Chelsea (our daughter) came to visit while we were in Paicines and Brian came up with the great idea of going to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. We had to take her up there for TwitchCon, so it was perfect.
For those who don’t know, the Winchester Mystery House is the last home of Sarah Winchester, heiress of Winchester Repeating Arms. She lived in Connecticut with her daughter and husband, who both died within a few years of each other. After their deaths, Sarah Winchester moved to San Jose, California, and purchased a farm house. She then began building and building and building.
The rumor is that Sarah had been haunted by spirits, possibly those of the people killed by the Winchester weapons. She was supposedly told by a psychic that the only way to keep them at bay would be to continually build onto a house – new rooms, stairways to nowhere or in confusing lines, and lots of noise from hammering and sawing. And so she did just that. From 1886 until the day she died in 1922, she and workers continuously worked on adding to the original farm house.
There are several types of tours you can take through the house. We chose the basic 1-hour tour due to timing. Others include a more in-depth 2-hour tour that takes you into less-accessed areas, a flashlight tour every Friday the 13th, special night time Halloween tours, and more. You can also tour the grounds, including the gardens and a small Winchester Firearms Museum.
We walked around the grounds and gardens a bit before our tour. We didn’t spend a lot of time in the Winchester Firearms Museum because it’s simply a display of all their weapons. I’m sure that people could spend quite a while in there if they’re that interested in guns. The grounds were all decorated for Halloween (as was the house) and you could peer in doors or windows to view old buildings such as the fruit drying shed, greenhouse, pump house, and gardener’s tool shed.
The gardens were beautiful and I wouldn’t be surprised if Sarah Winchester spent a lot of time there. There were four fountains, all of which you can toss money in for a wish. That money is then donated to a charity.
The tour takes you in through the carriage entrance and winds you up and around, down and across, all over the house through 110 of the 160 rooms. The tour of the house is not an option for anyone in a wheel chair because you have to go up and down tons of stairs. For those of you who are concerned about lots of stairs, Sarah had arthritis in her later years and installed several ‘easy risers’ that are used in the tour. These stairs rise only a couple of inches and incorporate switchbacks for the longer climbs. They’re super easy to ascend. In fact, most people took them two at a time. There are some normal stairs as well, but there’s really nothing strenuous. For the taller people, above about 5’4″, you will have to duck in many of the stairwells. Sarah Winchester was about 4’9″ and much of the house was built with her height in mind. Brian definitely had to watch his head!
It’s difficult to explain this house in a few words. There are stairways going to nothing, doorways leading to large drops, doors that only go in or out but not both, and it’s a little bit museum. They even have some of the old wallpaper rolls she’d purchased but never used. Some say there’s at least one ghost, though it’s firmly believed that Sarah doesn’t haunt the house as she was buried back in Connecticut with her husband and daughter.
I haven’t seen it yet, but the movie “Winchester” starring Helen Mirren was released in early 2018. I’m sure Ms Mirren does an amazing job, as always. There’s also a 1963 documentary available on YouTube. Honestly, though, I feel like this is one of those things you really have to experience for yourself. It’s cool, and a little creepy, and educational, and a fun way to spend an afternoon in San Jose. If you’re in it for the creepy, I’d definitely try to go during a night time tour.
Have you been to any creepy places? Tell us about them in the comments!
Be groovy, friends, and remember to live your journey…