Thursday, 9 September 2010

Location, Location, Location

I'm thinking about the connection between the film Burnt Offerings
Dan Curtis 1976, The Mystery of Winchester House, Gregor Schneider, this blog's namesake House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielowski and one of my all time favourite films The Secret Beyond the Door Fritz Lang 1947. The architectural uncanny is well trodden ground and I am beginning to look for new pathways on this subject. So here goes.

In Burnt Offerings a house seems to feed on the psychological demise and breakdown of its inhabitants. Over time various families move in, go a bit mental and then leave in various states of disrepair. The house however seems to enjoy an entire renovation on their departure, exterior walls become blindingly bright again, roses bloom in the front garden, lawns glow.

Winchester House is the legacy left by Sarah Winchester, San Jose, 1840 - 1922. She married William Wirt Winchester in 1862, manufacturer of the famous Winchester rifle: 'The Gun That Won The West'. After her husband died she began work on her house, and didn't stop until she died. With her fortune, estimated at $20,ooo,ooo she built and rebuilt her small eight roomed Victorian house. 160 rooms remain, including 40 bedrooms and two ballrooms, 47 fireplaces, 10,000 window panes, 17 chimneys. Sarah valued her privacy, and there is no account of why she spent her life in this way. One theory is that she felt an immense sense of guilt for all the deaths caused by the Winchester gun, and that these spirits of the dead led her to build rooms to house them. It's believed she saw a medium after her husband's and her daughters death who said that their deaths were the revenge of the spirits of the American Indians and Civil War soldiers who had been killed with Winchester rifles and Sarah was next. To appease them she had to build them a house, and communicate with them for orders on how to build it. She built a seance room in the house and did practice Spiritualism, so this is not an impossible theory. The constant reconfigurations are thought to be a means to dupe and confuse bad spirits who haunted the house and by extension, Sarah. In the documentary, 'Mrs Winchester's House' (KPIX-TV, USA, 1960), Lilian Gish sums it up: 'Some of it can be explained in simple terms. Any building that is changed or constantly remodelled is bound to be odd; the short steps were to ease her arthritic legs; the passageways and doors that go nowhere are reminders of demolished wings or earthquake ruined doors. But try as one can, there is no explaining the size: the incredible sprawl of the hundreds of rooms, the miles of corridors, the unearthly quality of the the thousands of doors and windows and the rooms behind them. The real answer may be that most of Sarah died back in Newhaven, that day she buried her husband.' I like to think of her behaviour as a kind of OCDIY.

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