Have you ever dreamed of a house filled with mysterious secret passages, doors to other worlds, ghosts, and a history that is almost beyond belief? Do you wish there was a place with sprawling gardens, gorgeous arches, and more rooms than you could shake a stick at? Wish no longer, this magical house on the edge of reality exists, and you can visit it any time you want!
The house, of course, is the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California.
There is nothing like this incredible mansion anywhere else in the world, and has something for everyone. The Duo has dreamed of visiting the house for as long as we could remember, so when we were gifted a year long Skeleton Key Club membership, we jumped right out of our skins! Not literally, of course, skin sort of jumps with you, but you get the idea. We couldn’t wait to get to San Jose to see the house in person, and who better to go with us than AwesomeSauce members, The Doctors of Awesome! The Doctors Awesome are our Brother-From-Another-Mother The Quiz Doctor, and his amazing and brilliant wife, The Brain Doctor. We headed out from our HQ to the Mystery House.
The Winchester Mystery House was built by Sarah Winchester, wife of the Winchester Rifle heir, “William Wirt Winchester, son of Oliver Fisher Winchester, Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut and manufacturer of the famous Winchester repeating rifle.” – http://winchestermysteryhouse.com/sarahwinchester.cfm. After the death of her husband, and their small baby, Sarah did what any rational woman would do, she consulted a medium in an attempt to contact the love of her life. She, however, received a very different message. The medium told her to head west, ALL THE WAY West, and start building a house, and never, ever stop. The house was to appease, and perhaps trap, the ghosts of those killed by the Winchester rifles, and construction was to continue 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, forever. If construction ever stopped, Sarah would suffer and die. Being a woman of INCREDIBLE means, 2,777 shares in the Winchester company, and a thriving fruit business, Sarah was bringing in $1,000 a day, with no taxes. $1,000 A DAY. That is a ton of money now, imagine what that was in the 1800’s! Or, plug it into an inflation calculator, like we did, and it comes to roughly $24,000. $24,000 a day.
With her incredible daily income, Sarah moved from Boston to San Jose, bought a tiny unfinished farm house, and started building. Not only did she hire workers for her ethereal project, she housed them and fed them, and paid them twice what the going rate was. If they didn’t want to live on the property, she would buy them housing in the nearby town. So, free room and board, plus twice the daily rate of pay, it is no wonder she was well liked by her staff – so well liked it is said that some of them remain on the property to this day, working and tending the garden. Construction proceeded as instructed by the medium, and even the ghosts themselves told Sarah how to proceed, through seances and spirit boards. One of the rooms constructed was dedicated to communication with the ghosts, and is one of the most interesting rooms in the house – with an entrance, but no exit. That isn’t a riddle, the door you enter from you cannot leave through, as it only opens one way and locks behind you. You have to leave through one of a few secret passages in the walls, this was to keep Sarah from being followed by the spirits, confusing them so that they couldn’t track her down in the house. This is just one of many secrets in the house.
So far the current caretakers of the house have found 160 rooms. We say so far, because there are rumors that there are more, yet undiscovered rooms in the house. “At the time of her death, the unrelenting construction had rambled over six acres. The Sprawling mansion contained 160 rooms, 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 stairways, 47 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, and 6 kitchens. Carpenters even left nails half driven when they learned of Mrs. Winchester’s death.”-http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/sarahwinchester.cfm As far as they know so far, that is. Construction halted after Sarah passed away in her sleep on September 5, 1922, and it wasn’t until 1973 that construction started again. The house is now on the National Register of Historic Places, and every day there is construction and repair happening on the house. The house requires 20,000 gallons of paint to cover the exterior, and as soon as painters have finished, they have to start from the beginning again!
The house is open daily for tours, and they often have special tours available, like haunted candlelit tours in the dark, or the Spirit of the Holidays during the winter. We couldn’t WAIT to get inside, and with our fancy Skeleton Key Club Membership, we get to tour the house for free! So of course we took the deluxe tour, featuring inside and outside tours. We brought The Doctors, getting them discounted tickets with our membership, which is awesome, and we headed into the sprawling Queen Ann Victorian mansion built for ghosts.
