Friday, May 28, 2010

spooky time in San Jose!

Considering I’m not working right now, you’d think I’d update this thing more often! I should set some kind of goal, like 1 update a week.

Enough of that – on to the amazing, wonderful, bizarre Winchester Mystery House! I’ve wanted to see this house since it was featured on That’s Incredible in 1980. It’s an oddly designed house that might have ghosts, woo hoo!Last year my friend Michelle took a trip to California and returned with a postcard and stories of how cool the house was.

When Glen and I began our cross-country trip, and decided on what stops to make, this was at the top of my list. You wouldn’t know it was there based on the view from the street, but there were signs guiding visitors on the highway. It was $28 for the mansion tour but only $5 more for that and the behind-the-scenes tour so we went for it. I took tons of photos, but none inside ‘cause they aren’t allowed. Since the house gets their only money from tickets and gift shop (no govt money), it wouldn’t feel right.

The background of the house: designed by Sarah Winchester, widow of the Winchester who made the rifles. Both her baby daughter and her husband died, so Sarah went to a psychic to find out why her family was cursed. The psychic told her that the spirits of the people killed by Winchester rifles were angry. So Sarah decided to outsmart them by building a confusing house so they wouldn’t be able to find her – she lived to be 88 so I guess it worked. That’s Incredible had really played up this story, but our tour guide made it sound more like Sarah was just headstrong and couldn’t decide how to finish the house. Sarah was into spiritualism and was fascinated by the number 13 (13 hooks in a closet, 13 steps on a staircase).

The house itself is GREAT, kinda Victorian and gingerbready. They have a room filled with all the supplies she had purchased but were never used, like beautiful stained glass windows and deeply textured wallpaper. There are rooms that were never finished, so there’s only studs. Some rooms were damaged in an earthquake in 1906; she just left them and moved into another room. Other rooms are beautifully made up and fancy. There are 160 rooms total. None of the furniture in the house is hers, she had it all sold at auction after she died per her will.

There’s a staircase where each step is only 2 inches higher than the previous one, so it goes back and forth on itself and only goes up a couple of feet. Another staircase goes up to the ceiling and ends. She had windows everywhere – the house has more windows than the Empire State Building!There are windows in floors, windows that look into other rooms, stained glass windows she designed herself, spiderweb windows …she even had a window that overlooked the kitchen so she could make sure the servants were working. There’s a door on the second floor that goes to nothing. She built a gorgeous ballroom with an antique organ, but she never had any dances or parties. On one part of the outside of the house, you can see where she decided to add on and simply covered up what was already there, shingles and all. That’s how they were able to recreate the color of the house.

The garden is really cool as well, even though most of the plants aren’t original. She imported plants from all over the world, they know because of some paper records, but since the house was neglected for a long time most of the original plants died. Now they just use educated guesses, based on what plants they know were available in her time. The front courtyard has several statues and fountains, and the original entrance to the estate.

During the Behind-the-Scenes tour we got to see the coal-fired furnace, the water pump that worked the elevator, the batteries for the communication system she used to call servants and some more of the unfinished parts of the building.

All in all very cool and worth the 30-year wait ;) I do wish the gift shop had been better; only a few items were about the house itself (books, videos, pencils, postcards and a couple of tee shirts), but it had lots of generic knick-knacks of sun catchers, plant stands, stuffed animals for kids, bottle openers with flowers, etc. I was tempted by wine bottled especially for Winchester House, but couldn’t justify the price. Now if the grapes had been grown on the property, that would have been another matter entirely.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you have a great time. We have not been in over 10 years and we LOVED the place. So much intersting history.

    Thanks for the great "virtual trip" post. I really enjoyed myself :)