Winchester Mystery House

It’s spooky season!

We decided there was no better way to celebrate the start of spooky season than by visiting the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA. Bret had a rare weekend off and we wanted to do something different, because on his weekends off we typically go hiking or run errands. We had yet to really drive anywhere that wasn’t the mountains and I really wanted to go some place neither of us had ever been. Since San Jose is only 2.5 hours away, we decided to go there.

The drive from Fresno to San Jose was relatively easy. We cut across the inland part of the state to the coast by going through the Pacheco Pass. It wasn’t a bad road and did not make me car sick, which is a constant concern of mine. On our way home, we did see an accident on the westbound side involving three semi-trucks. Otherwise the road seemed relatively safe. The Pacheco Pass (SR-152) takes you to Gilroy, where you catch Hwy 101. If you’ve never been to Gilroy, I can assure you’ve heard of it. On July 28, 2019, there was a shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. This was one of three shootings that weekend (El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH were the other two). While driving through Gilroy, we did see several #GilroyStrong signs.

Upon arrival to San Jose and the Winchester Mystery House, it was interesting to take in the lay of the land. Back when Sarah Winchester owned and continued building the infamous house, it was the only structure around because she owned the surrounding acreage. However, now the surrounding area has been built up with shopping centers and malls, which, to me, takes away from the ominous feeling the house should probably give off.

History

Sarah Winchester was the widow to William Wirt Winchester, the heir to the Winchester Rifle fortune. The Winchester Rifle was revolutionary at that time because, up until its invention, rifles were single shot shotguns. The Winchester Rifle was a repeating rifle that allowed the shooter to continuously shoot ammo. Upon her husbands death, Sarah inherited $20 million and 50% ownership in the company, making her one of the richest women of her time. After consulting a medium, she left New Haven, CT and moved West to Santa Clara County (now San Jose), where she purchased a small farmhouse and began one of the longest ongoing construction projects to this day. The house supposedly has 160 rooms, staircases that lead to the ceiling, doors that lead to nowhere, and plenty of ghosts (allegedly).

Sarah was reportedly a very superstitious woman. Her favorite number was 13 and she believed the spirits of people killed by Winchester rifles were haunting her. There are many rumors as to why she continued construction on the house. The medium supposedly told her to buy a house and continue construction to build a home for Sarah and the spirits, but no one knows exactly why. One theory that I always heard, was that she believed the spirits were trying to kill her. Therefore she slept in a different room every night so they couldn’t find her, and the doors and stairs to nowhere were to help confuse the spirits, making it more difficult for them to find her. Our tour guide couldn’t give concrete facts or confirm that theory, because very little is known about Sarah in general, as she was a very private person.

There are many strange rooms in the house. One of the coolest (which is also my sister’s favorite) is Sarah’s seance room. While Sarah was alive, only she was allowed in the room. Not even her niece (to whom she left her entire fortune and estate to) was allowed in the seance room. What makes this room so interesting is that there is only one entrance, but three exits. One exit is through the entrance, one is a secret door leading to another room (and there’s no doorknob on the other side so you can’t get in that way), and the third is through a door that drops into one of the kitchen sinks below.

Sarah enjoyed gardening, so in addition to her traditional Victorian garden on the grounds of the estate, she also had several conservatories throughout the house. For me, the creepiest part was one of the conservatories. As a Whovian (a fan of Doctor Who), I found myself unable to blink or turn away from the statues, who bore an awfully similar resemblance to the terrifying weeping angels in the Blink episode with the Tenth Doctor.

There was one room that was described to us as the “cone” room (not sure if that’s accurate or if I heard incorrectly) that is not available to be seen on the regular tour, but only on the Unhinged Tour. This particular room is very haunted and our tour guide mentioned that she refuses to go in that room alone. She told us several stories about ghost encounters in that room and throughout the house, where guests and tour guides have come into contact with the spirits from beyond. Sadly, we did not encounter any ghosts on our tour or while exploring the grounds (to our knowledge), and our pictures don’t show anything crazy either.

One of the features that makes this house unique are the stairs. It was originally built with “normal” height steps. However, Sarah was only about 4 feet, 10 inches tall and those normal steps were a bit much for her. She had a number of staircases removed and in its place added “easy-risers.” These stairs are short (about 2 inches tall) and long. Upon starting the tour, the first set you encounter has seven hairpin turns and consists of 44 steps, but only goes up 9 feet. In one area of the house where she replaced the normal stairs with easy-risers, you can see the outline of the previous staircase.

Tour

We only took the regular daily tour. Tickets are $39/adult and $20/kids 6-12 years old. Kids 5 and under are free, and there are discounted tickets available for seniors and active military members. There is an additional tour available called Unhinged, where you can explore more rooms that are not available to the public. You can purchase this tour as a package deal with the regular tour for $54/adult or by itself for $39/adult. We were not able to go on the Unhinged tour because children 5 and under are not allowed.

There is a gift shop and small cafe on the grounds. The gift shop, cafe, and outside gardens are free to go to, meaning you don’t need to purchase a ticket to enter these areas. The gift shop is where you can buy tickets (but you can also buy them online for a $3/ticket fee). You can enter the gardens through the gift shop and walk around the grounds of the house without purchasing a ticket. Even just walking to the front of the house and observing the front door (made by Tiffany & Co.) and the door to nowhere is cool enough. The gift shop houses the gingerbread replica of the Winchester Mystery House. The gingerbread replica was really cool and smelled really good! There is also a shooting gallery and an ax throwing area for an extra fee each. We walked by both and they both looked like fun.

Overall we had a great time. Our tour guide, Amanda, was really nice and funny. I do wish the tours talked more of substance. She did talk a lot about the history and the rooms and the mansion overall, but I felt like there was a lot unsaid, particularly when I mentioned the stairs and doors warding off spirits. In some instances it felt like talking about the spiritual side of things was an afterthought and more focus was on the number of windows and doors and less about the “why.” But in the end it felt like the Disneyland Haunted Mansion (without the 999 happy haunts making an actual appearance) so I love it!

If you are in the Bay Area, I would highly suggest taking a trip to the Winchester Mystery House. Who knows, maybe you’ll encounter a spirit!

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