We grabbed our tickets and met in the courtyard next to the little cafe. Yes, you can come, sit, and spend a day at the Mystery House without taking a tour, if you felt so inclined. If our HQ was closer, we would be there right now! We met our tour guide, and proceeded into the house. We would love to share with you pictures we took from inside the property, but there is currently a movie being made about the house, and photos of the interior are proprietary. We aren’t even sure we are allowed to tell you how incredible it was, but we will do our best. The House lives up to all the hype, being grand, gorgeous, and mysterious.
We were treated to sights of staircases the ended in the ceiling, a staircase leading down that ended in a staircase leading up again, doors to windows, windows to doors, and doors leading to oblivion. One door on the second (or was it the third? Fourth?) floor leads you to outside, with no landing, just a nasty drop to your demise, or a bad owwie at the very least. Don’t worry, you can’t accidentally step out the door, it is clearly marked now. The house was ahead of it’s time in many ways, with indoor plumbing, hot water, and electricity. One of the first rooms on our tour was a huge bathroom and shower, luxurious by today’s standards and mind boggling for the 1800’s. The bathroom, one of 13, has 13 sinkholes in the sink…just one of the many times the number 13 sneaks it’s way into the house.
Remember when we mentioned that Sarah continued to commune with the dead, getting advice on how to proceed with the construction? One of the rooms on our tour was this small room, with the story that “When Mrs. Winchester set out for her Séance Room, it might well have discouraged the ghost of the Indian or even of a bloodhound, to follow her. After traversing an interminable labyrinth of rooms and hallways, suddenly she would push a button, a panel would fly back and she would step quickly from one apartment into another, and unless the pursuing ghost was watchful and quick, he would lose her. Then she opened a window in that apartment and climbed out, not into the open air, but onto the top of a flight of steps that took her down one story only to meet another flight that brought her right back up to the same level again, all inside the house. This was supposed to be very discomforting to evil spirits who are said to be naturally suspicious of traps.” We entered the room through the entrance with no exit, and left through one of the secret passages, whether or not we were followed is still a mystery.
On the second part of our tour we were shown the grounds, and learned more about the practical side of the house. During her time there, Sarah had sprawling orchards of plums, walnuts, and apricots. She ran a successful fruit business, only adding to her bajillion dollars from the Winchester shares. The gardens are incredible, with four fountains, and some of the most beautiful roses in the world. Trees from all over the globe, and Mrs. Winchester’s favorite, daisies. The grounds boast 13 palm trees lining the old driveway to the carriage house and car garage. Sarah Winchester was one of the first people in San Jose to have a car, and a photo of her in the car is one of only two pictures with the heiress.
Our tour guides through the house and the grounds were remarkable! They could answer any questions, had a vast knowledge of the house and history, and were truly in love with their jobs. It was wonderful to see the caring that the guides showed, still in awe of this remarkable house and gardens. It’s hard not to be in awe of such a grand haunted estate with such a rich history.
Adventure Pro Tips:
- Be sure to check ahead of time to verify hours and tour times. As of this writing, tickets could be purchased online 24 hours in advance, and at the box office day of.
- We STRONGLY recommend the Grand Estate tour, touring the mansion and the gardens. This tour, however, is roughly 2 hours long. While well worth it, it is best to plan ahead. Wear comfortable shoes, and be ready for some walking! If you don’t want to do the walking tour, there is an audio tour. Children 5 and Under are not allowed behind the scenes for safety reasons.
- There is, of course, a gift shop! In the gift shop there is not one, not two, but three penny squish machines! If you want a great souvenir that only costs .51 cents, be sure to bring some change and squish a penny! Squished pennies are a fun keepsake, and most places have at least one squisher.
- Have fun! This is the only house like this in the world!
SOLID 4 of a Kind (Quads). This is an exceptional tour, and well worth the drive, and the dollars. It can be a little steep if you are not a member, and not everyone enjoys walking through history for two hours. We loved it, and we are sure you will, too.
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