Sunday, October 2, 2011

Winchester Mystery House's Fright Nights - Not for the kiddies

I received an invitation to check out the premiere of the Winchester Mystery House's Fright Nights. I dithered for a while, then justified the expense of the trip by combining it with a trip to see the grandkids in Fremont on the way. But then, who would be my plus one who would want to make that stop on the way? Her Aunt Debbie! We got there around 6:40. Apparently there was some sort of press briefing in front of the house that we were not directed to. I only know from reading the email they sent at 10 AM the day of - over an hour after I left the house. ☹ Oh, well.

We braved the rap and hip-hop blaring in the courtyard to check in at the press/VIP table and headed into the Winchester Room for hors d'oeuvres and drinks. Fortified with Winchester wine, we joined group six for the flashlight tour of the Winchester House. I visited the Winchester House as a girl and remember seeing the brick wall behind the door and the door that led to a two-story drop to the garden below. I didn't see the brick wall Friday night and only saw the closed door to nowhere. I so wanted to see where all the doors led and see the secret passageways. But that apparently wasn't part of the tour.

If you go on the flashlight tour, be sure not to go with a migraine. Imagine being in a dark room with 30 people all shining flashlights everywhere, including, occasionally in your light-sensitive eyes. I didn't have a migraine when I left Sonoma County that afternoon. It came on just in time for the flashlights. ☹

For those unfamiliar with the Winchester story, Sarah Winchester was the widow of William Wirt Winchester, the maker of the Winchester repeating rifle - a revolutionary design. They had one child who died at about 6 months old. After her husband died of TB, the grieving Sarah visited a psychic in Boston. According to legend, the psychic convinced her that the spirits of the people killed by Winchester rifles sought their revenge upon her and her family. The psychic advised her to construct a home, but never stop construction lest the spirits overtake her. She moved west and bought an eight-room, unfinished farmhouse near San Jose.

The Winchester Mystery House, at its height before the 1906 quake, had seven stories of labyrinthine craziness. Her 24/7 construction project transformed the farmhouse into a sprawling 160-room mansion with 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, 47 fireplaces, 40 staircases, 13 bathrooms, 2 basements, three elevators and six kitchens over the course of 38 years.

Tour guides matter. They really do. Make sure you aren't led by the strapping young Joe. He was unenthusiastic, uninformed and unenergized. And on about four occasions, I asked him a question. The answer was always a variation of "I don't know." I just read a SF Gate blog in which my counterpart had a similarly unfortunate tour guide. Hers was all gush and no substance.

Here's a video if you can't make it to the mansion yourself. These Weird US guys got a better, more inclusive tour.

The rushed tour of the house didn't frighten, but the maze surely made up for that. It was a screamfest. I screamed my fool head off, to the point of hurting my throat. The last good haunted house I'd been through was when I was probably 12 or 13. I don't remember the ghouls jumping directly in front of us or being free to get right in our face. It seemed they could lunge, but not trespass onto our designated path. They could scare you, but not "get you".

Such is not the case on Fright Night. Beware the ghouls that can jump out at you from around any corner or from behind, and totally violate your personal space. Several even followed me down the path for a while. The Curse of Sarah Winchester Maze: Legends Never Die is not recommended for children under 13.

My nerves got so frayed that I told Debbie it was her turn to be in front and be the early warning system when we were about half-way through.

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