June 19, 2009
Mysterious Destination or Weird Vacation: Winchester Mystery House
Don't you think that there is a time during everyone's childhood where much of your time is spent thinking about ghosts and ice cream, and loving both equally? Long ago when we were young, in the summer when my brothers and I wanted ice cream, my father would toss us into an open pick up truck and take us north to fruit stands that sold California Bing cherries, apricots and peaches by the crate load. Along the way, he would stop for a soft serve vanilla cone for us to eat along the way. Boy you knew you were growing up when you got to move from a single to a double scoop!
In those days, you could get away with having small children rolling around in the back of an open truck on a speeding highway. Children never seem to worry about that stuff and we enjoyed the thrill of being outside heading towards a pit stop for ice cream then crates of cherries - which meant contests of who could spit their cherry pit the farthest without it flying back into their face!
While driving to those fruit stands back then, we inescapably would have to pass one of the scariest places ever for a child, the Winchester Mystery House. This place had all the ingredients that my 10 year old brain and emotional development craved -- Victorian melodrama, possible early demise of young woman and ghostly sightings! BOOO
This was a real Victorian mansion, designed and built by the Winchester Rifle heiress, Sarah. She came from a family that was responsible for creating "The Gun that Won the West". The 1800s is a savage part of American history especially with regards to the Wild West. The Winchester rifle - think Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves - played a significant part in the move out west for settlers. One can only imagine how that sad and turbulent period affected Sarah Winchester emotionally.
The construction of the mansion began in 1884 and continued 38 non-stop years until September 5, 1992. Before the San Francisco Great Earthquake of 1906, the mansion had seven stories now it only has four. In the past, Sarah Winchester had a total of 161,919 acres of land - think along the lines of the Ponderosa in Bonanza or The Big Valley television shows.
Fast forward and today the property stands at four acres. Is this a mysterious destination or just a weird vacation idea for summer? Who knows, but there are some interesting ideas for the casual observer when you visit. The oddities of the construction like the stairs that go nowhere, why would anyone build these?
Today this area still has a robust set of fruit stands only now they have safer roads, rules to protect what is in the back of your truck and a huge Garlic Festival that brings famous chefs from television.
And to give you a greater incentive for travel, consider timing your visit to go along their special 65 minute Flashlight Tour on Friday the 13th and Halloween every year.