Chances are if you had met the American firearms heiress, Sarah Winchester in the early 1900s, you would not have been invited to her house.
And although Sarah would have had plenty of topics to talk about – like how she inherited millions of dollars from her late husband’s estate, or had built a haunted mansion – she likely would have not served you a cup of tea or showed off her grand ballroom.
That’s because Sarah believed she was cursed and therefore lived as a recluse for the majority of her life. After talking to a medium who told her that her family was haunted by the souls of people killed by Winchester guns, Sarah was convinced that the only way to appease those spirits was to move to San Jose, California in 1886, purchase an eight-room farmhouse and expand it with around-the-clock construction … forever.
The result: a 24,000-square-foot mansion with 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 160 rooms, 52 skylights, 47 stairways and fireplaces, 17 chimneys, 13 bathrooms, 9 kitchens, and one captivating story of a grieving widow (and mother) who built an architectural wonder around her while her inner world fell apart.
Today, the Winchester Mystery House is one of the most celebrated haunted mansions in the world. Known for its paradox of design beauty and architectural oddity (including stairs that lead straight to a ceiling and doors that lead to, well, nowhere) as well as stories of paranormal activity, the mansion has seen more than 12 million people pass through its doors. Unharmed, of course, yet intrigued.
If you’re in the San Jose area, the Winchester Mystery House is definitely a National Historic Landmark you’ll want to visit. It offers various tours that explore parts of the mansion – everything from the standard Mansion Tour to the Hallowe’en Candlelight Tour, to the Friday the 13th Flashlight Tour (it’s probably no surprise to learn that the number ‘13’ was incorporated into ceilings with 13 panels, rooms with 13 windows, staircases with 13 steps and even 13 bathrooms).
We opted for both the Mansion Tour and the Explore More Tour. Ideal for the Winchester newbie, the Mansion Tour introduces you to the story of Sarah and shows all the most memorable aspects of the mansion, such as the Door to Nowhere, Grand Ballroom, the most expensive Tiffany glass window, séance room, floor with a glass window in it, and so much more.
The Explore More Tour, designed for ages 12 and up, explores some of the unfinished areas of the house (due to the 1906 Earthquake), reveals rooms that have not been shown to the public in 20+ years, takes you into the basement where much paranormal activity has been reported, and provides a deep-dive into the architectural history. It’s a unique experience that will make any family outing or vacation even more memorable.
You can enjoy both tours in a morning or an afternoon, any day of the week, and then dine at the Winchester Café. We talked to some of the tourists and learned that many of them had visited the mansion more than a few times, as there is something so hauntingly captivating about this place. The tour guides are genuinely excited about the house and its stories, and you’ll be captivated by their own personal experiences of what they’ve witnessed there.
While Sarah is considered by many to be a mad woman whose paranoia built a self-imposed prison, you’ll also learn she greatly supported tuberculosis research, hired minorities (which was frowned on in that time), infused many cultures into the décor, and greatly contributed to the rise of the modern interior design industry.
The Winchester Mystery House is definitely a must-see destination, and is only a short distance from the popular San Pedro Square Market. And although the idea of visiting a historically haunted house might inspire an unsettling feeling, we promise that when you visit the house, you’ll likely want to stay awhile.
The Winchester Mystery House
Address: 525 S. Winchester Blvd., San Jose, CA 95128