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Visit the South Bay haunted house that inspired Walt Disney and Stephen King

Winchester Mystery House | Courtesy Winchester Mystery House

The elaborate and bizarre 160-room Victorian house built by rifle heiress Sarah Winchester has prompted more than just chills. The Bay Area’s weirdest haunted house is said to have inspired Disneyland’s beloved Haunted Mansion theme ride, informed Stephen King’s 2002 TV miniseries Rose Red and served as the setting of the 2018 horror film Winchester, starring Helen Mirren as a tortured Sarah Winchester. 

Now the pop culture darling and popular San Jose tourist attraction is set to celebrate 100 years of giving visitors the creeps on June 30, 2023—and there’s plenty of spooky midsummer fun planned. 

“We could not be more excited,” said Walter Magnuson, executive director of Winchester Mystery House, of the jam-packed centennial schedule. 

Winchester Mystery House | Courtesy Winchester Mystery House

The house will be open on June 30 from 11 a.m. to midnight for 13 hours of tours—what was Sarah Winchester’s favorite number—and Symphony San Jose will perform live in the garden. 

“Whatever your passion, there’s something here for you,” Magnuson said. For the history buffs, there’s lots of lore; for architecture lovers, there are 160 rooms of an ornate Victorian to explore; for the ghost hunters, there’s plenty of spookiness.  

As part of the centennial celebrations, a time capsule with 13 items hand-selected by the 120 caretakers of the house will be filled and entombed. 

“It will go in a very special place,” Magnuson said. 

On July 2, there will be a brunch in Sarah Winchester’s greenhouse that Magnuson described as “over-the-top,” with live music and bottomless mimosas.  

The visually stunning house is a big hit on Instagram, and the management plans to capitalize on that for the centennial celebration, preparing photo ops with vintage cars from the 1920s parked on the lawn.  

Never-before-seen artifacts curated by the estate’s historian will be on view in the centennial exhibit, and the master magician and apparitionist, Aiden Sinclair of America’s Got Talent fame, will be on hand to perform his interactive show Possessions on June 30 and July 1.  

Winchester Mystery House | Courtesy Winchester Mystery House

It’s perfectly on theme, since there have been many, many reports of strange happenings throughout the house, including ghost sightings, according to Magnuson. 

City of San Jose officials and San Francisco Bay Area dignitaries will gather that morning to declare June 30 Winchester Mystery House Day in the City of San Jose. 

Of all the things Magnuson discovered about the house in planning the centennial, it was the history of Winchester Park and its original conception as a kind of carnival ground—with the house as just one attraction among many—that struck him the most. 

“When it opened, it was not just about the house,” he said. “Winchester Park had bandstands, a cigar shop, concessions—it was meant to be a general attraction.”

“But it’s only the house that has stood the test of time,” he said. “It has resonated in such a deep way.” 

Winchester Mystery House

Julie Zigoris can be reached at jzigoris@sfstandard.com