Ghosts of the Gun

Posted: Aug 7, 2005 10:10:27 PM

Winchester FrontThis weekend we set off for the area south of San Francisco, to see some sights I'd had my sights set on seeing for some time. *breath*. In the south bay area there are two in particular that I wanted to see: the Winchester Mystery House and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The Winchester Mystery House is crazy. I'll say that right up: architecturally speaking, it is absurd. First, some history. The truncated version. The Winchester gun company made lots of guns, and the Winchesters made lots of money. The unhappy family that were the heirs to this vast fortune had some tragedy: their daughter died in childhood, the father from tuberculosis, leaving Mrs Sarah Winchester to wonder why she was so cursed. Unfortunately, she chose to ask a psychic, who told her that she was being haunted by the ghosts of the victims of Winchester rifles, and that the only way to appease them would be to move to California, start building a house, and never stop.

So she did.Winchester Back

Hence, the Winchester Mystery House. For the next thirty eight years construction never ceased, day and night, and the house grew outwards like a monstrous Gothic octopus. Mrs Winchester wandered throughout the enormous edifice, apparently to avoid the thousands of ghosts she believed were trapped in there with her, from the day that construction started in 1884 until the day she died in 1922.

The house itself, as you can well imagine, is crazy. It is full of architectural idiosyncracies like staircases that rise up to the ceiling, doors that open onto brick walls (or into open air on the upper floors), windows in the floor looking down on the rooms below, and staircases that split into three different directions. Folklore has it that they were supposed to befuddle the trapped spirits, but it's more likely that because rooms were often redone several times over some connections were bound to be missed.Winchester Above

The place is also huge: a hundred and sixty rooms, ten thousand windows, two thousand doors... it's the kind of place that I'd love to play hide-and-seek in. It just goes on and on and on, rooms upon rooms upon crazy rooms. Turn a corner, and you might see a priceless Tiffany stained glass window, or an attempt at internal plumbing (the first in the area), or a towering pipe-organ, or the half-finished wreck of a wall. Obscure quotations decorate the walls: "Wide unclasp the tables of their thoughts" proclaim the windows in the ballroom. The quote is Shakespearean, although the reason why it was put there remains unknown.

In fact, there is quite a lot that is unknown about this house: mapping it must be impossible, and even the tour guide doesn't know who actually owns the house (although Google can give you some clues - there is a certain amount of this mysterious hamming-it-up in the attraction). The house was fantastic, however: it is the closest feeling I've had to walking the halls of Gormenghast.

Anemones The next sight was much more orthodox: the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the world's most famous, and seeing as I am a big fan of aquaria (having already visited ones in Monaco, Osaka, and Auckland) I just had to go for a visit.

Monterey Bay Aquarium has some very impressive parts, and some that were ... less than impressive. Neither Siobhan nor I were particularly impressed with the hordes of kamikaze children that ran through the dimly lit interior colliding with everything in their way, but primarily our legs. Grrrrr. Some of the attractions, such as the sea otters, were so crowded that getting a good view was impossible, but we found some less populated corners to enjoy nevertheless.Jellyfish

Jellyfish. What can I say? I'm a huge fan. And here there are thousands of them, eerily lit from below in unusual colours (in their natural light they are basically invisible). The jellyfish exhibit here is the best I've ever seen, and I've seen some damn good ones.

The kelp forest is hypnotic: it ebbs up and down, and with it ebbs every fish suspended in the surrounding sea. There's something sincerely disconcerting about seeing a big fish bounce around in the water like the bobbing horizon of a drunk driver.

People always discount tuna - how could anything that fits in those tiny cans be intimidating or impressive? But in the open ocean, tuna are huge and vicious. And very hard to grow in captivity, which is why seeing them alive is so impressive. They can weigh as much as 1,500 pounds (that's 680 kg, about half the weight of a car), and they also have wicked spikes running along the base of their spines. Cool.

Finally, Monterey Bay Aquarium is a petting zoo. Petting zoo! Starfish, okay, everyone has touched them, but who would have thought that manta rays and sea cucumbers feel the same? I have felt both, and I can now say definitively that they feel: gross. Heh. Spongy and squishy. How very cool.



siobhan   Aug 7, 2005 10:18:10 PM

Squishy yes, like a spongy thing that's soft and spongy and squishy and...I would like to eat all these things raw surrounded by some rice, is that wrong of me?

FraZ   Aug 8, 2005 4:05:33 AM

that house is soo cool! i wanted to go see it. VERY cool

$15|<4   Aug 8, 2005 6:04:37 AM

no rice sounds like a good plan
now Im hungry too

Mo Jo   Aug 8, 2005 7:55:51 AM

Hey Damon,

Did each of the rooms in the house have a function? I mean. Does it appear that each room was created with a particular purpose in mind? Ie. dining rooms, kitchens, powder rooms. How many chimneys were there? How many keys are required for all of the doors!? or did they have a master key?

