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Captive of the Labyrinth: Sarah L. Winchester, Heiress to the Rifle Fortune Hardcover – December 6, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Univ of Missouri; 1st Edition edition (December 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826219055
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826219053
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,840,053 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this scattered but well-meaning biography of the heiress to the massive Winchester arms fortune, Ignoffo's attempts to undercut rumors of eccentric behavior become bogged down in historical minutiae. Born in 1839 in New Haven, Conn., Sarah Lockwood Pardee entered the Winchester dynasty in 1862 when she wed William Wirt Winchester, the son of the founder of the legendary Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The Winchester rifle became the preferred gun of the expanding American frontier, and Sarah moved westward herself four years after William's death in 1881, using her substantial wealth to settle in a then undeveloped California. Rumors of her spiritualist leanings and reclusive tendencies began after Sarah purchased a large ranch in the Santa Clara Valley, christening it Llanada Villa, which became the titular labyrinth. When completed, it was over three stories high, with rooms and hallways tacked on at random. Sarah purchased several more properties surrounding Llanada and near San Francisco, all while remaining aloof from neighbors, primarily due to debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. While Sarah Winchester's intriguing life has been largely overlooked by historians, Ignoffo does her subject few favors with a lack of organization and frequent tangents. (Dec.)
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Captive of the Labyrinth is an excellent read. Ignoffo finally sets the record straight on one of the most fascinating and misunderstood women in California history. A real page-turner!” --Gary F. Kurtz, California State Library Director of Special Collections

“Written by a local historian and considered the first full-length biography of the wealthy recluse who built and lived in what is now the renowned tourist attraction opposite Santana Row, Captive of the Labyrinth: Sarah L. Winchester, Heiress to the Rifle Fortuneis definitely not 'authorized'. . .Among the fascinating information in Ignoffo's book is her contention that the 1906 earthquake that toppled a seven-story tower and damaged two floors of the San Jose mansion explains away some of the mysteries. . . like sealed up chimneys and stairs that once went somewhere. ” --San Jose Mercury News

“Each page is packed with information pertaining to Winchester's upbringing and family and not only does the biography tell Winchester's story, but it touches on that of her relatives and associates. rdquo; --Santa Clara Weekly

More About the Author

Mary Jo Ignoffo teaches history at De Anza College in Cupertino, California, specializing in modern U.S., California, and local history. She has authored six books, and her Gold Rush Politics was the California State Senate's commemorative book in honor of California's Sesquicentennial. Her biography of the rifle heiress, Sarah Winchester, identifies dozens of sources that dispel the convoluted mythology about the widow. Ignoffo's articles have appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, Santa Clara Magazine, and The Californian. She has been interviewed for film documentaries including Sunnyvale Voices, a compilation of stories about the defense and agricultural industries in California; Million Dollar Dirt about the demise of farmland in the San Francisco Bay Area; and two upcoming documentaries. Ignoffo has worked as a preservation consultant, participating in surveys of historic buildings, and as curator at history museums in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than a dozen installations.

Customer Reviews

Being from West Haven,CT.,I found the history of my area(New Haven) to be very interesting.
avid reader
This book was such an interesting read, it was well written, and I'm so glad someone took the time to write it.
G. Olson
The author also brings a personal element to the book that is very appropriate and well-measured.
Mitch Horowitz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Anna Maxine on December 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm not a history buff, but I found this book fascinating. Ignoffo's narrative is lively, thoughtful and well-presented. There's a little something of interest for everyone. Gun afficionado? There's great detail on the innovations and early marketing techniques that made the Winchester Rifle the gun that conquered the West. Feminist? Sarah Winchester was a strong, independent-minded woman in charge of a large fortune at a time when most women were little more than domestic servants (just the way she structured her bequests should impress the most accomplished modern economist). Gold rush fan? California history--and especially San Francisco Bay Area history--galore. Who knew they had luxury house boats in Burlingame? But it's not heavy-handed history. And even though Ignoffo completely debunks the Winchester Mystery House marketing scheme of ghosts, guilt and superstition, the book made me want to visit the Mystery House again--if for nothing more than to look at it with a fresh eye and a fresh appreciation for the real Sarah.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By JSB on December 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this book club selection with no expectation or background other than "It's about Sarah Winchester". As a California native, I had toured her "Mystery House" as a child and knew the stories they told. It was a delightful surprise to learn about the real Sarah Winchester and her fascinating life in early California. This book chronicles Sarah's life from childhood to her passing at the age of 83. It details how life events shape her journey from a genteel life in New Haven, Connecticut to an astute business woman with significant land holdings in the Santa Clara Valley. Sarah was a progressive woman, even by today's standards. An engaging book!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By D. A. Hamilton on December 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've heard stories my whole life about the Winchester house from my Grandmother. Her family was friends with the Brown family that purchased the house after Sarah Winchester passed away. When my Grandmother was a child, she use to spend time at the house with her family and would help "guide" people out of the house on the self-guided tours. There was no furniture back then and arrows were on the floor to let people know where to go(painted or tape, I dont know). I've always wanted to check out the house out of curiosity and it just felt like a way to connect with family that had been there so long ago. I've had so many questions about the stories tour guides have been promoting as truth and just always felt angry that the stories just didnt add up. For many years I've been trying to research the real stories about this family and felt terrible about how Sarah is still being portrayed.
Then, I came across this book and for the first time, I had to search to get in contact with the author to thank her! I have never tried to contact an author before, but I just had to in this case. Finally there is a book that has the real stories. Mary Jo Ignoffo has done much research and presents it in a way that keeps you wanting more. I have recommended this book to so many friends and people I dont know. When I go to paranormal events, I make sure to take this with me to share and let people know to always research legends instead of just believing stories created by media and Mr. Brown (who purchased the property for the sole purpose of making it an amusement make money, not tell the truth.) In all, if you are interested in history, live in the area like me and want to know more of local history, or are into the ghost stories of the legend, I highly recommend reading this book!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By E, Daugherty on December 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This was a very interesting book. The author has most definitely done her homework; painstaking research knitting together a cohesive and comprehensive history from clippings, notes, diaries, newspaper stories all ages old. She brings an educated, informative and multifaceted side to Sarah Winchester that not even the San Jose museum does. The tour guides (usually no older than 18 years old)at the Winchester Mystery House display no love for the house, Mrs. Winchester or the era...they are simply parroting a script and watching the clock for their next break. And this script is sadly lacking. Anyone who has ever done a basic Google look up on Sarah Winchester would know more going into a tour than the tour guides either care to know or are allowed to impart on the tours.

My issue with "Captive of the Labyrinth" lies squarely with the sloppiness of either the author's or the editor's odd penchant towards capitalizing certain personal names. For instance, Mrs. Winchester's favorite niece Marion Isabel Merriman, nicknamed Daisy, was referred to as "daisy" lower capitalization throughout the book. William Wirt Winchester's sister Annie Dye was referred to as Annie dye and the her and husband as "the dyes" and their son Oliver as Oliver dye. Never once is Daisy's name ever capitalized or Annie Winchester Dye's family's surname capitalized. At first, I thought it might be a mistake. But it happened so often that I realized it was intentional. This is disappointing. This book is one of the few books that dwell on something other than the supposed haunting of the Winchester House and it also paints Sarah Winchester as a brilliant woman for her time and not as some kook with a lot of money that even the Winchester Mystery House tour guides like to hint at.
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