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TRIP OF THE WEEK

Mysteries Highlight Visit to San Jose

November 12, 1989|MICHELE GRIMM and TOM GRIMM | The Grimms are Laguna Beach free-lance writers/photographers and authors of the updated "Away for a Weekend."

SAN JOSE — Mysteries of ancient Egypt and a turn-of-the-century spiritualist should continue to intrigue visitors to this Silicon Valley city, despite the recent earthquake centering in the San Jose area.

The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum offers the largest private collection of Egyptian and Babylonian artifacts on the West Coast. Tours also can be taken in the Winchester Mystery House, a bizarre Victorian mansion built to appease the ghosts of people killed by the famed Winchester rifle.

Sarah Winchester, who spent 38 years and much of her fortune constructing the sprawling home in which she lived alone, after the death of her husband and their only child, visited a psychic who told her the only way to prolong her own life was to keep building a residence that would please the spirits, according to legend.

As a result, from 1884 to 1922, when she died at 82, carpenters worked 24 hours a day on her San Jose estate. Winchester was her own architect and designed a seance room in which to receive spiritual guidance.

She also built a tower that rang a bell only at night to call friendly ghosts to the house.

In her battle against evil spirits, she constructed some stairways that lead to dead-ends, and doors that open to blank walls. One "door to nowhere" connects the second story of the house to the front yard, but there are no stairs outside. Visitors also can walk her "goofy staircase" that has 44 steps and seven switchbacks, but rises only nine feet. In addition, Winchester seemed obsessed with No. 13. There are 13 bathrooms, 13 glass cupolas in the greenhouse, 13 gas jets in the ballroom chandelier, 13 drain holes in sinks and 13 palms lining the front driveway. Even her will had 13 parts, and she signed it 13 times.

Other property numbers are equally impressive. Surrounded by six acres of gardens and landscaping, the rambling red-roofed house covers 24,000 square feet.

A maze of 40 staircases leads to 160 rooms, including six kitchens. There are 2,000 doors and 10,000 windows, 47 fireplaces and 17 chimneys. During about four decades of continuous construction, Winchester spent $5.5 million on the house.

As heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, her company shares drew $1,000 a day. Winchester used the best materials, including woods such as teak, mahogany, cherry, rosewood, oak, ash and maple. Many of the stained-glass windows were ordered from Tiffany's of New York City.

On the 65 minute, half a mile tour you'll see Winchester's inventions, including window catches designed after the hammer of the Winchester repeating rifle. A washtub with built-in scrub board that she patented brought her $1 million.

The Winchester estate is open every day, except Christmas, from 9:30 a.m. Guided tours of the mystery house begin every 20 to 30 minutes, with the last tour at 4 p.m. Hours are extended in the spring and summer.

Open also is the Victorian gardens, which have been restored to match those of Winchester's time, when she employed eight full-time gardeners. Plants, trees and shrubs from around the world surround statues and fountains.

A tour map of the garden takes visitors on a self-guided tour, offering 20 points of interest, some of which feature a recorded narrative. In addition to viewing the mansion's ornate exterior up close, visitors can view the greenhouse, gas plant, aviary, garage and car wash.

A small building houses the Winchester Historic Firearms Museum, where "The Gun That Won the West" and other famous rifles are displayed. Nearby is the Winchester Antique Products Museum, which exhibits 1920s hardware goods that carried the Winchester name. Among them are knives, flashlights, ice skates, fishing tackle, electric irons and garden tools.

Admission to the mystery house, garden and museums costs $10.95, children 6 through 12 years $5.95, under age 6 free. Also on the grounds are an indoor/outdoor cafe and a gift shop. Call (408) 247-2101 for for recorded information.

Get to the Winchester Mystery House from Los Angeles by driving north on U.S. 101 to San Jose. Then turn onto Interstate 880/California 17 south. Exit west on Stevens Creek Boulevard, turn left (south) on Winchester Boulevard and look right, just beyond the cinema complex, for the mystery house parking lot.

After your visit, return north on Winchester Boulevard and turn right onto Forest Avenue. Continue under the freeway and bear left onto Naglee Avenue, then turn right on Park Avenue to the Egyptian Museum entrance.

Rows of ram-headed sphinxes greet guests to one of San Jose's most popular attractions. Sponsored by the Rosicrucian order, a worldwide-fraternal organization, the museum takes visitors to ancient Egypt, Babylonia and Assyria through objects thousands of years old.

One gallery holds the mummies of nobility--high priests and children, plus mummified bodies of crocodiles, snakes, a baboon and other animals. Other galleries display antiquities such as stone jewelry, clay tablets, papyrus scrolls, bronze and copper utensils and women's cosmetics.

Among the age-old coffins decorated with hieroglyphics is a replica of the sarcophagus of King Tutankhamen. Tours are led by flashlight into the Rock Tomb, a recreation of an Egyptian burial chamber from 2,000 BC.

The museum only closes Mondays. Hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $3, children 12 through 17 years $1, younger visitors free. Call (408) 287-2807 for more information.

Other statues and architecture relating to ancient Egypt can be viewed on a walk around the attractive grounds, which are part of the Rosicrucian world headquarters. Ask at the museum about the daily shows in the planetarium next door.

For lodging and dining information, contact the San Jose Convention and Visitors Bureau, (408) 295-9600.

Round trip from Los Angeles to San Jose is 780 miles.

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