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Haunted Homes: Rose Red (2002) & the Winchester House

Some houses are born bad. We say haunted but we mean the house has gone insane. Stephen King's TV mini-series, Rose Red, is a hidden gem. Rose Red is a perplexing architectural nightmare that feeds off of the energies and lives of its inhabitants. Gabe shares how Rose Red changed their horror life for the better and gives us a full kill count of this murderous house. Kat tells us about the Winchester House, full of broken architecture and spiritual oddities. Was it designed to keep the bad spirits at bay? Or is it the perfect analogy for the American Dream?


Media from this week's episode:

Rose Red (2002) Miniseries

A three-part ghost story written for TV that unfolds in a sinister Seattle mansion known as Rose Red, where weird paranormal activities occur. Hoping to conjure up the abandoned house's spirits, a psychology professor and her team of gifted psychics move in for a weekend.

Written by Stephen King


Stephen King's Rose Red (2002): Some Houses are Born Bad by Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

Some houses are born bad. - Shirley Jackson

Some History on the Making of: Stephen King and Steven Spielberg were set to work together on a remake of The Haunting. But due to creative differences, they didn’t make the planned film and instead spilt ways. Spielberg made his own remake while King made Rose Red. The film is very clearly an homage to Jackson. Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House is about a team of investigators and psychics who go to a famous haunted house to either prove or discredit its status. Both feature a “special” and secluded woman as our protagonist, a murderous house influenced by the real-life Winchester House, an heir to the haunted property, and subtle queer undertones (for the time).

Stephen King had begun writing this screenplay but was halted in the middle due to a car accident. We explained in our episode about Stephen King that he had been hit by a van and nearly died. This incident changed him, resulting in him getting clean. Rose Red was the first thing he worked on after the accident, months after recovering. He had intended for this to be one of his last projects but I don’t know if King will ever be able to stop writing.

History of Rose Red: Rose Red was built in 1906 by wealthy oilman John Rimbauer for his wife, Ellen. Rimbauer used much of his wealth to build the mansion on 40 acres of woodland in the heart of Seattle on the site of an Indigenous burial ground (classic King). The house was rumored to be cursed the moment it began being built. Construction workers died. Business partners committed suicide. Tour attendees went missing. Professor Reardon explains that the house treats men and women differently. While women end up missing in Rose Red, men end up dead. Given that Rose Red is Ellen’s, to it’s core, this misadrist approach to it’s guest makes sense. While traveling through Africa (a truly Lovecraftian tale of white people in Africa, touching things they shouldn’t), Ellen contracts an STD from her husband which nearly kills her. He keeps up this behavior even when they return home, despite the impact it had on his wife. Ellen gives birth to two children, a son Adam (for he is the first) and later, a daughter born in April and named such. April is born with a withered arm, most likely a result of Ellen’s previous illness.

Ellen brings back with them, Sukeena, a woman from Africa that had helped nurse Ellen back to health. Ellen and Sukeena’s relationship is never that of Servant/Estate Owner but first as friends and later, Ellen refers to her as sister. However, the relationship seems even more intimate than they explain. Clearly, there is a connection between these two women who eventually conspire to murder Ellen’s husband John. When Sukeena is brought in for “questioning” regarding April’s disappearance, Ellen is absolutely distraut. The relationship and its queer undertones reminds of Eleanor or Nell from Haunting of Hill House and Theodora or Theo. The two women become friends but in reading it and even watching it on screen, Nell’s fascination and obsession with Theo can be understood of a sexual attraction and potentially, love.

Psychic Exploration: Dr. Reardon, a part of the Psychology department is intent on awakening the slumbering murderous estate, Rose Red. To do that she has assembled a colorful group of psychics. They all vary in their abilities since we don’t quite know what the house will find yummy enough to awaken. The team features a "touch know" played by Emily Deschanel, where she has the ability to see things when she touches someone and has a psychic television show. Then there's the precog, an older man who can see the future. The insufferable Emory is a post-cog, with the ability to see the past (which is actually pretty helpful when we don’t know who has died). There’s the Automatic Writer (the guy calls her a Oujia Board), where spirits and people can use her to voice their thoughts and also a telepath with remote viewing capabilities. Finally there’s the Carrie-esque Annie, a young girl with autism who is telekinetic but also a sprinkle of other things.

Annie’s character is rather problematic as she is introduced as a “special” girl who after being bit by a dog exacts revenge upon the owner’s of said dog by summoning stones from the sky. The issue here is her being autistic and that being understood as “enough” to explain her abilities. I think the biggest thing is that as someone with autism, Annie isn’t able to mask or control her powers in the way the others have learned to do. She doesn't tamper down her abilities and so perhaps is more raw and unfiltered, making her a larger battery for psychic energy. I wonder though, if we could accomplish this same understanding if she were simply young and sheltered, like Carrie had been. Instead, we’ve got a differently-abled trope, labeling her special and therefore important. Even her Haunting of Hill House counterpart, Eleanor is also a “special” woman who activates the house, however she isn’t autistic but just a recluse who’s been sheltered.

