The Winchester Mystery House from the front. (01/07)
The Winchester Mystery House, as you may know, was the home of Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune, from 1884 until her death in 1922. Mrs. Winchester was convinced by an occultist that the lives of her husband and daughter had been taken by the spirits of those killed by "the gun that won the west" and that she too would share their fate unless she would begin building a mansion for the spirits on which work would never stop nor be completed. She was promised life for as long as she kept building.
Equipped with $1,000-a-day royalties from the Winchester rifle fortune (compared to the $1.50 a day most laborors made back then), Mrs. Winchester had more than enough money to fund this project. And so in 1884, she moved to San Jose, bought an eight-room farm house and began expanding. Construction continued for nearly 38 years without interruption.
Our tour guide explains how they watered the plants. (01/07)
The house was fascinating! It's literally a 160-room maze, with staircases and doorways going nowhere, a window built into the floor, a chimney that rises four floors, doors that open onto blank walls, and upside down columns. There is even a stairwell that must have had 70 stairs, and yet by the time you reached the top, you were only 9 feet above where you had started. Seriously!
The house presently has 1,257 windows, 950 doors, 467 doorways, 367 stairs, 47 fireplaces, 40 bedrooms, 40 staircases, 17 chimneys, five or six kitchens and 2 ballrooms. It's currently four stories tall, although it was seven stories tall prior to the 1906 earthquake. It's really hard to visualize how immense the house is without seeing it in an aerial photo. Many speculate that she built it this way to confuse and lose the spirits.
The sprawling home from above.
And yet with all those rooms, strangers were not welcome inside the house. Even the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, couldn't get in. He attempted it in 1903 during a trip to California, but he was turned away by her staff when they mistook him for a laborer looking for work.
The number thirteen is commonly used throughout the house, as in the quantity of groups of windows and stair steps. There was even a chandelier that was supposed to have 12 lights, but was modified so that it could hold 13. There was even a shrub shaped like the number 13. I kid you not.
The most expensive window. (01/07)
We saw the most expensive window in the house: a Tiffany window that cost approximately $1,250 back at the turn of the century, which, for Mrs. Winchester, was a little over a day's salary. There were tons of other amazing windows, but for some reason, the one that cost the most gets all the glory.
Tim looks pretty good in a hard hat. (01/07)
It was a great tour with one exception: Tim and I were freezing the entire time. And we were bundled up in full jackets and everything. Naturally, with a house that size, they don't heat it. Combine that with the fact that it was like 40 degrees that morning, and you get a very cold experience. You could seriously see our breath inside the house.
So does James! (01/07)
It got a little better on the second half of the tour, the so-called "behind the scenes" tour that made us wear hard hats. By then the sun was starting to shine, which made it a little more bearable. But overall, we're glad we went!