Winchester Mystery House – Another Room?

The headline says “New room found at San Jose’s Winchester Mystery House,” and the article explains, “The home’s preservation team recently opened the new room, which is an attic space that has been boarded up since Sarah Winchester died in 1922.”

But, as another article – Winchester Mystery House Pries Open Creepy Attic Room Boarded Up In 1922 – explains…

But notably, Sarah’s attic isn’t being presented in its original location — instead, its items have been spirited away to another location on the grounds. “We have relocated the ‘attic’ to the central courtyard,” a representative from the Mystery House wrote on Facebook. “

In a typical “haunted” house, if the furnishings aren’t in the original room, I’ve lost at least half my interest.

New room at Winchester Mystery HouseOh, I’m certain that objects can hold ghostly energy

But, my past investigations  suggested that an equal amount of energy (or more) is in the walls, floor, and ceiling of the room.

Maybe that energy was absorbed from the objects. I don’t know. But, I am sure that a sealed room with its objects is likely to be more haunted than just those objects, placed in a courtyard.

To be fair, the attic room may have been unsafe or impractical to open to the public. So, moving the objects might have been the best option.

And, it probably goes without saying: the Winchester house is far from a “typical” haunted house. Its history was bizarre from the beginning.

Looking at the photo, above… all I needed to see were the old portrait and the doll. Those are two typical signals that the room is likely to have anomalies.

(I’m assuming that doll is composition and was actually in the room when it was opened. Several “haunted” sites have added dolls as props, to seem creepier. Know your doll history, so you’ll spot dolls that don’t fit the time period.)

With or without the “new room,” the Winchester Mystery House is one of America’s most enduring – and important – haunts.

For years, psychics and mediums have been sure that some of the house’s most haunted rooms were still hidden, or at least sealed. That’s confirmed by a room like this.

The Winchester Mystery House also provided evidence supporting the idea that ghostly activity – particularly poltergeists – seem to correlate with the presence of water. I think Colin Wilson was one of the first to mention that.

For about 10 years, when I heard a poltergeist report, I asked about the proximity to water. In over 95% of credible reports, water was within three feet of the activity: bars, kitchens, or bathrooms. Usually, the distance was closer to one foot.

Or, unexplained water appeared on surfaces, immediately following the activity. That’s been reported at the Winchester house.

Here’s a 10-minute video about the Winchester Mystery House, filmed by the “Weird US” guys.

If you’re interested in the history of the Winchester house, I recommend the half-hour documentary narrated by actress Lilian Gish, Mrs. Winchester’s House. That 1963 film is very stylish and captures the eerie mood of the site.

I’m thousands of miles from the Winchester Mystery House, so – for now – I’m unlikely to investigate at the house.

If you visit the house and can report on the activity around the new attic-related display, let me know in comments, below.

American Idol House – Haunted or Not?

American Idol house… haunted? Probably not.

Season 10 of American Idol was hosted in a house that some contestants felt was haunted.

They complained of the following phenomena:

  • Flickering lights in the house. (Could be a wiring issue.)
  • An infestation of spiders. (I’ve lived in Hollywood. It’d be an anomaly if a Southern California home didn’t have spiders now & then.)
  • A door that blew open, even when blocked with a chair, and leaves flew into the house. (I’d start by checking weather reports for that evening. If they didn’t reveal an explanation, I’d suspect a prank.)
  • A sheet that moved on its own, and possibly flew down a corridor by itself. (This definitely sounds like a prank.)

There was only one event that sounds like something potentially paranormal. According to a report in OK! magazine (USA), some of the American Idol contestants were watching a horror movie. Contestant James Durbin decided to follow-up with a prank.

According to his report, “”I opened the door to the garage – I was trying to freak out Pia [Toscano] – and it freaked me out because I something white that looked like an arm that kind of came down.”

Later, another contestant described it as a hand that fell from the ceiling.

That could be something normal, but it’s far more consistent with paranormal activity than anything else mentioned.

Supposedly, the contestants immediately moved out of the house and were given alternate housing.