  • 1906-1909- Construction workers die on site: Teamster Harry Corbin shoots Foreman, One worker decapitated by falling glass, one choked on a piece of apple, one falls off scaffolding and breaks his neck.

  • March 13th 1909- Rose Red claims its first victim to feed of their life force: Connie Fauxmanter vanishes while admiring a globe in the west wing library. She is never seen again despite numerous searches.

  • September 23rd 1909- Laura the housemaid vanishes and is never seen again.

  • May 21st 1911- Delora vanishes and is never seen again. 1911 or 1912- Another housemaid, Gale, vanishes and is never seen again.

  • John fires his business partner, Douglas Posey in November 1914. The film insinuates that he was gay, which could’ve possibly contributed to his firing (otherwise…why even bring it up? I guess for jokes like “He likes chaps in chaps? Was he a wrangling or brander? Jokes about being a cowboy…) In 1915, as revenge, Douglas Posey hangs himself in a suicide in front of the Rimbauer children in the downstairs palor. Soon after April stops speaking and Adam is sent off to boarding school.

  • February 17th 1917- Rose Red grows jealous of Ellen's relationships with her young daughter April. The child vanishes in the kitchen and is never seen again. Over 50 search men raid the house without finding any clues. Sukeena is used as the scapegoat and is taken to the local police station for questioning in regards to her "murder".

  • March 9th 1918- John's drinking buddy, George Meader dies from an allergic reaction to a bee sting in the Solarium.

  • SPOILERS 1923- John is pushed from the tower by Ellen and Sukeena who make it look like a suicide.

  • February 19th 1928- Rose grows jealous of Ellen's relationship with Sukeena. The woman vanishes in the Solarium and is never seen again.

  • January 15th 1946- Rose Red feels threatened by the glamorous movie star and good friend of Ellen, Deanna Petrie. The woman vanishes in the Billiards Room during one of Ellen's yearly January 15th parties. The only thing found of Deanna is one of her earrings. After her disappearance the January 15th parties are canceled for good.

  • January 15th 1950- Rose Red finally claims its most desired victim. Ellen herself vanishes while in the Perspective Hallway. Last seen by maid, who wished her good evening.

  • 1960s- Team of scientists investigate Rose red. Conclude that hauntings and screams are caused by water running through old drainage pipes. Head investigator, Max Bernstein goes missing, never to be seen again.

  • 1972- Liza Albert vanishes after straying from her tour group and is never seen again. The only trace of her is her handbag ripped to bloody shreds. Historical tours of the house are immediately shut down for good.

  • “Present Day” Deaths and Disappearances

    • Kevin Bollinger, a pesky disbelieving reporter, becomes trapped in the solarium, where he is pulled off-screen by an unseen force.

    • Pam, the touch-know, is lured outside into the garden the first evening they are in the house. (again, men die and women go missing in Rose Red).

    • The villainous Dr. Miller and the overbearing Kay Waterman (mother of Emery) end up at the estate and get into an accident. They both roam the premises in search of someone, Miller looking for Bollinger and Waterman looking for Emery before they end up dead or missing at the hands of the ghostly Bollinger. Later, Mrs. Waterman attacks them in a frantic episode before a ghostly Sukeena appears and drags Mrs. Waterman off into the dark wine cellar.

    • The ghostly Pam lures Vic, the precog, out to the pond where he believes he finds Pam’s dead body. The panic results in a heart attack.

    • Nick and Cathy head toward the main hall after being attacked by Mrs. Wateman, the house changes around them and they become lost. A mysterious shape under the carpet chases them, and they flee. The shape begins to catch up to them, and Nick shoves Cathy into a room and slams the door behind her, turning around just in time to see a skeletal monster rushing up to him.

    • Steven, Emery, Cathy, Rachel, and Annie make their escape from Rose Red, but Joyce, now clearly insane, refuses to leave.

    • Back in the house, Joyce suddenly realizes too late that she does want to leave, but is surrounded by the ghosts of Rose Red: Nick, Pam, Vic, Ms. Waterman, Miller, Bollinger, Sukeena, Ellen Rimbauer, and Deanna Petrie. She screams in terror as the film fades to black.

