Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Winchester Mystery House

  Everyone has that mental list of places that they just have to visit in their lives. Many of us want to see Hawaii or Paris. Well, I'm no different with the exception that I like to see some of the stranger places in the world. For instance, the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. It's old, odd and some say it may even be haunted. These are three of my favorite qualities in a destination.
  The house was built by Sarah Winchester from 1884 until September of 1922. Yes, this house was under construction for 38 years non stop, day and night until the day she died. At least that's what they say. Some people dispute that claim but who really knows?
  The house is an unorthodox layout at best. There is a staircase that leads to the ceiling, a door that leads to nowhere other than a long fall and cabinets that are only 1/2" deep (this gag was one of my favorite to tell the truth.) Mrs. Winchester was only 4' 10" tall and the house was built to accommodate her so there are areas of the house that are very uncomfortable for a person of my height (6' 3".) But that's part of the house's charm. The carpenters created "easy rider" stairs for her convenience in some of the hallways because she didn't like taking the regular stairs. Each stair stood only about 3" tall and in my opinion made it look like our tour group was a flock of penguins as we waddled our way up them.
  Despite the strange layout of rooms and criss crossing corridors the house's design is actually very elegant. Great care was taken and no expense spared in putting it together. With so much attention paid to the little details why would someone build such an...er...interesting house? 
 Sarah Winchester was the widow of William Wirt Winchester. If the Winchester name sounds familiar it would be because of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Well, the story goes that after Sarah and William's daughter Annie died 6 weeks after birth and William's passing fifteen years later caused Sarah to believe that the family was cursed. So, she referred to a spiritualist for advise, as one does. Turns out the spiritualist agreed with Sarah and told her that the souls of the people killed by the Winchester's rifles were out to get her. The only way to keep the spirits at bay would be to move out west and build a house for her and the spirits. The legend also says that she was told that if construction ever stopped on the house she would meet the same fate as her husband and daughter. Boom. Winchester Mystery house began construction. This story has been disputed over the years but whatever the truth may be, most people like to tell this fanciful legend because, well, it's more romantic if you will.
  The main tour takes you to 140 of the 160 rooms within the mansion. I don't know if it was because it was summer vacation time or if it is always this busy but we all felt that there were too many people on the tour group. The small, odd shaped rooms made it difficult to gather everyone in the same room at the same time so occasionally you had to listen to the tour guide through the old, thin walls. Of course, this wasn't really too much of a problem and I'm sure they do the best they can. When we visited the mystery house was still celebrating their first new tour in twenty years. In fact, they had only been giving it for around two months. The tour group was limited to a smaller group than the main tour and took us to most of the remaining 20 rooms and the basement. Due to low ceilings and sprinkler pipes you are required to wear hard hats on certain parts of this tour but it is worth it to see areas of the house that have never been on display since tours began over 100 years ago. In my opinion if you're going to tour the Winchester Mystery House pay the extra $10 and see all of it. Why leave any stone un-turned?
 You'll notice that this post doesn't have a lot of pictures. You'll also notice than none of the photos are of the interior of the home. That's because they won't allow you to take photos inside the house. Why, you ask? The story I was given is because they have recently shot a movie about Sarah Winchester and they filmed on location at the mansion. In turn, they took out a copyright on the interior of the home. Thanks, Hollywood for ruining the vacations of thousands of people who come to the mansion each year. It's unbelievable what people do in this day and age. We were extremely disappointed we couldn't take photos and to be honest it just turns me off of the film even though that is probably a very petty attitude. By the way, I don't care. Hollywood sucks.
 One last thing to note about the house is that it's rumored to be haunted. This is my personal favorite rumor about the house. There have been ghost stories about the house since the days it was still under construction. Our guide had her stories as well but you'll need to visit on your own to hear about it. We on the other hand saw nothing, felt nothing and that's okay. Perhaps another time. Maybe after I can take photos inside the house again.
  The Winchester Mystery House is located in San Jose, California. If you're in the area you should take the time to visit. Better yet, if you're visiting Gilroy for the garlic festival it's only a 30 minute drive from there and you can do both for the weekend. That's what we did and it was one of the funnest weekends we've had here in California. Hmmm. Are ghosts like vampires? They don't like garlic and therefore stayed in hiding from us? Oh the possibilities.


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