The Winchester Mystery House

Around nine years ago, I visited California for the very first time. We headed up to San Francisco and as you can see, it was a very cloudy day. Despite the weather, I still had to get a shot of the “Painted Ladies.”

Don’t worry…this isn’t a “vacation” post. 🙂 We did it all during the 2-3 days we were there. We walked across “the” bridge, visited Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square…pigged out on yummy chocolate.

It’s really breezy on the Golden Gate bridge. Wasn’t I styling in my RL houndstooth jacket? (LOL) Ok, not the greatest look for me…but I’ve always had this thing for houndstooth jackets.

Took the tour of Alcatraz…

Got the t-shirt…

My first trolley ride…

We visited Yosemite and the great Sequoias. Words can not describe. Awe, just pure awe!

Wonder how many people have had their picture taken in this spot? Hard to explain what it’s like to walk among these majestic giants…but I’m pretty sure I know how an ant feels now.

Now we get to what this post is really about. 🙂

A few weeks before I took this trip, I was watching HGTV and they were talking about this crazy, crazy house in San Jose. I couldn’t believe it when we were zooming up the interstate and I saw a sign for it. What? How often do you watch something on HGTV and then get to experience it in real life? I had to go. Have you ever been to the Winchester Mystery House?

You know how sometimes you hear about a place, then you go and it turns out it’s really not worth the trip? Turns out to be all hype? Well, the Winchester Mystery House is totally worth the trip! I’d love to go back and do the “flashlight tour.”

This house was originally built by Sarah Winchester, the widow of the founder of Winchester Repeating Arms.

It all started with two awful tragedies. First Sarah lost her only child, Annie, just a few weeks after her birth. Then, a few short years later, her husband, William Winchester died. As you might imagine, she was inconsolable.

She eventually sought the advice of a spiritual medium who told her the tragedies in her life were caused by all the folks who had lost their lives at the hand of a Winchester rifle. She told Sarah she needed to move way out west, build a home, and never stop building it. No kidding. Weird, huh? The spiritual medium told Sarah as long as she kept building and adding to her home, the bad spirits would stay away and she would be safe. Sarah apparently took this advice to heart.

She bought an 8 room farmhouse in 1884 and added room after room after room…for 38 years. At her death, the 8 room farmhouse had become 160 rooms! She employed 13 carpenters full time and they labored day and night.

I remember seeing lots of beautiful stained glass and gorgeous moldings. Sarah must have really loved daisies because a lot of the stained glass depicted daisies, as did much of the beautiful molding. A lot of the stained glass was Tiffany and she hired some of the most amazing artisans to create the moldings and woodwork throughout the home.

One of the shocking things I heard on the tour was that the house consumed the barn on the property. They just built and built and built…and when they reached the barn, it was absorbed right into the home. The day we took the tour, they had many of the doors and windows Sarah had purchased for future additions stored in this room we were told was once the barn.

Some stats: The house is 24,000 square feet and contains 160 rooms, 40 bedrooms, 13 baths, 6 kitchens, 10,000 windows, 2,000 stairs, 47 fireplaces and 17 chimneys.

Before the huge earthquake in 1906 , it stood 7 stories high. Today, it is 4 stories.

There are many, many wild stories about this home…you get to hear all of them on the tour. There was no master plan. There are doorways that oddly open to the outside like the one below…do you see it in the pic?

There are doors that when opened, have nothing but a blank wall on the other side. Some stairways lead nowhere. It’s been said, Sarah created the crazy stairways and the trick doors to fool the spirits.

The Winchester Mystery House is said to be one of the top 10 most haunted places in America. I read this evening at the Winchester Mystery House website, they are getting ready to shoot a movie about this house. I don’t plan to go see it because it’s supposed to be scary and I don’t like scary movies.

Here’s a video with some additional information…

 

Visit the Winchester Mystery House website to learn more about the home and the upcoming movie.




 Never miss a Between Naps on the Porch post! 

*Subscribe to have updates delivered to your Inbox. 



Comments

  1. Susan, what an interesting post. I've heard about this house, but had not seen any photos. Thank you for sharing yours. This is pretty amazing!
    Hope your weekend is terrific! ~ Sarah

  2. TheSmithHotel says:

    I went there as a kid! 2 years ago my hubby and I took our kids to see it! It really is an interesting house! Love San Francisco too! It's our place to go when we want a mini vacation since we only live 3 hours away!

