Nestled in Matterport’s backyard of San Jose, CA is the infamous historic landmark, the Winchester Mystery House. The Queen Anne Style Victorian mansion was once the home of Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Wirt Winchester who was the treasurer of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Tragedy struck the family; their infant daughter died and shortly thereafter William passed away. Sarah moved from Connecticut to California, where she purchased a farmhouse that would become the sprawling estate that we know as the Winchester Mystery House today.
For more 36 years until her death in 1922, Sarah continuously added onto the home. She built onto the farmhouse’s original eight rooms, expanding the mansion to more 24,000 square feet with seven stories, 160 rooms, 47 stairways and fireplaces, 13 bathrooms and six kitchens. Curiosities abound, there are doors that open to nowhere, rooms without floors and a room built specifically for seances. Rumor has it she visited a psychic who told her that she must build the home to house all of the souls taken by the Winchester rifle. Paranormal activity has been reported numerous times by visitors to the mansion.
A historic photo of the sprawling and strangely-built mansion.
Despite her eccentricities, Sarah is still “a woman of independence, drive and courage who lives on in legend.” The home is overflowing with architectural curiosities and innovations like forced-air heating, a hot shower from indoor plumbing and a horizontal elevator. Ornately designed, the home is adorned with chandeliers, hand-inlaid parquet floors and custom-made stained glass windows.
This October, the Winchester Mystery House will be opening up for Hallowe’en Flashlight Tours – this time with a no guide. Wander the halls of your own accord – maybe you’ll even meet some of the house’s other-worldy inhabitants. If you’re unable to come for an in-person visit, you can still visit the home with the Matterport 3D tour.
We channeled Natalie Alvanez, director of marketing and sales at the Winchester Mystery House to learn more about this delightfully unnerving space.
Q: What inspired the 3D capture of the Winchester Mystery House?
We have wanted to do a 3D capture of the estate for years but because we are open for daily tours we have never had the opportunity to do so. That changed in March 2020 when the estate was closed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time in 97 years, the house was empty and we were brainstorming ideas of how to launch a virtual experience during quarantine. Thanks to a Matterport Capture Technician armed with a Matterport Pro2 camera, we were able to scan the entire 24,000 square foot estate in 48 hours!
Q: There are so many intriguing spaces within the house. What are your top three “must-sees” you want visitors to explore and why?My favorite spaces are the basement and third floor because we were able to film areas that aren’t on any of our regular tours. There’s one room in particular on the 3rd floor that many of the staff call the “most haunted room” – it’s a small bedroom that many staff feel very uncomfortable in. Of course, there is the Grand Ballroom - the most expensive room in the house. It features many of the signature design aesthetics that Sarah was most fond of – the number 13, stain glass windows and intricate designed wooden panels.
The boiler room in the basement fueled Sarah Winchester’s hot shower – a new innovation for its time.
Q: What’s the one thing you want visitors to take away after exploring the sprawling space?
That they must come see the house in person! I think the thing we’ve all come to realize during the pandemic is that travel and experiences are so important to our mental health. We’re now open for daily tours – at a reduced capacity of course – but guests that have been able to tour virtually can come check out this bizarrely beautiful mansion.
Q: Do you have a spooky personal story you’d like to share about being in the house?
I’ve worked here for three years and everybody always asks that question! For most of that time, I didn’t have a good story. But about a year ago, I was in the marketing offices talking to a staff member about somebody who had recently died, and in the middle of my conversation, a Winchester Mystery House snowglobe flew off my co-worker’s desk and onto the floor in front of me! We both looked at each other and asked “did you knock that over”? Neither of us was anywhere near it...so we were both pretty freaked out about it!
Q: Winchester Mystery House is opening up for new self-guided Hallowe’en flashlight tours in October. What can guests expect when exploring the house without a tour guide?
It will definitely be a different experience as we really prided ourselves on our tour guides' ability to immerse guests into the house through storytelling. That said, we’ve been able to reach into our archives and pull together some amazing ghost stories to play through audio tracks throughout the tour. And I think it’s definitely scarier for guests this way. I mean, you are alone (with just your household party), with a flashlight in dark rooms and hallways with no guide to tell you which way to go! It’s pretty much a horror movie moment in real life – I expect a lot of our guests feel that level of fear that comes with the unknown!
This was Sarah Winchester’s seance room where she would channel the spirit world each night.
Q: The house can now also be visited from anywhere in the world with the 3D tour, allowing visitors to stay as long as they like. Are there any “easter eggs” that virtual visitors can look out for?
Oh, well...if you can find the room with the weird hole in the wall….that’s the “most haunted” room. And of course, the house is filled with the number 13 – so guests should definitely see how many they can find!
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
This pandemic has devastated the travel and tourism industry and there are so many good people that have been laid off due to the pandemic. So I would say, for people to please support their cultural institutions either virtually or in person!