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Mary Jo Ignoffo, author of 'Captive of the Labyrinth,' to present at history museum

The San Mateo County History Museum will host Mary Jo Ignoffo, author of Captive of the Labyrinth, on Sept. 10.
The exterior of the San Mateo County History Museum in Redwood City on Dec. 1, 2021.

Mary Jo Ignoffo, an author and historian specializing in California and the West, will be speaking at the San Mateo County History Museum on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 1 p.m. as part of the Museum’s Courthouse Docket Series.

Ignoffo is the author of Captive of the Labyrinth, La Verdad A Witness to the Salvadoran Martyrs and Gold Rush Politics

In the biography, Captive of the Labyrinth, Ignoffo takes readers through Winchester’s several homes and explores her private life.

After inheriting a vast fortune upon the death of her husband in 1881, Winchester purchased a simple farmhouse in San José and built additions to the house with construction ongoing for nearly twenty years. 

When neighbors and the local press could not imagine her motivations, they invented fanciful ones of their own. 

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 thwart death and appease the spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle.

The author feels Winchester has been exploited for profit for over a century, and Captive of the Labyrinth is meant to put to rest the myths about this American heiress.

Through the course of the book, Ignoffo unearths new information about Winchester, 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 and the social mores of the time.

By excerpting from personal correspondence, Ignoffo shows the widow’s true priority was not dissipating her fortune on the mansion in San José but endowing a hospital to eradicate a dread disease.

Captive in the Labyrinth holds particular interest this year as this is the 100th anniversary of the death of the rifle heiress in 1922. 

The Courthouse Docket Series is sponsored by Cypress Lawn Heritage Foundation, and Ignoffo’s presentation is free with admission to the museum - $6 for adults, and $4 for seniors and students.

For more information on the San Mateo County History Museum and the Ignoffo presentation, click here.

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