The Winchester Mystery House -San Jose, CA

The Winchester Mystery House -San Jose, CA

If you’ve heard of Winchester rifles, you have heard of the same Winchesters who owned the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. Sarah Winchester, the widow of the gun magnate William Wirt Winchester, once called it home.

Upon the death of her husband in 1881, Mrs Winchester became the subject of gossip. One story claimed that a medium in Boston told Mrs Winchester that her family and fortune were haunted by ghosts.  She also said Mrs Winchester would only be able to appease these spirits by moving west and building them a house. Construction began in 1884 and took place day and night, around the clock, until Mrs Winchester passed away in 1922.  If that sounds terribly expensive, don’t worry – the widow Winchester inherited more than $20 million and had an ongoing income of $1000 per day.

Whether or not the story about the Boston medium was true, Mrs Winchester did, in fact, believe that the spirits of people killed by Winchester rifles haunted her family and fortune. As a result of her fear, she would not permit construction on the house to stop. Without the benefit of either architect or blueprints, the house grew and grew until it became a seven story mansion.  In an effort to confuse the evil spirits, the house contains doors and stairs that go nowhere, windows overlooking other rooms and stairs with odd-sized risers. Due to damage from an earthquake in 1906, it is now a four-story building, but the remaining oddly-placed windows, doors, and stairs are still very much intact.

A window in the floor. Photo via Flickr by Alberto Garcia.

There is a seance room in the mansion, because Mrs Winchester consulted the spirits every night to get building instructions in an ongoing quest to appease them.  The room has only one entrance but three exits. One of the extra doors is a cupboard that opens secretly into the room behind it.  The other opens onto an 8 foot drop into a sink in a kitchen below.

Mrs Winchester had severe arthritis in her feet, so many of the stairs in the house are “easy risers,” small and close to each other.  It was easier for her to climb those.

Photo via Flickr by samswitzer.

Unfortunately, the practicality ends there. There is a “goofy staircase,” for instance, to reach the Hayloft on the next floor only 9 feet above. It has 44 steps and seven complete turns.  There is also a staircase that descends seven steps and then rises eleven.

The Grand Ballroom in the mansion was built almost entirely without nails. It cost over $9,000 to complete at a time when an entire house could be built for less than $1,000. Ironically, the ballroom never hosted any social events. The story goes that Mrs. Winchester believed the earthquake of 1906 was a warning from the spirits that she had spent too much money on the front section of the house, which was nearing completion. After the workers repaired the structural damage, she immediately ordered that they seal up the front thirty rooms – including the Grand Ballroom.

Organ in the Grand Ballroom.  Mrs Winchester was an accomplished musician. (Photo via Flickr by Jere Keys.)

Because of Mrs Winchester’s extravagance, the normal parts of the house are quite lovely.  Some rooms have Tiffany stained glass, others have hand-inlaid parquet floors and trim.  The house also had state-of-the-art modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and push button gas lights.  It’s luxurious and grand, even if it is wacky as all get out.


Sarah Winchester’s bedroom, although by some accounts she slept in a different room each night to prevent the evil spirits from finding her. (Photo via Flickr by Jere Keys)


One of the stained glass windows at Winchester Mystery House. This window contains 13 colored stones because, in addition to her other quirks, Mrs Winchester had an obsession with the number 13. (Photo via Flickr by Jere Keys)

The house by the numbers:

  • 24,000 square feet
  • 160 rooms, including 40 bedrooms
  • 2 ballrooms (one completed and one unfinished)
  • 47 fireplaces
  • over 10,000 panes of glass
  • 2000 doors
  • 52 skylights
  • 40 staircases
  • 17 chimneys (with evidence of two others)
  • 3 elevators.
Winchester Mystery House by the Nubers at

The Winchester Mystery House is located at 525 South Winchester Blvd. in San Jose, CA. Telephone 408-247-2000.  Hours vary by season, so call or check the web site when making your plans.

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