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The Winchester Mystery House

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    Looking for a weird, interesting spot to take your out of town guests? Why not take a trip to the Winchester Mystery House?

    Just off Interstate 280 in San Jose (about an hour drive from San Francisco) you'll find the former home of Sarah Winchester, widow of rifle tycoon William Wirt Winchester.

    After the death of her only daughter in 1866, and her husband in 1881, Sarah consulted a psychic in Boston who said her family has been cursed by the spirits of people who met their demise at the wrong end of a Winchester rifle. She was told to move west, buy a house, start construction on the house, and never finish. The story goes that by doing this, Sarah would live forever, and keep the ghosts at bay.

    So Sarah Winchester did just that. She was quite wealthy, and evidently quite crazy.  Construction on the house lasted 38 years until the day she died in 1922.

    The house is full of bizarre architecture, including doors that open to nowhere, windows in walls that look out to nothing but the backside of other walls, and staircases that dead end into the ceiling.

    It's supposed that Mrs. Winchester had a particular room for consulting spirits every night between midnight and 2 a.m. The spirits would help her decide what to construct next on the house. One theory about the strange placement of doors, windows and staircases, is that they were designed to confuse the ghosts who were after her.  

    The 65 minute tour of the house involves a dizzying trip through several of the160 rooms and strange twisting staircases. Many of the rooms are empty, and in a state of disrepair. All of Winchester's belongings disappeared after her death, so what little furniture you see in the rooms are simply things from the time period.

    Not very much is known about Mrs. Winchester or why she did what she did. She was surrounded only servants and had no close friends or relatives, so at times it felt like much of the information on the tour was assumed or simply made up.

    The guides seem to be theater kids, are well rehearsed, and have no shortage of bad one-liners. But they are friendly and probably know as much as anyone about what went on with the house and its former resident.

    Is this a mysterious house built by spirits, or the physical result of a batty old rich woman? You'll have to buy the ticket and decide for yourself. Ether way, it's an interesting spot and worth the drive.

    The mansion tour is about $30.00, but for an extra $5, you can get the tour of the basement and some of the other buildings on the grounds.