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The Singular Weirdness of the Winchester Mystery House

If you think you’re haunted by hundreds of ghosts, why not build dozens of rooms to confuse them?

While technology development flourishes in the Salinas Valley here at SSCS, there’s a little something called Silicon Valley just north of us. You might have heard that the companies located there are pretty good at technology, too!

The de facto capital of Silicon Valley is San Jose, home to over a million and the third largest city in California. Last weekend a few of us took the 75 minute drive up the road to visit the singular weirdness of the Winchester Mystery House, a California historical landmark like no other.

We won’t recount the entire history behind it—the official website you can access here does a great job if you are interested—but in a nutshell the story is this: Sarah Winchester, the widow of the man that invented the Winchester rifle, bought an eight-room farmhouse in 1886 and by 1922 had built it out to include 166 rooms. The only reason she stopped is that she died.

Understand that this was not carefully planned development. The result is a haphazard mansion of immense dimensions with doors to nowhere, hidden passageways, and stairways to the ceiling. There are expensive stained glass windows positioned in the interior of the house where no light will ever pass through them. A séance room doubles as a hidden vantage point to spy on kitchen staff.

Why did Sarah Winchester do it? While perhaps not a spiritualist herself, she was open enough to the possibilities to listen to their advice. When one psychic, upon the passing of Mr. Winchester, told Sarah she had to keep building on the house to confuse the ghosts of those killed by the Winchester rifle, a legend was born. (Tour guides regale visitors regarding the spirits they themselves have seen, adding to the legend.)

Others insist that Mrs. Winchester was simply an eccentric lady that didn’t get much construction or architectural advice from professionals to help her in her mania to expand the residence.

We won’t speculate here. All we know is that touring the house was a unique experience that lasted over three-and-a-half hours. We had planned to take both exterior and interior pictures. However, when a movie studio approached the house’s current owners (who tenaciously maintain their anonymity) and entered into an arrangement to make a movie about Sarah Winchester, part of the agreement prohibited photos and videos of the interior. (The movie comes out in February, 2018 and stars Helen Mirren.)

So while we’ve provided a mix of exterior photos to accompany this post, if you want to delve any deeper we might suggest visiting the Winchester Mystery House yourself. In the meantime, you can visit the house’s own website (linked above). This article in Smithsonian magazine is a good read, too.

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