The Winchester Mystery House is a tour through the mind of a dead woman. Never fear, it’s not that creepy. This is a literal tour of a house and a metaphorical tour of the mind of the woman who created it.
This tour wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for a clairvoyant who long ago convinced Mrs. Sarah L. Winchester that the only way to avoid being haunted by the ghosts of those killed with the rifles manufactured in the family business was to keep building her house continuously. (Perhaps the clairvoyant had shares in the building industry). So that’s what she did.
Anybody doing a renovation project will assure you that it is endless. This one actually lasted THIRTY-EIGHT years. From 1884 until Sarah died, there was constant construction on her house. Personally I would have taken my chances with the ghosts.
The result of all this building is a rambling house filled with curiosities. Everywhere you turn there is something puzzling to look at. It’s also a glimpse into a time that has gone by, including some delightful stained glass windows and antique furniture.
On the Guided Tour, you find yourself constantly asking “Now really – why would somebody do that?” Strange as her actions were, many of them – if not logical – are at least explainable. For example, it doesn’t make any sense to build a staircase that takes up a whole room, winding back and forth with teeny tiny little stairs that take four times as long as just walking up a regular stairs. Unless, of course – like Sarah – you are very short and arthritic. OK fair enough. But the door that goes nowhere? Windows in the floor? Who can explain that?!
Tour Guide Barbie (not her real name) was the quintessential California Tour Guide. She maintained her chirpy demeanor through admonishments to watch your step in virtually every room. Although this house has been modified for the tourist experience, the original (well as original as it gets) house remains its quirky self. This is not a tour for anybody with mobility issues. You will be doing a lot of walking through 110 of the 160 rooms.
Our tour bus took us from our San Francisco hotel to the Mystery House and back. The tour was well organized and included some free time to explore the Gift Shoppe and Café. We also enjoyed a wander through the beautifully maintained gardens.
Not only did this experience give us enough odd facts to get us shaking our head for days but the commentary on the way enlightened us as well. Our bus driver shared a selection of local sights, history and some of his own intriguing observations. Our favorite line of the day was “Every day I wake up and I say to myself ‘Michael Jackson just can’t be dead’.” A mystery indeed.
– Melinda Harrington