The “Spirit House,” as Winchester Mystery House came to be called, is a Victorian mansion and popular tourist attraction located in the suburbs of San Jose, California. The house is thought to have 160 rooms but since there was never a master plan, the exact number is yet to be discovered. It is known for its bizarre layout of staircases, doors, chimneys with no seemingly practical use, secret passages, and hidden rooms. The house also has Victorian gardens and several museum exhibitions such as one for historic firearms and another for specialty gifts and products.
The approximately 5 acre property is a California Historical Landmark which receives thousands of visitors a year. Three types of tours are offered: Grand Estate, Mansion, and Behind the Scenes. The Video Access tour is also available for those unable to walk the vast estate. Special events such as the Flashlight tour offers fans of the house’s paranormal history a chance to experience the Winchester mansion at night. Due to the confusing layout of the house, visitors are advised to not be too adventurous if they do not want to spend considerable amounts of time trying to free themselves of the Escher-like compound.
The Winchester House was the inspiration for Stephen King’s book Rose Red. Mrs. Winchester, the owner and designer, was convinced the house was haunted. Her ambition and obsession in building the house made it unique, with its secret passage ways and doors leading nowhere. Her expensive taste is observed in the beautiful Victorian designs, the Tiffany’s windows, gold- and silver-plated chandeliers, and the wood floors made of mahogany, white ash, teak, oak, rosewood, and maple. The number 13 was used throughout the construction of the house and provides visitors with the challenge of discovering the quantity in stairs, windows, cupolas, and in other parts of the building.
Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune through the death of her husband, invested her money in the building of the house. Mrs. Winchester was steeped in the paranormal and construction was often called off or abruptly changed to appease the spirits. Starting in 1884, she built for the next 38 years until her death. It is said that she moved west and built the house to appease all the spirits that were killed due to the Winchester rifle and its success. At her death in 1922 her furniture was auctioned off but enough expensive building materials remained on the grounds for current restores to use.
The house and grounds are well managed and as a state historical landmark, it receives a degree of added publicity. However, the task of maintaining such an estate in good condition is difficult, with only funds from the tours, cafe, and tourist shop on the grounds of the mansion. 20,000 gallons of paint is needed for the exterior alone. The ambitious task of historical accuracy extends even to keeping the cracks resulting from the 1906 earthquake in a section of the house without allowing further damage. The film company Hammer, of Exclusive Media, has received the rights to produce a movie about the story of the Winchester Mansion on location at the Mystery House.