Saturday, November 29, 2014
When I was a kid, I read about the famous "Winchester Mystery House" in San Jose, California, and was fascinated by the place. I'm sure many of you know the basic story of how it came to be; Sarah Winchester was the widow of gun magnate William Winchester. She had inherited a boatload of money, and purchased an unfinished farmhouse in 1884. Then the fun began!
She used no architect or master plan; instead, she employed an army of carpenters and builders, and they continued to add to the place in a famously strange fashion almost continually until Sarah's death in 1922. Apparently she believed that she must provide a home for the ghosts of all of the people that had been killed with Winchester firearms. Makes sense to me.
If there was ever a house that needed to be haunted, this one would be it! Some of Walt Disney's Imagineers even visited the place to get ideas and see how crowds were moved through. I like the weed-filled fountain. The grounds were originally over 160 acres, but most of that has been sold, and now only 4.5 acres remain. As part of Sarah's beliefs, the number 13 took on great significance. A chandelier that was designed to hold 12 candles was changed to hold 13; sink drains have 13 holes; there are 13 coat hooks, and spider web patterned stained-glass windows have 13 colored stones set in them.
The 1906 San Francisco earthquake did a lot of damage to the house, and a number of fires have further damaged portions. Some parts of the home used to be 7 stories tall, though now none are higher than 4 stories. If you go there to take a tour (which is a fun thing to do!), much of it is off-limits to the general public because it is deemed unsafe.
Most people hear about the crazy features that are found throughout the house; staircases to nowhere; doors that open to walls; windows in walls that are inside the house; and staircases with risers of only a few inches high. There are 160 rooms, including 2 ballrooms and 40 bedrooms. There are 2 basements and 3 elevators. And many of the stained glass windows were designed by Tiffany. In fact, the craftsmanship found in much of the house is really incredible.
This photo gives a good idea of the ramshackle quality of this grand old Queen Anne-style mansion. Wouldn't be amazing to be allowed to explore the whole property, alone (or with one friend)? At night with nothing but a malfunctioning flashlight? They do give occasional night tours (usually around Halloween, I believe), I would love to do that.
I hope you have enjoyed your visit to the Winchester Mystery House!