The Winchester Mystery House

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.

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An aerial view – we didn’t take this picture

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.

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Not the graves of the family. These are graves of guard dogs that lived on the grounds

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.

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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! 

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Even now the work never stops

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. 1853.jpg

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.

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The Red Umbrella for House Tours

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. 1857.jpg1858

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. 1860

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Have fun! This is the only house like this in the world!

AwesomeSauce Rating:

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.

 

Want to learn more? Check out:

WinchesterMysteryHouse.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winchester_Mystery_House

 

AwesomeSauce Rating System

In our posts you will see us use a rating system that has terms like “Royal Flush,” or “High Card.” We are using the 10 kinds of winning hands of poker to help us rate experiences, places, foods, and everything else.

Here are the 10 hands of poker, and what they mean to us (as far as rating, not necessarily in playing);

High Card – 1 out of 10. This is abysmal, and literally (almost) anything beats this. This is bad, and you should feel bad. There are no kittens. Anywhere. Ever.

One Pair – 2 out of 10. Not great. Probably not going to be worth it, but if everything else sucks it might seem ok. There was a kitten here at one time. No longer. You missed it.

Two Pair –  3 out of 10. Meh.

Three of a Kind –  4 out of 10. Not bad, could be a winner. Maybe this is free coffee with decent creamer, or a coupon for tacos. Someone mentioned that there might be a kitten around.

Straight – 5 out of 10. A coupon for better tacos. A pleasant surprise, often a good hand. You saw a kitten when you got it, you were told that you could hang out with the kitten later if you played your cards right. Heh.

Flush – 6 out of 10. Not only is the coffee free, but they have the fancy creamer you like, which is awesome. Water pressure could be how you like it. Usually a win. Most often a good choice.

Full House – 7 out of 10. BAM! The free coffee is delicious! There might even be some free breakfast with real eggs – not weird powdered…… eggs. This is a win for sure. You got to play with the kittens, and give them kisses.

Quads (four of a kind) – 8 out of 10. OH SNAP! Things are getting serious now. The water pressures is perfect. Temperature is how you like it. The tacos are free and maybe some of the best tacos you’ve had in a while. There are kittens around, playing and being super cute. Sometimes they run over and give you love.

Straight Flush – 9 out of 10. It’s the best coffee you’ve ever had, and it’s free. There are kittens frolicking around, AND you can squeeze them. Tacos are all you can eat and they are amazing. Temperature? Perfect. Water pressure? Perfect. You don’t think it can get better!

Royal Flush – 10 out of 10. Impossible to beat. There is no better rating/hand, which makes it so rare. The rarest and highest of these would be the Royal Flush of Spades. Nothing in the world will ever beat this. Ever. This is like snuggling kittens while eating ice cream, drinking the most delicious of beverages, while also eating pasta and all the things, while not getting fat. There is a handsome/gorgeous person ready to cater to your every need. Perhaps with a fan. The temperature is a perfect 72 degrees. You don’t have to work tomorrow, your bills are paid, and you have all the money in the bank. The bed is the perfect firmness, the pillow is cool on both sides, and did I mention kittens?

The Duo Does Deadwood

Awesome K and I were looking for something to watch. It was one of the rare nights we were home with nothing to do, and thought that loafing on the couch sounded like the best idea. So, we perused the usual places, Netflix, our DVR, and our extensive movie shelf. Nothing. Nada. Zilcho. What were we to do? Just then, A.K remembered a show he had seen, and loved. HBO’s Deadwood! I was skeptical, Westerns have never been a favorite of mine, but he was so enthusiastic, I couldn’t say no!

After a couple of episodes, I was hooked. Even though the show was not filmed on location, it was still filled with snippits of history. The death of Wild Bill Hickok! Calamity Jane! And, of course, Seth Bullock. Seth happens to be my favorite, by the way. Not just the character on the show, but the man himself. Mr. Bullock has such an interesting story! Last, but not least, the infamous Al Swearengen! Mr. Swearengen is particularly interesting, because there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot known about him, and we all know how much I love a mystery! So, after watching the show for a little bit, I started to research the real Deadwood, South Dakota.

One thing led to another, and we decided we needed to see this piece of the wild west for ourselves. It just so happens that they have some casinos there, so not only could we get a rich lesson in history, we could also play some poker! A perfect combination! We were also able to find a brewery the A.K had heard about, so we knew this was the next adventure for us. We left for Deadwood on a Saturday morning, with me behind the wheel. We stopped for our (my) obligatory road Starbucks, then we were off!

We made a couple of minor pit-stops on our way to our first real stop in Rapid City, S.D. We stopped to see if we could see the Oregon Trail – as all the signs said we could – but we were unsuccessful. We drove around a little bit trying to find some of it, but quickly gave up. While it would have been neat to see, it was not our main focus. We had a brewery to get to! Onward!

