedding, this bride-to-be’s dress caught fire on one of the candles lining a staircase. In a moment of panic, she fell down the stairs, breaking her neck. Guests and staff report seeing her on the stairs, getting ready in bathrooms, or dancing alone in the ballroom, her dress still in flames.
Other ghostly guests include a family who roam the hall outside the room in which they were murdered (the room has since been bricked up), and a former employee who helps guests and unlocks doors. There’s also the spine-tingling tale of a caretaker who felt the presence of a woman on the eighth floor.
We think we’d rather take our chances at The Overlook.
3. The Ancient Ram Inn, Gloucestershire
Dating back to 1145, the Ancient Ram Inn has got a lot of history, not all of it pleasant.
There’s evidence it was built on a pagan burial site, it’s located on intersecting ley lines, and the discovery of small skeletons and dagger fragments under the floor suggest the inn housed child sacrifice as well as witchcraft and satanic worship.
The inn is said to house many malevolent spirits including that of a witch and an incubus. Other tales account hearing a baby crying, footsteps in the attic, people being dragged out of beds, and others being possessed. It’s easy to see why the Ancient Ram Inn is often referred to as Britain’s most haunted house.
4. Monte Cristo Homestead – New South Wales, Australia
Regarded as the most haunted house in Australia, the Monte Cristo Homestead has a horrific past.
Home to the Crawley family between 1885 and 1948, the homestead has seen much death: a young child was dropped down the stairs, the maid fell from a balcony, and a stable boy was burned alive in his bed.
The line of death didn’t end after the Crawleys left, however. It’s reported that a group of caretakers stayed in the house, where one was murdered in the caretaker’s cottage.
5. Queen Mary Hotel – Long Beach, California
Built in Clydebank, Scotland in the 1930s, the Queen Mary is a 1,000 ft luxurious ocean liner that served in World War II. Stripped down and repainted, she was subsequently (and appropriately) dubbed ‘The Grey Ghost’, ferrying soldiers and prisoners of war.
After the war the ship once again served as a liner until the 60s, when she was transported to Long Beach, California and is now a hotel and museum. But if you stay here, you might see more than you bargained for.
Common paranormal incidents include sightings of two young girls playing by a drained pool, a woman dancing alone in a ballroom and the screams of soldiers who once served on board. More frighteningly, cabin 340 was sealed off after the murder of a staff member, and it’s believed the room became too dangerous to stay in.
Andy Murray is an Unlimited card holder who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.