Two Newport Mansion Tours To Take With Kids: Rough Point Mansion and The Breakers

Two Newport Mansion Tours To Take With Kids: Rough Point Mansion and The Breakers

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the super rich are different from you and me — they keep camels in the conservatory and have playhouses for their children that are bigger than the average American home.

There really were live camels kept at the Doris Duke house, Rough Point in Newport Rhode Island.  Born as the only child of a tobacco tycoon in 1912, Doris Duke was designated as ‘the richest little girl in the world’ by the press. .Likewise, the Vanderbilt family were the richest family in the USA in the late 19th century. Visiting their Newport mansion on a guided Breakers tour really just highlights what a rarefied world the Vanderbilt lived in.

Being a millionaire in an era when the world was not full of billionaires meant Doris Duke and the Vanderbilts had the freedom to do exactly as they pleased. And, they certainly did.

Newport attractions | Newport R.I. with kids

The main summer cottage of the Vanderbilts, The Breakers

The Mansions of Newport

Taking Gilded Age Newport mansion tours is an obligatory experience when visiting this Rhode Island town.  The American elite at the turn of the 20th Century flocked to Newport for their summer holidays. The mansions are just so surreal in their obvious display of wealth, magnificence and occasional lapse of good taste.

There are several Newport mansion tours each with their own take on this historic slice of American social history.  With children in tow though, we had to limit our choices down to two Newport mansion. So we visited one Vanderbilt house (the Breakers tour) and Doris Duke’s mansion in Newport.

Rough Point Newport Rhode Island

Rought Point in Newport Rhode Island  was built by a member of the Vanderbilt family (Frederick).  If you think a lot of Newport mansions were Vanderbilt cast-offs, it is probably because they were a large family.  For example, Frederick was one of 8 siblings and his older brother built The Breakers.  When Frederick tired of Rough Point, he sold it to a tin mine mogul who sold it eventually to the Dukes.

The Doris Duke Legacy at Rough Point Mansion in Newport Rhode Island USA

Doris Duke was an eccentric heiress who left her treasures to be exhibited at Rough Point, her Newport mansion

The Breakers Tour

Among the most popular of the Newport Mansion tours, we also visited The Breakers. The grandest of these summer cottages, the Breakers Vanderbilt house seems to be one of the obligatory mansions that everyone visits.   One of America’s great industrialist families, the Vanderbilt were not only huge in numbers but also rulers of American high society.

Fun Fact!  450,000 people visit the Breakers every year!

This Cornelius Vanderbilt house was constructed in 1893 at a cost of more than $300 million in today’s money.  Built in the Italian Renaissance style, the house is a cold marble mausoleum which is the furthest thing I can think of from today’s idea of a summer home.

The Breakers even comes with its own (relatively) apint-sized replica which served as a playhouse for the Vanderbilt kids.

Fun Fact!  The playhouse is actually about 2400 s.f. which is about the size of the average American home! Needless to say, my kids were super-impressed.

 

The Breakers, Vanderbilt Rhode Island mansion

The Vanderbilt children’s playhouse was itself 2000 s.f. in size! That’s the size of many family homes!

Poor Little Rich Girl

On the Breakers Tour, my daughter was fascinated with the room in which Consuelo Vanderbilt was locked until she agreed to marry the future Duke of Marlborough in 1895.  Consuelo’s mother, Alva Vanderbilt, took no prisoners in securing the family’s social position.

Newport Rhode Island Mansions

The imposing Breakers = gilded cage for the Gilded Age?

Consuela Vanderbilt was locked in her bedroom by her mother until she agreed to marry the future 9th Duke of Marlborough. It’s a safe bet that Mama Vanderbilt was as cold as the marble that encased the Breakers Vanderbilt home. Consuelo wrote her sad story down in her 1950’s autobiography, The Glitter and The Gold.

Consuela’s sister-in-law was another American heiress, Jennie Jerome, who became the mother of Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain during World War II.  Until Consuelo produced an heir and a spare, Jennie’s sons would have been heir to the dukedom and you can bet Alva was not best pleased.

Fun Fact!  Descendants of the original Vanderbilts still summer at the house on the 3rd floor which remains private.
For a fictionalised account of an American Gilded Age Princess who marries an impoverished British Duke, check out The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin.
The Breakers, Vanderbilt Rhode Island mansion

The Vanderbilt children’s playhouse was itself 2000 s.f. in size! That’s the size of many family homes!

