Serenade for Sarah

The October issue of Old-House Journal proves again that it is the most informative and interesting of the restoration magazines. Eight times a year subscribers are happy to say “How do” to this welcome “How to” periodical.

Among the features in the current issue are a school house makeover, retrofits using modern ductwork to make older homes more comfortable and energy-efficient, a primer on treated wood, tips on repairing cane chairs and patching shingled roofs, a visit to a 1760 home that once served as an inn during the Revolutionary War, and bits of history on trade signs and tramp art.

But by far the most fascinating article to this reader is a tour of the fabled and multi-gabled Winchester Mystery House. The mansion, which cost over $5 million and took 38 years to build, was the brainchild of Sarah Winchester to serve as a haven for spirits killed by Winchester firearms. With 160 rooms spread over 24,000 square feet, the showplace is one of the major tourist attractions in San Jose.

Although the rambling structure does not have a unifying theme, these lyrics to the tune of the 1966 hit by the New Vaudeville Band might serve as its theme song.


Winchester enigma,

You’re furrowing my brow.

I wonder about the why

And also about the how.


Fishy scales aplenty

We see at the top.

There’s something surprising

Along every stop.


Doors that go up

And open to nowhere

Make visitors scratch heads,

Open mouths, and stare.


It could have been whim

Or just a batch of gall

To build spiral staircases

That end in a wall.


One wonders if Sarah

Ate badly tainted bass

Causing her to hide away

So much pretty stained glass.


And the rolls that are there

Of unused Lincrusta­–

Was it due to some spirits

She really didn’t trusta?


Carved mantels are beauties,

Redwood arches a treat.

Wraparound porches with columns

Really are a feat.


All that art for art’s sake

Is there in this Queen Anne.

A joy to behold,

Though bizarre the plan.




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