A Very Victorian Thanksgiving

a victorian thanksgiving

Most of us have grown up with the roasted turkey, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and stuffing (jury is still undecided on the cranberry sauce.) But, where do many of these conventional Thanksgiving dinner items come from?

Room Restoration Solves Riddle

image of a stained glass window at sarah winchesters beautiful estate

A room restoration at the Winchester Mystery House revealed a 100-year-old secret. Where did Sarah Winchester acquire her stained glass windows? An envelope hidden and preserved in a wall for over a century reveals the answer.

Rumored Hauntings at the Estate

HIDDEN IN THE CLOUDS

Ahead of the upcoming Friday the 13th Flashlight Tour on December 13th, 2019, where guests will have the opportunity to explore the house at nighttime with nothing but a flashlight, let’s delve into some of these ghostly visitations and the types of hauntings that they may represent.

A Haunted History

a ghostly appearance at the winchester mystery house

Mystery is a well-earned middle name for this San Jose Victorian mansion built by owner Sarah Pardee Winchester to, allegedly, appease spirits—, specifically those who had fallen to the famous Winchester rifle.

Come Unhinged this Fall

Winchester Mystery House night time with blue light shining from a room.

Unhinged invites guests to step into a real life psychological and paranormal thriller, while exploring the dark hallways of the cursed Winchester Estate.

A San Jose Fruit Spread

One of the nation’s most productive agricultural regions, the Valley of Heart’s Delight, or the Santa Clara Valley.

Technology of the Winchester Mystery House

The annunciator servant call box

House of the Past and the Future

Winchester Mystery House is like an amusement ride into the past. The 160-room clapboard mansion with turrets and towers may be a relic in Silicon Valley. But the house had features that in the 19th century were considered pretty cutting-edge.

The enigmatic Sarah L. Pardee Winchester, a widow from Connecticut who arrived in San Jose in 1886, would definitely be considered a unicorn by today’s standards. She was wealthy, possibly eccentric, and flush with new ideas that played out within the rooms of Winchester Mystery House, an architectural incubator.

 

The Big Turn On

Five years before Sarah settled into Llanada Villa, the city itself was lit up. In 1881, San Jose was the first municipality in California to power up electricity from the downtown Owen’s Tower. Upon settling into her farmhouse Llanada Villa, Sarah ordered her own gas generator built. It supplied the carbide gas lights in the house, which ignited with a button!

While that may sound slightly old-school, many other houses of the time were illuminated by candles or paraffin oil. To light up a room by pressing a button was wizardry.

Courtesy Wikimedia /Illustration by H.G. Peelor of San Jose electric light tower, aka Owens Electric Tower.

Making a splash

Housing technology has advanced so lightning fast that you may find the next three sentences hard to swallow.

Less than 80 years ago, nearly half of houses in the United States lacked hot piped water, or a bathtub or shower. Over a third of houses didn’t have a flush toilet. In 1920, two years before Sarah’s death, only 1% of U.S. homes had electricity and indoor plumbing.1

In the span of your grandmother or great-grandmother’s lifetime indoor plumbing has become a non-negotiable item!

Sarah was 50 years ahead of the times. Her home had indoor plumbing, faucets, and showers. Plus, she had garden hoses—a brand-new invention—attached to those newfangled indoor faucets. They watered the plants in her conservatories. If not for them, someone would have had to lug water in buckets to the upper stories.

 

Can we talk?

Here’s a multiple choice situation: Let’s say you live in a mansion with 100-plus rooms. Obviously, you have a staff, about 18 people. How else to do the upkeep? It would take a year just to run a feather duster through all the rooms! One Monday at 6:15 in the morning, you need help lifting a box. You must call a maid. Here’s the clincher: the year is 1890. How do you find a servant to help?

A) Get off your duff and wander from room to room to find the person needed.

B) Start yelling out names. Your voice is loud.

C) Invent a contraption called an annunciator

D) Text or ring the servant

Answer is B.

Not really. It’s C. But we put that in case you glanced down to cheat.

 

 

Installed throughout the rooms of Llanada Villa, the annunciator had a master board located in the staff quarters. When Sarah pressed a button, a card would drop on the board announcing her location. A servant would answer the call. Her cars were also retrofitted with their version of the annunciators, a call tube. This way Sarah could communicate with her driver.

Convenient. 

 

Future forward house

Sarah’s San Jose home was futuristic, the house of tomorrow, with wool used as insulation, a porcelain laundry basin with soap trays and washboard molded into the porcelain, the annunciator, indoor plumbing, and other contraptions you’ll need to see for yourself on a tour.

Sarah Winchester embraced the ethos of a region that would, 70-or-so years later, be branded for that innovative spirit. To use the parlance of today, her Silicon Valley home was a lifestyle incubator seeded by her own funding. She might even be considered the pre-unicorn of unicorns. Not bad for an older woman living on her own in the prim Victorian era.

1 “Lest We Forget, a Short History of Housing in the United States,” James D. Lutz, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. aceee.org. PDF of abstract….