Doris Duke Newport RI

Conventional wisdom say money doesn’t make you happy and the politically correct response is to agree with this sentiment.  On the other hand, money gives you plenty of leeway to be as eccentric as you want.

Another Poor Little Rich Girl

Doris was 12 when she inherited Rough Point (and $80 million) upon the death of her father in 1925.  The family money had come from tobacco plantations which her grandfather had scooped up during the chaos that ended the American Civil War. The Dukes lived large but were also generous with charitable donations. The family gave a sizeable donation to a little college in North Carolina which renamed itself Duke University, still one of the foremost universities in the United States today.

Scandal-Ridden Life

The public though were fascinated with the scandals that Doris created.  She was married three times but also had a child out of wedlock who unfortunately died.  She travelled the world, met with mystics and witch doctors, and fell under the thrall of her butler.

Doris notoriously ran her car over her interior designer of Rough Point and killed him. Perhaps he disagreed with her flamboyant choice of mother-of-pearl, purple and yellow for the master bedroom suite? Although the police deemed it an accident, she reached a financial settlement with his family in court.  The rumour millsreported that she had been drunk.

The Suspicious Butler

Doris died in 1993 from complications from a facelift she had.  She was choking on breakfast and the butler refused to call an ambulance.  Doris left the butler control over her entire fortune (approximately $1.2 billion) which lead to a court case.  The butler lost the rights to her fortune but the court couldn’t find evidence Doris was murdered.

You Can’t Take It With You

Rough Point was opened to the public in 2000 as a museum upon Doris’ death.

Much of the rest of Doris Duke’s money went to her relative, a heroin addict, who had twin children he treated like slaves and locked in a basement. Thank goodness there is plenty of money still left for good therapy for those children.

Rough Point Mansion

Rough Point was built in the style of an English country house in the late 19th century and named after a promontory on the cliffs it overlooked.  When the Dukes purchased the house, they enlarged the outside and modified the interior.  Rough Point has 115 rooms so there are plenty of spare bedrooms.

The Doris Duke Legacy at Rough Point Mansion in Newport Rhode Island

Rough Point, built to resemble an English Manor house, has 115 rooms.

Doris Duke Mansion Tour

The Doris Duke mansion tour itself was a great experience because they are lead by tour guides. Our guide was great with our children (keeping them engaged with look and find questions).  There’s plenty of details for the kids to search for.  She was also a knowledgeable source of information for the adults.

Doris was a shrewd businesswoman and managed to increase massively the inheritance her father left her. She used some of that money acquiring fabulous art and antiques for the home, much of which is still available to view now at the Doris Duke house in Newport  Among the many treasures are paintings by Renoir, van Dyck and Gainsborough, Belgian tapestries and Chinese porcelain.

It seems that Americans have long been fascinated with importing crumbling European architecture  to the USA.

The grand staircase was imported in whole from an English manor house and installed at Rough Point. The stained glass depicts the coats of arms of the signers of the Magna Carta.  Likewise, the wood panelled rooms had the panelling imported from an English manor house which was being stripped. One such room is the Great Hall which is effectively used as an art gallery.

The conservatory was supposed to have been Doris’ favourite room. The conservatory has fabulous views over Doris Duke estate  to the Atlantic Ocean.

The gardens were laid out by Frederick Law Olmstead, the renowned landscape architect famous for designing Central Park in New York City.

The Doris Duke Legacy at Rough Point Mansion in Newport Rhode Island

The gardens at Rough Point were laid out by Olmstead the same architect who designed Central Park in New York City.

Doris Duke and her Camels

So, why were there camels at the Doris Duke house in Newport?

Doris purchased planes from Adnan Kashoggi (Saudi Arabian business man and international arms dealer) and insisted 2 camels be thrown in as well.  She got the planes but not the camels.

What’s an eccentric heiress to do?  She went and bought her own 2 camels and billed Kashoggi for their cost.

The camels travelled in a horse trailer up from her New Jersey mansion to summer in Doris Duke’s Newport mansion.

Doris Duke kept her camels, named Baby and Princess,  sheltered in the conservatory of Rough Point during a hurricane in 1991.  The rest of the time they had their own sheltered tent just outside the conservatory.   A little window in the room (a “camel port”) let people feed them treats.

Fun Fact!  The camels were infamous for chasing the security guards around the grounds for the occasional bite.