Winchester House & Haunting of Hill House: Kat is going to go in depth about the Winchester House and it’s history. But I wanted to point out a few similarities. Like Sarah Winchester, Ellen Rimbaur is compelled to never stop building the house. For Sarah, she felt she was being haunted by those who’ve died due to the guns her family made (as she had been told so by a psychic) and so created this house as a maze to distract the spirits. For Ellen, she was told by a psychic that she would never die if she continued to work on the house. Both women, having too much money and time and paranoia (as well as lack of therapy), were able to create interesting architectural designs. Sarah created some accessible features to cater to her arthritis while Ellen made some interesting fun-house type features such as an upside down room. However, we learn in the film that it was actually Sukeena that had designed the perplexing halls.

What I find to be the most interesting and eerie part of Rose Red, is that the house itself is the villain. It is a perplexing architectural nightmare that feeds off of the energies and lives of its inhabitants. It plays with them, manipulating them and taking them when it pleases. Like a cat, toying with it’s prey. The house is as much a character, unreliable and sinister, as anyone else. King is always talented at writing environments as characters. (I could write an entire thesis on how Pennywise isn’t the villain of IT but rather, the town of Derry is.) For King, Rose Red is an extension of Ellen, her illness, her loneliness, her pain made manifest in the walls. In an attempt to trick and cast out her own spirits, Ellen too ends up lost in it’s walls.

“A house is a place of shelter. It is the body we put on top of our bodies. As our bodies grow old, so do our houses. As our bodies may sicken, so do our houses. And what of madness? If mad people live within, doesn’t this madness creep into the rooms and walls and corridors and very boards? Don’t we sometimes sense that madness reaching out to us? Isn’t that a large part of why we mean when we say a place is unquiet? Festered up with spirits. We say haunted but we mean the house has gone insane.” - Ellen Rimbauer

Jackson’s novel too showcases the house as a villain, a mastermind of evil. Horror writer, Sarah Lotz has said of the novel, “Is Eleanor the victim, is she behind the haunting, or is it all in her own mind? To me, the best haunted house narratives are never just about the dead – they’re about the living and the psychological. In Hill House, the real horror comes from the tragedy that Eleanor thinks she is escaping her stultifying family situation, but can’t escape her own mind.”

The novel opens with a truly haunting passage about the house. “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

Considering how Jackson felt neglected by her husband and, as she started writing Hill House, wrote him a letter that ended: “You once wrote me a letter … telling me that I would never be lonely again. I think that was the first, the most dreadful, lie you ever told me,” we can see how the loneliness she felt seeped into the pages of the book.

King too, is skilled at writing loneliness and isolation. Just think of The Shining. However, the level to which Rose Red is alive grows past that of Hill House. And even still, though Sarah had construction continue on the Winchester House until her death, Rose Red never stopped being built. Perhaps the house isn’t haunted but has indeed, become insane.


Sarah Winchester's Haunted House: the Perfect Representation of the American Dream by Kat Kushin

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

The film Rose Red and the house in it is based on the Winchester House, a real house that may or may not have been actually haunted. The story goes as follows: Sarah Winchester married William Wirt Winchester in 1862. Tragedy struck quickly when their only child, Annie, died in infancy in 1866. As the years passed, William became the owner of Winchester® Repeating Arms company in 1880. The next year he died from tuberculosis, and Sarah, at his death took his position in the company. She was edged out by her brother-in-law, and moved west after inheriting a massive fortune, Sarah moved to the place the Winchester rifle made the most damage, the west. With a 20 million inheritance, she bought a house, and began seemingly endless construction in a nonsensical and chaotic fashion.

The Winchester Mansion stretches across 24,000 square feet, with 160 rooms, 10,000 windows, 2000 doors, 52 skylights, 47 stairways and fireplaces, 17 chimneys, 13 bathrooms and 6 kitchens. From 1886 to 1922, Sarah commissioned construction consistently with no blueprint and seemingly no real plan. The original house was an eight-room farmhouse that expanded exponentially. First, Sarah built up, creating about 7 stories, but following an earthquake in 1906, three stories collapsed from the top and trapped Sarah for a time in the attic of the Mansion. After that Sarah built out instead of up. There are stairs to nowhere, chimneys that don't go all the way outside, balconies on the inside, rooms built inside rooms, and doors with nothing behind them. The house was built at a price tag of $5 million dollars in 1923 or $71 million today.

Neat Features:

Cornerless steps and rooms to make dusting not necessary.

Tiny steps to accommodate arthritis.

A Seance room

Closets and cabinets that are really doors to other rooms.

