Dec 7, 2009

Winchester House: Mystery in every nook and corner



Picture this: A beautiful Victorian garden replete with flowers, shrubs, trees and everything else a garden ought to have, plus a palatial Victorian construction right in the middle of it. This magnificent mansion houses 40 bedrooms, 6 kitchens, 13 bathrooms, 47 fire places and several hundreds of doors and windows, to list a few of its features. This house, which is now a four storied one, had as many as 7 floors before the earthquake that rocked California in 1906.

Labelled California Historical landmark 868, this stately structure is known by the name Winchester Mystery house and is better known for much more than just its size and architectural style. Situated less than 6 miles away from Downtown San Jose, this place is home to doors that open into walls, stairs that go right up to the ceiling and a cupboard that opens to several rooms of the house. Several visitors to the mansion and some of the staff who work on the upkeep of the house are said to have sighted apparitions, so much so, that two years ago, when Travel Channel made its list of Top 10 Creepiest Places in the world, Winchester Mystery House found a place there, and even ranked second.

Now a major tourist attraction in San Jose, CA, Winchester Mystery house was once a home. What was once a farmhouse was turned into what it is today, by Sarah Winchester who was the wife of the second president of the Winchester Rifle Company. The most popular story goes that when Sarah Winchester lost her husband and infant daughter to untimely deaths, she approached a medium who told her that these misfortunes were the doing of those people who were killed by the Winchester rifle and that they were out to get her too. As such, the only way she could keep them at bay was to have constructions going on in the house on a continuous basis. And so she had carpenters remodelling the place and making additions. Their job just went on and on all year round, as long as she lived. That explains the numerous rooms, windows, doors, stairs et al, that this house is known for.

A few days ago, Travel Channel had aired a repeat of its Most Creepiest Destinations and when it came to `Number 2,' there was this psychic who said there seemed to be several ghosts in the building, most of them workers who were still hammering away in an attempt to to keep the constructions going on. Watching this part of this programme made my urge to see the place only stronger. I suddenly remembered a story, also in connection with the mystery house that had appeared in the local newspaper last year, around Halloween, if I am not mistaken. Here a psychic was quoted mentioning the presence of the spirit of the person who drove the Wincheshter carriage. "Interesting" thought I.

Last Sunday, hubby and I -- along with our little one, strapped to my belly in a baby carrier --made our way to the Winchester Mystery House and did that mansion tour I eagerly looked forward to. Our tour guide Nicole took us through the corridors and doors of this majestic mansion and showed us Sarah Winchester's carriage, the bedroom in which Sarah Winchester died, her famous 13th bathroom. Some of the other bedrooms, several bathrooms some kitchens, the 4-floor chimney, a room with one entry and 3 exits, one of which opens into a kitchen 8ft below and some other weird attractions in the house.

We were told that Sarah Winchester had begun her constructions in the year 1888 and all this building went on till 1922 when she died of heart failure. In the 38 years of continuous building, she had spend a whopping 5.5 billion, good for her that she was left with the Winchester fortune. Nicole also told us that that room with 3 exits was where Mrs Winchester had had her interactions with several spirits. It is believed that the house had no blue print and that the constructions were the commands of the spirits she spoke to. During her conversations with them, she would just draw out the plan in whatever she could find, sometimes even pieces of cloth. The craftsmen who worked for her were not allowed to question the work she asked them to do or give suggestions of any kind. If they did try to, it meant the end of their employment there. Difficult as she was, Sarah Winchester paid her workers on a daily basis so that she could hire and fire people as she wished.

It is believed that Sarah Winchester had 13 carpenters on the roll. This wealthy lady seemed to have taken the spooky `number 13' very seriously, only adding to the mystery of her house. Nicole pointed out that the ceiling panels had 13 parts, there were13bathrooms and the 13th one had 13 windows. Then there is a chandelier with 12 bulbs that had a 13th one added to it. She is also said to have made her will in 13 parts and signed on it 13 times, in 13 different places.

Why 13? Nobody really knows. Some people say the features in this house are so bizarre because it was planned by spirits, others say this was a means to confuse the ghosts who were targeting her. Which one of these is true, nobody can say. Now if she had done all this to keep the ghosts at bay, or even confuse them, as the other story goes, why did she have meetings with spirits in a room that was meant for that alone? Why is it that some people say they have felt energies and seen apparitions while others see nothing paranormal.....Oh !! With Mrs. Winchester long gone, there will always be a whole lot of questions and no real answers. Her `Mystery' house just might remain a mystery.




Dec 2, 2009

17 Mile Drive - much more than a seaside drive



We all love the seaside. We all love long drives. How about a drive along the coast? What if it is that of the Pacific Ocean that we are talking about? One great  place to do this is the 17-Mile Drive. 17 mile drive runs through the Del Monte Forest beside the Spanish Bay, Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove, which fringe the world's largest ocean.

