SAN JOSE — What is the hottest ticket in October in San Jose?
It’s the all-new fully-immersive, multi-sensory Halloween experience at the Winchester Mystery House that replaced the wildly popular candlelight tours conducted in past years during Halloween. This is the millennial high-tech Silicon Valley crowd’s answer to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
If you’ve passed on the idea of plunking down cold cash to tour the rambling house that at 261,369 square feet could squeeze in two typical Target stores, an average Trader Joe’s store, and three or so Starbucks because you think touring a part of the 160 rooms in a home built by an eccentric woman intent on warding off evil spirits as ho-hum stuff, the “Unhinged Tour” will get your heart rate going.
The website says it best. “Unhinged” invites you to “step into a real life psychological and paranormal thriller, while exploring the dark hallways of the cursed Winchester Estate. During this suspenseful walkthrough experience, you will trespass into forbidden rooms of the house – never before seen by the public – confront malicious spirits, and encounter terrifying scenes that will reveal the home’s twisted tales and secrets. You’ll be welcomed home by the residents … but will they let you leave? Prepare yourself to come unhinged on a frightening and mind-bending Halloween Haunt experience unlike anything else in the San Francisco Bay Area.”
Costumes are encouraged although there are strict rules with what you can wear available on the website.
For those who like their mystery with a lot more light, there are two daily day tour options.
The Mansion Tour is one hour and five minutes and includes 110 of the 160 rooms with tickets going for $20 to $39.
The Explore More Tour is one hour and 10 minutes, is the first new tour in 20 years and goes into some areas of the house never shown to the public before. Cost is $20 to $39 and this tour is not recommended for children under six years of age. There are also daily estate tours for $20 to $54, a 45-minute video access tour for $20 that enables the handicapped to enjoy the mansion without dealing with the endless stairs.
So what’s the story behind the Winchester Mystery House?
You could say Sarah Winchester was a real pistol. Not only did she inherit $20.5 million from her husband William Wirt Winchester, who founded the gun firm of the same name, when he died in 1881 from tuberculosis, but also a nearly 50 percent stake in the company that gave her $1,000 a day of income or the equivalent of $25,000 daily in 2017.
Add that kind of money and an obsession to spend it — think Paris Hilton in a Neiman Marcus store — in a bid to ward off evil spirits and you end up with what is a candidate for the quirkiest home on the planet in excess of 24,000 square feet.
Not only are there doors and stairs leading to nowhere and windows overlooking rooms — a result of no architect being hired and the home being added onto by the widow’s whim — but at one point she had 12 of her 13 bathrooms “disconnected” leaving only one functioning bathroom for the entire 160-room house.
It includes 40 bedrooms — she reportedly slept in a different one each night to confuse spirits — 47 fireplaces, 17 chimneys, two basements, two ballrooms, three elevators, and architectural splendor including many stained glass windows designed by Tiffany Company. To illustrate her oddness, Tiffany himself created a special window for Winchester that cast a rainbow across a room when sunlight strikes prismatic crystals. Winchester had it installed in an interior room with no light exposure rendering the unique design moot. The window was appraised at $25,000 when it was designed more than a century ago or the equivalent of $357,704 in 2016.
Winchester was obsessed with the number 13. Drain covers on sinks have 13 holes. Chandeliers accommodate 13 candles. Clothes hooks are in multiples of 13. As a tribute to Winchester, a large bell on the grounds is rung 13 times at 1300 hours (1 p.m.) on Friday the 13th.
Besides the quirks, the house is a pain to maintain. It takes 20,500 gallons of paint to paint it. And as evidence there are still things to find out about the home whose construction started in 1884 and ended in 1922 with Winchester’s death, another room was discovered in 2016. It is an attic space that has a pump organ, Victorian couch, dress form, sewing machines, and paintings.
The Queen Anne-style home also boasts on its grounds one of the largest historic firearms museums on the West Coast, as well as a “shooting gallery” that takes aim at spirits, a gift shop, museum, and café.
To know what you are dealing with, the 160 room house has 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 52 skylights, 47 stairways and fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, 17 chimneys, and six kitchens. It was built for $5 million in 1923 or $71 million in today’s dollars.
For more information, go to winchestermysteryhouse.com.