Friday, March 21, 2008

The Winchester Mystery House





I have always wanted to check out the Winchester Mystery House.   I saw a TV special on it years ago, and because it's in San Jose, and because we have to fly out of San Jose tomorrow morning, we saved it for today, our last day in CA. 

We arrived at about ten a.m. and immediately set off on the tour of the mansion.  Here's the story, which is unbelievable even before you set foot in the house.  Sarah Winchester was odd--and her oddness was compounded by grief. She married the heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, and a spiritualist allegedly told her that she'd be haunted by the ghosts of all those who had been killed by the Winchester rifle (thousands, apparently, since the gun killed hundreds of Native Americans and hundreds of soldiers in the Civil War) unless she started building a house and kept building. In fact, apparently Sarah was led to believe that she would not die as long as she kept building. 

So she left her home in the East and moved to San Jose, where she bought a working farm.  And started building.  She hired carpenters and kept them hammering twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  And she built. And built.  And she had the money to build an enormous mansion (at one point seven floors), filled with exquisite, specially commissioned Tiffany windows, doors, etc.  

She had no master plan; she simply sketched out designs on napkins and plans and gave them to her carpenters.  Some say that she said the spirits told her what to build.  And as she grew older and was afflicted with arthritis, she had all the staircases ripped out and replaced with "easy rider" steps that are only about two inches high.  So these stairs wind back and forwards and up and down, all to accommodate her inability to take tall steps.  An earthquake in 1906 (I think) so rattled Sarah that she stopped building in the front of the house and left those rooms in a state of disrepair--beautiful rooms that had barely been used.  Apparently the spirits told her that she'd spent too much money furnishing those rooms. 

Some say the woman was a genius, but my overall impression is sadness--it's so sad that such a woman would have been influenced by demonic forces.  What a waste of time and money, and what a way to live--draped under a black veil and running from room to room in the fear that you were being followed by spirits!  How I wish someone had reached this poor woman with the Truth that would have set her free from all that! 

When she was found dead in her bed of heart failure, construction on the house stopped. Immediately.  And the porches and rooms under construction were left unfinished. The exterior portions of unfinished structures were painted black and left as is.  

I've included some photos, including the fireplace that crumbled in the earthquake and was never replaced.  Is it a beautiful house?  It has some lovely things in it--especially the Tiffany glass--but its layout and impracticality bother me at some basic level.  Not to mention the "seance" room with its fake doors to mislead the spirits.  Pluh-ease.  All Sarah needed was Jesus.  

Tomorrow--hubby and I head home!  We have enjoyed our trip, but I have a book to finish and dogs who surely must miss me!  

Photos (click on any photo to enlarge):  
  • The front of the house
  • The fireplace destroyed in the earthquake and never replaced
  • Some of the Tiffany glass in her "storage room"! 
  • A door in the second floor that leads to . . . nothing.  One of several in the house. 

~~Angie 

8 comments:

Kathy said...

Oh wow. What a sad story. But what we writers could do with that house.

Robin Lee Hatcher said...

I've toured the Winchester House twice, and it is fascinating. How about the servants quarters with windows in the ceiling so she could look down on them and make sure they weren't doing anything they shouldn't do? But you're right. It does make your heart ache for such a wasted life.

Robin
http://robinlee.typepad.com

Amy said...

oh I really want to go there as well. I read the story of the house with my students.

Angela said...

And the bathrooms (with those big, old tubs) with glass windows in the doors so she could look in on them while they were in the bathroom? Too much. Way too much. :-/

Angie

Laurie said...

Thanks for sharing your pictures and your trip, Angela! I've never heard of the Winchester House and the story is fascinating in a sick way. She must've been paying those carpenters higher than normal wages to keep them doing work which they must have known was ridiculous. So sad to think of someone living in fear and delusion like that, living and dying totally alone.

P.S. I'm sure your dogs will be thrilled to see you!

Mocha with Linda said...

Wow. I had never heard of that. And a staircase that just goes up to the ceiling. . . truly bizarre.

What a sad, sad, story. What a difference she could have made if she had taken a different path.

Have a safe trip home and a blessed Easter!

Ane Mulligan said...

I've been there, too. I loved it. Especially the staircase that went nowhere. LOL The first thing I did was begin to imagine her life and what it must have been like. What fun to write a novel about her.

Lisa said...

That is sad for someone to live with such fear. I've never heard of it. I've never been farther west than Colorado, and that was only for 2 days. I would love to travel someday. I'd go just about anywhere!