And who made the decisions on its construction? Mrs Winchester? or were the builders left to create as they went? I'm not sure if you could consider that a dream job or a horror. How did she keep tabs on the costs? Did the builders milk the opportunity? How many different building contractors were there?

Feeling mighty inquisitive at the moment...

MumE & DadE   Aug 8, 2005 10:15:22 AM

Me two & Three guess we need to add this house to our list of places to visit also Damon. Sounds amazing!

li   Aug 11, 2005 1:08:48 AM

*waves* Hm, when you started out mentioning a 'mysterious house' I was thinking of American Gods, but on closer inspection, nope...not all *that* similar.

Damon   Aug 12, 2005 2:17:51 AM

Li - is that the first half of Lian?

To answer Morgan's questions: yes, they all did - there were at least three conservatories, there are seventeen chimneys, don't know about keys sorry. Mrs. Winchester supervised, and the gravy-trained carpenters and fitters just kept on going to her specifications. She spent five and a half million (in today's values, calculated from the GDP per capita, that's nearly a billion dollars). Damn.

Okay, I won't have 'net access until I get back home, so the next report will be up later. Have fun guys!

Debra   Aug 14, 2005 1:29:51 AM

Kia ora! :)

We just got back from San Francisco, after visiting the Toi Maori exhibit at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Although I found it very interesting, Damon seemed a bit disappointed that the more traditional/historical elements hadn't been very well represented. All I know is that it really whetted my appetite to see more! The jade carvings were absolutely gorgeous and the tattoo artistry was...well, painful looking, but the results were inarguably striking. :)

We said goodbye to Damon in the parking garage on Mission and Fifth in SF - he'll be flying back home on Sunday evening, and we are *so* sorry to see him go! Thank you, Ellis family, for sharing Damon with us for the (our :) summer - we only hope we were as gracious to him as you all were to my daughter when she visited NZ.

Arohanui to one and all until we meet in person next year. :) Have a good and safe flight home, Damon - we'll miss you!


Mo Jo   Aug 14, 2005 9:49:30 AM

I 'spose you'll read this on your return but cheers for the reply Damon. We'll get the heater fired up.

siobhan   Aug 15, 2005 6:54:43 AM

Hi all, just got back from dropping Damon off at the airport, take good care of him til I can get my grubby mitts on him again and give him more cooties.

Damon   Aug 15, 2005 7:32:39 PM

I'm in Auckland! The flight was excellent, very cool, more about that in the final report. In five hours I'm off to Palmy, so expect another message when I arrive :)

Michael   Aug 15, 2005 9:18:39 PM

Good to hear you've had a great flight. Don't worry Siobhan we will take good care of him. Now let me find the number for the Palmy airport. I think I should put in an anonymous tip about a passenger who is trying to bring in cooties!

Damon   Aug 16, 2005 6:36:11 AM

They totally busted me for cootie possession. Thanks guys *grin*

MumE & DadE   Aug 16, 2005 9:38:09 AM

kia ora Debra & Mike, Don & I are delighted to welcome Siobhan into our family, after all it's a double bonus that she is mad keen on retail therapy like me and knowledgeable about & interested in wine like Don. AND I get a second daughter so when we debate most everything around the dinner table I'm sure Siobhan and I will give 'the boys' a run for their money. Damon is safely home Thankyou so much for your friendly welcome to our Damon he tells me you looked after him real well. I do so look forward to having you come stay with us next year. We are spring cleaning (it is spring here right now. Lovely frosty 1 degree nights and crisp sunny clear blue-skyed 14 degree days. OK gotta go will speak to you again soon, we have plans to make!
Arohanui JillE

FraZ   Aug 16, 2005 6:46:28 PM

yo DAmon, weclome back to Nz-ish

Mo Jo   Aug 17, 2005 10:45:31 AM

For the Americans in the forum that's 1 degree CELSIUS nights and 14 degree CELSIUS days. It would be very worrying having 1 degree fahrenheit nights!

Sadalian   Aug 19, 2005 5:58:58 AM

Cooties? I hope a family menber is saving this for Damon and Siobhan's kids. It's your duty to embarass them.

Re. temperature
How about -30 fahrenheit days? School was finally cancelled when it dropped to -80 fahrenheit.

Debra   Aug 22, 2005 5:08:58 AM

Thanks for the clarification, Morgan. :) I think the numbers convert to the high 30's - mid 50's Fahrenheit, which does sound a bit less intimidating! :)

Jill, I hadn't thought about the "debates around the dinner table" issue - and our branch of the tribe may actually be in a bit of trouble in that regard. ;) In this house, it's always been 3 very chatty and opinionated females v. 2 rather taciturn males. (I'm sorry, Damon, but you'll just have to acquire the ability to limit your communication skills to grunting and nodding at some point...;)

Damon and Siobhan, I have to admit that your gift-giving ideas are somewhat alarming, though. Damon gives Siobhan yeast - Siobhan reciprocates with cooties. Why am I getting this sense that your wedding registry will be with the Centers for Disease Control? ;)

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