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Archive for the ‘Ghosts’ Category

Happy New Year Readers! Today’s Fantasy is about The Winchester Mystery House and new beginnings. It’s also kinda creepy, but that’s the way I roll so I hope you enjoy it.

The Winchester Mystery House (a huge Queen Anne Mansion in San Jose, California) is actually not as much of a mystery as it is the sad story of a grieving woman driven insane by an unscrupulous “spiritualist”, who preyed upon her pain and fears. It still makes for an interesting little architectural oddity, as well as presenting a great muse for Stephen King as the basis for the story of Rose Red ( a vampiric house that kept building itself even after its owner died by feeding on psychic energy). Being a Mainer, I love me my Master of Horror! Now onto some background!

Sarah Winchester was the wife of William W. Winchester (ya know, the one that made all the guns). In the early years of her life, Sarah was known as the “Belle of Hartford”, but after she married her life took a sad turn. Sarah gave birth to a daughter who died shortly after she was born, then her husband died of tuberculosis. Both deaths took a significant toll on Sarah, so her friends encouraged her to seek guidance from a medium and spiritualist (spiritualism was all the rage in the late 1800s, after all). So, Sarah went to a medium in Boston and was told that all of the misfortunes in her life were caused by spirits of the people who had died at the hands of men who wielded Winchester guns (naturally, instead of the easily explained high infant mortality rate of the time and the fact the there wasn’t a cure for tuberculosis yet). The medium told Sarah that the Winchester curse might be after her next!  However, there was an alternative to her demise…. If she went west to the setting sun and built a house for the vengeful spirits, then she would live a long life in peace. That’s exactly what she did without delay. Sarah moved to the Santa Clara Valley and purchased an unfinished farm house and began to make additions.  And more and more and more additions.  She continued building for the next 38 years without ceasing (that’s what a 20 million dollar inheritance would get you in the Victorian era), and she left behind what is know as the Winchester Mystery House today.

Why is it called the “Mystery House” you might ask? Well, other than the vast size of the mansion… which the New Englander in me cringes at, but it’s in California so heating it can’t be THAT bad right? The house also has some peculiar spirit confounding features such as staircases that end in walls and doors and windows that lead to nothing (except possibly to your death, if you weren’t careful). And if all those crazy architectural features weren’t enough, it is also said that Sarah slept in a different room every night just to further confound the spirits, lest one try to off her in her sleep.

Now for some pictures!There are some great photos of the quirkiness that is the Winchester Mystery House mine came from(from top to bottom): Wikipedia, Prairieghosts.com, Petticoatsandpistols.com and The Poison Forest.com,

This first photo gives you a good idea of what the house looks like today.

This next image gives you a sense of the overall scale of the house.

This next photo I call the “stairs to no-wheres”

Watch that first step, it’s a killer!

Hope you enjoyed Mrs. Winchesters “new beginning” and this bizarre tour of the Mystery house! For more information check out the Mystery House website. Have a good weekend!

-Etta

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Happy Halloween readers! What is it about this holiday that makes us think of haunted mansions and abandoned homes looming on darkened television screens in commercials for Halloween stores and in made for TV movies? Is it the fact that we LIKE to be scared? After all fear releases endorphins… Or is it that as Preservationists, we love how these big “creepy” mansions  are celebrated, if sometimes for their run-down appearance, because we always see the potential and history in these homes?

It is practically a fact that haunted houses must be Second Empire in style. If you want proof, look no further than the home of the Addams family, this inflatable haunted house for your front lawn, or one of my personal favorites (and way high up there in nostalgia and cheese factor) the house from the 1980s Disney TV movie, Mr. Boogedy, or for even more of a treat, check out the “Haunted Dollhouse” that the ever amusing Bloggess has been cooking up.    By the way, the Addams family photos came from a great little site called Hooked on Houses, which you should definitely check out.

Now, this isn’t to say every haunted, or creepy house has to be  Second Empire. Take the eclectic mix of Octagon, Gothic Revival and Second Empire that makes up the Munster’s abode , or the Institutional Gothic pile from American Horror Story.  (Is anyone else obsessed with that show like me?… I love it so much, but it’s so messed up that I feel I may have been born in the wrong era… if I lived back when Queen Victoria reigned I’d probably have taken photos of all my dead relatives and made their hair into wreaths, lockets and pins.) Photos below from tvclassichits.com and iamnostalker.com

So, aside from Hollywood’s choices for iconic ‘haunted’ houses, why is it that these (to use the real estate parlance) “Victorian” homes are what we think of when we think of the macabre, ghoulish and downright creepy, and not, say, a nice mid-century ranch or cape? Death can happen in a new house just as easily as an old one. Is it the scale and massing of these houses, making the visitor feel like a doll in some giant’s dollhouse? The possibility for secret passages and rooms behind book cases, where unspeakable horrors can hide? Is it the fact that they have seen more life and seem to hold onto memories of past occupants? If you want my opinion, I think that it is all of those things, plus the fact that grand old houses with spacious drawing rooms, upper stories that go on forever and vast basements make perfect funeral homes, and that whenever you see one of these funeral homes (and you know just by looking at one that it is a funeral home) the seed of fear of death and dying way down deep in your subconscious nags at you.  Just like holding your breath when you drive by a cemetery or being afraid that if you die in your dream, then you will die soon in real life.

So whatever your plans tonight, whether they involve a ghost hunt at a haunted mansion, or staying home to dole out candy to the little goblins at the door, if you have a fright-flick marathon (like the American Horror Story marathon on FX staring at 10), make sure to really examine those big, creepy old houses, because under the chipped paint and “beware” sign there is very often an architectural gem… and maybe a ghost or two as well.

Happy Halloween!

-Etta

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Happy Friday everyone.

Today’s fantasy: The Myrtles is said to be one of America’s most haunted homes.  Since it is also a Bed and Breakfast, you can experience the fright for yourself if you happen to be in St. Francisville, Louisiana, if you can make it through the night, which it seems some guests cannot. The Myrtles, seen below (photo from the This Old House website), was built around 1796 for General David “Whiskey Dave” Bradford.

Architecturally the home is best known for its lace grill work and double dormers, but in the media world and pop culture, the Myrtles is best known for its spirits. Most notably the spirit of a slave named Chloe, who supposedly (but not in reality) poisoned her master’s wife and children by baking oleander leaves (which are highly toxic) into a cake. Still even though Chloe is innocent of the crimes she is accused of, there are plenty other specters to choose from since 10 alleged murders took place and The Myrtles.

Pictured below is the Myrtles at night. (Pictures from nola.com)

Not sure you have what it takes to make it through a night at The Myrtles? Don’t worry! They offer daytime tours, if you’d rather limit your terror to a shorter stint in the day-time hours. Tours are offered everyday from 9 to 5, and if you would like a little more intrigue, they offer mystery tours on Friday and Saturday evenings (but reservations are highly suggested).

Still, one thing is certain: if you love a good ghost tour (I know I do!) or you just can’t get enough antebellum architecture, The Myrtles is the place for you.

That’s all for today, have a lovely weekend.

-Etta

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