The new horror film Winchester features Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester, a seemingly unhinged widow and wealthy heiress to the Winchester Arms Company fortune, who builds a gigantic meandering mansion to appease the plethora of ghosts within its walls. And although Mirren is a big star, the movie's true star is the house itself, which is based upon a real mansion in California. But can you visit the real Winchester House, and if so, will it be nearly as scary as in the movie?
Good news: You can definitely visit the real Winchester House, and many people do since it's a popular tourist attraction, to the tune of over 12 million visitors since construction on the home ended with Sarah's death in 1922 (this number does not include possible ghosts). The sprawling estate is located in San Jose, California at 525 S Winchester Blvd., and it's most commonly known as the Winchester Mystery House. The house exists solely as a tourist attraction/museum, and tours are offered daily between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. from Sept. 5 through May 28, according to the attraction's official website. There are several different options available when it comes to touring the house, and what you get out of the experience will likely depend on your interests surrounding the massive and unusual home.
As the story behind the house goes, Sarah Winchester was left reeling after the death of her husband and daughter and was looking for direction in her life. An alleged spiritualist, Sarah is said to have visited a Boston medium who told her that her family was cursed. In order to lift the curse, she was to build a mansion on the west coast that would house the spirits of all the people killed by Winchester rifles over the years. This is often offered as the explanation for the bizarre house, which was worked on nonstop from 1884 to 1922, and features a number of nonsensical architectural quirks, like doors that open to steep drop offs and stairways that lead into ceilings. Some believe the reason for these quirks is that Winchester received her building instructions from the ghosts on site, whom she would contact every night via séance.
If the home's alleged haunted residents are what interest you the most, then you'd likely be most interested in the spooky tours the house offers on certain days. Around Halloween, you can take part in a candlelit tours of the darkened home, with a focus on the supposed paranormal goings on there (a number of people have reported seeing ghosts on the property over the years). Another spooky option is the similar Friday the 13th Flashlight Tour, which is led by flashlight instead of candles and takes place on the rare dates throughout the year. Currently, Friday the 13th Flashlight Tours are scheduled for April 13 and July 13, 2018, according to WinchesterMysteryHouse.com.
If you're more interested in the history and architecture of the home, then the Mansion Tour is likely where you'll want to start. This roughly hour-long tour takes you through 110 of the home's 160-plus rooms, and also includes visits to the site's museums and Victorian gardens. If you're a real architecture buff, there's also the new Explore More Tour, which expands on the Mansion Tour by opening up a number of rooms and corridors in the home which had been closed off for decades. This tour also should appeal to ghost aficionados, with the official website stating, "If you’re sensitive to the paranormal, the destinations on this tour should be to your liking." The Explore More Tour runs for two hours and 15 minutes.
People can and do visit the real Winchester Mystery House, and some even report seeing ghosts while there. So to determine if the actual house is as scary as the film Winchester, well, you might just have to go there and find out for yourself.