Sunday, October 30, 2011

GOLDEN PLACES: The Haunted Mansion...Right next to the Mall!

Within the heart of the Silicon Valley exists one of the most notorious mansions in American history.  The Winchester Mystery House has an eerie and (at times) frightening story to tell.  Sarah Winchester had become the widow of the famed William Wirt Winchester, the magnate behind the many rifles that became synonymous with the Wild West.  Sarah was convinced by a Boston medium to leave her New Haven home and travel to the West where she was to build a home for the many spirits that had lost their lives because of the Winchester rifle.  In 1884, she moved to the Santa Clara Valley and began the building process that would continue (day and night!) for years until her death in 1922.  Initially it was to be a seven story house, but after the great 1906 Earthquake it became a four story house.  The house consists of over 150 rooms (most finished, a few not!), almost 10,000 window panes, several fireplaces, two basements and three separate elevators.  But the thing that makes the house so infamous is its many small doorways (too small for any normal-sized human to fit through!) and its several stairways that seem to lead nowhere.  It is believed that Sarah Winchester had several of these features installed to appease the many spirits that she felt surrounded and haunted her family.

Today, the house stands on Winchester Boulevard in San Jose, California, which is now a modern-day main street within the Bay Area metropolis.  Right before you walk into the house to take the tour, you can hear the roar of the many cars as they whiz by and the hustle and bustle of the people either going to the movies at the Century movie theaters next door or at the Santana Row Shopping Center across the street.  Once you begin the tour and step inside the house, the ethereal and eerie feeling that Sarah Winchester herself must have felt is extremely palpable.  True, the many tour guides (who uphold Sarah's beliefs that the spirits wanted her to build the house continuously) could potentially be manipulating the atmosphere that the tourists feel when they enter the domicile.  But, the tour guides were not around when the several construction workers and carpenters who worked on the house and had the same reaction that many tourists have had.

The number 13 is a very important number within this household.  After Sarah Winchester's death, the groundskeepers created a topiary on the main lawn in the shape of the number 13.  Every Friday the 13th, the staff rings the large bell on the property at 1 PM (13:00 hours!) for exactly 13 times.  And for Halloween, the tour guides pull out all the stops.  Within the week leading up to the October holiday, the mansion hosts their annual "Fright Nights" where tourists can save up to $20 on admission to a tour of the haunted grounds.  Part of the event includes a walk through the Sarah Winchester "Halloween Maze."  The house has become one of the most cherished landmarks in the Bay Area and is constantly on a Top 10 list of the most Haunted places in North America.

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