SAN JOSE — What’s the hottest ticket in October in San Jose?
It’s the Friday the 13th Halloween Candlelight Tour of the Winchester Mystery House. They were sold out virtually the day they went on sale. The only way you can get one is if some die-hard fanatic decides they’d rather take more money than experience the ultimate house tour an put them on e-Bay but don’t hold your breathe. This is the millennial high-tech Silicon Valley crowd’s answer to “The Rocky Horror Show.”
If you’ve passed on touring the rambling house that at 261,369 square feet could squeeze in two typical Target stores, an average Trader Joe’s store, and a three or so Starbucks because you think touring a part of the 160 rooms in a home built by an eccentric woman intent on wading off evil spirits is ho-hum stuff, the tour by flickering candlelight will get your heart going.
The wildly popular tours take an hour and 5 minutes to cover. The tour of the mansion whose rooms were either left in arrested decay or still flow with Victorian grandeur is conducted only by flickering candlelight.
Tours have already started with the remaining early bird dates of Oct. 6-8 carrying ticket prices of $12 to $41. The remaining dates cost between $20 and $48 and are Oct. 13-15, Oct. 18-22, and Oct. 25-31.
Costumes are encouraged although there are strict rules with what you can wear available on the website.
For those who like their mystery with a lot more light, there are two daily day tour options.
The Mansion Tour is 1 hour and 5 minutes and includes 110 of the 160 rooms with tickets going for $20 to $37.
The Explore More Tour is 2 hours and 15 minutes with a dose of paranormal explorations tossed in goes for $30 to $47 a ticket. Due to some of the rooms and areas on the tour children 10 and under are not allowed on the tour.
So what’s the story behind the Winchester Mystery House?
You could say Sarah Winchester was a real pistol. Not only did she inherit $20.5 million from her husband William Wirt Winchester who founded the gun firm of the same name when he died in 1881 from tuberculosis, but also a nearly 50 percent stake in the company that have her $1,000 a day of income or the equivalent of $25,000 daily in 2017.
Add that kind of money and an obsession to spend it — think Paris Hilton in a Neiman Marcus store — in a bid to ward off evil spirits and you end up with what is a candidate for the quirkiest home on the planet in excess of 250,000 square feet.
Not only are there doors and stairs leading to nowhere and windows overlooking rooms — a result of no architect being hired and the home being added onto by the widow’s whim— but at one pointed she had 12 of her 13 bathrooms “disconnected” leaving only one functioning bathroom for the entire 160-room house.
It includes 40 bedrooms — she reportedly slept in a different one each night to confuse spirits — 47 fireplaces, 17 chimneys, two basements, two ballrooms, three elevators, and architectural splendor including many stained glass windows designed by Tiffany Company. To illustrate her oddness, Tiffany himself created a special window for Winchester that cast a rainbow across a room when sunlight strikes prismatic crystals. Winchester had it installed in an interior room with no light exposure rendering the unique design moot. The window was appraised at $25,000 when it was designed more than a century ago or the equivalent of $357,704 in 2016.
Winchester was obsessed with the number 13. Drain covers on sinks have 13 holes. Chandeliers accommodate 13 candles. Clothes hooks are in multiples of 13. As a tribute to Winchester, a large bell on the grounds is rung 13 times at 1300 hours (1 p.m.) on Friday the 13th.
Besides the quirks, the house is a pain to maintain. It takes 20,500 gallons of paint to paint it.
And as evidence there are still things to find out about the home whose construction started in 1884 and ended in 1922 with Winchester’s death, another room was discovered in 2016. It is an attic space that has a pump organ, Victorian couch, dress form, sewing machines, and paintings.
The Queen Anne-style home also boasts on its grounds one of the largest historic firearms museums on the West Coast, as well as a “shooting gallery” that takes aims at spirits, a gift shop, museum, and café.