Sarah Winchester was crazy. That being said, she built one of the coolest mansions ever. Nestled in a parking lot across from San Jose’s Santana Row, this infamous piece of weird history has “tourist trap” written all over it. The good news is that it’s not one.
I pride myself on my keen ability to seek out historical sites wherever I am. When I see signs around my house that tout the area as being part of “George Washington’s Route,” I’m distracted for hours. I was recently in San Jose on business for three weeks and, needless to say, was filled with indescribable joy when my hotel listed the Winchester house as a local attraction. The first weekend I had free, I prepared myself for a journey into some backwoods place where the mansion rested quietly amidst protected surroundings. It turns out that though the mansion and its property remained guarded, San Jose’s Valley Fair Mall and adjoining Santana Row poke up within eyeshot. Surrounding scenery and visual disappointment aside, I ventured forth.
I couldn’t have been happier that I decided not to turn back. I love places like this. In line behind non-English-speaking tourists donning their fanny packs, I stepped through the automatic doors. These kinds of places all smell the same – it’s the unmistakable scent of tourism. You’d know it if you smelled it. As I roamed the rows of awful shirts, numerous shot glasses and Winchester rifle-themed plates, I couldn’t help feeling like a little kid again. I get as giddy in places like this as I do in Disney! Who cares if it cost 20 bucks and probably isn’t haunted? Everyone immediately associates the word “geek” or “nerd” with technology; spend a week with me, searching my surroundings for historical hot spots and cheesy tourist traps, and I’m sure you’ll redefine the word.
Aside from the common weirdness of the Winchester House, the fringe cases of the ultimate logic-defying variety were, of course, my favorites. On one of the upper floors, there is a door from the hallway that leads to at least a two-story drop to the front lawn. This door is given the moniker “The Door to Nowhere.” I just can’t fathom what was going through the old bird’s head: “Put a door there! I really don’t care if it leads outside. Confuse the spirits!” For a while, the tour got exponentially more and more architecturally perverse. There are doors and cabinets that open to the wall behind them. Windows give glimpses into rooms with no entry or exit aside from the windows themselves. There’s no rhyme or reason and it is wonderful.
The factors that make everything so absurdly impressive boil down to two things: The craftsmanship of the entire house is of the highest quality (some windows are even custom Tiffany glass). The other factor is that old Mrs. Winchester found, and then convinced, skilled carpenters to build this batshit-crazy labyrinth. Looking through an internal window and seeing external siding, then realizing that the siding is actually inside as well because the lunatic just kept building, regardless of where she was starting or stopping, is nothing short of ludicrous.
The duly dubbed “Winchester Mystery House” is one of the better tourist spots I’ve seen. It’s definitely reminiscent of places like “The Mystery Spot” and “The World’s Largest Ball of Yarn,” with its awfully craptastic gift shop and cafeteria combo. All in all, this is definitely worth it. There’s some real nerdy and quaint history here, folks. With San Jose being mere minutes from San Francisco, if you ever find yourself in the area and you geek out over history, ghosts or just want to see something interesting, check it out.
Fend off the evil spirits with Erik on Twitter @Erock88.