Tour the Winchester Mystery House

The famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, is closed until at least April 7th, but the museum has compiled a comprehensive 41-minute video tour for our remote enjoyment.

The manchester was built by Sarah Winchester, widow of rifle tycoon William Wirt Winchester. When he died in 1881, his wife inherited a huge fortune in cash and stock, making her worth a half billion dollars in today’s money and one of the richest women in the world. Legend has it — and it is very much legendary as Sarah left no correspondence or journals on the subject, nor did any family, friends or loyal employees ever volunteer an explanation — that, devastated by the loss of her husband and daughter, she sought the advice of a Boston medium named Adam Coons. After a séance, he told her that she was haunted by the thousands of Civil War soldiers and Indians who had been killed by Winchester firearms, and that the only way to appease the vengeful spirits was to use the Winchester money she’d inherited to build them a house. Another origin story claims that a medium told her she would die as soon as the house was finished, so she saw to it that construction continued until her last breath. There is zero evidence that any of this ever happened.

In 1884, she moved to California and bought a 161-acre farm in Santa Clara Valley from Dr. Robert Caldwell. There was a modest eight room farmhouse already on the property, but Sarah’s vision was far vaster. For 38 years, she had her crew of carpenters and masons work in shifts so construction continued 24-7, 365 days a year. (Again, this is the legend; somebody probably took some time off now and again.) built and built, creating a mansion with hundreds of rooms, rooms-within-rooms, unfinished rooms, mazes of corridors, dead ends, staircases that are short cuts from one part of the house to the other, staircases that lead nowhere, doors that open up to walls, doors that open to the outside two stories up, small doors, big doors, cupolas, turrets, windows of every shape and size, skylights in floors, prime numbers, especially 13, everywhere. There was even a seven story tower at one point, but it was destroyed in the 1906 Frisco quake.

When she died on September 5th, 1922, work immediately stopped. There are still nails half-hammered in to the walls. The rich reclusive widow and her labyrinthine mansion were already famous by then. The villa was known as the Spirit House and rumors abounded of nightly séances, copious hauntings and “evil spirits” confounded by Sarah Winchester’s architectural follies.

She left her estate to the charities she supported, dedicated employees and family. The furnishings of the house were sold and the mansion itself opened to tours in 1923. Millions of visitors have trod its eccentric floors in the century since then. You can now join them virtually from the comfort of your home, maybe chasing the tour with a viewing of the horror thriller Winchester starring Helen Mirren now showing on Showtime and streaming on Hulu.

You can also buy discounted ticket vouchers for a visit to the mansion that will be valid through May 2021. The vouchers cost $26, $13 off the regular ticket price. The income from the voucher sales will help keep the lights on and food on the table for the museum’s employees while the Winchester House is closed.

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4 Comments »

Comment by Susie
2020-03-24 00:14:06

I always said I got my love of Egyptology from the Rosicrucian Museum. I guess I got my love of mystery from the Mansion. As a schoolgirl I passed the Rosicrucian every day to and from school. As a high school student I passed the Mansion to and from. What mysteries both places hold. I guess we will never know what drove Mrs. Winchester to build and build and build .
P.S. It was the San Francisco earthquake. Only outsiders shorten its beautiful name

 
Comment by Maud Karlsdottir
2020-03-24 08:26:55

We Yanks treasure those with more money than sense.

You can call the place where the Declaration of Independence was written Philly if you want. :hattip:

 
Comment by A
2020-03-24 15:28:07

A very interesting place to visit! I was surprised that much of the house was built to scale for Sarah Winchester, who was quite petite. A favorite for me was the exhibit of new old stock building and interior decorating supplies that had been ordered and never used. The house was originally quite secluded but now it’s pretty much a theme park in the middle of the city. Huge gift shop.

 
Comment by Reziac
2020-03-25 01:38:19

Gormenghast is Real!! :cool:

 
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