This scenic drive in Monterey, CA, meanders through a gated community that is home to golf clubs, resorts and some colossal houses. However a drive through the 17-Miles has much more to offer. Over 9 miles of this road is by the sea. That apart, there are around a score of points-of-interest, where you can stop, take pictures and chill out.

The 17-Mile Drive had been on our must-visit list for a long time. We had made plans a couple of times and each time something would come up and we would end up not making it there. After several of those foiled attempts, we finally did it. And it turned out to be a lovely trip.


We took the gate by Highway 1(near exit 68 W). There we paid a toll and picked up the brochure, which told us about the various points-of-interests on the way. There was a map to go with it and this made it all the more easier. This is a must-have if you don't want to miss any of the viewpoints or you have to grab something to eat or even answer nature's call. Thanks to the Pebble Beach Company that owns this little part of the earth, the 17-Mile Drive has all the tourism infrastructure that it needs: restaurants, restrooms and picnic tables. Apart from that, this gated community also has some essential services like two fire stations, a hospital and a gas station too; a lot to be thankful for.

It was in 1602 that Spanish explorers discovered the Monterey Peninsula. Later in 1880, Hotel Del Monte (which is now the Naval Post Graduate School, Monterey) opened here and bought the Del Monte Forest land. The then property manager F.B. Morse is said to have been the one who got Pebble Beach Golf Links designed for this area and with this, he founded the Pebble Beach Company, which is now the proud owner of The Lodge, The Inn, Links at Spanish Bay, Casa Palmero and The Spa at Pebble Beach.

This area is blessed with beaches, viewpoints and some natural wonders. If the company had not opened its gates for the public, we would not have been able to bask in the beauty of this naturally dramatic drive. The Shepherd's Knoll, Huckleberry Hill, Spanish Bay, The Restless Sea, Point Joe and China Rock are some of the first few points-of-interest if you take the Highway 1 gate. Then there is the Hunt Course, Bird Rock, Seal Rock, Fanshell overlook, The Lone Cypress, The Ghost Tree and the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center, among others.

Shepherd's Knoll and Huckleberry Forest are the first two viewpoints and from here you can see the Santa Cruz Mountains and get a glimpse of the sea. This just makes you want to skip the next two POIs and head for that water you see from afar. At least for me that was how it was. It had been a while since I had been out there and so I was yearning to see the sea, hear the waves and feel the spray.


When we stopped at Spanish bay, the sun was at its zenith and our near-empty stomachs were asking for food. So that was where we sat and watched the waves as we had our lunch. There's ample parking space and several picnic tables. There's the sea out there and friendly birds calling at your table. What more would you need when on a date with nature? `Sun n' sand' does not say enough about this place; if it's Spanish Bay, it has got to be Sun and Sand and Pebbles. Now it is not difficult to see how Pebble Beach got its name.


The next stop on the way was the Restless Sea. Here, if you looked out into the sea, you would notice a very disturbed patch on the water -- restless indeed. I was wondering what was really happening there, when my eyes fell upon a board, which said it was probably a place where ocean currents collided creating all that turbulence. It goes on to say that a still probable reason could be the some rocks below the surface of the water causing the waves to break early. Hmm...which of that are we to go by? Maybe this time we should leave the science behind and take in that not-so-common sight, just say, "Wow," and move on to Point Joe.

Point Joe is a siren of rocks, on which ages ago, mariners are said to have crashed upon, mistaking it to be the mouth of the Monterey Bay.

Yet another point on the 17-Mile itinerary that I really wanted to see was Bird Rock and Seal Rock that promised to show us some sea life. At first I saw nothing. Then I thought I saw some shapes camouflaged against some huge rocks in the distance. Thankful to have brought a pair of binoculars,  I pulled it out and managed to spot those aquatic birds and seals. Now, if you are not carrying binoculars, while you are on this drive -- worry not. You won't have to rely on your naked eye alone, for there are telescopes here. Drop a quarter and help yourselves.

If there is another thing you just cannot leave without seeing, it is the famous Lone Cypress. This tree is said to have survived on a rocky edge for over 250 years. Highly promoted, this tree is also the symbol of the Pebble Beach Company.

The Ghost Tree on this drive is no tree that houses a spirit. Its just one of those oddly shaped things that give people ideas. Actually there are a few odd looking trees at this point. Any one of them could be the ghost tree.

A drive through these interesting points of interests leaves you with a feeling of satisfaction. The 17-Mile Drive is much more than just a drive and much more than a trip to the seaside.


Note:
17 Mile Drive (Monterey, CA) is around:
75 miles south of San Jose and
120 miles south of San Francisco.