Since only one incident sounded even remotely paranormal, I’m not sure why this was news. Personally, I wouldn’t investigate a house just because someone thought they saw an arm or a hand appear when a garage door was open.

It seems like at least some of the cast quickly came to their senses, too.

Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures suggested a crossover show, where his team would investigate the house and use the American Idol finalists as triggers for activity. He was turned down.

Since that could have been a ratings bonanza for Ghost Adventures while attracting more attention to American Idol, being turned down increases the likelihood that the whole thing was a prank.

Floating sheets, spiders, and flickering lights sound like something out of a very bad “scare” show on MTV.

AmericanIdolHouseGhostsThe real test will be whether the house’s new owner, Munchkin, Inc. millionaire Steven B. Dunn, encounters anything odd in the house.

Personally, I don’t think he has anything to worry about. He’s a clever entrepreneur with an MBA from Harvard and a noted art collection, so I expect the spectacular views (seen at right) were more important to Dunn that the American Idol connection or the house’s possible ghosts.

The selling price of the house also suggests that it’s not haunted. According to reports, Dunn paid over $11 million for the American Idol house.

For a 15k square foot house on two acres in Bel Air, where houses sell for about $480/square foot, $11 million is a good price in today’s market.

So, I’m not seeing any of the usual indications of a distressed, haunted property.

I’m not sure if the floating sheets and flickering lights (etc.) were a very amateurish effort at faking a haunted house. Surely, the producers could have found some bargain-basement SFX guys from actual ghost “reality” shows…?

If someone is looking for a spectacular haunted house in or near Hollywood, these are better choices:

  • Harry Houdini widow’s former residence at 2435 Laurel Canyon Boulevard. (Not #2398, as some erroneously report.) [More info.]
  • 1005 Rexford Drive, former home of several personalities including opera star Grace Moore and actor Clifton Webb, both of whom are supposed to haunt the house.
  • 1822 Camino Palermo, where Ozzie & Harriet and their family lived. Apparently, Ozzie is still haunting the house. [More info.]
  • 1579 Benedict Canyon Drive was the home of TV’s Superman, George Reeves. His death was declared a suicide, but most people close to Reeves are sure it was murder. [More info.]

For more Hollywood haunts like these, you’ll find plenty of lists online. One of the most complete is at Haunted-Places.com, but since they have the wrong Houdini address, it’s smart to fact-check any address (and story) on their long, detailed list.

I don’t think we’ll hear anything more about ghosts at that American Idol house. Except for Durbin’s report – the only one with credibility – I don’t see any reason to suspect paranormal energy at the Season 10 house.

However, the ghost reports at the Season 8 house could be more serious. Apparitions and unexplained growls are far more credible, at least among “reality” shows like this.

[CA] The Ghost Wore Boots – Part 1

[as reported in Fate magazine, in an article titled ‘Boots’]

I lived in a haunted house in California for five years, and this is my story:

Twenty-five years ago, I still believed that you could wish anything to happen and it would.

So, when I wished for a house in northern California, I was not surprised by the bargain that appeared.

Even in the mid-1970’s, two-story Victorian homes with expansive corner lots did not sell for $15,000, but that was the asking price on this house.

Admittedly, it was a funky house with an odd history. Perhaps I should have wondered why the first realtor refused to show me the house.

The house seemed to call to me, so I persisted.

I contacted another realtor, and he agreed to get the keys.

The house was what they call “carpenter gothic,” with strange attempts at gingerbread trim, and a front porch that tilted in an alarming manner. Inside, the house floorplan was filled with strange twists and turns.

I thought it was charming. My husband’s father made an offer, since he was purchasing the house for us. The deal closed immediately. There were no other offers, and the house had been empty for too long.

I’d heard about the sad, perhaps mad, previous owner. Neighbors speculated that the man had experienced terrible things in Vietnam.

Whatever the reason, he’d slowly added things like spotlights and an alarm system to the house. By the time he and his wife abandoned the property, he’d spent too many nights patrolling the property with a rifle.

