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Publisher's Summary

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 Jose, California. She began building additions to the house and continued construction on it for the next 20 years. A hostile press cast Sarah as the conscience of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company - a widow shouldering responsibility for the many deaths caused by the rifle that brought her riches. She was accused of being a ghost-obsessed spiritualist, and to this day it is largely believed that the extensive construction she executed on her San Jose house was done to appease the ghouls around her.

But was she really as guilt-ridden and superstitious as history remembers her? When Winchester's home was purchased after her death, it was transformed into a tourist attraction. The bizarre, sprawling mansion and the enigmatic nature of Winchester's life were exaggerated by the new owners to generate publicity for their business. But as the mansion has become more widely known, the person of Winchester has receded from reality, and she is remembered only for squandering her riches to ward off disturbed spirits.

Captive of the Labyrinth: Sarah L. Winchester, Heiress to the Rifle Fortune demystifies the life of this unique American. In the first full-length biography of Winchester, author and historian Mary Jo Ignoffo unearths the truth about this notorious eccentric, revealing that she was not a maddened spiritualist driven by remorse but an intelligent, articulate woman who sought to protect her private life amid the chaos of her public existence. The author takes listeners through Winchester's several homes, explores her private life, and, by excerpting from personal correspondence, gives the heiress a voice for the first time since her death. Ignoffo's research reveals that Winchester's true financial priority was not dissipating her fortune on the mansion in San Jose but investing it for a philanthropic legacy.

For too long Sarah Winchester has existed as a ghost herself - a woman whose existence lies somewhere between the facts of her life and a set of sensationalized recollections of who she may have been. Captive of the Labyrinth finally puts to rest the myths about this remarkable woman and, in the process, uncovers the legacy she intended to leave behind.

©2017 Mary Jo Ignoffo (P)2017 Random House Audio

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  • Jim
  • Sunnyvale, CA, United States
  • 12-28-17

Compelling historic listening

Having just visited the Winchester Mystery House I was curious to know more, especially as a Hollywood movie based on Sarah Winchester, played by Helen Mirrin, has been made. I wanted the facts not the hype.
This book is based on letters, notes, receipts, documents and direct telling from descendants of staff who knew the real story.
The book reveals that Sarah Winchester was not a spiritualist plagues by guilt and afraid of ghosts, but a skilled self educated architect and designer who built many houses including the now tourist attraction in San Jose.
Because she did not socialize, the town folk made up stories about her which warped into the mysterious tales we hear about her today. All are untrue, especially the movie!
The audio book reads somewhat like a textbook in style, it is not a story, but I found it compelling and extremely interesting.