Wednesday, September 28, 2011

MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR

As I dash off to my old "hometown" of NYC, I ponder my new one.  Silicon Valley has its quirks and perks.  The creativity and earth-shaking inventions of the digital age find its epicenter here.  Yet, this unstable soil is host to more than the Future.  The Wild West offers strange and wonderful things from its mysterious Past.

I finally explored the Winchester Mystery House nearby a few weekends ago.  (Thanks to Bucket List Nation for reminding me of this quirky destination!)  The timing couldn't have been better since I had recently finished Jenny Woolf's Lewis Carroll biography.  Woolf had touched on the Victorian fascination for ghosts and séances.  Well, Exhibit A right here: A Victorian  mansion built for spirits!

One of the many "Doors to Nowhere"
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose

Sarah Winchester was an East Coast heiress, daughter of a carriage manufacturer and heir to her husband's fortune from the Winchester Rifle -- "the Gun that won the West." Certainly charmed beginnings, until ill fortune caught up with her. She lost her infant daughter, followed by her husband.  In grief, she consulted a Boston psychic.  (Is that the Victorian equivalent of going to a shrink?)  The Medium divined her bad luck was from uneasy souls slain by the Winchester rifle.  Oh my, quite a lot of souls to atone for!  To appease their spirits, the Medium advised building a house out West unceasingly.  Thus began the Winchester estate in 1884, by the old orchards of Santa Clara Valley.  Construction continued round-the-clock for 38 years until she passed away.



A surrey in the Carriage House where the Tour begins
akin to our attached garages now
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose CA

I think this suited the eccentric and extremely wealthy Mrs. Winchester just fine.  Tiffany windows and doors came from NYC.  Furnishings and fabrics were imported from Europe and Asia.  The house was equipped with state-of-the-art technology for its time: interior elevators, showers, an irrigation system for her plants.


One of 10,000 Tiffany stained glass windows
This one graced the Ladies Room
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose CA

Confusing the spirits was the driving force behind the mansion's architecture.  Staircases doubled back on themselves, or disappeared into walls.  Doors led to nowhere.  Rooms opened only from the outside (like the claustrophobic Séance Room).  Interior windows peered onto hallways and other rooms -- handy for spying on spirits and servants!  Secret panels allowed Mrs. Winchester to slip from room-to-room unseen by the ghosts.  Victorian phantoms, it seems, were not very clever.

Victorian Greenhouse in the garden
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose CA

Mrs. Winchester slept in different bedrooms just to throw off spirits following her,   This recluse also supposedly held gilt-edged dinner parties for ghosts -- I 'm thinking that's only for the ones she approved of?  She had a penchant for the number 13 and cobweb designs, evident in the number of windows in chambers and stained glass throughout the house.  Morticia Addams had a role model!

The threshold no guest ever crossed
Not even Pres. Teddy Roosevelt was given access
Front door dressed up for Halloween
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose CA

It's really quite fascinating.  Most intriguing are the Victorian superstitions, alluded to in general literature and Gothic Revival novels.  It was fashionable to hold séances or consult Mediums among the educated classes of Europe and America.  I wonder what they would think of our relegating such activities now to carnival tents ... unless, of course, you are matriculating at Hogwarts.

Unfortunately, no mystical fog shrouded the mansion on this glorious blue-sky day.  They do offer "Flashlight" tours at night, and "Fright Nights" for Halloween season here.  I leave you to explore its secret passages yourselves since photography was only permitted outside.

Victorian turrets and rooftops (and a teeny airplane in the sky)
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose CA



What do you think of the Victorians?  Of ghosts and Gothic novels?

27 comments:

  1. I do really love Gothic/Victorian styled houses. I also love interiors that almost collide in time with the exterior and are quite modern!!
    That stain glass window is just beautiful

    xx

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  2. love love love this. creepy and beautiful. adore this post. I'd love if you'd check out of my latest Lauren Conrad inspired outfit post. I took the pictures in front of her old house on the Hills. So pretty.Love to hear what you think.Thanks love. xoxo

    www.fashboulevard.blogspot.com

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  3. What a fantastic place and story. It is amazing how time changes our perspective on things. The Medium certainly gave her something positive to do with her life after her loss. Thank you for this I really enjoyed it. Xxxx

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  4. What a stunning place! Happy Thursday xx

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  5. Fascinating! No matter what you think of spirits it definitely gave her focus and a new reason for being... And what a wonderful place she created!

