Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Winchester Mystery House, 1953

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!


Nanook said...


AH, yes - the 'easy riser stairs' - just the thing I need in my "mansion". I last toured the attraction back in 1966. I think I'm due for another visit.

Thanks, Major.

K. Martinez said...

I've been to the Winchester Mystery house so many times, I've lost count. It was an attraction I used to take relatives and friends who were visiting from out of town to. It never failed to entertain and fascinate. Nice post today of one of my favorite local attractions. Thanks, Major.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, "Easy Riser" was one of the most successful indie movies of the 1960's. It was about two guys who go up teeny tiny steps.

K. Martinez, I've only been once! My siblings used to live in San Jose and I had to practically force them to take me there. (Same with the Mystery Spot). I'm really glad I did it.

K. Martinez said...

The good ol' Mystery Spot is about 5 minutes from me. I drive by there quite a bit on the way to my friend's farm. I also had another friend who worked there a long time ago.

Too bad you had to practically force your siblings to take you there. I've discovered so much in my own "backyard" because out of town relatives and friends wanting to visit a specific place or attraction.

Nanook said...

@ Major-

It appears as though you're channeling Melissa. Good show.

Melissa said...

If I tried to stay overnight with just a flashlight, I'd probably get lost and they'd find me dead two weeks later in the broom closet with my foot stuck in a paint can and a bucket over my head, pinned to the wall by a dozen knocked-over mops and brooms, saved from being gnawed to bots by rats only by the thick coating of floor waxes and furniture polished spilled from the top to the bottom of my broken corpse.

JG said...

Visited here once with the kids, probably 15 or more years ago. An interesting place, but not someplace to frequent.

We also visited the Rosicrucian Museum the same day (nearby). A real set of oddball experiences. Go San Jose!

I think of these whenever driving past, which is often, but not compelled to return to either one.


Major Pepperidge said...

K. Martinez, it was so funny when we went to the Mystery Spot. The guide said some malarky about the Spot being built on a "gravitational anomaly", and my younger brother totally believed it!

Nanook, I take that as a huge compliment!

Melissa, I think I saw that very scene in a Jerry Lewis movie.

JG, I dunno, I'd love to go back! My sister's house was right up the street from the Rosicrucian Museum, so we went there several times.

Anonymous said...

I remember in 1968 riding my bike there, my friends and I really thought it was a (haunted) ghost house. Back then to us it did look dreary to sneak around the grounds.