Why did he do that? It was a corner property in a very nice neighborhood, on a fairly busy street. A policeman lived next door. The town was safe, upscale and fairly rural.

Why would anyone be frightened enough to install spotlights to illuminate the entire yard, and then patrol the property from dusk until dawn?

We moved in and began to redecorate immediately. I loved the stairs at one bedroom door, that went up and then down again, for no apparent reason. That room had two very odd-shaped closets.

The closet in another bedroom extended within the walls of a third bedroom.

There were clearly sealed-up areas within the bedrooms’ walls, which reminded me of the bad witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel. I could imagine delighted children playing hide-and-seek in those rooms and closets. It seemed wonderful, and I was very happy to live there.

But then, the footsteps started.

Before we remodeled the house, my husband and I slept in the master bedroom on the first floor. The second floor was primarily for storage, and I used one room as my art studio because it was bright and cheery during the day.

Since I needed daylight for my painting, I rarely went upstairs after dark. When my husband and I started hearing unexplained footsteps up there, we became a little nervous about the noises.

However, the house was still a tremendous bargain, and we looked forward to tearing out walls, totally redesigning the interior.

In a way, it annoyed me to be such a “chicken” about the noises.

I decided to be brave, and deliberately used the upstairs at night when I was cutting out sewing patterns. After all, there were three full bedrooms upstairs, and plenty of floor space to lay out the fabric.

Next: Part two of this four-part story

[CA] The Ghost Wore Boots – Part 2

At first, I merely felt uneasy.

I blamed it on the black skies outside the windows in my “studio.” In that rural town, there were few city lights to brighten the sky. When we’d first moved there, I’d loved that: I could see the stars as I never had, when we’d lived in Los Angeles.

I bought window shades and cheery curtains, to make the room feel cozier at night. It helped a little, but I still felt as if someone was watching me. Further, I felt that one of these watchers did not like me.

That made no sense. I didn’t actually hear anything unusual when I was upstairs. It was a warm house, with lovely honey-colored hardwood floors, and cheerful floral wallpaper from the 1940’s in cozy upstairs bedrooms. I should have felt at home.

Then the pattern pieces started fluttering across the floor when I was working.

“They’re light,” I reminded myself. “It’s just a breeze.”

But the problem increased. After a couple of weeks, pattern pieces pinned to fabric started drifting just past my fingertips, where the pieces would halt and not move again.

Then I’d move closer, but the paper and fabric would start dancing across the floor again.

I went to the hardware store and bought draft-proofing supplies. I put masking tape around the window frames. I even insulated the outlets and light switches.

The problem continued. I checked for air currents, using a lit candle. It didn’t flicker, no matter how long I waited.

Then I’d start working and — predictably — the pattern pieces began their nightly waltz just beyond my fingertips.

This continued for another couple of weeks.

“You win,” I finally announced to the walls.

And, after that, I worked on my sewing downstairs. I used the upstairs studio during daytime hours only, for my oil painting.

On sunny and bright days, the upstairs felt fine. But on dark days, or as dusk approached, I again sensed someone in the rooms.

One night, I don’t recall whether my husband or I had gone upstairs to get something out of the storage boxes we kept up there. One of us forgot to turn the upstairs hall light out. I didn’t realize it until the next evening, when I noticed light reflected at the top of the stairs.

I turned the light out, and I swear I heard a funny hissing noise, like someone was angry.

The next day when I went upstairs, I noticed that my paintbrushes were our of their storage container, and wedged so they were sticking out of the studio window.

When I opened the window — which I never opened  — my brushes tumbled out. All of them had been snapped neatly across the ferrule, the silver metal band that attaches the bristles to the handle.

To line them up and snap each of them exactly in the middle… well, that could not be an “accident.”

I was furious. Those were expensive brushes and the damage was deliberate. I was certain that it was retaliation for having left the lights on, that one night. I felt a little crazy thinking that, but in my anger, it made sense.

“Okay,” I raged at the empty room, “See how you like this!”

