It’s interesting what happens when you begin to write a story. In some ways you discover something about yourself. For instance, I never knew about steampunk as a subculture until I went to the Steampunk Univeristy in Seattle last year. Up until that point, I hadn’t realized that my childhood and teen fascination with sewing up victorian clothing for myself and designing victorian oddities actually had a name.
Then I thought about it really hard. I’ve always been a steampunk person at heart. One of the most favorite places of my childhood was the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. If you’ve never been there, may I say, you are missing out on steampunk perfection. Although I’m not exactly sure that’s what Mrs. Winchester intended.
Sarah Winchester, who was married into the family that invented the famous Winchester repeating rifle, dealt with the untimely loss of her daughter in 1866 and the premature death of her husband in 1881 in a very interesting fashion. She built a house. And kept building it.
Well to be more accurate, she purchased an unfinished eight-room farm house and turned it into a sprawling seven-story mansion with 160 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, 40 staircases, 52 skylights, 950 doors, 2 ballrooms, 2 basements, 17 chimneys, 3 elevators and 10,000 windows that spread out in an estate covering 161 acres. http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/index.cfm
The reason? A spirital medium in Boston advised her that the deaths of her loved ones were due to angry spirits – those deceased American Indians, Civil War soldiers and such – that had been killed by her husband and father-in-law’s invention which had made her unusually wealthy. At the time of her mother-in-law’s death in 1889 she owned just under 50% of the stock in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, bringing her in an income of over $1,000 a day in interest on her over $20 million dollar fortune (and this was in the days before income tax when you could still buy things for pennies and the average daily wage for a worker was $1.50).
She was told to build. She had shifts of workers, going 24-hours a day for 38 years. They built staircases that ended in the ceiling, doors that fall off into a several story drop to the outside, windows that look at a wall. Huge wall-sized cabinets with shleves an inch deep. There are windows in the floor (so you could see down into the kitchen). A senace room with only one entrance and one exit (which are not the same door and both hidden). There are priceless Tiffany stain-glass windows that will never have sunlight pour through them, windows that were optically ground to Mrs. Winchester’s eye prescription so she could view the gardens and stair cases that rise and fall in the middle of a hallway like a style over a fence. Perhaps most haunting is the phrasing written in the stained glass of one of the ballrooms that tour guide say was part of a vision Mrs. Winchester had that thousands of people would be walking through her home.
It is reported that Mrs. Winchester never slept in the same bedroom two nights in a row in order to confound the spirits that might be searching for her. She is said to have refused President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt entrance at the front door and made him come around to a side entrance because she refused to allow people in the front door after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. On the day of her death, by heart-failure in 1922, the building stopped. There were even half-driven nails the workmen did not finish hammering in when they heard of her death.
In short, it has everything to make it the perfect steampunk place – oddities, creativity, incredible detail, hand-crafted workmanship, Victorian, mystery, history, and paranormal spunk.
If you can’t visit there yourself, I encourage you to check out the extensive video archive at the website where there are many episodes you can view for free. http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/videogallery.cfm and all kinds of pictures at http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/photogallery.cfm