Arguably one of the most famous homes in the United States, the Winchester Mystery House is a sight to behold. Extremely popular among the paranormal community, the house is known for not only its wild design, but its numerous ghosts. Whether the house is really haunted is highly debatable, but one thing that isn’t – the house, like Sarah Winchester, embodies insanity.
Born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1839, Sarah was certainly eccentric. In the 1880s, she started developing rheumatoid arthritis and based on doctors’ recommendations, fled to The West, a.k.a California. She purchased a small farmhouse on a massive plot of land in the then-undeveloped area of San Jose, and a legend was born. According to the lore, after experiencing back-to-back losses of her baby, mother, father-in-law, and husband, William Winchester (founder of the Winchester Rifle), Sarah believed that she was cursed. She met with a psychic medium, who told her she and her family would forever be haunted by the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles if she did not build a house for these spirits… and construction could never stop. Her husband’s death left Sarah with a hefty inheritance, continuous and absurdly high royalties (around $1000 per day, which equates to around $35,000 today), and the means to build this never-ending home. Other theories for why she never stopped building include that she feared bad luck or death if she stopped. Other people claim Sarah just liked to build things. We will never know for certain.
Located in San Jose, California, at 525 S Winchester Blvd., the house sits right off the 280 freeway and is surrounded by modern, urban living. I was not expecting this, as I pictured it more rural and secluded (based on strategically taken photos). The house’s design is far more elaborate, ornate, and dated looking than the surrounding buildings, which unfortunately, dampened its charm a bit and caused it to look out of place. Also, they have certainly commercialized the place, adding large ticket booths, axe-throwing games, and a massive gift shop. I understand the times we live in, but again, it took away from the charm and ambiance of the house. Opening daily at 10am, the house closes at 4pm M-F, and at 5pm on Saturday and Sunday.
To tour the house, you must book a tour (and I suggest NOT booking last minute). There are only two tours to choose from – Walk with Spirits Tour and the Guided Mansion Tour. As can be imagined, the former focuses on the paranormal aspect and Sarah Winchester’s strong belief in spiritualism, with the latter focusing on the history and bizarre structure of the home. Both tours are 1 hour, 5 minutes and (not cheaply) priced the same at $41.99 for adults, $34.99 for seniors, and $19.99 for children 5-12 (children under 4 are not allowed on the Walk with Spirits Tour). Please note: each online ticket adds $3 in fees. Also, photos are allowed, but video is not.
We chose the Guided Mansion Tour.
In a group of approximately 15 people, we followed a costumed guide through the 24,000 sq-foot, 160-room house, visiting around 135 rooms. We passed the “Staircase to Nowhere”, “Door to Nowhere”, the “Window in the Floor”, hallways that served no purpose, and countless other windows and doors that opened to nothing or to a wall. While the house was intricate and bizarre, truthfully, I was a tad underwhelmed. I was expecting far more “staircases and doors to nowhere” and less “endless maze”. The guide seemed to just take us from room to room, with all the rooms connecting endlessly. Occasionally, there would be a cool feature, like the super teeny tiny steps throughout the house, built to accommodate Sarah’s growing rheumatoid arthritis, or a random bathroom with a see-through door. The guide would also regularly point out Sarah’s obsession with the number 13, and how she would incorporate it throughout the house.
Another thing that struck me: how rundown many rooms of the house were. It is a historical structure, so renovations are likely pushed off until absolutely necessary, but most photos tend to only show the parts of the home that still look pristine. Numerous rooms have missing wallpaper and even whole walls falling down. Also, none of the furniture in the house is original, something that was a major bummer 👎🏼. After Sarah’s death, her niece ran off with all of her furniture, leaving the home bare. Everything inside is a reconstruction meant to closely resemble the furniture Sarah actually had.
In addition to the 160 rooms, the house includes 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 52 skylights, 6 kitchens, 13 bathrooms, 17 chimneys, 47 fireplaces and staircases, and one, very old, elevator. Built at a price of $5 million between 1886 and 1922, the home is now worth $71 million.
Overall, none of this is to say I regret visiting the famous Winchester Mystery House. In fact, quite the contrary! I am so happy to have finally crossed this mega home off of my “must-see” list, where it has firmly sat for years. It embodies two things I love – history and the paranormal – so it was right up my alley. Although I was slightly let down by the commercialization of the property and the other above-mentioned reasons, I’m still so grateful to finally get the opportunity to see it. It’s an amazing structure and to learn about crazy Sarah Winchester inside her own crazy home (instead of via documentaries or podcasts) was a real treat. If you’re ever in the San Jose or San Francisco area, give this famous, enormous, and allegedly haunted home a visit! 👻