Every day of the year except Christmas, the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose,
California, serves up oodles of Victorian architectural weirdness — and perhaps a bit of
ghoulish delight. Room after room — 160 of them, in fact — cobbled together in a cockeyed
manner that is part children’s fort, part fun-house maze and part incomprehensible. Doors
open into nothingness; stairways either dead-end to the ceiling or zig-zag like a snake’s
slither; and the number 13 manifests itself throughout the mansion, the number being the
favorite of the property’s designer, Sarah Winchester.
Mrs. Winchester was the heir to the Winchester Arms fortune, and her eccentric architectural tastes result, says one theory, from the fact that she was told that she could appease the souls of all the people killed by the company’s weapons if she continued to build.
Another version states that during a séance Mrs. Winchester was informed that she would never die if she continued to build. She was mistaken, of course, and eventually met her death while construction was still going on in 1922 — but the building lives on.
Perhaps the most frightening way to experience the mysteries of the house is to visit on Halloween or whenever Friday the 13th blackens the calendar (reserve early — the events always sell out). Promoted as “days which are often associated with goblins, ghosts, and mystery,” the tours on these evenings are illuminated only by flashlights — a more harrowing way to tour the 13 bathrooms, chandeliers with 13 lights, staircases with 13 stairs, etc.
The building was actually never completed, although
it took nearly 40 years to build; taking a wrong turn during one of these eerie tours may
require guests to spend that long just to find their way out.
Winchester Mystery House,
(408) 247-2000, winchester mysteryhouse.com