When it comes to making a romantic gesture on Valentine's Day,
most men opt for the safe choices (i.e., cards, chocolate and/or flowers).
But if you're one of those guys who's got a bit of a
dramatic / gothic streak, if you sincerely believe that every great romance
should have an element of surprise & mystery to it ... Well, maybe you should
consider taking your beloved out to San Jose to tour the Winchester Mystery
Okay. I know. Taking someone that you care about into what
has been called the most haunted mansion in all of America may seem like a very
odd way to say "I love you." But given that the love-of-your-life is likely to
stick quite close to your side as you two wander through this massive 24,000
square-foot structure and experience the Winchester Mystery House's annual
Friday the 13th Flashlight Tour and/or its super-popular Hallowe'en
Candlelight Tour ... Substituting flowers & chocolate for frights this year
might actually wind up being a very smart play.
"And how exactly did the Winchester Mystery House wind up
with such a fearsome reputation?," you ask. That has a lot to do with the
legend of Sarah Winchester. Who was the widow of gun magnate William Wirt
As the story goes, following her husband and infant
daughter's passing, Sarah decided to consult a medium. Who then told the Widow
Winchester that her family's troubles could be traced directly back to the
restless spirits of all those people who had been killed by weapons produced by
the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.
To hear this medium talk, the only way that Sarah could ever
hope to appease all of these spirits was by moving west and then continuously
building them a home. And that's just what the Widow Winchester did. She first
traveled from Connecticut to California. And then -- after acquiring a
two-story, eight-room farmhouse on 160 acres of land in 1885 -- Sarah launched
into what can only be described as the original extreme makeover.
"How extreme?," you query. Picture a private home done in
the American Queen Anne Revival style. Only this house eventually grew from 8
relatively simple rooms to a sprawling 160 (these included 13 bathrooms and 6
kitchens). This now-4 story-tall building (At one point, the structures that
made up the Winchester Mystery House included a 7 story-tall tower. But that
building was damaged by the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 and
eventually had to be pulled down) has 47 separate staircases. Not to mention 52
skylights, 17 chimneys, 10,000 windows and 2,000 doors.
According to legend, workmen following Sarah's admittedly
bizarre architectural instructions labored continuously on this house for 38
years. From 1886 to 1922, to be exact. And all of those hammers finally fell
silent on September 5th of that year when the Widow Winchester
passed away at the ripe old age of 82.
One of the only known photographs of Sarah Winchester
A mere five months after Sarah died, the Winchester Mystery
House was first opened to the public. And ever since then, over 12 million
people have passed through its halls.
Not all of its halls, mind you. Sometime this Spring, the
Winchester Mystery House will be launching its "Explore More" tour. Which
promises to take visitors to parts of this mansion that have been off-limits
And speaking of exciting things that will be happening later
this year: This designated California historical landmark will be going before
the cameras in 2017 as the production team behind "Winchester" arrives from
Australia to shoot some exteriors. This thriller - which has Academy
Award-winner Helen Mirren playing the Widow Winchester - is expected to hit
theaters in 2018.
And speaking of hitting ... Given that so much of the
mythology associated with the Winchester Mystery House has ties to the
Winchester Repeating Rifle (i.e., "The Gun that Won the West") ... Well, the
folks who run this unique landmark wanted to do more than just offer guests on
the grounds the chance to tour the Winchester Firearms Museum (which houses one
of the largest collections of Winchester Repeating Rifles in the U.S.). They
wanted to give people the chance to have a fun, hands-on experience that was still
very much in the "spirit" of this Santa Clara Valley treasure.
Which is why - late last year - "Sarah's Attic" shooting
gallery made its debut at the Winchester Mystery House. According to the
entirely fictional backstory that was cooked up for this new attraction, a 161st
room was recently discovered at the mansion. This boarded-up attic space was
where Mrs. Winchester supposedly stored items like her pump organ, a plush
Victorian couch, an antique sewing machine as well as some artwork.
Now where this gets interesting is - in addition to serving
as storage space - Sarah also supposedly used this part of the Winchester
Mystery House's attic for the holding of séances.
"And if you follow our tongue-in-cheek backstory, when moving
the room to our Central Courtyard, a rifle accidentally went off and surprisingly
activated the spirits that haunt the space. Which then caused all kinds of crazy phenomenon
to occur," said Walter Magnuson, General Manager of Winchester Mystery House.
"Now our tour guests will have the opportunity to do the same as we have opened
it up to let them take a rifle in hand to activate 38 known targets (one for
every year the incredible mansion was under construction) that then unleash the
This recent addition to the Winchester Mystery House is yet
another way to prove to your love that you're not one of those
oh-so-predictable "cards, candy & flowers" guys. You can challenge them to
a shooting contest at "Sarah's Attic." With the idea being that whoever loses
then picks up the tab for a romantic meal at the nearby Winchester Café (which
features a recently revised menu by renowned Santa Clara Valley caterer Tony
Who knows? Maybe you two will have such a good time, you'll
then decide to sign up for the Winchester Mystery House's Skeleton Key Club.
Which is what will allow you to be among the very first to experience the
all-new "Explore More" tour. Which - appropriately enough for Valentine's Day -
isn't for the faint of heart. Which is why only those guests who are ages 13
and up will be allowed to gain access to parts of this mansion that have never
before been open to the public.
This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, February 14, 2017