|The Winchester Mystery House, San Jose California 2011|
In September 2011, I had the chance to spend some time in the lovely Bay Area of California, and the one of first things I did was visit this house in San Jose. They call it a "house," but as the main building has over 160 remaining rooms (500 to 600 were built over the years and later remodeled), "house" is an understatement. Photography is not allowed/highly discouraged anywhere inside the building itself, so please click on the links I have provided to go to the official site for pictures and more background.
The story behind the family, the house, and the spirits that many say still inhabit the Winchester Mystery House could fill a novel-sized volume, but here is a summary:
Mrs. Sarah Winchester lived with her daughter and husband in New England during the mid-1800's. They held a distinguished position in high society there due to the immense profits (totaling $20,000,000) which Mr. Winchester had gained in part from the manufacture of his reliable and very useful technology, the 1873 Winchester repeating lever action rifle. (Repeating means that the rifle held multiple rounds of ammunition, and the lever action cocking mechanism made for fast shooting without the need to load a round every time one wanted to shoot).
Tragedy struck the family when both the daughter and then the husband died fifteen years later of tuberculosis. Distraught, Sarah consulted a spiritualist in Boston who advised her to move out west and begin building a home there to appease the spirits of those killed by the Winchester repeating rifle. Mrs. Winchester believed that the spirits of the American Indians, Civil War soldiers, and others killed by the Winchester rifle were responsible for the deaths in her family. The catch to dealing with the spirits was that she must keep the workers constructing or otherwise changing the mansion twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to keep the spirits from killing her, as well. This she did, starting in 1884, designing the everything herself; for over 38 years she also held nightly seances to enlist the aid of friendly spirits for guidance in the building plans and for protection.
|From the Winchester Mystery House gift shop.|
Examples of Sarah's obsession with the number thirteen and spiderwebs appear throughout the house in the design of the windows, the number of bathrooms, and even the number of stairs. Mrs. Winchester believed that incorporating the number thirteen throughout the mansion would help ward off the tortured souls that might do her harm. Just a few more examples of this include that there are thirteen wall hooks in the seance room, thirteen holes in the sink drain covers, and thirteen windows in the thirteenth bathroom.
One of my favorite parts of the tour was the room that displays the unused windows and doors that Mrs. Winchester ordered made in Austria and imported by Tiffany's of New York; pictures do not do these creations justice. The crystal bevels and glass in these pieces shimmer with the colors and intensity of diamonds! As a stained glass artist, I could tell that the construction of these pieces was exquisite and probably well worth what Mrs. Winchester paid for them.
Unfortunately, these now priceless doors and widows do not appear in the official photo gallery of the mansion, but it is well worth it to take a look at the photos of the other windows, the stairway to nowhere, the bell tower, the furniture, and many of the other curious features of the house. The site even has a section with first-hand accounts and a graph of the numerous ghost sightings which have occurred in the most psychically active rooms and continue up until very recently. Here is a short History Channel video of the house, which does include footage of the windows and so much more:
These videos explain the history of this place more thoroughly, and are each about 9 minutes in length:
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then you may wish to subscribe to the Winchester Mystery House Newsletter, "The 13th Hour".
I hope the story behind this wonderful structure and its' unusual inhabitants will entertain and chill you as much as it did me. Enjoy!