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Sarah Winchester Was A Real Pistol; A Tour Of The Mansion She Built In San Jose Will Prove It

These photos are of the front of the Winchester Mystery House with lighting for “Unhinged” tours plus six of the 160 rooms and one of the 47 stairways.


SAN JOSE — What is the hottest ticket in October in San Jose?

It’s the 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 some 24,000 square feet could squeeze in two typical Target stores, an average Trader Joe’s store, and a 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 going.

The website says it best.

This year’s all-new version of “Unhinged” invites you into “a seemingly innocent home, purchased by a curious couple, conceals a haunting nightmare. As they settle in, strange occurrences begin to unravel as the ghosts of former residences make their presence felt. Prepare yourself for a descent into madness as the spirits will lead you deeper into the twisted past. Will you dare to confront what lurks within the halls of the home?”

“Unhinged” is essentially a 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.

There are strict rules for tour participants on the website.

“Unhinged Tours” start at 7:15 p.m. and 10:15 p.m.

Dates are Friday and Saturday, Oct. 6 and 7; Friday through Sunday, Oct. 13 through 15; Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 19 through 22 and Oct. 26 through 29; and, of course, on Tuesday, Oct. 31 for Halloween.

Tickets for the first tour each night are $65 while the second tour is $70.

All ticket holders receive access to venture through one route of the immersive indoor haunt and can experience the thrilling outdoor show featuring an outside scare zone, limited time Halloween museum, interactive games, food and drinks, sideshow entertainers, and themed photo opportunities.

For those who like their mystery with more light, there are two daily day tour options.

The Mansion Tour — offered year-round — is one hour, five minutes and includes 110 of the 160 rooms with tickets going for $41.99 for adults, $34.99 seniors, and $19.99 for children ages 5-12.

Guests will be able to see the infamous rooms of Sarah’s stately mansion, known around the world as the Winchester Mystery House, and see the bizarre attributes that give the mysterious mansion its name.

The Walk With Spirits Tour is also one hour, five minutes.

During the Walk With Spirits Tour, guests will attend the wake for a departed soul in the parlor of the home, ascend to the third floor to experience a Victorian era seance and end in the dark and foreboding basement.

This unique tour takes you beyond the ordinary, exploring areas of the house that you don’t see during the daily mansion tour.

Tickets are for $41.99 for adults, $34.99 seniors, and $19.99 for children ages 5-12.

With the purchase of either the Mansion Tour or Walk With Spirits Tour, access to the gardens is complimentary and an individual ticket for that is not required.

If you are looking to enjoy the sunshine and stay outdoors, book the Sarah Winchester Garden Tour. The tour does not include access to the mansion.

The price is $19.99 for adults, $15.99 for seniors, and $9.99 children ages 5-12.


The Background Story

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 $29,000 daily in 2022.

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 aims at spirits, a gift shop, museum, and café.

To know what you are dealing with the 160 rooms 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 $80 million in today’s dollars.

For more information, go to