    Jody

  3. All The Pretty Dishes says:

    I actually did the same tour, but I went about 17 years ago. I had totally forgotten about it until I read your post. It was unusual, to say the least!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I live just over the hill in the East Bay from The Winchester Mystery House, my husband drives by in on the way to work, and yet neither of us have been there. I think I'm going to have to take the flashlight tour!

  5. My Ugly Garden says:

    I have lived in the SF Bay Area my whole life and finally visited the Winchester House for the first time a couple of years ago. It definitely was a super fun tour. The house and grounds are amazing. Thanks for sharing your photos, they brought back very fond memories.

    Christine

  6. My mom use to talk about thi house all the time. I always forget about it when I go to California. I will make sure to include it on my next trip. I love California. It's my dream to live there one day.

  7. Oddly, this story makes me sad….I can't imagine a life where all you do is build to keep away the evil…how did she ever rest????? I think this house is a tribute to insanity….but a beautiful one. I would have a hard time going thru the door…but your photos are fascinating.

  8. Wow! So cool! I live up in Canada, and haven't yet travelled that far yet, but it's now definitely on the list of things to see when I do! I don't think I'd be able to handle the flashlight tour though! That would be too spooky for me!

  9. I am a bay area native and never went on the Alcatraz tour until a few years ago. I lived in San Jose for 24 yrs. and never went to the Winchester Mystery House! Can you believe that? lo Passed by it hundreds of times and never toured it. Thanks for sharing!
    Denise

  10. Terry @ La Bella Vie says:

    Oh Susan, OK so (this is long) are you ready for this? About your 11th picture down there is a street just to the bottom right in the picture, this is Winchester BLVD. I lived on that street as a young adult (18-19 yrs) in my very first little apartment. I was born and raised in San Jose, California and my family still lives there. These are my old stomping grounds! I originally lived in Willow Glen which is now a very trendy suburb of SJ of old turn of the century homes (now near Santana Row). I worked at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (burn unit), on Bascom Ave just a couple blocks from the Winchester Mystery house on Winchester Ave as a young girl starting out in the medical profession…

    Fisherman's wharf and Ghirardelli square; that was my senior escape day destination as well as many other "beachy" places (Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay, Carmel, and Bodega Bay (The Birds) "day away place" as a kid growing up:)
    And yes I was a surfer girl:)
    Just thought it was a fun piece of trivia to share…small world isn't it!
    Terry

  11. Mariette says:

    Dearest Susan,

    As much as we did consulting work in the Santa Cruz and Monterey area with weekends spent in S.F. we never got to go to this Crazy House in San José. Well, crazy it is and I agree with the in depth sadness for the reason it became what it is!

    Thanks for sharing this and sunny greetings from Georgia/USA

    MariettesBacktoBasics

  12. Hi Susan, what a great post. My daughter has just come back from USA, she was in San Francisco for a few days. They hired bikes and cycled across the bridge!! I don't think she visited the mystery house, but I know it is a place I would love, so thank you for taking me on the tour and being my guide!!

    Have a great weekend, Jackie in UK.

  13. Annie @ Birdcages n Butterflies x says:

    This is such a great post! I remember seeing this on telly a while ago here in the UK and thinking wow!
    I also LOVE those Iconic houses but never knew they were called the painted ladies!!!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Annie x

  14. Susan,
    Thanks for sharing this awesome post, I really enjoyed the read. I hope the rest of your trip was wonderful too!
    Nancy
    http://www.coeurdalenegifts.com
    coeurdalenegifts.blogspot.com

  15. What an amazing story. I watched the video and found it very interesting. What a treat for you to visit this curiosity.
    xoxo

  16. Nina Patricia @ The Adventures of Nina Patricia says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It seems so similar to Stephen King "Rose Red" it is a long movie (almost 4 hours) but I belive it is base on this house. The story is the same. I love, love, love when you do post about houses and the trips you have taken.

  17. I was in SF 5 years ago and WISH I had known about this house!

    Your SF pictures brought back fun memories for me because I traveled to CA with college roommates and we had a ball. By any chance did you go into Sausalito?

    Terry @La Bella Vie, I enjoyed your comments!

    Mary

  18. Susan,
    We have been to San Fran several times and have done all those exact same things. So fun. Yes, we toured the Winchester house. It is facinating! The stairway to nowhere, what a hoot! The redwoods are amazing, too! My next trip there, I intend to track down the building they used for the exterior shot of the house in McMillan and Wife(from the 70's) One of my favorite shows. Exterior shots were all of San Fran, where they lived(in the show.)
    Thanks for sharing!

