Wide Unclasp the Tables of Their Thoughts
Wide unclasp the tables of their thoughts
These same thoughts people this little world
Sarah Pardee Winchester (1839 - 1922) was a woman of extremes. She had everything, yet she had nothing. One of the wealthiest women in Gilded
Age America, she was powerless to save her husband and only child from the wasting diseases that claimed their lives. Once a fixture of Connecticut high society, she moved alone 3,000 miles to
rural California, spending nearly 40 years as a virtual recluse, entertaining few visitors except the spirits that tormented her.
Those spirits shaped both Sarah's psyche and its physical manifestation--the extraordinary (some say bizarre) home she built with the wealth she inherited from the Winchester firearms
fortune. To appease the demons in her head, Sarah spent 38 years designing a mansion so peculiar that even today, more than 80 years after her death, it draws visitors from around
world eager for a clue to help them decipher the many mysteries surrounding this enigmatic woman.
One of those mysteries may actually hold the key to Sarah's
mind. The focal point of her home's elegant grand ballroom is a duo of exquisitely crafted stained glass windows, each bearing a quote from one of Shakespeare's plays. The first quote, from Troilus and Cressida, reads: "Wide unclasp the
tables of their thoughts." The second window quotes Richard II: "These same thoughts people this little world."
Historians and tourists alike have spent nearly a century trying
to decipher the meaning of Mrs. Winchester's windows. The line in the first window, spoken in the play by Ulysses, refers to a coy Cressida. The second quote, spoken by an imprisoned
King Richard, points out the "small world" of his confinement.
Why would Sarah choose these seemingly unrelated quotations as the centerpiece for the
most lavish room in her home? And what do they mean in the context of her life?
Before we decide for ourselves, we need to begin at the beginning, exploring both Sarah
Winchester's remarkable mind and her extraordinary life.
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