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Captive of the Labyrinth: Sarah L. Winchester, Heiress to the Rifle Fortune

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  262 ratings  ·  56 reviews
Since her death in 1922, Sarah Winchester has been perceived as a mysterious, haunted figure. After inheriting a vast fortune upon the death of her husband in 1881, Sarah purchased a simple farmhouse in San José, California. She began building additions to the house and continued construction on it for the next twenty years. A hostile press cast Sarah as the conscience of ...more
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published December 6th 2010 by University of Missouri (first published October 30th 2010)
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Mar 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
I grew up just miles from The Winchester Mystery House, totally accepting the local lore of Sarah Winchester being a crazy old bat. I loved learning the truth about the quirky house, the history of the Santa Clara valley, and how the negative public perception of Sarah Winchester came about. Sarah was well-loved and respected by those in her inner circle, as well as her employees. She was a generous philanthropist and savvy business woman. All of the reports of her superstitions and spiritualism ...more
Jenni Powell
Sep 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Since I was a little girl growing up with parents who loved history, especially American West history, I'd been told stories about the Winchester Mansion (I never refer to is as the "Winchester Mystery House") and the eccentric Sarah Winchester who out of pain, guilt, and tragedy was trying desperately to keep spirits at friends and I even played an imagination game we dubbed "Escape From the Winchester Mansion" when we were kids. But having visited the house several years back and in m ...more
Jul 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
It is so rare to find anyone challenging the accepted view of things, that I delighted in the very idea of a writer/researcher asking "how do you know that?" and going right to primary sources. I celebrated when she discovered that the treasure trove of a crazy old widow's papers where not lost to time (or worse, non-existent) but in the hands of her attorney. No one had bothered to look.
At the base, this is simply a thoroughly good biography. Where Ignoffo consistently debunks the haziest of my
Linda Rosewood
Dec 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Everything you know about Sarah Winchester is wrong.
Ignoffo's book is a great example of how local history should be done. Some readers have criticized the book for being repetitive, but it is obvious that the chapters have been published separately as journal articles. I appreciate how each chapter stands alone, and explores different themes, although they progress temporally. There were many widows living in the SF Bay area at the turn of the century in huge Victorian Mansions. Most of them w
Apr 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is the real behind the scenes tour of the Winchester Mystery House. It is wonderfully written, and in many cases, emotionally moving. I recommend it highly but with caution: it will be somewhat of a shock for any of those who grew up a fan of the attraction.
Aug 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Nice to have a book that actually discusses who Sarah Winchester was as a person as opposed to the standard "oooh spooky ghosts!!!" legend.
Oct 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Very detailed historical account of the life and doings of Sarah Winchester. It focused so much on portraying Winchester in an accurate light (i.e. she was NOT a haunted, crazy, spiritualist) that I found myself longing for the excitement and mystery of the embellished modern day perception of the matron of the Winchester "Mystery House." I suppose I don't need the myth of the woman as much as I crave more details and photos of the actual house and its construction. Ignoffo seemed to want to deb ...more
This book caught my attention at our midwest city library. I had visited the Winchester house while on vacation years ago with my sister because she had heard of the unusual structure. This compilation of facts and stories was interesting and informative about the history of New Haven and the California areas where Sarah Winchester lived. Thank you to the author and all who contributed to give a factual accounting of a woman who made a difference in the lives of many people.
Marie Everett
Apr 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
This seemed dry as dust to me. It was basically a long winded account of her life from birth to grave with no real substance in between. The author spent so much time telling us why the Winchester legacy is not supernatural, that any romance, mystery or awe of Sarah's house is snuffed out. I was highly disappointed.
Apr 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating. I've loved the Winchester Mystery House all my life, and this book exposed the real truth behind the enchanting but misleading legend. The real Sarah Winchester was an intriguing local figure in her own right. If you've ever visited the house, it's time to treat yourself to the truth.
Jun 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Katy Little, Amelia Mugele
A little academic in tone, it was good to hear the truth of Sarah Winchester. I think if I ever went to see the house, which I would like to for the architecture, I would want to set the record straight. Unfortunately, Mrs. Winchester couldn't set the record straight when she was alive.
Sensibly Sassy
Jul 01, 2011 rated it really liked it

17 book of 2012

This book not only shed some light on the real Sarah Winchester but it also educated me on the early days of California and the big players of that time (think James Lick and the Stanford family)
Jan 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this biography on the woman who inherited the Winchester gun fortune. The first half of the book describes the history of the rifle...the second half covers her life after the death of her husband and what she did with all the money.
Juli Cady Ryan
Apr 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Got this book because I was fascinated by the Winchester house, but once I began the book I realized Sarah herself was the more fascinating of the two! Enjoyed reading about her life and the times she lived in.
Apr 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Good biography of Sarah Winchester. Dispelled many of the myths surrounding Sarah and the Winchester Mystery House. Having been fascinated with the house since I was a kid I'm not sure I like that, but interesting nonetheless.
Jul 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a really interesting biography. I've been to the Winchester Mystery House many times. Little did I know that the tour script is not even remotely close to the reality of Sarah Winchester.
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book was full of information but I wished it had focused on Sarah winchester's life only. Too many extra details made it more laborious to read.
Vic Lauterbach
May 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ms. Ignoffo has done everyone who appreciates good local history a great service by correcting the historical record of a remarkable and admirable woman. Sarah "Sallie" Winchester deserves much better than being the star of an invented ghost story. The real woman is far more interesting than the fake one. It is a great shame that many supposedly reputable organizations including the San Jose Historical Society perpetuated a completely fictitious story. The Brown family can operate their supernat ...more
Max Tachis
Jun 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Having lived in the Bay Area my entire life, I'd assumed that there was nothing more I needed to know about Sarah Winchester or her spooky haunted house. I was very happily (and frustratingly) proved wrong by Mary Jo Ignoffo's book on the subject.

