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Monday, November 01, 2010

Halloween at the House that Fear Built

The Winchester Mystery House

Halloween is the night you collect that candy, give out that candy, or go out and get yourself spooked. I decided this year to go with the latter. So Halloween afternoon I drove on down to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.

One Big-arse sprawling house

The Winchester house is one of the most haunted houses in the United States, so naturally, lacking any common sense at all, I decided to take the Halloween night flashlight tour of the grounds. I arrived early in the afternoon so I started off the ‘festivities’ with a free, self guided walk about in the Winchester estate gardens. The grounds are lovely and filled with loudspeaker talks that give a good overview of the grounds. I must admit, it being Halloween, it wasn't the lovely flora that I was thinking on, but my upcoming nighttime flashlight tour.

my daytime view of the house

So as dusk fell, ghouls & ghosts of the human Halloween costumed sorts, as well as half the cast of Rocky Horror Picture Show and the odd Show White and Roman soldier gathered for the sold out flashlight tours. When it was my group’s turn, we met our sexy black cat costumed guide for the evening, Claire, a twenty-something year old. She told us she has worked at the Mystery house for six months, and has led tours only a couple of months. She promised us plenty of ghost stories - most of which happened either to or to the hapless guests on her tours. So after warning us no photography was allowed, and as each of us fiddled around with our souvenir tour Flashlight, we were off! Note, the photos below are lifted off the web and can't begin to capture how delightfully dark and creepy tour was or how astounding the Winchester House is.

The first thing we all learned was in her later years, Sarah Winchester, the owner of the huge mansion, had bad arthritis, and could barely lift her feet more than a few inches. So she had many staircases removed and replaced with low rising steps. Explained that in parts of the house Sarah frequented, she had the normal staircases removed and replaced with ‘low risers’. So as we were led up to the second floor we found the stairwell doubled back on itself over and over, over and over until I felt like I was going to meet myself coming back the other way! I include a photo below but it doesn’t properly show off how low the 3 inch high stairs are or how the passageway winds back and forth, back and forth.

The low & flat stairs are interesting to navigate in the dark by flashlight

At the top of the stairs, we were in a teensy area, where I first noticed the weirdest thing about the Winchester House - it was chock full of windows, doors, sliding openings, none of which make any sense; windows open into walls, doors go nowhere, there were often what looked to be little atriums - maybe 3 by 3 feet - that didn't contain anything or serve any purpose - they were just there. There was a window at the end of the room that looked down into the kitchen below - not a sweeping view of the kitchen, but a lopsided peek over a stove ventilator that served no sensible purpose. There is one spot with a window face down on the floor in the middle of the room! That's the whole point of the house architecture - no point at all. A pure case of what happens when someone has more money than God and spends their cash building with no goal other than to never stop building. Note: Sarah earned a thousand bucks per day back when 1K could have kept a whole family alive and well for a year.

Soon we entered a tiny little 12 x 12 ft room where Sarah held a séance every single day and where loads of bizarre things happened. Next we were gathered round in Sarah's bedroom, where Claire, standing by Sarah’s bed, looked into the doorway behind the rest of us and jumped! She thought she saw a face in the doorway behind us. She was noticeably freaked as she told us about the bedroom and its bizarre occurrences – think floating orbs and transformed spiritualists – freaking is apparently a Winchester House tour guide's occupational hazard, not covered by OSHA.

Sarah's comfy bedroom - featuring her death bed

We moved onto another area with a wall featuring row after row of stained glass web windows - 13 in all - Sarah had a ‘thing’ for the number 13.

Winsome by daylight, creepy as hell by moonlight

Claire said that once, while in the servant's quarter’s area of the Winchester House, and while alone a co-worker left to get something. Claire was changing out some light bulbs. She felt uneasy, and had that creepy feeling she was being watched. She hoped her co-worker would hurry up and return. Then, a voice behind her head shouted her name. She jumped, turned and - no one was there. Since then, Claire never feels good about being in the servant’s quarter’s area. Can you blame her? I think not!