 

The Doris Duke Legacy at Rough Point Mansion in Newport Rhode Island

Camel topiaries in honour of Doris Duke’s beloved pet camels.

The camel topiaries no doubt keep the spirit of Princess and Baby at the house (and the security guards on their toes).

Visiting Rough Point Mansion and The Breakers

Rough Point on the famous Bellevue Avenue is definitely worth seeing. It provides a counterpoint to The Breakers Vanderbilt extravaganza. The Vanderbilts may not have liked it, but there were other rich people in the USA!

Newport Mansion Tours

The Doris Duke Mansion tours are limited to 12 people at a time and are available from May to November. Mercifully, there is no gift shop you have to drag the children out of because Doris though gift shops were tacky (yay!).

The Breakers is open daily from May to March annually except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.  For the summer of 2018, a Welcome Center was opened at The Breakers. In addition to the main house tour, you can sign up for a Beneath the Breakers Tour which explores the life of the servants who kept this grand mansion humming.

Visiting from Boston?  Take a day trip to visit Newport and take two Newport mansion tours

Newport Mansion Tours Through Viator 


Where To Stay in Newport RI

The hotel where we stayed, the Grace Vanderbilt , was also another Vanderbilt mansion the family discarded. After all, no visit to Newport would be complete without some tangential Vanderbilt connection.

Check out the excellent reviews for the Grace Vanderbilt on TripAdvisor!

For the latest rates for the Grace Vanderbilt, here are a selection of travel booking sites: 

Booking.com Expedia Hotels.com

Tips for A Family Taking Newport Mansion Tours

Newport Rhode Island is known for its Gilded Age summer cottages. There are several ways though to make a Newport mansion tour fun for kids.

Limit Your Newport Mansion Tours

There are so many Newport mansion tours and you should choose just a couple of mansions.  The mansions themselves are massive with lots of art and objects d’art and so not the easiest of topics to engage children.

We stuck with just two Newport mansion Tours:

      • First, The Breakers because it seemed an obligatory Newport mansion tour and it had the ginormous children’s playhouse.
      • We also went to the Doris-Duke house because it was a non-Vanderbilt mansion and we thought the kids would like the camels connection.

Take the Newport Trolley

Take the Newport Trolley to Bellevue Avenue because that is very cute and the kids will like it. It’s easy to walk between the Breakers and the Doris Duke house.

Explore the Cliff Walk and the Landscaped Lawns

We took part of the Cliff Walk in between our mansion visits.  Clambering around on rocks was fun and also expended some extra energy.  You can get on the Cliff Walk by Bellevue Avenue and it is basically between the mansions and the ocean.  For extra fun, there is a little bridge over the water where the Cliff Walk meets the Doris Duke estate.

Bonus:  Lots of lawn space in front of the Newport mansions for the kids to have a run.

Tips for a family visit to the Newport Mansions

Tips for making a visit to the Newport Mansions fun for the whole family.

 

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One of the Magnificent Seven, Highgate Cemetery in North London

One of the Magnificent Seven, Highgate Cemetery in North London

On a cold rainy day, I visited Highgate Cemetery on a whim. I took a guided tour by a volunteer guide who regaled us with fascinating tidbits of history. Divided into two parts, east and west, Highgate Cemetery is one of the great monuments of London. It is Grade I listed by the National Heritage List of England (the highest architectural historical honour a monument can be given because they are of exceptional interest). One of the so-called Magnificent Seven, Highgate Cemetery in North London stands testament to the depressing fascination of the Victorians with death, mourning and keeping up appearances.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

One of the Magnificent Seven, Highgate Cemetery is renowned for its architectural history.

The Magnificent Seven Cemeteries

Prior to the early 19th century, all of London’s dead were buried in local parish churchyards. As the population grow, this method lead to overcrowding and unhygienic disposal of corpses.  People literally would just bury the dead in ditches near their homes.

Traditionally, wealthy people would bury their dead in their family cemeteries on their country estates.  Neither the poor nor the growing middle class had the luxury of this option.  So London was just getting more crowded until finally a cholera epidemic prompted the authorities to act.

In 1832, a Parliamentary encouraged the creation of private cemeteries in the outskirts of the city.  They were inspired by the famous Parisian cemetery, Pere Lachaise built in 1804.  Eventually seven such cemeteries were built – Highgate, Nunhead, Brompton, Abney Park, West Norwood, Tower Hamlets and Kensal Green. The term Magnificent Seven was given to the Victorian cemeteries in the 1980’s by an architectural historian.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

The Victorian architecture of Highgate Cemetery seems very grand to us.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

The tree lined paths of Highgate Cemetery would have been seriously posh for Victorian times.

