Despite living very close to the Winchester Mystery House, San Jose’s only real tourist attraction and the most haunted place in California according to many, I had not been since we moved here until today. This is greatly owing to the fact that I visited while in college and found the experience lacking. Still, it just didn’t seem right to leave this nearby landmark unexplored during our residency.
My first piece of advice while visiting is not to bring your 3-month-old. Those pesky spirits were not good to little Zoe, and my poor friend had to duck into many a room to comfort her as we went along.
My second word of guidance is to just give into the cost. Coupons are hard to find (at least coupons worth bothering with), and there really is no denying that the Winchester House is overpriced. It’s either worth it to you or it’s not.
If you’re on the fence, it’s probably not worth it. The house is cool, but the cost is pretty exorbitant for what you get.
However, if this is a place you want to see, it is pretty cool. Speaking as one who loves all things supernatural, I could have done with more history of the hauntings associated with this house, but even though the tour concentrates more on the house and Mrs. Winchester, it’s pretty creepy. I am thoroughly convinced that if I had gotten lost from the tour, I would not have been able to escape without walking out a door to nowhere.
Sarah Winchester was the widow of William Winchester, one of the makers of the Winchester rifle, when she started building the house. Despite her vast piles of money, her life was not a happy one. Her only child died in infancy, and she was widowed long before her own death, cursed to spend the rest of her days alone. After losing her daughter and husband, she consulted a psychic about her misfortunes and was told she was troubled by the spirits of the many, many people killed by the Winchester rifle. The psychic told her to build a house that would never be finished, and thus began the Winchester Mansion.
Meant to confuse and appease spirits at once, the house was under construction from its beginnings until Mrs. Winchester died in 1922. She made the plans for its construction herself and was very involved in the building process. The result is an unfinished house with staircases that lead nowhere, doors that open onto twelve foot drops, staircases made for hobbits (small ones), and a labyrinthine series of passages that I imagine confused the hell out of her servants.
Entering the Winchester House is like stepping into an old Victorian house that went through World War II. Since it is unfinished, many a room looks…wrong. The house is so ornate, but the unfinished rooms show piping or the interior of the wall, almost like the world’s tiniest warehouse. Juxtapose that with the gorgeous ballrooms, fireplaces, and stained glass windows that could easily be found in a European mansion, and you really lose a sense of where you are. The house really is a maze too. Some rooms have four exits but only one entrance, some closets open onto walls while others have secret doors to other rooms, and some doors have no purpose whatsoever. Even paying double the going rate, I’m surprised Mrs. Winchester was able to keep the house staffed.
Outside, the house is much more normal. It’s huge, and it’s very tasteful. The gardens are well groomed and filled with roses and statues. You would never know how crazy the house is inside just by looking at it.
I’m glad I went on this tour. I still think it’s overpriced, but it is an interesting bit of history that you just won’t get anywhere else. It’s also an amazing look at what endless amounts of money can do for you, especially if you are an eccentric old lady. Few places on the west coast offer more history or such a refined abode. It is one of the rare quirks that makes San Jose interesting.