SAN JOSE, CA —As we edge closer to Halloween, it’s fun to look at supernatural or unexplained happenings in California. Certainly one of the best known places for exploring the world of spirits is the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.
The home was built by Sarah Winchester, heiress of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The Winchester rifle was nicknamed “The Gun that Won the West.” Unfortunately for Sarah, she was convinced that she was haunted by the spirits of the people killed by her family’s rifles.
A medium convinced Mrs. Winchester that if construction was done on her home continuously, noise from the sawing and pounding of nails would keep the spirits away. So work began on the fabulous mansion in 1884 and continued, 24 hours a day, until her death in 1922. Total cost: $5.5 million. According to an inflation calculator, that’s more than $80 million in today’s money.
By the numbers, the house has 161 rooms, 40 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, 52 skylights, 47 fireplaces, 40 staircases, 3 elevators and 2 basements. Oh, and then there’s the seance room. She needed that to consult with the spirits who advised her on ways to build the home that would confuse any menacing ghosts who were not bothered by the construction noise.
The house famously has doors that lead to nowhere, staircases that end at the ceiling and other oddities. But if you’re a spirit, those staircases could some in handy!
So, it’s an incredible Queen Anne Revival mansion on the outside, and a construction oddity on the inside.
Are you thinking about taking a Halloween Candlelight Tour of the Winchester Mystery House? Here are a few things you may learn during your visit.
1. Hall of Fires
Some employees who worked at the mansion for Mrs. Winchester are said to have stayed on after their deaths. There are footsteps heard shuffling to and from Mrs. Winchester’s room. Her servants? There’s an apparition with black hair who is frequently spotted pushing a wheelbarrow. Perhaps that laborer is what a present-day worker encountered in the Hall of Fires, so named for its many fireplaces. Prior to the mansion opening for tours one day, the worker was on a ladder. He felt a tap on his shoulder, turned and — no one was there. The worker refocused his attention on his task. That’s when he felt what seemed like a hand pressing against his back. He was still the only one in the room. But not for long — that worker got out of there fast, leaving the otherworldly laborer alone to handle the job.
2. Sarah’s sealed room
The 1906 earthquake that destroyed San Francisco also caused serious damage to Mrs. Winchester’s house. In fact, she was trapped in a room until her workers were able to set her free. Deeply shaken by her experience, Mrs. Winchester had the room sealed. It stayed that way until last year when the room was opened and added to tours. On one of those tours, a guide gathered participants in the room to explain the history and point out the objects found inside more than 100 years after being sealed. The guide heard a loud sigh in the hallway and went outside to bring in the straggler. She didn’t find any tourists, but did see a small, ghostly form gliding around the corner. The guide quickly followed. She still didn’t see anyone, yet she heard another sigh. Perhaps Mrs. Winchester had used the sealed room as a refuge from tourists.
3. Surveillance video of ghost?
What happens during the witching hour at the Winchester Mystery House? Strange things, if surveillance video is to be believed. Take a look at the video below. Keep an eye on the top floor or balcony. What do you see at about 15 seconds in?
4. What’s in that photo?
Just as unexpected things turn up on video, the same is true of photographs. The Winchester Mystery House’s own Public Relations Coordinator reports that he took several photos of the mansion in 2015. When he downloaded the photos he deleted what he didn’t need. But, one caught his eye. In one window of the house, Tim O’Day spotted something. Was it a shadow? A reflection of a cloud? Or something else?
Visitors to the Winchester Mystery House also report taking photos with strange shapes in the windows. A few even shared their snapshots on Facebook. If you visit, study all photos carefully before hitting the delete button. You never know what you will find!
5. Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester
This isn’t really spooky, but we had to mention that this house is so famous that feature filmmakers from Australia are making a movie about Sarah Winchester with Helen Mirren starring as the heiress. Most of the filming was done in Australia, but Mirren came to San Jose earlier this year to film exteriors. During her visit she told a columnist with the Los Angeles Times, “If you have made a fortune out of death, you have to pay the price, a psychological price and a spiritual price. And I can only imagine that people who make fortunes to this day from selling armaments have pause at some point, especially if they are Christians: ‘Am I going to pay?’”
The movie is scheduled for release in February 2018.
Friday the 13th
Have you looked at the calendar? This Friday is Friday the 13th. Mrs. Winchester was said to be fascinated by the number 13. Every Friday the 13th, the bell tolls 13 times on the 13th hour, 1 p.m. If you stop by to video the event, remember to check all video and photos carefully before deleting. You never know who will show up unexpectedly in your keepsakes.