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Publisher's Summary

The first full-length biography of Sarah Winchester, the subject of the movie Winchester starring Helen Mirren, now available for the first time in audio.

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 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 José 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 only remembered 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 amidst the chaos of her public existence. The author takes readers 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 José 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

What listeners say about Captive of the Labyrinth

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The Woman Behind the Mystery House

This book was meticulously researched and is a great read. The first four chapters were a snooze-fest for myself with just a tad too much detail and history leading up to the reason we all chose this book: the life of Sarah Winchester and her amazing mansion. I will definitely listen to this book again, however I will remember to just start at chapter five. I live less than 30 minutes from the Mystery House and have visited it. This book reveals the legend and separates the myths from the facts that has built this story over time. Truly entertaining and enlightening. However, don't expect a spook story, but rather the media frenzy that INVENTED the spook story. It was so great to learn that Sarah was indeed a recluse which led to the mystery, but who knew what an a amazing philanthropist she was. The author gets credit for leading the story up to the present day with the present owners and manager of the Mystery House. See the Hollywood spook story movies, but also check out this book to see where the myth springs from reality.

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Interesting story

Interesting story , but the book jumps all over when telling the story. If it would just lay the story out from the start to end it would be easier to feel vested in the book.

1 person found this helpful

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best biography I've ever read

I thought I knew everything about the Winchester Mystery House and Sarah. this book taught me the true much more interesting story of this mythical woman. well researched, fascinating and should be studied in history classes and journalism classes alike.

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Love hearing the truth

I have been to the Winchester house many times. I have to say that the truth about Sarah Winchester makes me admire her and I will visit the house again but with a greater admiration for this woman

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Dispels myths about the subject

Ignoffo writes an informative overview of the life of a woman who sought to avoid attention. The problem with a bio of such a person is she did not leave much evidence about her life and it shows, but not in a bad way. The book starts with a lot of family history that is hard to follow in audio format. Turning what is essentially genealogical data into a narrative is not easy but as a genealogist I found it interesting, though I can see why many would find it slow and dull. The book is best once she moves west and starts building the house that made her famous. You can tell Ignoffo is engaging in a lot of speculation based on limited evidence, but she always makes sense and avoids the sensational to focus on likely real motives for Sarah Winchester's building spree. To flesh out the story she goes on a number of sensible tangents about relatives and the growth of the San Francisco area as well as historical events. She concludes not with Sarah's death, but how the "Mystery House" developed into the tourist attraction it is today.

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Want to know the truth?

Ghost stories are fun, but I prefer to know the truth, I also like to know when someone is pulling a fast one on me. The Winchester Mystery house is just as beautiful, spooky and mysterious without all the lies about Sarah Winchester. If you’d like to the truth behind the house, the woman, and the time they lived in, I highly recommend this book. I’m so glad I “read” it.

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Not The Sarah Winchester you have heard of.

If you are looking for a book about Sarah Winchester and her ghost obsession of the people killed by the Winchester rifle you will not find it here. This book debunks all the mystery of the house with the crazy construction and her seance filled life. What it is is a factual text-book like telling of Sarah’s life, how she accumulated her wealth and properties, who was important in her life and what caused the oddities of her home. Won’t spoil it for you, you will have to read it. It is dry, not much drama but a eloquent narration.

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Not what I expected

I enjoyed but was not expecting it to read more like a documentary. Very educational.

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very in depth historical book

if you bought this book to learn about the REAL Sarah Winchester, skip to chapter 8. the first 7 chapters are about her ancestry and heritage. lots of cool information I didn't know about her real life. very detailed information

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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.