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June 13 , 2011

The Possession of Sarah Winchester

Jim Duggins


On October 22, 1844, thousands of men, women and children, dressed in Ascension Robes, gather on a desolate, freezing hillside outside Boston to greet the end of the world. Among the crowd is terrified five-year-old, Sarah Pardee, for whom this is the beginning journey to extraordinary fame and notoriety. That night, Sarah is rescued by the cult’s founder, William Miller, and by Caty and Maggie Fox, who become her friends as they travel their own path to become America’s most distinguished “spirit rappers” interpreting rapping sounds in haunted houses. As for Sarah, she will go on to become Mrs. William Wirt Winchester, of Winchester rifle fame, one of the richest women in America. She will lose a daughter after only 42 days of life, an event that blights all her remaining days. Guided by an obsession with the spirit world, she will move to the San Jose, California and build one of America’s strangest and most famous structures. But first she will attend—and completely disrupt—the Charles Street School and then Mary Lyon’s Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (later Mount Holyoke College), she will meet Edwin Booth, America’s most famous Shakespearean actor, brother to John Wilkes Booth, who presides over a spiritualist meeting where Sarah first communicates with her deceased daughter. Thereafter she will be visited by a spirit guide who directs her building of the massive, controversial monument on the west coast. The Possession of Sarah Winchester tells this compelling story in her own words, revealing child/woman caught in the web of the rise of spiritualism in nineteenth century America. It portrays a brilliant woman’s mind inundated by repression, grief, and guilt over her family’s creation of a weapon that destroyed Native American lives and culture.
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