Team In-Corpse-A-Rated reviewed this attraction on October 28, 2017.
Final Score: 8.68
San Jose sits in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, surrounded by the tech giants and Dot Coms. Google, Yahoo, Apple and Facebook are all a stone’s throw away. Yet, in the center of it all, a symbol of history and nostalgia remains standing for over 100 years.
Sarah Winchester was the heiress of the Winchester Arms Manufacturing Company. Old West Lore would recall the Winchester Rifle as ‘the gun that won the west’. Sarah’s only child died in infancy and, later on, her husband died young too.
Seeking to find comfort by communicating with the dead, spiritualist Adam Coons told her that her family was cursed by the spirits of all the people killed by her family’s guns. He told her to move west and continuously build a house to confuse the spirits that may try to find her. For 38 years, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, construction workers built the mansion now known as the Winchester Mystery House until Sarah Winchester’s death. Today, the house is a historical monument that’s a popular tourist attraction. In October, professional haunters use the property and its history to create a unique visitor’s tour.
The Winchester Mystery House Candlelight Tour is part history and part fantasy, as a tour guide leads groups of attendees through the house while holding a single candle and recalling the life of Sarah Winchester and her spiritualist, Adam Coons. As the tour is revealed, guest see many rooms, each with a different theme. From the wheelchair room to the s������ance room; from the bedroom to the room dedicated to professional magicians, a storyline is told of how Adam Coons is an evil spirit who is possessing the house. At the end, an elderly man operates a Victorian electrical contraption called the ‘Edison Spirit Machine’ to capture the evil Adam Coons.
The tour is not a ‘Haunted Attraction’ in the traditional sense. It’s still a tour of the house, but with a haunter’s imagination and a bag of tricks.
The actors were believable and enthusiastic. Their performances are well rehearsed, especially the tour guide, who had the most dialogue as he took us to different rooms of the house and told a story about each one. The spiritualist in Sarah Winchester’s bedroom performed a s������ance with cards and told us of an evil spirit in the mansion. There was a woman who spoke of the death of Sarah Winchester’s spiritualist and presented an urn, opened it up and removed a note. Then she asked a person from our group to read it. After the person read the note, the woman told us that the evil spirit has taken over the house. Towards the end, the elderly man told us he would use the Edison Spirit Machine to capture the evil spirit.
Besides these main actors with real dialogue, there are multiple actors silently watching all of us from behind doorways and across hallways. One of them even growled at the guests to create a startle. Most of them silently watched as the tour guide walked us through, giving some of us the creeps and adding a spooky vibe.
The spiritualist in the card room had the best use of props by holding a deck of white cards, only marked ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. He placed the deck on end in a wine glass and, as he asked the spirit questions, a single card would independently rise from the deck with the answer. This is a common magician’s trick that’s done with playing cards, but using this trick in a s������ance setting was really cool. The woman with the urn and elderly man with the spirit machine deserve honorable mention in use of the props.
All the dialogue used by the actors effectively told a story that tied in with the Winchester Mystery House perfectly. The actors did fulfill their roles, even the silent watchers.
The costumes were in the proper Victorian style and all actors were completely dressed in authentic apparel. No masks or elaborate makeup was used. Various styles of Victorian clothing were worn from formal wear, maids, butlers, groundskeeper, carpenters to black funeral dresses, complete with a veil. There wasn’t anyone who was not wearing a Victorian costume.
Customer Service: 8.56
The Winchester Mystery House Candlelight Tour is safe to walk through. The stairs had just enough light to allow guest to see. No tripping hazards were found. At various cities in the Bay Area, there are billboards signs advertising the Winchester Mystery House, but there are no obvious directional signs when you get to San Jose. Once you get to Winchester Street, the large commercial sign is easy to see. Parking is easy to find, because there are several spots on the property and a parking lot across the street. Tickets are found in the gift shop, which is accessible from the parking lot. Just beyond the gift shop is a small courtyard with a concession stand and restrooms. There was no queue entertainment, but looking at the architecture and well-groomed vegetation helped pass the time. The staff was professional, helpful and very friendly. Other areas of interest are the garden, the Winchester Firearms Museum (3 room display of various Winchester rifles) and a shooting gallery.
Outside of the Winchester Mystery House, there is no music or sounds. You can most definitely tell you are at a haunted house, because it’s a beautiful piece of architecture in the Victorian style. There is no other building in San Jose that is like Winchester, so you know it when you see it. The outside is serene and peaceful, which contrasts the Tour, which has a spookier ambiance.
Special Effects: 8.53
One thing that really sets the Candlelight tour from other haunts is the use of sound effects. Upon different room stops in the tour, various sounds were heard. As the spiritualist did his trick with the Yes and No cards, ghostly moaning noises were heard. Similar noises came from the urn room, where a note was read. When the tour guide took us to the wash room, odd growling sounds came through and the tour guide dismissed them as plumbing and pipe issues.
There were three instances of the evil spirit manifesting itself. The effect showed a man in a haze who would talk about, possessing the house. His voice had an echo; a typical effect used for ‘voices beyond the grave’. At the start of the tour, our guide shows us a wheelchair that was used by Sarah Winchester, then the calm was broken by the sounds of boxes falling to the floor. Then we were taken to Sarah’s s������ance room and the calm was broken by an air blast.
One of the neatest aspects of the tour was, from time to time, different visual effects would happen while the tour guide played oblivious to it. There was a room behind the tour guide where ghost with a skull fact floated across a doorway. From another room, outside of the window was a lantern hovering in the air, rising and falling. All of these various effects, worked to create a spooky mood. The house itself is well detailed without the Candlelight tour, but the tour did add various props and details. The last room of the tour had the Edison Spirit Machine, with an elderly scientist and a psychic medium. The machine generated light effects and electrical sounds. As the psychic sat in his chair, he became possessed and his chair would rise and fall while the evil spirit spoke through him.
The theme of the Winchester Mystery House Candlelight Tour is easy to figure out as the tour guide takes you through the house. The history of Sarah Winchester and her obsession with spiritualism plays a huge role in the tour. This theme is reinforced though out every scene and great pains were taken for the historical accuracy. The haunt’s location absolutely authenticates its theme because, after all, if you plan on creating a haunt based off of Sarah Winchester, then there’s only once place on planet earth to do it: her former residence, now known as the Winchester Mystery House.
Fright Effect: 7.75
The candlelight tour is not a typical multiple-scare haunted house. It is a historical tour of the property, but uses special effects to create a spooky ambiance. Overall, there were 3 main startle moments: the falling boxes at the beginning, the air blast in the s������ance room and the firecracker effect in the magician’s room. Other than those moments, the rest of the tour was about ambiance and mood. The sounds in the wash room were intended to create a startle, but our tour group didn’t react.
The Winchester Mystery House Candlelight Tour took just over 57 minutes to complete. At a general admission rate of $49.00, that is 1.16 minutes per dollar, so it’s a great deal. The candlelight tour utilizes the rooms and hallways approved for public attendance. As attendees, we couldn’t see any obvious dead spaces, but since the house has 160 rooms, there could be more room to use, but that would require the authority’s approval. In the end, we did experience a nice, fulfilling tour filled with great moments.