Results 1-7of 7 Reviews
Saint Paul, Minnesota
October 17, 2006
From journal San Francisco: 3-day whirlwind
San Francisco, California
July 26, 2006
From journal Winchester Mystery House
West Covina, California
March 16, 2004
From journal Bay Area Break
by Adventures With Adam
New York, New York
July 27, 2002
Not only did Mrs. Winchester attempt to appease the spirits, she also sought to confuse them by building stairways that lead to the ceiling, doors that open onto brick walls, and windows into the floor. (She may have used the windows to spy on her staff.) She also had carpenters install supporting posts upside down.
The superstitious Mrs. Winchester kept a seance room to which only she had access. It was these seance sessions that gave her the ideas for modifying the estate. She incorporated the number 13 into many architectural features: 13 windows in a room, 13 panels in a ceiling, 13 drain holes in a sink. The cobweb motif appears in many areas. Besides being superstitious, Mrs. Winchester was also diminutive. Several doorways were built to her 4’-10" height and many of the stairways feature tiny, low-rise steps.
The on-going construction of the house took 39 years and cost Mrs. Winchester $5.5 million of her $20 million fortune. Many of the rooms were left unfinished, and the 1906 earthquake damaged others. (The quake also took down the seven-story bell tower that once loomed over the house; the highest point now is four stories.) Although several main rooms have been recreated with period antiques, the house remains largely unfurnished, adding to its eeriness.
Sixteen bucks buys you a basic one-hour tour of the mansion. This allows you to see many of the rooms. Afterward, you can take a self-guided walk through the beautifully kept grounds. Audio recordings at stations along the way describe life on the estate, including an anecdote about a truncated visit from Teddy Roosevelt. Other, longer tours are available, but I found the basic house tour sufficient. However, special flashlight tours given on Halloween and Friday the Thirteenths sound like they might be a hoot.
At one time, the estate stretched 160 acres. It since has been reduced to four, but its gardens are an oasis amid the charmless strip malls and suburban sprawl of San Jose. The estate also houses a firearms museum in one of the out buildings. Here you can see the Winchester Repeater, "The Gun That Won the West." And, of course, the tour ends in the gift shop.
From journal Adventures in San Francisco
Grand Prairie, Texas
July 11, 2001
Inside the house you can view bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets that make you wonder if Sarah actually belonged in an asylum after she lost her husband and daughter.
The House is open everyday until about 5 pm and on Friday the 13ths and Halloween, they offer flashlight tours in the evening for extreme fun. There is a lot of walking to do and many stairs to climb so be prepared.
From journal Secrets to the Bay Area
by Cheryl Morgan
November 15, 2000
Mrs. Winchester was understandably distressed and, as one did in those days, she consulted a spiritualist. Much to her horror, she was told that the spirit world was full of the ghosts of people (and doubtless buffalo) killed by her husband's rifles. They were very angry with her, and things were going to get bad. Her only chance, the spiritualist said, was to build a house, and keep building it. For if the house was never finished, no ghost could settle into it, and she could never be haunted.
And so we have a warren-like structure in suburban San José that makes a fortune from those who believe in ghosts. There are many features in the house supposedly designed to confuse (or possibly trap) unwary spirits: doors that are very small or lead nowhere; long, winding staircases with very shallow risers; windows that look into other parts of the house; pillars installed upside down and the number 13 found everywhere.
The Mystery House is especially busy at Halloween. They do special tours in the middle of the night in which bold ghost hunters get to wander the spooky hallways in the dark, armed only with a special Mystery House flashlight (which you get to keep afterwards). As for the dead, the place is so popular that this year Elvis is haunting there. I have a photo of his ghostly white limo to prove it.
That, of course, is the commercial front, and very successful it is too. The reality is rather different. The description of the house is correct, but most of the anomalies can be put down to the continual building and to much less bizarre aspects of Mrs. W.'s life. The shallow stairs were a result of severe arthritis that prevented her from raising her feet very far. Everything was built small because she was only 4' 10" and designed the house around herself. She was a very distrusting person and used internal windows to keep an eye on her staff.
What is more, if you take the "Behind the Scenes" tour you discover that Mrs. W. was actually very smart. The house is full of the latest (for Victorian times) technological marvels. It has gas lighting in every room, it recycles rainwater in case of drought, and it was one of the first buildings in the area to be earthquake-proofed.
For more information about the Mystery House, see the rather longer review of it in my magazine, Emerald City. There is also a review of Tim Powers's excellent book, Earthquake Weather, which uses the Mystery House and various other spooky Bay Area buildings for settings.
From journal Halloween in California
New Orleans, Louisiana
September 3, 2000
The price is around $15 for an hour long tour, but don't quote me.
From journal Silicon Valley Cat