This photo was taken near the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. The mansion is an architectural wonder constructed by Sarah Winchester, widow of the heir to the Winchester-rifle fortune. After suffering the premature deaths of her husband and child, Sarah concluded that the angry spirits of those struck down by her family's guns had cursed her. A Spiritualist adviser suggested that she build an enormous house that would simultaneously accommodate good spirits and ward off evil spirits
with the sounds of never-ending construction. The result is a sprawling Victorian home, built over the course of thirty-eight years, beginning in the late 1800s. It's well outfitted for the undead, with stair- cases going nowhere, doorways leading into open air several stories above ground, and miles of darkened hallways to roam. Winchester is the first in a trilogy of films I made that explore this architecture. It avoids documentary in order to provide an abstract and emotional tour of the more fearful chambers of Sarah's brain. Paranoiac glimpses of shadowy gunfighters, painterly gunshot wounds blossoming into Rorschach blots, and an embattled American flag derived from an old Winchester advertisement illuminate what informed the architecture. To me the mansion is more than just a monument to one person's eccentric fears; it is the formal outcome of a narrative pileup. This house is haunted by the figure of the gun- fighter who has the potential to rescue or destroy, and it is motivated by the drive to expand into new territory—although here, expansionism is given an uncanny twist by Sarah's unique mixture of morbidity and inventiveness. The Protestant ethic, which anticipates not only earthly but also spiritual rewards for hard work, has probably never been more fervently expressed than in the persistent construction of this house, and the result is an exaggeration that proves the power of the rule. The Winchester mansion is a fascinating architectural free-for-all, and a uniquely American place.