If you ever visit Silicon Valley, and if you or anyone you know loves history, the paranormal, or unusual architecture, the Winchester Mystery House is a must see for a tour. The house has a very strange story behind it, and depending on the guide and length of the tour it can be an informative, educational and even entertaining experience for you and your entire family. What better place to visit for Halloween than a “haunted” house?
The Story Behind the House
The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, once belonged to Sarah Winchester of the Winchester rifle brand. Construction began after both Sarah’s child, and husband passed away. She was allegedly told by a medium to head west and build a huge mansion to appease the angry spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles. Supposedly the spirits were responsible for the death of her child and husband, and there was an implication that Sarah was next. Rumor is that Mrs. Winchester held regular séances and that she created the house in a labyrinth manner to trick the ghosts or spirits that might be following her. There are many mysteries about Mrs. Winchester, but because she was never interviewed and left no journal, we may never know the real story.
What to expect
When Mrs. Winchester bought the house, it was an eight-room farmhouse. By the time of her death it had turned into a seven-story, 160 room mansion. Carpenters worked around the clock for 38 years to ensure that construction never stopped (per the instructions by the medium that Mrs. Winchester consulted) and the story is that she never slept in the same room two nights in a row. It opened to the public in 1923, just a year after her death, and was turned into the museum in 1933. When you walk around the mansion, expect to see elegant Victorian architecture alongside examples of the many oddities of the eccentric Mrs. Winchester. Some interesting examples include doors that open to blank walls, staircases that lead to nowhere, secret passages, and a staircase that is seven flights with forty steps, but only nine feet high because each step is a mere two inches.
Tours and General Info
The primary ticket is the Mansion Tour, which gives visitors access to 110 of the 160 rooms and lasts a little over an hour. There is also a 55-minute Behind-the-Scenes Tour (for an additional fee) if you are interested in even more insight into what the house was like when Mrs. Winchester lived there, as well as access to the basement, a rarely seen area of the house. The Grand Estate Tour is 2.5 hours and is the best way to see everything because it includes the Mansion Tour and the Behind-the-Scenes Tour. There is also a Flashlight Tour and a Spirit of Christmas Tour during the holidays.
Autism Travel Tips:
- While fascinating to most adults and older children, there are many strange things in the house and the stories could frighten some children. There are rumors of ghosts/paranormal activity in the house that might be discussed.
- Expect A LOT OF DUST everywhere. If you or your family member suffers from allergies or are sensitive to smells, you may want to take precautions or reconsider visiting. Not recommended for people with asthma.
- Many areas look like construction zones, with uneven ground. People with mobility issues should be aware of this. Keep an eye on any small children that want to touch everything.
- The house is full of staircases leading nowhere and balconies with few or no guard rails.
- Even the short tour is a lengthy tour; the tour is recommended for children over eight or nine that are better listeners and more interested in the history than in the immediate sights.
- Beware of narrow corridors and plenty of steps. Once you start the tour, it’s hard to backtrack.
- Children are not allowed on the Grand Estate Tour.
- There are storage lockers available to rent.
- Photography/video inside the house is prohibited, but photos and videos of the garden and outside the house are fine.
- There is a café and gift shop on-site that you should check out since it has a copious amount of holiday trinkets that are interesting to gawk at and even buy.
- This place is quite warm, so bear this in mind if your child is temperature sensitive.
- The entire tour is almost a mile long through four stories with nearly 300 steps, so it’s not very wheelchair or stroller accessible, and challenging for those with limited mobility who cannot walk for long. Because of this, there is now a Video Access Tour that takes place in the theater and gives visitors a tour of what they would see inside the house. Admission to the Video Access Tour includes admission to the Victorian Gardens and the Historic Firearms Museum.
- English scripts are available for those with a hearing impairment, and if a companion is necessary, he or she will receive a free entry.
Location, Hours, Admission
525 S Winchester Blvd., San Jose, CA 95128
Hours & Admission vary by season and depending on which tour you prefer. Visit the Winchester Mystery House website for more information