Firehouse Brewing Co Hose Our first stop on our Deadwood Adventure was in Rapid City, S.D. To some this may not seem like a very exciting destination, but we couldn’t wait to get there. A.K had heard of a brewery there that had some pretty amazing food and brews, and I couldn’t wait to see it because of the growlers they sell! I had been saving my pennies in order to buy one of these magnificent beer vessels, and I was not disappointed. The Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City was everything we hoped it would be, and more!

A must have for any beer enthusiast.
A must have for any beer enthusiast

After filling up on food, beer, and hilarity, we hit the road. Rumor had it that it was going to snow, and snow a lot, so we had to hustle to Deadwood. An ominous sky hung over us while we scurried through Sturgis, and we made it to our hotel just as the first flakes began to fall. We arrived at Cadillac Jack’s Hotel and Casino just in time! Situated just outside of the main stretch, Cadillac Jack’s is a great place to stay. Comfortable, great gaming options, nice rooms, and you have two different hotels to choose from! Both are connected to the casino, so no matter what side of the house you stay on, you are still close to the games. We stayed in in the Cadillac Jack’s rooms, as opposed to the Marriott, and were very impressed. The room was very large, comfortable, and VERY affordable. If you are looking for a reasonable place to stay, I would check them out. If you are in it for the history, though, I might look at staying on Main Street. ((A handy tip when looking for a room, try Hotels.com. We have found incredible rates on a number of our adventures, but especially to Deadwood. If you have a specific hotel in mind, check their website, and especially their Facebook page. Often hotels will advertise special rates and deals on Facebook. If all else fails, call them and ask for a discount, especially if it during their “off season.”)) We settled into our room after a painless check in, then hit the casino! I have spent a fair amount of time in casinos, especially lately, and I have to say that I really enjoyed Cadillac Jack’s. Everything was spaced out nicely so that nothing felt cramped or scary, there was a good variety of games, and there were two separate areas dedicated to table games, one for poker only, and the other for Black Jack and what-not. The poker room seemed a little small, but I am used to the Ameristar that has a TON of tables, it seems, so seeing only a couple of tables seemed small to me. There was at least one table open for a cash game, though, and there was a rumor of some decent daily tournaments. We headed off to check out the slot machines and other table games, and to just relax after our drive.

Snow-pocalypse
Snow-pocalypse

The next morning we stepped outside to a mini Snow-pocalypse. The dreaded blizzard was in full force, and there was no going anywhere. While we were a little bummed, we made the best of it by checking out the previously mentioned poker tournament. A.K has played in tournaments before, and has even played at the World Series of Poker (a couple of times), I, however, had no tournament experience (other than video games). Needless to say I was a little nervous, and A.K was calm, cool, and ready to kick Deadwood booty! For my first ever live tournament, it was pretty stress free. The buy-in was only $13, with a $5 re-buy, so I didn’t need to worry that I was going to lose all our money in my first “big game.” Even with the blizzard, there ended up being a decent turn-out, with two full tables of players. Everyone playing seemed really nice (and obviously everyone knew one another, small town and all), and the game itself was pretty low key and fun. I didn’t do all that well, but I can say I was not the first knocked out, which is nice. A.K was a different story, however. He was ON FIRE! That little poker room didn’t know what hit it! Well, maybe not quite that dramatic…First he was doing well, then he made it to the final table, he made it “to the money”, then he ended up winning the tournament, winning $177! I was pretty impressed (although I know he is a phenomenal poker player), and I think everyone else was pretty impressed, too. Way to kick butt A.K!

Luck was definitely on our side that afternoon. After A.K won the tournament, we checked the weather outside and it had let up! There was even a little trolley running! We would get to see some of Deadwood after all! YAY! We bundled up and headed out.

Deadwood TrolleyWe decided to take the super cool trolley to upper Main Street, and walk back down. Deadwood is not a very big town, and when the weather is nice it would be easy to walk pretty much the whole place. If you wanted to, you could ride the trolley in a large loop around the town, and pick and choose where to get off at. There are multiple stops on the route, and the trolley runs into the wee hours of the night, so if you change your mind about all the walking, you can hop on the trolley to get you where you wanted to go. On our trip, we almost didn’t make it up the street, the roads were slick and the snow was pretty deep in some places. Luckily our trolley was pretty tough, and we made it to our stop.

