Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Winchester Mystery House - Santa Clara, California

A few years back I was 'channel surfing' on the TV when I stumbled upon a program on the PBS network about 'mysterious places' in the United States. The film being shown that evening was about the title of this blog. It was fascinating but I did not think that I would have the opportunity of visiting there.  However, Ric was taken there by friends so, when I was down visiting over the Christmas period in 2008, he suggested that we go to have a look.

We went into San Francisco and to the Caltrain Station at Third Street and Mission from where trains depart every half hour for San Jose. Santa Clara is the location of San Jose State University and the San Jose Airport. A local bus line services the Caltrain station and takes passengers to the Winchester Mystery House.

The Winchesters were from Stamford, Connecticut and they were the inventors of the Winchester repeating rifle during the American Civil War. Later, these rifles were used by the US Calvary in the 'war' with the Plains Indian tribes - especially the Sioux.

The younger Mr Winchester married a young lady and they had a child. Unfortunately, both the child and the younger Mr Winchester died which devastated the widow so she sought out the advice of a Spiritualist (Spiritualism was quite popular in the 19th Century).

The Winchester was the first 'repeating' rifle and wreaked havoc upon those who were being shot at so the Spiritualist told Mrs. Winchester that the 'ghosts' of those killed by the new gun - both Southern soldiers and Indians - were haunting her looking for their revenge. The spiritualist went on to say that the only way for her to escape the torment was to go 'over the mountains'.

The widow packed up her belongings and headed west. Once in California, she looked for a suitable property to purchase and found a farm in the settlement of Santa Clara. The main crop to be found on the farm were fruit trees (mainly plums). She hired a property manager to assist her and the two of them harvested profitable crops of plums which were dried to become prunes and the finished product was shipped all over becoming quite a profitable enterprise.

Once Ric and I were in the 'Mystery House' we became a part of a small group of visitors and led through that big rambling 'mansion' by a tour guide.

When Mrs. Winchester purchased the house it was of the usual size (around six rooms) but she began adding to it room by room by room. She was assisted by the farm manager but did not use the skills of an architect. Instead she added rooms as the whimsey struck her. When she was finished (when she died) the house had 160 rooms. No - the tour did not take us to all of those rooms - just the majority of them!

Above the roof of the house she built a tower which was destroyed during the 1906 earthquake. The epicenters of both the 1906 and the 1989 'quakes is only a few miles southwest of Santa Clara. How did her house survive? Through the manner in which she had it built - room by room by room with no preconceived plan. It has been said that her method of having the building added onto over many years caused an effect like a bunch of ping pong balls in a bucket of water. When shaken they will rub up against each other but will not be damaged.

In the house is a framed photograph of the building with the tower. During the 1906 earthquake it collapsed down upon the structure underneath. The mess was cleaned up and Mrs. Winchester kept on adding rooms until she died in the early 1920s.  Now the edifice is a museum.

I will now add some of my photos of the rooms which we visited and the original furniture - and furnishings - left for us to enjoy. The above photo is of Mrs. Winchester's bedroom.

The tour went through many - but by no means all - of the rooms - even a 'secret' room which was supposedly designed to keep out 'the spirits' or - at least - to confuse them. 

A guest bedroom. The young woman who is back by the door was our very knowledgeable tour guide.

                                                                       The music room

                                                                              A parlour

                         Another table with an antique punch bowl and three small cut glass bowls (nappies?). There are four 'nappies' in the set. The top of the fourth one can be glimpsed above the back of the near chair.

A sideboard with an antique jug and a bowl or dish. The item to the left appears to be another jug (albeit a taller one).

                                                                 A little table set for tea.

                                   From an upper level we could see over part of the rooftop

                                                        A view of the house from the rear

                       Superstition was evident everywhere - as an example, greenery sculpted into the number '13'

                                          The fountain out front which is conveniently named.

                                                    Statuary in the middle of the fountain

                                                  An Indian brave who is out hunting

He has his eye upon this stag, I have viewed this photo many times and, for the first time, I looked at the part of the house in the background. This view gives one an idea as to just how huge is the 'mansion'.

                          The front door to the mansion - but NOT the door that tourists use!

This was a fascinating place to visit and I recommend it to others who might be in the San Jose neighborhood. There is history galore in the mansion and the grounds. However, my 'funny bone' was tickled by the fact that a cinema multiplex is immediately adjacent to the rear of the property and, diagonally across the road, is a shopping center with a franchise  of a restaurant chain which Ric and I enjoy -   "Chili's".

Going to vacation in the San Francisco Bay area? While there go visit the Winchester Mystery House in Santa Clara. 


  1. An amazing bit of history and quite a story for Halloween.

  2. Never thought of that connection!