Friday, January 14, 2011

Magical Mystery House

If there's one thing I love, it's a spooky old mansion. Creepy buildings with weird histories, like Loftus Hall or the Hellfire Club really float my boat. As do bizarre follies like the Bovolo staircase in Venice, where a 15th century rich fella got some notion that he wanted to be able to get to his top floor bedroom on horseback and had the money and lack of cop on to make it so. I'm glad he did though, because it's absolutely gorgeous and wonderfully strange.

I want to be a rich eccentric when I grow up.

Another thing I'm fascinated with is mad old birds like the Marchesa Casati, or the Edies of Grey Gardens, eccentric women who did their own thing regardless of whether they were acting the complete loolah or not. As it happens, these three things I find so interesting are all smashed together in a wondrous and weird place known as The Winchester Mystery House, situated in San José, California.

Front view of the house. But wait till you see...

...The Winchester mansion on Google Maps. Seriously. Flipping size of it.

Sarah Winchester was an extremely wealthy and deeply troubled widow, after the deaths of both her baby daughter and gun magnate husband. A medium she sought help from allegedly told her that the Winchester family was cursed and doomed to be haunted by the ghosts of the thousands that the famous Winchester rifle had killed in battle. Sarah's efforts to confuse and waylay these supposed spirits are what led to the massive 160 room Victorian mansion she resided in. Taking eccentricity to a whole new level, the lady of the house had continuous 24 hour construction work going on, adding rooms and entire wings to the house, sometimes tearing them down entirely and rebuilding them, for 38 years until her death.

This looks like an entire town, but it's actually the Winchester mansion before the huge 1906 earthquake that knocked the house from seven stories to four and demolished the observation tower. Scald. I love a good observation tower.

The constant building and rebuilding of the house is only one part of the story's craziness though. The labyrinthine interior is rife with demented features like staircases that lead to the ceiling, or rise up eleven steps and then descend for seven, windows in the floor, cupboards that open onto brick walls, doors that go nowhere and Tiffany art glass windows with specially designed spiderweb patterns, as well as brilliant oddities like hidden rooms and secret passageways, all as an attempt to throw off any evil spirits that she believed were following her around the house. There's even an account of the roundabout way in which she made her nightly visit to her "Seance Room" that mentions her clambering out windows onto flights of stairs and slipping between rooms via sliding panels. Poor old mad Sarah.

Door to nowhere, stairs to the ceiling, windows-a-rama and spiderweb motifs a go-go.

After Sarah died, there were meant to numerous sightings of the ghosts of former workmen, eerie unexplained footsteps and the like, earning the house a reputation as one of the most haunted in America. Whatever about that, the house itself is surely worth a nosey around, as it's open to tourists and y'know...amazing. All I know is that if I should find myself anywhere near San José in the future I'll be all over that like white on rice.


  1. Sounds like a real life horror movie...just like The Haunting (the original, not the shite remake!).

    I'd love to live in a big mad house like that, but I know I'd spend the time terrified of being murdered *sigh*

  2. I'd read about that Winchester house before! So spooky. Love to play a game of hide and seek there!

  3. I've always wanted to see this! Thanks for the write up about it. It made for an excellent read m'dear

  4. I'd love to be a demented eccentric, as opposed to an impoverished malcontent.

    Great post. Fascinating.

  5. @ Hermia - There was a Stephen King horror miniseries called Rose Red a few years ago that was based on the Winchester house. It'd be quite an unsettling place to live though, I'd imagine.

    @ Bev - Yes, exactly! I was thinking that as I was writing the post actually, it'd be the longest game of hide and seek ever.

    @ WR - Thanks for the kind words m'lady! My mate Dave has since informed me that he was there in 1998 and it's just as weird as you'd hope. Corridors that get smaller as you go along them and EVERYTHING!

    @ Radge - Many thanks. Demented eccentrics have all the fun.


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