Seeking to undo the century of misinformation and flat out fiction that surrounds Winchester's "legacy", Ms. Ignoffo meticulously researched documents that, it seems, nobody ever bothered to look for. Land titles, photos, and person correspondences are
May 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
Saying that I "read" this book is a little bit of a stretch. I did read just over half of it though and I am counting this slog. To start with the good; great topic and very well researched. I am a big fan of nonfiction books that take a wide view of the topic and have wonderful supplemental information, but it needs to be done in a seamless manner. Ignoffo did a great job researching and adding detailed information about the people that were a part of Mrs. Winchesters life. That is where it end ...more
Debra Daniels-zeller
Aug 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
I wanted to read this book because I used to live near the Winchester Mystery House and was curious about Sarah Winchester. Let me just say some people have done so much they could have many books written about them, but Sarah Winchester barely had enough interesting information for a book. The text felt a bit dry and I still don't get the title. Because in the end of her life Sarah Winchester had severe arthritis and no teeth, she didn't go out. But was she a captive? It seems an odd term.Early ...more
Nov 22, 2017 rated it liked it
I wish that Ignoffo had had more primary sources to refer to in her writing of this book, especially more from Sarah Winchester herself. While she does a fine job of pointing out that everything a tourist is told at the "Winchester Mystery House" is a load of bunk, the picture that emerges of the real Sarah Winchester isn't complete. It would seem though, from what is available, that Sarah Winchester herself would be just fine with this.
I'm left feeling irritated with the people who turned her
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Reading this book is kind of like the moment Dorothy accidentally pulls back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz. I feel a bit cheated, really, by having the legend dispelled by the truth, but this is an excellent piece of debunking. While the romantic in me prefers the legend of the Winchester Mystery House, the part of me that's tired of media spin and interested in the history of media really appreciates the methodical nature of the work.

However, the author's sources are pretty thin and dry in pl
Therese Wiese
LOVED this book. I never bought into the whole "Sarah Winchester is crazy" story told by the Winchester Mystery House. This book is a breath of fresh air regarding the truth behind Sarah, her money, the weird things in the house. She was one very smarty lady.

If you ever have a chance to tour the Winchester Mystery House (in San Jose, CA), be sure to read this book first. Referenced in the book is the Hayes Mansion in San Jose - it has been converted into a hotel/conference center, but you can s
Jan 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audible, kindle
I enjoyed this very much. Its introduction briefly talks about the myths built up around Sarah Winchester, then goes into detailed accounts of periods and aspects of her life. Some of these overlap as the book generally goes by subject, but the book is clear on what happens when. It finishes after Winchester's death with the build-up of the fabricated mythology around her. Although the Winchester Mystery House is fascinating, it is only one facet of the jewel that is Sarah Winchester's life.

Tracy Backer
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about Sarah Winchester. I read the book after seeing the preview for Winchester starring Helen Mirren, which says it's inspired by true events. After reading the book, I highly doubt there is much accuracy in the movie. The book is about Sarah Winchester and the Winchester family, who developed/invented the Winchester repeater rifle, making her a very rich woman; but it's also about the development of California as a new state. The author uses a lot ...more
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm usually not a fan of biography, but this one was very good. It's always funny to the very simple explanations for things people have built up and now except as true. Women of money, who do whatever they like, are always painted in some nefarious way. If Winchester cared enough to defend herself, there would be no legend and no movies, and no fun. But honestly, she was waay to rich to give a crap about what they said about her, most of which was total bs. good story. I think i want to be her ...more
Elizabeth A.
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
I found this book informative, entertaining and enlightening. I live perhaps 45-50 minutes from the Winchester Mystery House. After reading this book I have dropped the Mystery part. This book revealed so many details, facts and events that finally clued us in. Mrs Winchester was not crazy...eccentric and innovative Yes. She did not have to share her reasons for her actions to any neighbors...neither would we....The book is worth a read. In fact I plan on getting it for my personal library to ho ...more
Andrew Pritchard
Nov 28, 2018 rated it liked it
First off, you should know this is not a ghost book (though I did find it in the ghost section of Half-Price Books). It is the biography of Sara Winchester and her so-called Mystery House.

The book is interesting because it tells us about someone people nowadays know very little about and explains the real reason she built such a strange house.

If you are interested in Sara Winchester or the history of her famous house, than I would highly recommend this book, but if you are looking for a book abo
Leila Kern
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good biography! It was too bad that people could not allow for the eccentricities of another person; hmmm, just like today. People don't change much. Sounds like Mrs. Winchester was really very savvy in her dealings with people and finances; just misunderstood because she was reclusive. I am very glad that someone wrote a book to try and dispel the rumors. Boring doesn't sell, unfortunately, but, I was glad to learn something more about the Winchester rifle heiress.
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Mary Jo Ignoffo, author of Captive of the Labyrinth: Sarah L. Winchester, Heiress to the Rifle Fortune, available from the University of Missouri Press, is a historian committed to reaching beyond academia to present history to the public through exhibits, books, articles, lectures and forums.

The Chicago-born, Los Angeles-raised, longtime resident of the San Francisco Bay Area has spent much of th

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