  19. I have read a lot about this house and watched a show (I think on the travel channel) once and have been fascinated by it ever since. Thank you so much for sharing your trip, if I ever get to Calif. this will definitely be on my "to do" list. Have a great weekend, Nan

  20. Good Morning Susan!!!

    What great pictures!!! Thanx for sharing!!! My oldest daughter has a friend out in CA now doing a summer internship at Dreamworks… I'm emailing her today that she must go see this Mystery House!!!

    Katie, XoXo

  21. Hmmmm, sounds like a cool place to visit, Susan. Great "shots", too! Different kind, of course, than the origin of the owner's fortune. ha! Thanks for sharing. That was great. Susan

  22. Loved the tour! It is fun to see a place through another's eyes. I have always wanted to visit the house and have yet to do it. On the next trip north we will build in time! Thanks for sharing.

  23. Linda (More Fun Less Laundry) says:

    Hi Susan, I love your house tours, as I have told you many times: ) I have also been to SF but I never heard of this house. The video is amazing. I'm surprised no one was able to stop her from spending, but at least she was providing income for all those craftsmen. Did the house feel like a maze? I'm a little claustrophobic and the video made it seem a little scary–getting locked in rooms with no exit and stairways to nowhere-yikes… Did you see Coit Tower in SF? Another building from an extremely wealthy lady, but built during the depression. The murals inside were amazing–a little bit socialistic but truly interesting! Visit it on wikipedia if you have never been. I think you find it fascinating. Oh, and your houndstooth is very stylish! I just gave my old one to my daughter! Thanks for the tour! Linda

  24. claudia b says:

    That's right by my house ;D

  25. Tales From My Empty Nest says:

    Susan, that was so interesting. I never knew about that house, but I enjoyed seeing the pictures and hearing the story. I have never been to San Francisco, but would enjoy going sometime. What a beautiful place. Love & blessings from NC!

  26. Pondside says:

    What an interesting story. The poor soul – all that energy into building and building, and I'll be she never found peace.
    Great hounds-tooth jacket!

  27. Terri(TerriBoog) says:

    I saw this on HGTV, also. Would love to tour it in person! Not sure about the movie – I don't do scary, either!

  28. Bonnilynne says:

    Hi Susan,
    Yep! My old stomping grounds! Lived in Sunnyvale for 30+ years which is a five minute drive up the freeway – You're right, it's a pretty amazing place with lots of "oddities"…
    By the way, you looked cute as can be in your houndstooth jacket!
    *Hugs*
    Bonnie

  29. *Chic Provence* says:

    Hi Susan,

    Yes, we take curious friends/family when they visit us out here…my first visit to the Winchester House, I felt *someone* tap me on the shoulder..turned around, and there was *no one* there!! chill ran down my spine! It is quite a sight!

    One of the prettiest pictures of the GG Bridge, did you take that?

    Come back and be sure to call me if you do!

    xoxo

    Kit

  30. Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy says:

    What a great post. I had no idea that the house was THAT big until I saw your overhead photo. I have never been there, but have seen shows about it on t.v. Thanks for the tour!

    Kathy

  31. Ron and Connie says:

    Wow, I'd love to do the flashlight tour. Or any other. I am fascinated with the Winchester Mansion. As for the move………I'll go see it for you. (As long as it's not a slasher type movie.) Thanks for sharing.

  32. Hi Susan,

    My husband grew up in San Jose and loves this house…strangely enough I've never been in it, just driven by many times…I guess I should visit next time we are in San Jose…it's such a beautiful home from the outside for sure! Thanks for sharing your pictures of one of our favorite places to visit now that we live far inland in Oklahoma!

    Miss Bloomers

  33. the cape on the corner says:

    ooh, this house is on my list of things to do one day. i have never been to san fransisco, tho i hear it is wonderful. i think a haunted tour of that house would be the best! thanks for sharing. a virtual tour is definitely better than not getting there!

  34. Mid-Atlantic Martha says:

    I went to San Francisco for my thirtieth birthday (an hundred years ago) — It was cold enough for your outfit then! (June 27th) I loved it – thanks for reliving through your photos.

