From the beginning of this column I’ve been aware that the parks here by the Bay would not have the never ending stream of news of the level that Disneyland provides, so other options outside of the parks would occasionally be spotlighted. Even made a list on an old Blackberry. Number 4 on that list was the Winchester Mystery House, so when they invited MiceChat to take a look at their new October Candlelight Tour, the invitation was accepted without pause. This isn’t the typical tour with the whole story of Sarah Winchester and her compulsion to continue construction upon her abode for 38 years. This tour doesn’t even point out the Door to Nowhere (contrary to popular belief, the door is not a shortcut to Lodi).
Rather, this is a tour of the mansion in the dark, featuring tales of spirits, sightings, shadows, and…presence. The sun was still up when we arrived Friday, so there was time for a stroll around the garden.
The house was constructed with the benefit of money from the sale of Winchester rifles (and remained under continual construction to confound the spirits of those killed by said rifles). A small museum features displays of firearms throughout the years from several manufacturers, and the pressed penny machine confirms its status as a certified tourist attraction.
If you feel the urge to shoot something, you can avoid the felony by taking advantage of the recently installed shootin’ gallery. Featuring an assortment of objects that come directly from the house, with a variety of weaponry, marksmen can choose to receive a set number of shots or a set amount of time.
As the light faded in the central courtyard, the tour group gathered near the entrance. Excitement for a taping of Tosh.0 was misplaced as it turns out that the greenscreen was for our souvenir photo purchase opportunity that awaited at the tour’s end. The old girl has seen her share of TV cameras over the years, however, with the Ghost Brothers show set to film an episode later this year.
We were led inside and introduced to our caretaker, who carried a candle that appeared to be powered not by fire, but a strange lightning (it’s the 1800s, play along).
She was attired for the period. She was calm as she shared the tales that comprise the mansion’s history. She was not the woman in the photo above, but I’m sure they’re both great. And. We are not alone.
Or? Did that shadow just? Did everyone hear that creak? This isn’t a Haunt, neither is it just the same mansion seen during daylight hours; there are . . . enhancements. Blood doesn’t flow, no one is in your face dripping gore. This is where you may hear a whisper behind you, and wonder it it’s real. I encountered Creative Director Pete Overstreet prior to the tour. He told me of being inspired by the Ken Anderson ideas for Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion back in the day, when it was to be a walk-through attraction. I told him of being a big Rolly Crump fan. There may be a parallel universe where Pete and I are making a love connection. But these things cycle and intertwine in mysterious ways. For instance, some Imagineers visited the Winchester mansion decades ago. Among the things they observed was a ballroom with an elaborate organ, and a hallway lined on each side with rows of close-set doors.
Apart from a couple of exceptions, this is a subtle, creepy experience. The combination of darkness, sounds, the stories heard and an old, rambling house create an atmosphere that can take root in the imagination to the point where mere possibilities will put you on edge. When a visual effect is present, rarely is it given any overt attention. Some are missed entirely by the unobservant. It is all presented in a calm, yet disconcerting manner. We were soon ushered back into the courtyard, the preceding hour a blend of the contemplative with the compelling, and perhaps concluding with a quiet sense of relief.
Neither recording or photography are allowed on the tour, plus you’d need a tripod. But…OK, I know a guy, he may be able to help. Let me do all the talking. Shhhhh…..
Alright, we’re going to slip in between two tours, and take a closer look. Keep close, this place will truly give you the willys without the security of a group. There may be 2,000 doors, but the odds seem stacked against finding one that leads outside in any kind of hurry. Take it from one that was briefly left alone in one of those dark chambers, it isn’t relaxing.
Some of the more memorable moments include the section of the house damaged in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and the section where Sarah Winchester herself was trapped until rescued by diligent staffers.
The bed chamber where Mrs Winchester slept, and also where she drew her last breath. Not sure if the shadow is intentional or fortuitous, which on this night seems appropriate.
And it all culminates in the ballroom, sans organ, but not without its….charms?
This is all part of a push to go beyond the standard assortment of tours and increase the number of ways to experience the Winchester Mystery House, thus increasing the repeat-ability factor. There will also be special holiday offerings in the winter, and there is even an AP available. Skeleton Key holders will enjoy benefits like unlimited standard tours, discounts for friends and merchandise, plus opportunities to see areas of the mansion previously unavailable to the public. For more information visit http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com. And once your humble narrator has thoroughly scrubbed off all of this ectoplasm, we’ll be back for another Day by The Bay.