Get in the Spirit of Things at the Winchester Mystery House

What might be the weirdest house in the world has a staircase that goes to a ceiling, a window in the floor and doors that open to solid walls. Nope, it's not a fun house in an amusement park. It's the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, Calif., the former residence of the daughter-in-law of the namesake rifle inventor.

After Sarah Winchester's husband and baby died back in the 1880s, a psychic told her she was being haunted by the spirits of Native Americans, Civil War soldiers and others who had been killed by her father-in-law's rifles. To make the spirits happy, the psychic told Winchester to move out west and build a house for them. So, naturally, that's exactly what Winchester did.

Winchester spent almost 40 years overseeing construction of the bizarre but beautiful seven-story, 160-room Gothic mansion. She became sort of a Michael Jackson of her time—she was a recluse who always covered her face with a veil, but she also allowed neighborhood kids to play in her yard and eat ice cream in her parlor.

Winchester died in 1922, but her strange house still stands and is open for tours. Here are some of the paranormal highlights.

The Blue Room
Every night at the stroke of 12, and then again at 2 a.m., neighbors would hear a bell ring. It was the spirits arriving and departing for Sarah's nightly seance in the Blue Room, in the center of the huge house. The room is accessed by a button that opens a secret door.

The Switchback Staircase
This staircase has seven flights, yet it rises only about 9 feet, since each of its 44 steps is just 2 inches high. Weird, yes, but perhaps also practical: Winchester suffered from arthritis when she was older, so the staircase may have been specially designed to accommodate her.

Secret passageways and bizarre doors
Winchester believed these passageways along with doors that opened to walls would confuse evil spirits that were following her around the house.

Let there be a whole lotta light
The house was always brightly lit by gas lamps, candles and light bulbs, because spirits apparently don't like shadows. They don't like mirrors either, which is why there are only three of them in the entire house.

Pick a bedroom, any bedroom
To confuse any evil spirits, Winchester would sleep in a different room every couple of nights.

The Winchester Mystery House is open daily. Three tours are available, ranging from around $30 to $45. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes—and don't take any photographs inside the house.

Laura Goldman is a freelance writer and lifelong Angeleno. Check out her i Still Love Dogs blog and follow her on Twitter.

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