San José (correction from earlier: not downtown) (every day’s a school day!)

Winchester Mystery House.

My photos of this enormous house don’t really do it justice. It looks from the front like a normal domestic sized dwelling, but actually Sarah Winchester kept adding new rooms to it from the moment she moved in, leading to the creation of 160 rooms.

After the success of the Winchester rifle, in only a few years, her baby daughter, husband and father all died, leaving Sarah Winchester grief stricken. She went to see a spiritualist who told her to move out West (which must have felt like a huge thing to do) and build a house. She moved to California and never stopped the building work, believing that the sound of the hammers and saws would keep evil spirits at bay.

There were lots of new innovations in the house but also a lot of superstition woven into it (eg 13 windows in one room, 13 spots on the window below, a séance room with only one entrance and one (different) exit and quite a few doors and staircases leading nowhere, too).

Innovations included a shower built for Sarah’s own small height, that would shower her back and front at once (in an era before showers), hot and cold running water on tap in the laundry, hinged floorboards in an indoor greenhouse type area that you could lift up to reveal stone on which you could water plants without getting the floor wet, and without having to go outside in the cold yourself to water them. She also built really shallow stairs for the areas of the house she mainly used to help her with her arthritis. Neat, huh? And doorways that were really very small (she was only 4 foot something tall).

Sarah Winchester spent unbelievable amounts of money on this house, having inherited a fortune from the rifle business. One of the many mysteries of the house is whether her superstition was fuelled mainly by grief, by the encounter with the spiritualist or by the thought of the countless victims of the Winchester rifles that made the family’s fortune.

Note the “door to nowhere” in the centre of this picture!

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