Highgate Cemetery in North London

Highgate Cemetery was opened in 1839 and soon became a fashionable place to visit. Set in the beautiful countryside, the Victorians would make day trips to the cemetery to visit their dead relatives and picnic in the grounds.

The Victorian Fascination With Death

The Victorians had elaborate ceremonies for funerals and mourning.  The lead example of mourning was Queen Victoria who wore black mourning clothes for 40 years after the death of her husband.  There were even manuals that laid out the specifics for mourning etiquette (e.g., how long to wear mourning clothes for your first cousin by marriage twice removed).

The Victorian headstones are elaborate because they were a way to show who much grief and love they were feeling. A happy accident, of course, was that you were also able to flaunt your wealth and engage in a bit of pageantry. You had elaborate funeral corteges with black horses pulling carriages of mourners and the hearse.  There were also mourners paid to follow the hearse looking suitable sombre.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

No one is happy. Not even the angel. And even if the deceased were Scrooge incarnate.

In an age of prosperity where more people than ever were living longer than ever, the Victorians were really obsessed with the frailty of life.  Many grave monuments were carved to depict life being cut short – broken columns, draped urns, etc.  Besides, after the funeral cortege side-show arrived at Highgate Cemetery, you couldn’t just dump granny in any old grave.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

Lots of monuments each telling a story.

Victorian Tombs in Highgate Cemetery

I thought the Victorian tombs were beautiful, especially in the sombre light of the grey day. Notable people who are buried here include: Henry Gray, the author of Gray’s Anatomy (not the TV series!!), Charles Cruft, the founder of the Crufts Dog Show, Christina Rossetti, poet, and the parents and wife of Charles Dickens.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

We get it. Even the angels are weeping.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

This man loved his pet lion. No, really. He was in the circus.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

A cross? All you got me was a carved cross? Even the lion tamer got a lion.

The Victorians created Egyptian Avenue because interest in Ancient Egypt was very fashionable at the time. Its main feature is a giant cedar of Lebanon tree which had been in the manor grounds from which the land was purchased.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

Egyptian Avenue was meant to impress.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

The giant cedar of Lebanon looms over the graves.

Post-Victorian Tombs in Highgate Cemetery

Highgate cemetery now has over 170,000 people in 50,000+ graves.  The most famous person buried in Highgate Cemetery is Karl Marx (on the Highgate East side). I thought his tomb was one of the less attractive ones. The giant head looming over everything is, in fact, a bit disconcerting.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

Karl Marx, has a ginormous head stone, marking his last resting place.

You know what’s funny?  Marx being buried in Highgate which is full of the middle-class capitalists that he despised.  You would have to search hard to find any members of the proletariat like he intended (factory workers).  At least he is in the vicinity of the nannies, drivers, housekeepers etc. which can substitute for his proles and the wealthy champagne socialists that hire them.

I was surprised to learn that the cemetery still accepts corpses for burial. With the changing demographics of North London, it has become popular with the Russians. I saw the tomb for Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian who was poisoned using polonium in 2006 in what is widely believed to be a Russian-government ordered execution. He was buried in a lead-lined coffin so that the poison wouldn’t leak into the environment.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

The cemetery staff feed the pack of urban foxes who hang out in the cemetery.

Visiting Highgate Cemetery

You can book tours online for Highgate Cemetery directly at their website. You can only visit the Highgate West side (which is the most overgrown and architecturally interesting) on a guided visit.  I really enjoyed my visit which was fascinating and educational thanks to the excellent guide/volunteer who really knew his stuff.

A Guided Tour of Highgate Cemetery in North London

Something off the usual tourist path – A tour of the Victorian Highgate Cemetery.

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Photo Gallery:  A Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Through Big Sur

Photo Gallery: A Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Through Big Sur

The famed landscape of Big Sur in California is nearly vertical with the Santa Lucia mountains behind you and the rocky cliffs to the sea in front of you. On our Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur this summer, both natural and man-made marvels were spread out before us.  The PCH is merely a strip of masking tape stuck onto the side of the mountains, a thin man-made edge where tourists flock to peer over the sheer drop to the ocean below.

