In March we had the chance to visit the Winchester Mystery House near San Jose, California. If you’ve never heard of this place, you’re in for a treat!
The Winchester House is an extravagant Victorian house built by the Winchester Rifle heir’s widow in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. She married William Hirt Winchester in 1862, and in 1866 their infant daughter died of a mysterious childhood disease. She fell into a deep depression, and when her husband passed away of tuberculosis fifteen years later, she never fully recovered. The Winchester Mystery House Website explains:
According to some sources, the Boston Medium consulted by Mrs. Winchester explained that her family and her fortune were being haunted by spirits – in fact, by the spirits of American Indians, Civil War soldiers, and others killed by Winchester rifles. Supposedly the untimely deaths of her daughter and husband were caused by these spirits, and it was implied that Mrs. Winchester might be the next victim.
However, the medium also claimed that there was an alternative, Mrs. Winchester was instructed to move west and appease the spirits by building a great house for them. As long as construction of the house never ceased, Mrs. Winchester could rest assured that her life was not in danger. Building such a house was even supposed to bring her eternal life.
So, Mrs. Winchester moved from Connecticut to California, and found an unfinished farmhouse close to San Jose. She hired help and spent the next THIRTY EIGHT years building, rebuilding, and expanding the Winchester house. The house can barely be called just a house—it is a maze of 160 rooms that cost over 5.5 million dollars to build at a time when a whole house cost approximately $1,000 to build. Not only that—but she had employees working on the house 24/7 for the full 38 years! Here is an old aerial view of the sprawling house (yes, all of that is the house):
The house is called a “mystery” house for more than one reason, however. Not only was it founded from odd beginnings, but it also has a lot of unexplained features throughout. For example, there are stairwells that end at the ceilings, doors that open into brick walls, and other nonsensical features that will leave you puzzled. Some people speculate that maybe she was trying to confuse the spirits, and others believe that she was simply a very disturbed woman. Either way—it makes for a great house!
The weirdness goes on and on, and is often laughable and other times perplexing!
Guided tours take you through 110 of the 160 rooms, and last 45-120 minutes, depending on the type you choose. We enjoyed the basic Mansion tour, which runs $40 for adults and $30 for children. It’s not cheap—particularly for a family—but it was quite a great experience, and would probably still rank on our “do it at least once” list. There are additional tour options that sound very interesting, such as the “Behind the Scenes” tour which takes you down into the mansion basement, support outbuildings, and more. Hard hats are required on this tour and children under 5 are not allowed for safety reasons—so we obviously passed on that one!
The tour moved quickly enough from room to room so that we didn’t feel rushed, and it also didn’t ever seem to drag. The kids (ages 8, 6, 3) thoroughly enjoyed exploring all of the rooms and didn’t make a peep about being bored or wanting to leave. Even Baby Eli (6 months), who was strapped into a baby carrier (no wheelchairs or strollers!) didn’t seem to mind the tour!
I appreciated that the Mansion tour pointed out the oddities of Mrs. Winchester’s construction, but they seem to downplay some of the “spookiness” that can arise by learning about a woman who was obsessed with spirits and séances. The kids didn’t bat an eye or walk away asking about any of these things—which was a win, in my opinion.
All in all, we had a great experience, and I would thoroughly recommend it if you happen to be passing through California’s Bay Area. After all, you won’t see anything like it, anywhere else! In fact, they were kind enough to offer my readers a $3 coupon for tickets purchased in advance by following this link to their website and entering the coupon LOB (for Living Outside of the Box) when you checkout! Plus, I’d fully recommend jumping over to their interesting site simply to read some of the crazy history of the house—you could easily kill an hour devouring some of the wildness that makes the Winchester Mystery House…well…such a mystery!! Enjoy!
Thank you to the Winchester House for hosting us on our tour! We do not profit from any purchases you make for their tours, but highly recommend it simply because we enjoyed it!