The Seance room is my favorite of the weird things that exist in the house, cause of course she communed with the dead. In an article from titled The Untold Truth Of The Winchester Mystery House they give some details of the happenings in the seance room. It's called the Seance Room or the Blue Room, but it's pretty weird either way. There's one entrance but three exits, including a door that leads to a 10-foot drop into the kitchen and another that opens up into a small sink. According to popular lore, Sarah Winchester retreated to the room every night between midnight and 2 a.m., and no one else was allowed in. What went on there? No one's sure, but everyone has a story. According to one tale, Winchester went there to commune with spirits and learn what they wanted her workmen to build the next day. Others say she was reaching out to those who met a grisly end at the barrel of a Winchester rifle, while still others say she spent time talking to her husband. The research done by Annalee Newitz suggested something different. Perhaps Winchester was really using those hours to spy on the help with a series of hidden windows. There's also the possibility Winchester believed in spirits and used her time to figure out how to invite the good spirits in and keep the bad ones out. Decades later, no one knows what went on in that room for two hours every night.

So why did Sarah build a house like this? The lore states that because of the mass loss of life associated with the Winchester rifle, that the Winchester family became “cursed” because of those lost to the rifles. The belief of the public in response to the actions of widowed Sarah Winchester, was that Sarah believed this curse is what took her child, and her husband, and would eventually take her as well. After moving West Sarah purchased land and a property that is now referred to as the Winchester Mansion, and is a very chaotic and interesting piece of architecture. It is said that Sarah built this gigantic and confusing house as a way to escape from the many ghosts that haunted her, and to escape the guilt she felt associated with this loss of life.

The Winchester Rifle was an improvement on the Henry rifle and it could shoot multiple shots before having to be reloaded. This rifle sold very well at the time because previously, most rifles had to be reloaded after each shot and the process of reloading was time consuming, especially when facing opposing forces in war. The Winchester Rifle was the rifle that guarenteed American expansion west, and the mass murder of Indigenous populations in the process. The Winchester Rifle was used in these wars and resulted in countless deaths at the hands of this invention. The Winchester Rifle was called "the gun that won the West”, because it was the driving force in the murder of Indigenous Americans as they traveled westward. It also largely contributed to the general American obsession with firearms, and the development and increased capacity of multiple shot weapons.

Do I think this rich lady in her giant mansion cared about or felt guilty for the mass loss of life associated with the rifle that financed her livelihood? No. I think a rich lady had too much money, was bored and didn’t care about any of that lost life, so she blew all her money on a chaos mansion instead of helping anyone else. The more likely reality is that the public felt guilt over the mass loss of life associated with the rifle, but instead of processing that and demanding change, they distracted themselves and enjoyed the idea that the woman associated with the cause felt remorse, had suffered in some way, and therefore they no longer had to. The public felt that in blaming the entirety of that loss of life on this one person, that they could absolve themselves from the fact they used the rifle to murder people.

I’m not the first person to think this, there is actually an entire article surrounding this idea, about the Winchester Mansion, and how what it represents are just oh so American. In an article on titled The Scariest Part of the Winchester Mansion Has Nothing to Do with Ghosts written by Becky Ferreira. They explain that “With over 720,000 rifles produced between 1873 and 1916, the sheer ubiquity of Winchester rifles had a profound impact on American history. Not only did this family company help to foster the zealous gun culture endemic to the United States, it resulted in untold numbers of deaths.” This culture surrounding guns is one we are very familiar with in 2022, with the threat of a shooting ever present every time you step outside. Weapons have continued to increase their capacity for murder, with the creation of AR-15s and other automatic weapons. The legacy of the Winchester rifle lives on and haunts us as an entire country. Mary Jo Ignoffo, author of the 2010 biography Captive of the Labyrinth, suggests that news outlets scapegoated the wealthy widow to relieve collective American guilt about the proliferation of deadly firearms. "Toward the end of the 19th century, the American press began to seriously acknowledge the brutality used against American Indians, and the American conscience began to be bothered by Indian atrocities," Ignoffo points out in the book. "Sarah Winchester's reputation suffered scathing attacks of insult and ridicule beginning at the same time […] Newspapers pinned the burden of guilt for Winchester-induced deaths on the widow but there is no evidence that Sarah herself felt guilty about the repeating rifle or earning money from it." The takeaway here is we as a people need to stop creating the narrative that the rich feel anything about how they got their wealth, or about any of the people who suffer as a result. They are not pillars of morality, nor do they use their funds to make lasting and meaningful change. The rich in this country, including our own government at any point could end hunger, homelessness, and most other societal plagues without even losing their status as wealthy. They actively choose not to. The article continues that “The Winchester mansion is not only a crucial part of this history, it is a perfect metaphor for the nation's singular obsession with guns. Sarah Winchester's compulsion to randomly build new wings and floors with no master plan mirrors America's half-hearted band aids on gun policy, which have never amounted to a cohesive vision. Like the doors and passageways within the mystery house, attempts to reduce gun violence in the United States often lead nowhere, or circle back on themselves.” This metaphor could be applied to literally every facet of American systems.

Do I think it’s actually haunted, no…it sounds like a lot of people just getting really excited over rich people and assuming that they are pillars of morality and do anything they do for a “good reason”.


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