We did the drive over the course of a day (primarily because the luxury accommodation in the area is not family-friendly).  Moreover, my kids were over the rugged natural beauty of the coastline after an hour.  (“It’s just trees!” “Why is there no WiFi?” “Can we have our iPads?”).  Heathens.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

A photo gallery of our Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur.

I’ve always wanted to see Big Sur ever since I saw some of Ansel Adams’ photographs of the area as a child.  Ansel Adams lived on the Monterey Peninsula in the mid-20th century for over 20 years which gave him plenty of time to photograph the area. Adams was instrumental in protecting Big Sur as a conservation area for future generations.

If we join together to accomplish the preservation of our Big Sur Coast I will feel I have had a life fully lived.

Ansel Adams

This quote comes from a man who is a legend for his black and white photographs of the American landscape!  You may not recognise the name but you will probably recognise some of his photos if you see them.

A Road Trip of Big Sur

Big Sur is a 90 mile stretch between Carmel and San Simeon along the central coast of California. Approximately 3-4 million tourists take this Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur.

There are plenty of road-side pit stops you can make to take in the fantastic views.  We only stopped for lunch in Big Sur because the state parks were all closed when we visited.  There were two major forest fires in the area.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

The Santa Lucia mountains shrouded in mist.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

Lots of secluded beaches because it’s pretty hard to get down to them!

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

Rock carved by the steady lapping of water.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

Built in 1932, the concrete spans of the Bixby Bridge are widely photographed.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

The rugged coastline kept most settlers away until the the 1960’s.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

The rugged coastline were the sea and the mist meet on the horizon.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

This is the sort of shoreline that really needs a lighthouse.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

More sand, sea and rocks. Repetitive but still pretty.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

My kids though the chipmunks were the cutest. Too much Alvin & the Chipmunks I think.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

We could have watched these two play all day.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

The mountains recede further from the coastline as you reach St Simeon.

Practicalities of Visiting Big Sur with Kids

Nepenthe has been a local institution since the 1940’s when the Fassett family bought the building from Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth.  Falling in love with the view, the two Hollywood stars had built a cabin getaway on the site.  The love shack never got used because they divorced in short order.  Nepenthe is still owned and operated by the Fassett family.  The current building was built by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright according to the vision of the Fassetts.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

The Phoenix statue which is the symbol of Nepenthe.

Nepenthe is famous for its burger which we thought was pretty good.  It’s a big rambling restaurant with fantastic views and decent food.  Overall, I thought the place lived more on its bygone hype and the fact that there are limited places to eat in Big Sur. There’s usually a wait for the restaurant but you can easily kill time wandering around outside and in the fabulous gift shop downstairs.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur

You can see how big the forest fire was in the summer of 2016. 90,000 acres under threat!

Thanks to its conservation status, there are only a few places to stay in Big Sur.  There are campgrounds in the state parks as well as some nicer hotels in the area. The area has limited WiFi.

If you want to stay in Big Sur in relative comfort, it’s a good idea to ditch the kids.  Both the Ventana Inn and Spa  and the Post Ranch Inn takes rustic chic to new levels.  Both luxury hotels are also adults-only. The Ventana Inn and Spa was built by writer Lawrence Specter from his proceeds from the iconic film, Easy Rider.  The Post Ranch Inn, an old ranch which was the homestead of W.B. Post in the 19th century, is still owned and run by the Post family. By the way, the Post Ranch Inn has a portfolio of Ansel Adams limited edition signed prints on display.

Accommodation is much cheaper and plentiful at either end of Highway One (as well as kid friendly).  We bookended our Pacific Coast Highway road trip through Big Sur by staying at the Monterey Bay Plaza and Spa Hotel at one end of the drive and then Auto Aircamp in sunny Santa Barbara at the other end.  After all the mist and cool weather of the central coast of California, we were really glad for some sunshine.

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Kooky But Not Very Spooky:  The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

Kooky But Not Very Spooky: The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

Would you live with construction workers in your house for 24 hours/7 days a week for 38 years?  It would be enough to drive anyone mad.  Supposedly that is what Sarah Winchester did when she built the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California at the turn of the 20th century.  No one knows why she built this strange rambling house with random staircases that lead to dead ends, doors that opened onto a 2 floor drop and pillars placed upside-down. In addition, there was a tragic backstory, a reclusive woman and details that were lost in the mists of time.  After Sarah Winchester’s death, it was pretty easy to sell the house as a tourist attraction because the whole thing really was just odd.

