TRAVEL THERE: IT’S A MYSTERY ALRIGHT
Next stop on our California adventure: The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.
The Real Mystery
Several years ago, I asked my mother which San Jose attraction was better, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum or the Winchester Mystery House, because she’d been to both. She didn’t stutter or stall – she was all about the Egyptian Museum. So, on that trip I went to the museum and promised myself I’d see the Winchester House another day.
Well, on this trip to California I carved out some time for the Winchester Mystery House and learned the real mystery is why it’s become so popular. Remember last week when I told you Lotusland was worth every penny of the $45 tour price – and more. Well, the Winchester House, in my opinion, is not worth anywhere near the $33 per person they’ll hit you up for – and that’s just the basic tour. Some people pay more for extended and special tours. Ten dollars? Maybe. Anymore than that? Rip off!
Don’t Judge This Book By It’s Cover
An exterior shot of this rambling edifice leads one to believe visitors will tour a beautiful Victorian mansion. Well, the exterior is very pretty and I do recommend that you at least drive by it on South Winchester Boulevard, but what you can see from the street is really all you need to see. The interior of the house is pretty scary – and I’m not talking about the spirits some people claim they encounter.
We found the house, parked the car and went to the entry booth. We actually discussed getting the more expensive ticket which included a behind the scenes tour, but we were supposed to be in San Francisco by six thirty. We were afraid we wouldn’t have time for more than the basic tour – thank goodness. That’s when things started to get weird.
Right This Way for your Cruise Photo
I’m used to lining up to go on a house tour. At the Winchester House, the tickets are timed. A sign tells you where to wait for the next tour and there’s a velvet rope hanging between stanchions.
However, I am not used to lining up for cruise-type photos at historic homes. (They do the same sort of thing at Hearst Castle, but that’s Hearst Castle.) At the Winchester they put you in front of a green screen and hand you a fake rifle. We were not enchanted. Bill resents having his picture taken on cruises, so this really set him off. “I made an ugly face,” he told me.
Welcome to….the Stables?
After all the people on our tour had their obligatory rifle picture taken, we were allowed in the house. We were herded into a sort of holding pen and given a very canned speech by an eager young guide. In his defense, he was fairly new to his job as a guide, but it came off like, “I am thoroughly bored with this speech, and hahaha you’re stuck listening to it.” It did not improve as the tour continued.
From the holding pen we went to the stables, but it was a little confusing, because it was also a sort of warehouse. I thought to myself, “This isn’t a very engaging place to start.” I didn’t realize then that it wasn’t going to get much better. From the stable we used a very bizarre staircase to get to another floor. I hoped better things were coming.
Most of the House is More of the Same
With very few exceptions, things didn’t get any better. The floors were linoleum. The walls were, for the most part wood, though there were some that were wallpapered. Any room looked pretty much like all the rest of the rooms. They had millions of visitors to the house and it looks like it. It also doesn’t look like they’ve done anything to preserve what people may have come to see.
Part of the problem is that most of the rooms are unfurnished. When the builder/owner died, everything was taken out of the house and sold for cash, per the little old lady’s will. There are a few rooms that have items in them, but the furnishings matched everything else about the house – sad and worn out.
I think one of the reasons the house is so empty and so unfurnished is that they want to impress upon visitors just how nuts Mrs. Winchester was. The story of the house is that she bought it and kept building on to it. Another part of the story is that she was trapped in part of the house after an earthquake and after escaping closed down that part of the house, damaged as it was, and kept on building.
Okay, so I get the part about the lady being nuts and I realize her original belongings were sold, but if you’re going to charge me $33 dollars, I want to see more than an empty house in disrepair.
On to San Fran
On any other tour, we might have tried to sneak away and go on with our business, but in this dreadful rabbit warren of a place, who knows where you might have ended up. We endured the rest of the tour and were relieved when we escaped.
The story of the Winchester Mystery House is well worth your investigation. The owner was the widow of the man who invented the Winchester rifle. Her idiosyncrasies are fascinating. The Winchester Mystery House as it stands today, is not.
Our trip to California gets better though! come back next week.