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  6. @Dvora and Sabine - I love your compassionate understanding of poor Mrs. Winchester. Dealing with grief is real, and though she may have become an eccentric, this house was a good way to divert her sadness while still staying close to the souls of her lost beloveds. xxx

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  7. So many extraordinary details to absorb here...38 years of construction....10,000 Tiffany glass windows;it's boggling simply trying to imagine the scale of this story-laden building. Aha, and as I type, there's the sound of an owl in one of the fields nearby - how appropriate for the gothic atmosphere!

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  8. I love that pictures. So much history that you appreciate to know but when you see it up close, you feel so humbled. The pictures are beautiful but I bet they do no justice to when you really see them.

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  9. that's a spectacular mansion from what i can see from the photos here..you seem like a bit of a sceptic..karmic energies are all around us believe it or not.

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  10. this looks amazing - and ive never heard of bucket list nation but i checked it out and cannot wait to try some of the places theyve suggested!! thanks for the tip xx

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  11. I love how your description: pure poetry, and so are your photos.
    Have a grand weekend.
    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

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  12. These photos are gorgeous. I love the architecture, especially the shot with the leaves and candles. That's my favorite part of the season.


    Diego
    www.howtozipyourfly.com

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  13. Thanks for the mention! I think Lewis Carroll would have been intrigued by this house. I always wanted to visit it and although I made numerous trips to CA at one time, I never managed to get to the Winchester House. Your tour helps assuage some of my curiosity - and reminds me that I still hope to get there someday. The bright sunshine of California really clashes with the spookiness, but perhaps that's as well. If it were in some chilly and misty place, the house could be TOO spooky, really.

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  14. This is so awesome post. Now I'm kind a scared :)I think Mrs. Winchester build that house for herself and it fantastic, because we should live as we want, but not how it said, even if we seems to someone as a weirdo. Victorians was explorers and they tried out lots of weird things which seems nowadays funny and maybe awful, but it was just way to understanding.

    xoxo Ra

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  15. This is so awesome post. Now I'm kind a scared :)I think Mrs. Winchester build that house for herself and it fantastic, because we should live as we want, but not how it said, even if we seems to someone as a weirdo. Victorians was explorers and they tried out lots of weird things which seems nowadays funny and maybe awful, but it was just way to understanding.

    xoxo Ra

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  16. Wow, what an eerie tale and equally haunting place (the sunshine might beg to differ though). This is definitely a place I would love to visit and I'm not usually one for historical houses (unless I was visiting Pemberley - that would be a different stoy!).

    Lots of love from Sydney,

    x Kel

    loving leather lashings

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  17. Wow, what an eerie tale and equally haunting place (the sunshine might beg to differ though). This is definitely a place I would love to visit and I'm not usually one for historical houses (unless I was visiting Pemberley - that would be a different story!).

    Lots of love from Sydney,

    x Kel

    loving leather lashings

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  18. This was fascinating! I love the Victorian era and I love ghost stories. I never imagined such a place with such interesting history could be found in San Jose.

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  19. You went here??? Me and my sister were just talking about going here last week.. Last year when I was in San Francisco we were going to stop by but we did not have time.. Jealous!

    Cheers! ~Angel

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  20. I really like it!! nice pictures

    xx

    www.sickbytrend.com

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  21. those are some amazing houses... i agree they are a bit creepy but beautiful nonetheless...

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  22. WOW! Those houses are amazing and the architecture are stunning! I like especially the "Winchester Mystery House, San Jose and the story too.
    Great post girl. ^.^

    Sunshine & smiles to you!

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  23. So stunningly beautiful... I would want to live in a house like this if they didn't always seem so dark on the inside!

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Dear Fellow Aesthetes, I love hearing your thoughts. I think the other readers find them valuable too! Much love xxx

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