Deeply saddened by the deaths of her daughter Annie in 1866, and her young husband in 1881, and seeking solace, Winchester consulted a medium on the advice of a psychic. According to popular history, the medium, who has become known colloquially as the "Boston Medium", told Winchester that she believed there to be a curse upon the Winchester family because the guns they made had taken so many lives. The psychic told Winchester that "thousands of people have died because of it and their spirits are now seeking deep vengeance."
Although this is disputed, popular belief holds that the Boston Medium told Winchester that she had to leave her home in New Haven and travel West, where she must "build a home for yourself and for the spirits who have fallen from this terrible weapon, too. You must never stop building the house. If you continue building, you will live forever. But if you stop, then you will die too."
June 1937 issue of Modern Mechanix relates the story from then-current accounts as follows: "Winchester and the baby girl died suddenly and Mrs. Winchester, stunned by the tragedy, fell into a coma so serious that physicians despaired of her life.
"Finally she recovered and, at a friend’s suggestion, visited a medium. During a seance, according to those familiar with her story, she received a communication from her dead husband in which he said: 'Sarah dear, if our house had not been finished, I would still be with you. I urge you now to build a home, but never let it be finished, for then you will live. . . .'"
Another version of the story says that after the deaths of her daughter and later her husband, she consulted a medium who told her that she must build a house and never cease building it, otherwise the spirits that killed her family members would come after her, too. After that she began construction on the maze-like house full of twists, turns, and dead ends, so that the spirits would get lost and never be able to find her.
Winchester inherited more than $20.5 million upon her husband's death. She also received nearly 50 percent ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, giving her an income of roughly $1,000 per day, none of which was taxable until 1913. This amount is roughly equivalent to $21,000 a day in 2008. All of this gave her a tremendous amount of wealth to fund construction on the large mansion.