CREEPY CORNER: Spend the Night at the Winchester Mystery House

Are you ready for a pajama party with Sarah Winchester?
Publish date:
April 30, 2015
mysteries, creepy corner, haunted houses, ghost stories, seances, tourist attractions

Could it finally be true? Will the Winchester Mystery House finally be hosting overnight guests?

I don't want to get my hopes up, but I am.

My creepy little heart got set on such a possibility last year when the Internet started telling tales of the Winchester Mystery House opening its doors to overnight visitors AND a restaurant serving adult beverages.

My social media feeds blew up.

"When are we doing this?"

"Get your butt back to California, this is happening!"


Part of me knew better than to get my hopes up. I feared that if I started making plans, Sarah L. Winchester would reach out from beyond the grave (like she knew she would) and smoosh my plans with a solid, "Not in my house."

And I was right. Amidst the hype of last year's collective "OMG" amongst creeps across America, the Winchester House was not able to get the appropriate permits.

Until now. Or soon. Hopefully.

Recently buzz has begun anew over the Winchester Mystery House's plan to offer overnight stays this year — overnight stays with a restaurant and bar.

I can't help but be a little skeptical. Are the operators of the Winchester Mystery House just jerking the clanking chains of the eerie inclined for the sake of good press? Will something fall through? Will Sarah Winchester put the kibosh on this endeavor?

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. For those of you not familiar with the Winchester Mystery House (I really need to get to work on that "Creepy Corner 101" primer), here are the basics.

The Winchester Mystery House, or Winchester House, was the residence of Sarah Winchester. Sarah Winchester was the widow of William Wirt Winchester, heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, and son of Oliver Fisher Winchester. Oliver Winchester is credited with developing and manufacturing the Winchester rifle.

Upon William Winchester's death in 1881 from tuberculosis, Sarah inherited upward of 20.5 million dollars and "50% of the Winchester Arms stock," making her one of the wealthiest women in the world.

But by many accounts Sarah was troubled -- she may have believed she was cursed. Death seemed to follow her. Not only did she lose her husband, but before that, in 1866, she lost her only child Annie at only 40 days old.

Whether her interests predated her husband's death, or if his death prompted it, Sarah dabbled in spiritualism (more than dabbled later on). Shortly after after William's death, a Boston medium advised Sarah that she should go west and build a house for the spirits killed by Winchester rifles.

According to the medium, Sarah's misfortunes were due to the spirits of Winchester rifle victims chasing after her. If Sarah built a large and lavish home for the spirits, that would never cease construction, Sarah would be able to appease the spirits and escape retribution. "Building such a house was even supposed to bring her eternal life."

How can you argue with that?

So Sarah left her home in New Haven, Connecticut and settled in San Jose, California in 1884. She purchased an eight-room farmhouse from a Dr. Caldwell, and commenced construction. Construction continued 24/7, 365 days a year for 38 years. Only upon Sarah's death did construction stop. You can still see skeletal, half-finished rooms and nails only partially driven into wood where workers literally halted the moment they were informed of Sarah Winchester's death.

But even stranger than the reason for building the house is the house itself. With 160 rooms (remodeled from the original 500 or 600 rooms), the house is a twisting, turning, maze. Doors open into walls, stairs lead to nowhere, secret passageways run throughout the house in case Sarah needed to make a sneaky escape from a ghost.

The number 13 repeats all over the house. Among them, 13 steps in a staircase, 13 windows with 13 panes of glass, and 13 inexplicable hooks on one wall of her seance room.

The seance room was very much the heart of Sarah's house. Visiting it every night, Sarah was the only person allowed to go into the seance room or "Blue Room." Having only one way to enter, but three options to exit, this was just one more way Sarah hoped to outsmart her ghosts. Inside the seance room, Sarah checked in with the spirits, making sure they were pleased and consulting with them on further construction plans.

For the entirety of the time Sarah oversaw the Winchester House build, she never used an architect or a building inspector. All plans or designs came from Sarah or the spirits. The Winchester House could literally be called "The House Built by Spirits."

Of course, while Sarah "worked with" the spirits, she was also trying to keep herself one step ahead of the ghosts. This could account for such oddities as the "Door to Nowhere," a door on an upper level of the mansion that opens to an eight-foot exterior drop, or the labyrinthian layout of the house. Apparently Sarah would move through her house in a roundabout manner making it harder for the spirits to follow her.

When the 1906 earthquake hit the San Francisco Bay Area, Sarah believed that she was being warned. After getting trapped in the Daisy Bedroom (before the earthquake she never slept in the same bedroom two nights in a row, after the earthquake she stayed in one bedroom), Sarah believed that the spirits were angry at her for spending too much money on the front part of the house and quickly had the front 30 rooms sealed up.

Of course a house like the Winchester House has many ghost stories. Many people have claimed to feel cold drafts in the seance room, hear the Grand Ballroom organ play by itself, or see a door knob turn when no living hands are touching it.

Some tour guides say they have heard footsteps in the house when it is empty, or that after turning off the lights and locking up the mansion for the night, the lights will turn themselves back on.

There's also the story of the visitor to the Winchester Mystery House who asked a tour guide about the woman dressed up as Sarah Winchester sitting in the dining room.

“What do you mean? There aren’t any promotions today,” said the Tour Manager.

“The lady dressed as Mrs. Winchester? Isn’t she part of a promotion?”

“What lady? There’s nothing like that planned for today.”

Either someone was getting a little too into the "spirit" of the Winchester House, or Sarah Winchester was checking on her home.

Are you ready for a pajama party with Sarah Winchester?

According to Kristinae Toomians, a San Jose city planning department representative, "It wouldn't be a hotel type of thing." That is, you wouldn't be able to just check into one of the Winchester Mystery House's many rooms. Overnight guests will sleep in "the caretaker’s residence and the foreman’s quarters" on the property, but will still get the full Winchester Mystery House experience.

Then there's the booze. Along with the permit for overnight guests, the Winchester Mystery House is converting its current cafe into a restaurant with bar. Personally, I'm not so sure how well potentially heavy drinking and a historic mansion go together, but I'm trying to stay open minded. My hope is that there will be a way to safely and comfortably control the consumption of alcohol so that no hooligans end up barfing in Sarah Winchester's bedroom or peeing out the "Door to Nowhere."

And of course the question of, "Should we do this?" has popped into my head.

While Sarah Winchester was certainly a woman plagued by demons either of her own construct or those of her family's past, the Winchester Mystery House doesn't seem to be exploitative. When I visited, I found the staff to be very protective of not only the property, but also of Sarah Winchester's memory. While they acknowledged that she had some eccentric leanings, I think Sarah got a fair portrayal.

I have to admit the prospect of spending a night in the Winchester House excites me. Aside from the mythology surrounding it, all the nooks, crannies, and flourishes, appeal to my childhood dream of living in "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's" upside-down house.

Bizarre, intricate, and heartfelt, the house feels like a part of Sarah Winchester. I don't mean this in a "ooga-booga-ghosty" way, but it does feel like Sarah Winchester's spirit is still very much alive there. Does spending the night in her home honor her? I don't know. I suppose we can only wait and see how the Winchester Mystery House staff handle overnight guests.

The Winchester Mystery House has not yet released when it will start taking overnight guests, but from what I've read it will be this year.

Would you spend the night at the Winchester House?

If any of you Creepy Corneristas get a chance to go, please take notes, be safe, and report back to us promptly!