  35. never been to california. would love to see the winchester house. there was a story presented omn tv. about this house. exciting thing to visit. thanks for the photos. have a good day. Rose

  36. Wow, thank you so much for the info. I hope I get to visit it some day. I want to go to the Vanderbilt Mansion in North Carolina some day, too!

  37. Hi Susan,
    I've been there so many times with my girls! It's a treat for sure. I love the stacks of Tiffany windows in the storage area, just sitting there like piles of nothing. Imagine. I'd love to get my hands on one of them!!
    Now, just across the street is Santana Row, some of the best shopping and a very cool place to see and be seen, our favorite place to hang out and have lunch or dinner. It may have been in the building stages when you visited, so you should come back soon for another look around!
    XO
    Heidi

  38. That sounds like what one calls a "folly." Interesting post! And nice photos of CA!

  39. Jacqueline says:

    Being a lover of architecture, this is on my list of places to go. What a beautiful building. I really need to make it here someday. Thanks for showing it to us.

  40. Chatty Crone says:

    I had no idea whatsoever that this place existed. It's beautiful. She must have had a lot of money.

    Sandie

  41. Chatty Crone says:

    A multi-millionaire! sandie

  42. What an amazing,(and tragic) story.
    Fascinating.

  43. Before I comment: Please, please, please! Everyone – I need opinions on bathroom cabinet and wall paint colors. Please go to my blog and give me your comments: http://i-am-is-my-blog.blogspot.com/2010/07/proud-to-present-my-almost-finshed.html.

    This was one of the few touristy places that my family went to when after we moved to that area when I was a teenager. Oh, the Halloween night trips we made to this place made memories of a lifetime. This makes me so homesick, I could just call a realtor and put my condo up for sale right now – snow is bad, ocean is good.

    You were very close to some other interesting things:

    Right down the road from this house — in two different directions of course — are two of the most interesting streets ever. Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road will take you by all kinds of buildings — Apple, Semantic, etc. and the Great America Parkway will bring you to a whole other set of buildings you will recognize – think Yahoo. Never underestimate the thrill of seeing all those Internet icons.

    Once you are on Sunnyvale-Saratoga road, up the road a few miles is the most beautiful place – Villa Montalvo (Villa Montalvo http://montalvoarts.org/about/visit/. It is well worth to take a little time to visit – if nothing else to see the HUGE beautiful houses on the way there.

    45 minutes down Interstate 101 is Carmel-by-the Sea and the best little shopping old towne ever, best Italian restaurant ever (PortaBella – check it out on YouTube) and the best beach ever.

    Interstate 101 from San Jose to Carmel – roadside stands with fruits and vegetables. In Morgan Hill – mushrooms and in Gilroy – Garlic Festival.

    Monterey – also down Interstate 101 – Monterey Bay Aquarium, Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row – all very touristy but fun. Try lunch at one of the restaurants on the wharf – very reasonable.

    OK, I'll shut up before I OD on nostalgia…but if I got in my car right now and drove all night…

  44. Terry @ La Bella Vie says:

    Hi Barbara,
    You are right, Villa Montalvo is so beautiful…I was married there in the Oval Gardens in 1979:)
    Terry
    PS I'm heading to your blog right now…

  45. Sherry @ No Minimalist Here says:

    Hi Susan, I visited San Jose for business several times and always wanted to visit this house. My schedule was always so hectic I never had the chance to see this. Thanks so much for sharing.
    Hugs, Sherry

  46. Thanks for the tour. Hope to get there some day. We traveled from LA to just north of Monterey but never been to San Francisco or San Jose. That's quite a house, but you don't really see how big it is until you look at one of those aerial photos.

    BTW, houndstooth? Surely you're not an Alabama fan. I don't think I could stand it. LOL!

  47. Anonymous says:

    Loved this post! I'm a So.Calif. native..as a child, one of my very earliest memories was taking a boat tour around Alcatraz..back then, it was still a prison, so no tours! Then the Winchester Mystery House…LOVE this house! Fascinating tour, and trust me..I'm a museum docent in So. Cal, and I would LOVE to docent at this place! As a child, I gave a talk on it for a class project. Now get this..my MOM who is 85 yrs old, gave a talk on this house when SHE was in grade school, in the 1930's!!! One of her earliest memories too! Just a fascinating story of a woman obsessed…definitely go see it if you're in the area.
    Carol

  48. Susan (Between Naps on the Porch) says:

    Carol…that's amazing about you and your Mom…cool story! I think I'd love to be a docent in a place like this. It's a beautiful place with a fascinating and compelling story.