And I went through the upstairs, turning on every light. And I left them on, with my husband’s nervous agreement.

Two weeks later, feeling that I’d made my point, I turned the lights back off again.

During the time when the lights had been on, we’d heard no noises from the upstairs. The animosity we felt emanating from the top of the stairs was probably just our imaginations.

Nevertheless, my husband–who was 6’3″ and very muscular–was reluctant to go upstairs again.

After I turned the lights off, the upstairs remained blissfully quiet for several days.

But then our ghostly problems resumed dramatically, and not just at night.

Next: Part three of this story

[CA] The Ghost Wore Boots – Part 3

What happened next was the most dramatic event of the haunting:

From the start, there seemed to be two ghosts. Now I was getting a very visual sense of them, though I did not see anything besides their mischief.

I perceived a slender, mournful woman in a form-fitting, slightly gaudy gown, characteristic of the 1870s or 1930s. I could not see the hemline to tell how long the gown was, to tell if it was from the 19th or 20th centuries. Generally, she was weeping. She was in the room with the two strange little closets.

Our other ghost was a man in dusty, dark casual clothing. He wore a shirt and pants like blackish jeans. He obviously wore boots, but I could not “see” them.

Sometimes, I sensed that he was calling on the woman, wearing a dusty, too-loose jacket with tails, and a very slim tie. He was our loud ghost, whose temper was echoed with his footsteps. Usually, he’d storm around the upstairs hallway, or the other two bedrooms.

The louder ghost continued to storm around the upstairs at night. My husband decided to join a gym forty miles from our house. Frankly, I think he was frightened of our ghosts. If he was concerned for my safety, he never mentioned it. When he was at the gym each evening, I was at home, trying to ignore the footsteps overhead.

As our louder ghost became more courageous, his walk became more distinctive. We could hear that ka-thud, ka-thud of a heel hitting the floor and then the sole of the shoe, as if he was wearing workmen’s boots or cowboy boots. That’s when we began calling him “Boots,” to make the reality a little friendlier, as if he was a companion and not a tormentor.

Some nights, I thought I heard the jingle of spurs from the “old west” era. That may have been something upstairs rattling, in response to the pounding footsteps on our hardwood floors.

I was anxious but not terrified. After all, the noises were only upstairs. I stayed downstairs.

Meanwhile, I had begun teaching children’s drama classes for the town. During the summer, I taught the classes in my living room.

One day, the afternoon class went particularly late as we were preparing for a performance. No one noticed how quickly dusk approached.

Then, in a pause during our rehearsal, I almost gasped aloud. I could hear footsteps upstairs. They were faint, but certainly there. How could I have forgotten about them?

I looked around the room, but no one seemed to hear the footsteps but me. I considered the possibility that it was a “personal” haunting, and perhaps no one besides me could hear the sounds. That allayed my fears for a few minutes.

The rehearsal concluded, and we discussed the strong and weak points of the rehearsal. My living room was filled with eager students, ranging in age from about seven to mid-teens.

I decided to ignore the footsteps, now getting louder, and talk to my class as if nothing unusual was going on.

I raised my voice as the boots thudded and almost clang’d, back and forth, angrily striding across the floor above us.

Finally, the footsteps started pacing at the top of the stairs.

One of my oldest students timidly put her hand up. “Excuse me, but is your husband at home?” She tilted her head, indicating the noises clearly coming from the upstairs.

My heart sunk as I replied, “No.” I wished with every ounce of hope that she was the only one who heard the boots, or that the sound would stop.

Another student was clearly baffled, “Um, are there workmen upstairs, or what?”

I knew I was in trouble. I said no, and gulped aloud when I saw the children’s expressions.

Trying to sound as if everything was perfectly normal, I ushered the children to our front lawn, saying that we’d finish the class outside.

To this day, I have no idea what the students thought, or if they heard the angry footsteps storming down the polished hardwood stairs as I closed the front door behind me. I hastily concluded the rehearsal, and held future classes in the town offices.

The group barely held together past the performance. I think the event scared the children, and I know they looked at me a little nervously after that.