We started meandering down Main Street, looking in at all the cool little shops and what-nots. There is so much history crammed into such a small town, I was afraid we would miss something! Luckily there are placards all over the place letting you know who was here, how something happened, and where you were standing. It was nice to see all the information was readily available. Despite some places were closed due to weather, or it being the wrong day of the week (turns out Monday’s are pretty dead, so bare that in mind. It’s always good to find out in advance what days most places are closed, if Monday’s are their off days, or Wednesdays. Be sure to plan ahead!), we were still able to see a lot of the things we had hoped for. One of our first stops was to check out the Historic Bullock Hotel. Built by Seth Bullock, it was originally a warehouse and (I think) hardware store. After a fire burnt down the warehouse, Seth built his hotel on the same site. While we were checking out the gorgeous hotel, we learned that Bullock was the father of two daughters and a son (nothing like the show said of his family), longtime friends with Teddy Roosevelt, and was appointed the first forest supervisor by Roosevelt, in addition to being Sheriff, and entrepreneur. We learned that Seth may even haunt his hotel, and that one of his favorite spots is the grand fireplace on the first level. It was said to be a favorite of his in life, and apparently still loves it after his death.

The GemAfter checking out some more of the buildings around town, we headed toward the infamous Gem Saloon! The Gem Steakhouse and Saloon is now part of the Mineral Palace Hotel and Gaming, with the Gem as a restaurant on the second floor. On the site of the original Gem, built and run by the notorious Al Swearengen, the Gem Steakhouse and Saloon is a great place to stop and get a bite to eat. The prices are reasonable, with the menu following the Deadwood (show) theme. You can order the (Dan) Dority Black and Bleu Steak, Mr. Woo’s Pork Ribs, or Merrick’s Ribeye. They also offer Calamity Jane’s chicken and Joanie Stubbs Grilled Swordfish. I had the black and bleu, and A.K tried the garlic ribeye. Both were delicious, and well worth the stop.

One of the places we were really hoping to see, and didn’t get to because of the weather, was Mount Moriah Cemetery, the final resting place for Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Seth Bullock, and a few other famous Deadwood residents. The snow was too nasty, unfortunately. If you are planning on going, make sure you wear good walking shoes, and plan for at least half an hour of looking around. We heard it is a bit of a hike to see Seth Bullock’s grave, so keep that in mind when planning your visit to the cemetery. Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are pretty easy to check out, we heard.

We walked back to our hotel and reveled in the little bit of history we were able to take in on that snowy Monday afternoon. While we didn’t get to see and do everything we had planned on, it was still a lot of fun to traipse through a snowy Deadwood.

Two-Headed Calf!
Two-Headed Calf!

The next morning, before heading back to AwesomeSauce Headquarters, we decided to try and check out the Adams Museum. It was closed the day before, which was a bummer, and we wanted to try to see it before we left. We were in luck as they were open and ready for visitors, so on our way out of town we made one last Deadwood stop. When you go to Deadwood, this is a must see location! While it looks small from the outside, the three level museum is packed to the gills with Deadwood history and items, as well as some rare and unusual items from all over! There was a whole section dedicated to Wild Bill and Calamity Jane, which was really neat to see. It contained Hickok’s last letter to his wife (that they read on the HBO show), memorabilia from his show days, clothes, and so much more! We learned a lot more about Calamity Jane’s past, the woman who claimed to be her daughter (which turned out to be untrue), and were able to get a better idea of who the wild woman was. There was also a neat section in the museum dedicated to the Jewish founders, and the Chinese population of Deadwood. One of my favorite sections was the oddities section, with the not-to-be-missed two headed calf!

Stunning
Stunning

On the upper floor you can learn about the town’s history. Fires! Gambling! Brothels! Read the headlines from original newspapers, and learn all there is to know of Deadwood’s beginnings, and almost ends. There is also an area with some of the most intricate and beautifully wooden furniture! In the basement you find out more about the first schools, and how it was to be a learning child in a lawless town.

After a wonderful morning spent in a great little museum, we had to head home. Driving out we noticed a lot of land for sale, and “joked” about when we win the World Series of Poker, maybe we would buy some land and build a house in the Black Hills. It is a gorgeous area, and it would be easy to move in and relax. Maybe pan for gold in the streams while enjoying quiet nights with the stars, trees, and wildlife for company. Sounds pretty nice, when you think about it.

All in all it was a very fun adventure! I highly recommend going to Deadwood, via Rapid City. We are going to go back sometime when the weather is nice, and hopefully see more of what Deadwood has to offer. We might even try to make it to the town of Wall, and check out the Wall Drug store we saw so many signs for!

Thank you for joining us on our adventure! Is there someplace we missed that you think we should go? Want more information about one of our stops? Got a spot we should go on our next adventure? Tell us about it!

This post brought to you by G-Sauce. G-Sauce is a member of the AwesomeSauce Duo, and author in the Are You Ready? blog series. She works closely with the AwesomeSauce Duo P.R Manager – and Mews – Sir Archer Funnyfoot, with the Trip Coordinator – and Mews – Miss Matilda Pants, and with the Head of Logistics – and Mews – Secret Agent Sam. She loves a good cup of coffee, enjoys reading, and has a soft spot for all things nerdy.