Wednesday posts features women of history, women of today, and women of fiction who, like wildflowers, though they may appear fragile, possess rare beauty, and show their strength by blossoming in the harshest conditions. As Eleanor Roosevelt so aptly put it, ‘A woman is like a teabag; you never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water’.
Few of life’s challenges are as heart-wrenching as grief. The loss of a spouse, your partner for life, the loss of a child… I won’t attempt to address either with petty words, and pray I never need to learn how.
Sarah Winchester, nee Pardee, survived both.
Sarah, the Belle of New Haven, played the piano, was educated in the best private schools, and was versed in four languages. She married Willian Wirt Winchester, heir to the Winchester fortune.
The couple moved easily through New England society. Small wonder. Sarah’s father-in-law, Oliver Fisher Winchester, was Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut. He was also manufacturer of The Gun That Won The West, the Winchester rifle.
A charmed life, to be sure.
In 1866, disaster struck. Sarah’s infant daughter, Annie, succumbed to marasmus, a parasitic disease that inhibits the bodies ability to absorb protein and calories, resulting in severe emaciation. In other words, Annie starved to death. (Source)
Sarah spiralled into an endless depression. Her misery exploded when, in 1881, William died of tuberculosis.
In grief, Sarah questioned, and sought answers with the aid of a spiritualist.
A Boston medium explained Sarah’s losses were penance, revenge exacted by those killed with the Winchester repeating rifle. Sarah was led to believe that she would forever be haunted by the Winchester’s victims, specifically, American Indians and Civil War soldiers. Worse, Sarah believed she would be their next victim.
Sarah did not leave the consultation without hope. Sarah was assured that so long as she continued to build her home, she would be safe. Continuous construction would confuse the ghosts who pursued her, and possibly gain Sarah eternal life.
With ceaseless construction of Winchester House near San Jose, California, Sarah may have outsmarted the ghosts, yet she remained haunted. In her quest to stay one step ahead of her ghosts, she was a slave to her home. Seances were held regularly, suspicion ruled her days, and she never slept in the same room for more than one night.
Mock as we like, Sarah Winchester survived. Through unceasing design and implementation of plans, she found a focus for her life, and in so doing, found a way to survive not one but two unimaginable losses.
Here’s to you, Sarah. May you have at last found peace.