Next: The conclusion of this four-part, true ghost story

[CA] The Ghost Wore Boots – Part 4

Our ghost was considerably quieter — but not silent — after that.

Within a couple of weeks, the house was filled with workmen. We gutted most of the house to remodel it. After that, we did not hear the boots upstairs on our new wall-to-wall carpeting.

We began using the new bedrooms on the second floor, and there were no further significant incidents in the house.

However, soon after that our marriage began to fail dramatically.

For awhile, I moved into another bedroom. Looking back now, I realize that I selected the room with the two little closets, but now I was the woman quietly weeping.

Things became worse.  I couldn’t seem to sleep at night, and I turned into a self-pitying shrew, constantly demanding more and more from people around me.

My husband responded to my unhappiness by insisting that he was a victim, too. Soon, he became the man storming around the other bedrooms, and pacing in the hall.

He found comfort elsewhere.

To save our marriage and our sanity, we decided to move out of our lovely Victorian home, leave the town and even leave that part of the country.

My husband was convinced that something, perhaps invisible, was affecting him. That sounded a little strange to me but — at my wits’ end — I hoped a change of environment might help both of us.

As we prepared to move, the ghost resumed activity in the one upstairs bedroom that had not been remodeled. This was the room with the strange closet and unexplained “filled in” areas in the walls.

I’ve often wondered if there was a body in those walls. It’s probably triggered by too many Gothic novels and scary movies.

The windows in the un-remodeled bedroom were funny, each opening like a cabinet door. They swung in, with latching hardware like a medicine chest. Because we rarely used that room after the hauntings started, some of the windows’ latches were stubborn, or still rusted closed.

During the weeks before we moved, our ghost waited for me to go downstairs each day.  Then, he opened the windows, one by one, in clockwise fashion. And, even on windless days, each window would thwap-thwap-thwap against the wall next to it.  It was like a strong breeze was forcing it back and forth.

I’d go upstairs to close the one that had opened, and check all of the latches.

Then I closed the bedroom door behind me, to prevent any cross-draft… although these were always hot, breezeless days.

About five minutes later, the next window would open, thwap-thwap-thwap. I’d go upstairs, close it, and check the windows again.

This routine would go on, with the windows opening in clockwise sequence, for over an hour.

Many days, I’d leave the house just to get away from it. Sometimes when I returned, all of the windows were wide open.  It was never just one or two. Either he opened them all while I was out, or he left them alone. There was no halfway with our ghost, and there was no pattern to this.

At other times, I’d stay at home, running up and down the stairs, trying to cope with the pounding noise of the windows.  Then, I’d hear a low male laughter, and sometimes a woman quietly sobbing, as each window-opening session slowly drew to a halt.

This annoyed me, but it didn’t really frighten me. I can’t explain why.  Something about it seemed logical.  Even when we nailed the windows closed and they kept opening on their own, the experience wasn’t frightening.  Maybe I was numb at that point.

What irritated me the most was that this usually happened when my husband wasn’t at home.  At night when we slept upstairs, the house was as silent as any other older home. There were merely the usual creaks.  I know, because I spent so many nights awake, miserable and too exhausted to sleep.

When I’d complain to my husband about the stress of dealing with the windows, I’m not sure that he believed me.

But, to be honest, I’m not sure I’d have believed my story, except that I was living it every day.

We left that house without looking back.

Within six months, my husband and I had filed for divorce.  The stress of that house had left us exhausted and unable to communicate what we felt.

I have so many regrets about that, yet — looking back — I don’t see any other outcome after what we’d gone through.  Instead of drawing us together, the stress of dealing with something invisible and menacing… it had driven us apart.

Since we moved out, at least two other families have lived in our former home. I’m not sure if they’ve encountered the ghosts. I hope that they didn’t and never will.

Though I miss my lovely home and have terrible regrets from that time, I do not miss the ghosts.

This house was the subject of a true ghost story, “Boots,” by Margaret Brighton, which appeared in FATE magazine in 1981.