When we left San Francisco, on our road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, we thought we would do a quick detour and see the famed Winchester Mystery House.  Although the house did not disappoint, neither did it provide thrills and chills.

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

The Winchester Mystery House is most mysterious for holding close the secrets of its former owner, Sarah Winchester.

Sarah Winchester, Eccentric Heiress

Sarah Winchester, the architect of the Winchester Mystery House, was a remarkable woman.  Born in New Haven as Sarah Pardee she was noted for her beauty and her intelligence. She spoke 5 languages and was an accomplished musician and classicist. She married William Wirt Winchester who was the son of the man who invented the Winchester rifle.

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

Some of the models of the Winchester rifles.

The Winchester Repeating Arms Company was the most successful gun company in the 19th century.  The Winchester rifle could fire 15 shots in just over 10 seconds. It became known as the ‘gun that won the West’ and was an American success story.

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

Advertisements for the Winchester Rifles which played a major part in US history.

The couple were happy, young socialites living a charmed life in New England.  Unfortunately, they lost an infant daughter to a rare disease in 1886. When William died in 1881 at the age of 43, Sarah was devastated. She traveled the world for 3 years and then eventually settled in California where she had relatives from the Pardee side of her family.

Upon William’s death, Sarah inherited $20 million dollars in cash and shares in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.  She had about a $1000 a day to spend as she wished.  She choose to spend it on her house.  Even in today’s money, Sarah’s inheritance would be considered a nice chunk of change but back in the late 19th century, it made her an enormously wealthy woman.

Is the Winchester Mystery House Haunted?

According to the legend, when Sarah was living on the East Coast, she consulted a famous medium who told her that she was a victim of the blood money of her inheritance.  All those Native Americans, civil war soldiers, outlaws, sheriffs etc who had been killed using the Winchester rifles did not go gently into that good night.  No, they were out to get her.

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

Walk through this door at your peril.

The only way for her to to appease the spirits that haunted her was to undertake living in a never-ending construction site. Clearly these ghosts were pretty spiteful.  Having lived through a house undergoing refurbishment, it is not a fate I would wish on anyone.

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

The construction foreman had a house on-site.

I wondered why Sarah Winchester would not have just given away her inheritance to charity. Without the money, the spirits had no reason to haunt her.  She neither got rid of her shares in the evil Winchester money nor the money that came from it.  The Pardee side of the family were wealthy in their own right so it wasn’t like she was going to be poor if she got rid of the Winchester money.

In any event, Sarah Winchester died in 1922 at the ripe old age of 82.  Clearly she had done a good job of outrunning malevolent spirits.  She left all the furniture in the house to her niece who put it up for auction.  Without a 160 room mansion, the furniture contained within those 160 rooms would be a little hard to store!

In 1923, the house itself was sold at auction and eventually wound up in the hands of a John Brown who saw the possibilities in opening it up as a tourist attraction.  John Brown had a history of working in carnivals and he knew how to sell a good story.

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

You can visit 110 of the 160 rooms in the house.

The Mystery House designation was given to the house in a newspaper article after a visit by famed illusionist, Harry Houdini.

If you want to read an alternative theory about Sarah Winchester, the book Captive of the Labyrinth by historian Mary Ignoffo puts forth the theory that Sarah  just wanted to be a visionary architect.  She was fascinated with the English Renaissance philosopher, Francis Bacon, Freemasonic concepts of encryption and mathematics. She wanted to build a house that was a puzzle similar to Rosslyn Chapel which figured so heavily in Freemason thought (according to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code).  Unfortunately, Sarah was born a woman in a time when women weren’t allowed to be architects and so everyone just thought she was a little crazy.

So, there you have it… a choice between a haunted house or a Masonic conspiracy.

The Winchester Mystery House Tour

Unfortunately no photographs were allowed of the inside of the house.  Here are some random facts about the Winchester Mystery House that are interesting.

  • When Mrs. Winchester bought the house it was an 8 room farmhouse set on 161 acres.  There have been so many addition and changes to the farmhouse that its now hard to know where the original house rooms would have stood.
  • The house has 10,000 window panes, 467 doorways, 160 rooms, 52 skylights, 47 fireplaces, 40 bedrooms, 40 staircases, 17 chimneys, 6 kitchens, 3 elevators, 13 bathrooms, 2 mirrors and 1 shower.
The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

It is said that only 2 people have passed through this elegant front door – Sarah Winchester and the man who installed it.

