Do you long for an excursion into a world rich with mystery and a healthy dose of the supernatural?
On a nondescript street in San Jose stands one of the most fascinating homes in the country. The Winchester House is not your typical quaint Victorian mansion – it’s an officially recognized haunted house, one of two in California along with the Whaley House in San Diego.
Sarah Winchester was the widow of William Winchester, the son of the manufacturer of the Winchester Rifle. Attempting to contact the spirit of her late husband during a séance, she was instead supposedly confronted by the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles, mainly Native Americans. They threatened her and insisted that she move from her home in New Haven, Connecticut, to the West and devote her fortune to building a mansion nonstop according to their specifications.
Sarah immediately set out for California in 1884, bought a little farmhouse and spent the last half of her life devoting her spectacular wealth to building onto and transforming the house. Heir to the Winchester fortune, Mrs. Winchester had nearly unlimited financial resources at hand to devote to this purpose. Work ensued on the house seven days a week, 24 hours a day for 38 years. The mansion grew to 160 rooms with 950 doors and 10,000 windows! She lived alone there, except perhaps for the spirits that she feared.
Sarah never got over the death of her husband and young daughter and only entertained three guests during her entire time at the house. President Theodore Roosevelt was even turned away at the door. “What did she care? She was old and she had more money than he did,” the tour guide quipped.
The tour is actually quite informative and the house is a fascinating mystery, whether you are a believer in spirits or not. We were led through a maze of hallways and rooms. The tour guide, Wayne, warned us to be careful not to lag behind as “we’ve lost a few people that way” – his cackling laugh adding to the atmosphere.
A woman with a genius-level IQ, Sarah was said to have had exquisite taste. Her extravagant wealth is evidenced by the stunning Tiffany stain glass windows inlaid with jewels that are interspersed throughout the mansion. A storeroom of materials imported from around the world, but never used, was valued at $25,000 in 1920. Its estimated worth is 100 times that amount today. The Victorian craftsmanship of the home is impressive. It was quite high-tech for the time, with innovations including a modern heating system.
Other elements are unorthodox or downright creepy. Rooms were built and then torn apart. Doors open to walls or sometimes to a sheer drop. We entered the séance room (where Sarah nightly “communicated” with the spirits on the progress of the house) which has a door that opens to an eight-foot-drop to the kitchen below. Another such door is labeled “The Door to Nowhere”!
The number 13, an obvious obsession of Sarah’s, plays a significant role in the design of the home. There are 13 bathrooms with 13 windows, etc., etc… A statue of a Native American chief and the deer he hunts stands on the front lawn of the mansion. It was erected to honor the countless Native Americans who lost their lives to the Winchester rifle.
Psychics claim to have contacted spirits in the home. Staff and visitors have reportedly seen a variety of unexplained phenomena. Alas, I did not see anything out of the ordinary other than the creepy, yet fascinating home. I did not even feel a cold breeze brush against the back of my neck, as I did upon entering the Whaley House. Was the Winchester mansion the result of a delusion or is it genuinely haunted with the spirits of the victims of the Winchester rifles? Plan a trip via winchestermysteryhouse.com and decide for yourself…..if you dare.