Thursday, June 14, 2012

Alcatraz via The Winchester Mystery House

On Thursday it is time to leave Mariposa and Yosemite behind and move on to San Francisco.  We have tickets to the night tour on Alcatraz and need to be in the city ready to go at 6 pm.

Once again, we are trying to enjoy the road from here to there.

In the lobby at The Miner's Inn I found some of those brochures for tourist traps attractions.  I pick up a variety of them to review in the room and while showing them to David, he perks up at the mention of The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.  We decide to go there on the way back.

We take a different path back towards the bay area and this time the landscape is vastly different.

In fact, if I didn't know better I might think this was a picture of West Texas.  

This area is full of farmland and some orchards.  When we pass through Planada, California David gets excited at the price of beer.

Mel's Wild West appears to be abandoned.  David gamely turns around to allow me to take some pictures.

Just down the road we see a huge monument that seems totally out of place. There are no other buildings, nothing that explains why this excessively large thing is here.  This requires another stop.

This monument near Merced, CA stands 68 feet tall and is for George Hicks Fancher.  David looks him up online because we assume he must be someone important to the area.  He isn't, he was a banker and farmer who owned a lot of land.  He purchased the monument himself for $25,000 (instructions in his will).

One more stop before we get to San Jose.

I am fascinated by wind farms.  There is a huge one near Livermore, CA. I use the semi-truck brake check lane to take a few photos.

The Winchester Mystery House is located in San Jose and I mean IN San Jose, not on the outskirts or out of town a little.  Once upon a time it was somewhat by itself but after the death of Mrs. Winchester, the town grew up around it as the land was sold off.

David recognized the name of the house when I read it off of the brochure.  The movie Rose Red (Stephen King) is loosely based on a book by Shirley Jackson that was thought to be loosely based on the house and Mrs. Winchester.

The house once stood 7 stories, but after the 1906 earthquake (when Mrs. Winchester was trapped in one of the rooms), the house was reduced to the 4 stories it is today.  The rooms damaged in the earthquake were boarded up and are in the condition today that they were in at that time.  

They don't allow photos inside the house and I am not the type of tourist who takes them anyway.  We have a young girl for our tour guide and there are about 20 people in our group.

Fortunately they aren't in our group.  When we walked out to wait our turn and saw this group of elementary age kids, I was tempted to ask for a refund.  They ended up going before us with their own guide.  We could hear them laughing and carrying on in the house during our tour.

This doesn't mean our tour is perfect.  The guide would talk, tell us where we were going next and take off.  We had to follow and then fit into the next room.  Some of these where quite small and we were at the back in the beginning.  The people going in the room first would stop in the doorways, leaving us stuck out in the hall or another room.

Since I couldn't take pictures inside, it is hard to explain why anyone would see this house.  Just being a mansion wouldn't cause me to detour to San Jose.  

Sarah Winchester began building the house from an unfinished farmhouse in 1884 and it was under construction non-stop (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) until her death in September of 1922.  There was no real construction plan and it shows.  There are windows in the floor.  There are doors that open to walls.  There is a fireplace that goes up 4 floors and then stops about an inch short of the ceiling.  There is a staircase that goes to the ceiling.

One theory about the house is that Mrs. Winchester was told by a psychic that she must move west and buy a house and never stop building on it.  She believed it would appease the spirits of people killed by Winchester rifles.  She had a room that that was used specifically for seances.  Many of the features in the house are related to her beliefs/superstitions such as spider webs and the number 13 featured in the design elements (windows, drains, hooks).

I think the people here should take a page from the Alcatraz book and consider self-guided audio tours.  It would be easier to see the house if the people were spread out.  

Our tour of Alcatraz will take us to the island at night.  I have done the day tour twice before, David has done it once.  We have wanted to do the night tour since watching the Ghost Hunters show analyzing the island.

We are already cold, David already has his hood up.  It is windy too and I am a little concerned about the choppy water since I just ate a sub-par bowl of clam chowder.  We grab a spot by the rail on the second (of three) decks just in case.

When you do the night tour they go all the way around the island before docking (during the day they go as directly as possible on the trip out and back).  They also offer some extra programs at the end of the night not offered during day tours.

Approaching the island

Besides being a prison, the island was also a military fort and was occupied by American Indians who planned to build a community here.

The Watchtower

When you arrive, there is a park ranger there to greet you on the landing.  They walk you up to the main prison doors, a steep and winding walk (I think they said it is equivalent to 13 stories).

David likes our ranger and his stories.

Ranger Al.  He is telling us his "ghost story".  He has been here during the taping of several different shows over the years.  

Once you get to the cell house, they give you a headset with a recorded tour (available in several languages) and set you free inside.  

Okay, so self guided doesn't always work as it should.  Because large groups begin around the same time, there are clusters of people with headsets in the same area.  Many of the people are trying to push their way to the front to take pictures.

Because David and I have done this tour before, we ditch the "official" tour and go out on the grounds, some of which were closed when we were here before.  The island also functions as bird sanctuary so there are still areas that are closed.  

You are warned to leave the birds alone as they have been known to attack or do other vile things if you get too close to their nest.

The Recreation Yard.  David and I climb the steps and plant ourselves in the little alcove there to take pictures....

...of the sunset and the Golden Gate Bridge.

We are freezing by the time the sun goes down.  We go to find one of the special programs and decide on "Escape Stories".  We get Ranger Al again.

There is David in the (blue) Texas Rangers jacket.  Ranger Al looked at David and said "Texas, where you from?"  David said, "Texas".

Back on the boat, back to the city.  We didn't see any ghosts ourselves but we had a good time hanging out in the yard and listening to Ranger Al's stories.

Goodbye Alcatraz, I expect this will be my last time to see you in person.  
The third time is the charm, right?  

Hello San Francisco.  
Take good care of us, the last day of our trip is in your hands.

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