  • By 1906, the mansion was spread out over 7 floors. After the earthquake collapsed the top 3 floors, Mrs. Winchester kept it as a 4 floor house.
  • Mrs. Winchester slept in a different bedroom every night supposedly so the spirits couldn’t find her.  Well, unfortunately, after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the servants couldn’t find her either.
The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

The elaborate facade with windows … and a 2nd floor door.

Mrs. Winchester was a generous woman to her staff.  Many stayed with her for years.  She employed 18 house servants, 13 carpenters 8-10 gardeners and 2 chauffeurs.

A Winchester Mystery House Photo Gallery

The house is a mishmash of architectural styles but mostly Victorian.  Having been constructed over 38 years, architectural styles and fashion would have changed.

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

The house is surrounded by gardens which would have been more extensive in Sarah Winchester’s day.

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

On the plus side, she kept a lot of people employed.

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

turrets and clashing windows … why not?

She liked daisies because they have 13 petals. The number 13 is important to Freemason and occult mythology

She liked daisies because they have 13 petals. The number 13 is important to Freemason and occult mythology.

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

The gardens were really special. More attractive than the inside of the house which was pretty dark even on a clear summer day,

Visiting the Winchester Mystery House

There are regular tours that take you through the Winchester Mystery House.  Our tour group had about 20 people of which 5 were children.  There is nothing particularly scary in the house.  The kids thought it was more wacky and fun than scary.  Like a giant fun house at a fun fair but without the plastic ghosts jumping out at you. So, I guess in that respect the Browns were right on the money.

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose is a major tourist attraction in the area.

You have a choice of a tour of the house (1 hour) or the house and gardens (2 hours).  We choose the tour of the house which seemed just the right amount of time for our family.  You don’t visit all of the house but more parts of the house are now included in the tour than ever before.

The gardens are pretty enough to wander around on your own.  There is a cafe on site and a giant gift shop.  For Halloween, they have candlelight tours of the house.

The Winchester Mystery House is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.  It is a privately owned enterprise which is still be owned by descendants of the Browns.

This post is linked up with City Tripping.

MummyTravels

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Contemporary Cool at the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

Contemporary Cool at the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara prides itself on being the California Riviera (so much so that its trademarked the slogan).  A Riviera anywhere in the world conjures up images of beachside affluence and glamour.  When you think of contemporary cool, you think of Brooklyn.  What do you get when you mix the Riviera and Brooklyn?  Something that is uniquely Santa Barbara – wine tasting rooms, street art and warehouse conversions that add a bit of gritty urban edge to this relaxed coastal city.  Contemporary cool radiates out of the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara.

visiting the Funk Zone district in Santa Barbara California

There’s plenty to do even with kids in the Funk Zone district of Santa Barbara

Where is the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara?

The Funk Zone district is wedged between the Pacific Ocean, Highway 101 and the Santa Barbara Amtrak Station.  The perimeter streets of the area are State, Cabrillo, Garden and Montecito. It is a short distance to the well-touristed Stearns Wharf area.

In historical times, this neighbourhood held the manufacturing and marine industries in the area. In that respect, it is similar to Cannery Row in Monterey.  Since the late 1980’s the area’s warehouses have been taken over by artists and alternative businesses.

Contemporary Cool at the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

You can see more Tolix chairs in this warehouse conversion cafe.

Fear not, hipsters, the funk in the Funk Zone refers not to anything smelling funky but rather the funky quirkiness of the area.  Possibly in ages past it did smell funky with all the manufacturing and the fish nearby.

Contemporary Cool at the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

Exposed brick wall, tin tiles, industrial lighting & vintage print. An A+ tablescape from the Brooklyn School of Interior Design.

5 Things to do in the Funk  Zone

  1. Get Cultured

The Santa Barbara Surfing Museum is dedicated to the sport of surfing.  Keep in mind that they are only open for a few hours on Sunday though.  Keeping regular hours doesn’t really gel with the whole Hang 10 lifestyle.

The Urban Wine Trail takes you around 20+ wine tasting rooms for local vineyards.  Many of the tasting rooms are in the Funk Zone district.

Santa Barbara Winery (established in 1962) was around long before Funk Zone got trendy.

Santa Barbara Winery (established in 1962) was around long before Funk Zone got trendy.