That wasn’t her first weird Winchester experience though. You see, when she first began working at the Winchester house, she often heard co-workers swapping creepy tales on their paranormal run-ins at the mansion. Of course, sensibly, Claire did not believe a word any of them said. Then after closing late one night, she was closing out her cash register in the gift shop. As she worked alone in gift shop, she could hear someone going up the stairs to an office, her boss’s. Then she heard steps coming down the stairs, then back up again and down. Obviously her boss had forgotten something and kept climbing up and down the stairs.

Then a voice shouted, “LISTEN!” behind Claire, and yes, when she turned around, there was no one there. Later on, her boss and some other people came into the shop – they’d been at some other area of the property – no one was in or near the supervisor’s office or the staircase.

That was Claire’s turning point, when she turned from normal skeptical non-believer, to what most of us are – unwilling and living with the knowledge that there is some SPOOKY arse shite going on out there!
When Claire told us the story of her night at the gift shop and the disembodied voice behind her back, she said after some consideration, she wonders if the voice wasn’t telling her she ought to listen to her co-worker’s ghostly stories and take them serious. Isn’t that creepy?! Really, you must hope you remain untouched by such certainty in the world of the paranormal.
Let's see... what creepy stuff happened during our Halloween night flashlight tour? Well, several people got freaked by cold spots creeping up their sides. One girl noted “of course it’s cold; we’re wearing fishnet stockings and hose!”

Another girl quipped back, “I’m wearing jeans and my leg is just as frozen!”

It was too!
As for my own experience, as I often do on tours, I was practically glued to the tour guide, my namesake Claire. At one point I trotted after her and the two of us alone arrived, in a stairwell area ahead of the others. While we waited for the rest of the group to catch up – there were a dozen LOUD and insistent knocks on a wooden door we stood next to. Quickly, Claire swung the door open. No one was there. We both stared down the long, empty and creepy hallway behind the door.
Claire swung around to look at me and demand, almost defensively, "Does that grab you as... weird?"
Uh…. Yes! No wonder Claire grew increasingly unnerved during the tour.
Eventually went up to the highest point of the building, where we visited the room that Sarah Winchester was accidently trapped in during the 1906 earthquake. And too, we were all able to climb out onto a balcony, overlooking the gardens I toured earlier in the day.
Then we were back downstairs and into the kitchens - the one that was used prior to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and one that was used afterwards. Yes, there was more than one kitchen. In fact, here are the Winchester house's famous over-consumption statistics: 2,000 doors, 1,257 windows, 40 stairwells, 40 bedrooms, 47 fireplaces, 17 chimneys, 13 bathrooms (but only 1 shower) , six kitchens, three elevators, 160 rooms, 47 fireplaces, 2 ballrooms, and more than 450 doorways and a b'jillion turrets. Oh, and the parquet floors are to die for - ok, not literally, but they are majorly awesome!

This organ is famous for playing itself.

Tour guide Claire also told us that participants on her tour have on two occasions saw ‘the thin man’. Once he walked up some stairs and disappeared before some of Claire’s tour participants. Another time he stopped to lean on a pole and again, disappeared. Another ghost seen wandering around the halls at Winchester house is handyman in coveralls, who busies himself with various unearthly chores.

One of 40 staircases

The last room of the tour contains loads of beautiful Victorian furniture and a rocking chair that is often seen to begin rocking on its own accord. At the end of the tour I decided someday I must return for another go. Halloween or the 10th of May, the Winchester Mystery house is awesome. If you want to learn the history of the place, pluck up your courage and go on here

1 comment:

  1. OMG... you are one brave woman.
    Interestingly enough, I took this tour as a young child. I too stuck to the guide. But unlike you, I heard no knocking...
    Lew and i went a few years ago and I got a cool bag in the gift shop. Can't say anything odd happened, and i felt nothing spooky on our tour, but it was in the daytime, and I had Lew...