As some of you know from my work, I’m deeply in love with Sarah Winchester’s story and The Winchester Mystery House. I’ve been there countless times and even once helped translate for a French family on a tour. After enormous amounts of research and help from Winchester management, I wrote a screenplay that’s been optioned a few times, and was even a finalist in the 2012 Shriekfest Screenwriting competition. I also wrote a poem inspired by Sarah Winchester that’s been published at least three times. (And recorded.)
I’ve even had my own ghostly experience in the house, which was the inspiration for said script.
Recently, the owners obtained a special use permit for overnight stays. This means that guests might soon be able to have sleepovers in the “bizarre yet beautiful” mansion.
When I heard this, I died a little.
You see, to me, this means they want to commercialize the property and make more money either because they want to (bad) or because they need to (worse). Wear and tear is just the beginning. A careless cigarette or someone conducting a “seance” with lit candles in a room could cause major damage. Normal structures can be repaired. The Winchester House is irreplaceable. Giving people a private place to get into trouble in this priceless historical monument seems incredibly risky.
I’ve also fretted about Hammer making a movie inside the house.
I wrote my script so that this wouldn’t be necessary. Seriously. IT’S NOT NECESSARY. You build out a few iconic rooms and some hallways on a sound stage because the house CHANGED CONSTANTLY. The house you see today is the version it was in 1922. It was totally different in 1890. And certainly still in 1901. (Outside? CGI is the only way to show passage of time as floors and windows are added.) With so many changes, who’s to say what went where?
I assume if they’re doing it, it’s because they think it will reduce production costs and add authenticity. If you’ve seen what film crews do inside of houses, and if you’ve seen the fragile interior of the Winchester mansion, you’ll see why this decision makes me nervous. (I’m not even sure it’s practical.) I know from interviewing management that this very issue is one of a few that kept them from granting filmmakers such rights in the past. (But I really hope they aren’t doing this. Or at least I hope Hammer has changed its mind.)
Friends of mine who engage in live-action roleplaying games are excited at the prospect of getting to do some theatrical LARPing in the house. I can understand why. The spooky Victorian interiors evoke an incredible atmosphere. My LARP friends are cautious, and they’d take good care of the space. I’m sure many people would — although the path to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions.
But I Get It
A lot of people see this as a good thing, and they’re very excited about it. I totally understand. Whether it’s due to the effects of time or the fault of a single, devastating incident, damage is inevitable, I suppose. I just wish that the house’s exposure to humanity could remain limited.
The dead would be kinder to the house than the living. If only they had more cash.