The Arts Fund is a community gallery exhibiting local emerging talent, including teen artists.  There is a Funk Zone Art Walk every Friday evening from 5-8 pm where the galleries stay open for visitors.

Contemporary Cool at the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

I love the dripping paint exterior of this arts community centre.

2. Eat Up

For casual fare, the Lucky Penny has salads and sandwiches as well as excellent coffee.  The Lark is a bit more fancy with its farm-to-table dining ethos.

Contemporary Cool at the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

The Lucky Penny cafe is covered in pennies.

Contemporary Cool at the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

Mixed color Tolix chairs go with the industrial vintage vibe.

3. Drink Some More

There are so many wine tasting rooms, bars etc. that it would be criminal not to keep these enterprises afloat.  If you are a beer lover, there’s locally brewed craft beer at the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company.

Contemporary Cool at the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

Flowers in a vintage bathtub, too cool for school

4. Brave Traffic

For cycling fun of both the two wheel and the four wheel surrey kind, check out Wheel Fun Rentals.  We had done the silly surrey in Monterey though and were ready for something more epic.  Unfortunately, the kids still aren’t tall enough for Segways (available from Segway of Santa Barbara).

Caving into the kids’ pleas, we decided to test the limits of California road safety with a three-wheeled SB Buggie. Basically it is a two seater scooter that putters along on regular  roads with the minimum of steering and ignition. If you want to turn you need to do a really wide turn and hope no one is coming fast towards you.  There’s no reverse function either. It is a lot of fun though once you get used to it.

Contemporary Cool at the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

We looked silly but we had a lot of fun.

5. Shop!

There’s plenty of shopping available in the area from the random touristy stuff to the more avant-garde stuff.

Our favourite shopping was in a truck parked on the street.  Technically Stabiles calls itself a mobile boutique (not a shopping truck) that sells artisanal goods.  We bought a tillandsia (an air plant) that sits on its own artisanal stand (excuse me, sculpture).

Contemporary Cool at the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

A shopping truck selling home accessories.

Air plant sculptures done by local artist, Sam Guzman. Loved it so much, I bought one.

Air plant sculptures done by local artist, Sam Guzman. Loved it so much, I bought one.

For other things to do, check out the Funk Zone website for the latest happenings.  Spending the day here is an enjoyable alternative to the white bread affluence of the rest of Santa Barbara (with or without kids).

A Photo Gallery of the Funk Zone

It’s much easier to show you the contemporary cool that is the Funk Zone rather than to explain it in words.

Contemporary Cool at the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

Industrial paraphernalia used as planters.

Contemporary Cool at the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

My kids were fascinated with the Lucky Penny’s penny coins exterior.

I could wile away the time with a glass or two of wine here.

I could wile away the time with a glass or two of wine here.

Contemporary Cool at the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

I love the use of old vintage windows as partitions.

Contemporary Cool at the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara

A whole store devoted to stand up paddle boards.

visiting the Funk Zone district in Santa Barbara California

Practicalities for Visiting

There are a couple of hotels in the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara, including Hotel Indigo (an eco-friendly boutique hotel) and the Harbor View Inn (across the street from the beach).

In keeping with our search for vintage coolness, we stayed at AutoCamp Santa Barbara which has restored vintage Airstreams available to hire similar to a hotel room.  Our Airstream was adorable with a tiny kitchen, tinier bathroom and flat-screen TV.  We had a double bed for ourselves and a pull out double bed for the children.  Outside the Airstream, there is a little patio area with a gas grill, a couple of Adirondack chairs and two adult bicycles for  your use.

Autocamp Santa Barbara rents out restored vintage Airstreams for tourists.

Autocamp Santa Barbara rents out restored vintage Airstreams for tourists.

AutoCamp Santa Barbara has its 6 Airstreams located at one edge of a regular trailer park. I wondered what the families who live in the rest of the trailer park make of the steady stream of tourists who use AutoCamp. The Airstreams were all in use when we used AutoCamp. The family next door to us were tourists from London too.  They were bemoaning how crazy expensive the USA was because the value of the British pound has plummeted thanks to Brexit.

Our kids absolutely loved the Airstream.  My husband and I felt we were sandwiched in a sardine can.  I preferred the Bacara Resort and Spa which is where we stayed last time we were in Santa Barbara.  It’s got a great spa, pools, beach access and nice views of the oil rigs off the California coast.  The Airstream was a fun experience but really it’s not my thing.

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This article is linked up with City Tripping.

Wander Mum