With miles of hallway, secret doors, and staircases that lead to ceilings, the Winchester Mystery House is definitely a place worth visiting on your paranormal tour of the United States. Located on Winchester Drive in San Jose, California, I made my third trip to the house over a 15-year span on July 31, 2016. Regardless of the number of times I visit, I’m always left wishing I could see more. Much of the sprawling estate remains hidden from public view due to years of neglect, vandalism, and safety issues. The house was substantially damaged during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
I won’t repeat the history of the house since much has been written about it. Suffice it to say, Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester firearm empire, was an odd bird indeed. Despite being a small woman, her building habits were large. “It is estimated that 500 rooms to 600 rooms were built, but because so many were redone, only 160 remain. This naturally resulted in some peculiar effects, such as stairs that lead to the ceiling, doors that go nowhere and that open onto walls, and chimneys that stop just short of the roof.” (from The Winchester Mystery House, Beautiful but Bizarre)
The house is known for both its beauty and its ghosts.
Ghost Adventures and others have captured paranormal activity at the Winchester Mystery House. Whether or not you or I could capture activity is questionable. During my three visits I noted that investigating as an independent would be extremely difficult because they do not allow solo tours. According to one of the docents, they used to provide recorded self-tours. However, they quickly found that folks would walk off by themselves and get lost or, worse yet, take relicts like pieces of glass, pieces of wall, or other items of historical significance. Today you tour with a large and rather noisy group. As a ghost hunter, any data captured would be susceptible to corruption. Winchester runs concurrent tours during normal business hours. This means that those footsteps you hear are most likely another group on the floor above.
The various tour packages are more than an hour long and focus on the houses history. I took the Grand Estate Tour which included both the Mansion and Behind-the-Scenes tours. Of interest, the Mansion Tour includes a visit to Sarah Winchester’s Seance Room and the Behind-the-Scenes takes you to the basement. Ghost Adventures made it a point to visit the basement. That’s where the Wheelbarrow Man purportedly appears (see Winchester sightings).
As a normal guy interested in the paranormal, I was hoping for some sort of experience. Unfortunately I saw nothing, experienced nothing, and heard nothing out of the ordinary.
My wife, however, did have an experience – two, actually.
When we got to the point in the tour where we visited Sarah Winchester’s Seance Room, my wife could not enter. She said she felt extreme sadness – so much so that she remained outside the door and had to be escorted around the tiny blue room. Later, during the Behind-the-Scenes tour, she “saw” Mrs. Winchester peeking out from behind a wall. Later on, in the basement, she saw her again. At one point Sarah was following us!
Despite the restrictions on photography, I did sneak a photo in the basement. Looking at the picture below, my wife said Sarah was down the dark passageway on the other side of the stone wall. There doesn’t appear to be anything there but if you look towards the top of the picture you can see a green orb.
Is this lens flare or a ghost?
I’m leaning towards lens flare since there’s a lightbulb on the far side of the pipe. Still, if you could see the look in my wife’s eyes when she was watching Mrs. Winchester, you’d believe Sarah was right there. My wife was clearly seeing something.
I cannot conclude whether the Winchester Mystery House is haunted or not but do think it’s worth a visit. The tours are historically informative and do leave you asking why Mrs. Winchester would have spent so much money to build such a strange house. Was it because the spirits told her to or because she was eccentric?
We may never know.
NOTE: The general public is not allowed to take photographs or video inside Sarah Winchester’s mansion. When asked, the staff said that a film company bought the copyright to the interior. Ghost Adventures had to do this when they shot their recent Return to Winchester House episode and apparently another company bought the rights soon after. My guess is that it’s for the upcoming film Winchester starring Helen Mirren. See http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/themovie.cfm.
Sarah Winchester’s property remains one of the most intriguing places to visit in Northern California.