  49. Oh Susan… LOVE that house and YES I will see the movie, I LOVE scary(I hate gore but LOVE scary)… This was a fun post today and now I'm off to go check out that house…It looks like you had a wonderful time. Thank you for sharing it with us, Donna

  50. Christi @ A Southern Life says:

    Susan,

    I've seen shows about this house and have always been fascinated! How exciting to get to visit. Just so strange how she kept on building. I'm thinking she should have gotten a 2nd opinion!

    Christi @ A Southern Life

  51. tales from an oc cottage says:

    I don't know if this is just a "Cali" thing or what…but when ever someone has an "odd" home we call it a "Winchester House". She was a nutty little thing wasn't she…very California! ;}

    m ^..^

  52. Allison Shops says:

    Have you seen JaneT's post on the home?

    http://www.atticmag.com/2009/10/historic-home-winchester-mystery-house/

    Our oldest daughter went to college in SF. Her first apartment was on the corner of CA and Stockton – yep, right on the CA cable car line (they hate for you to call it a trolley!) It's amazing that you can actually tune them out and sleep late. lol

    After that, she moved to a high rise in SOMA, then outside the city (three years w/o a car was enough for her) and has settled in the North Bay. We never tired of visiting her!

    Love the redwoods. I have yet to go to Muir Woods, but will put it on the list for next trip.

    Allison
    Atticmag

  53. Fifi Flowers says:

    I went on this tour when I was 10 years old… it is one of my favorite memories and favorites places to visit… I must plan a trip and take my children to see it… I believe they would LOVE it and they LOVE scary movies… hmmmmm do I take them to see the house before or after the movie… I think for MY sake and since I am NOT wild about scary movies… I better plan a trip fast… I don't think I will want to visit if I see the movie.
    Thanks for bringing back a memory!

  54. That's so cool that you got to go to the Winchester House. I remember seeing a documentary about it (maybe the one on HGTV) and thought it would be such a fascinating place to visit. So cool…but I agreed that I won't see the movie. I don't do well with scary!

  55. I've toured the Winchester House, Susan. It was a truly interesting experience. I like the staircase leading to the ceiling and doors opening to a wall and the window in the middle of the floor. Your post brought back some pleasant memories cause I have been to all those places in San Francisco too….Christine

  56. Life in Rehab says:

    I'd heard tales about this house; it was fun to see your photos and get your take on it. Wild!

  57. Wow! I love the story about this house. Totally amazing. I'll have to look for it on my next trip to California. Thanks so much for sharing the photos and story!

  58. Mellodee says:

    I lived in this part of CA for about 10 years and went by the Winchester House often. Just wanted to clarify tho, for those who aren't familiar with the area; Winchester House is NOT in San Francisco. It is in San Jose, which is about a 50 mile drive south of S.F. If you're going to San Francisco, there is no easy way to get to San Jose except to drive it.

    50 miles in CA can lead to a whole different climate and atmosphere too.

  59. What a cool story! I went to Sacramento with my inlaws in the spring to see their daughter. Everything you did is what I wanted to do but the inlaws weren't up to it. The hubby and I are going next spring and hope to see it all. Great pictures!

  60. Susan, I have never been to Ca. and have never heard of this house.Thanks so much for ther tour and info! The pictures are amazing. Poor woman, believing that adding rooms could keep bad spirits away! Oh dear!!!! But we get to see an amazing place!!!! XO, Pinky

  61. Andi's English Attic says:

    If I ever go to SF I'll be sure to visit this house. What a sad, sad story. I suspect that Medium had a chip on their shoulder.
    What a great place to play hide-n-seek…if you had a few months to spare! xx

  62. susan winchester says:

    Hi my name is susan winchester and believe im a ancester of sarah winchester. I never visited the house my self but have spirits that follow me i have saw faces of men from the old west. thank you for reading my comment and if anyone knows more about my late family that would be great.

  63. Melanie @ The Tiny Tudor says:

    I love the mystery of this house! I also saw it on HGTV and would def put it on the "must visit" list.

  64. I have been through the house a few times. They have several different tours so you get a different aspect. The place is so interesting. Did they tell you that she was an inventor? One of her inventions was a sink with a built-in washboard for doing clothing! She was also very short so would have her carriage made with a step to place her feet on and she would drape her legs so she looked taller.

I'd love to hear from you! Please leave a comment!

*