The Sarah Winchester Movie: A Former Winchester Tour Guide Weighs in on What Should be Included

Winchester_Mystery_House_(door_to_nowhere)

Will the Sarah Winchester movie be a hit? Or will it go…nowhere?

As many of you San Jose enthusiasts already are well aware, Helen Mirren is slated to play our beloved Sarah Winchester in a movie sometime in the next year. We’re already dying of curiosity to see what type of angle this movie takes.

So what should the movie include? We thought that the best person to ask is someone deeply familiar with the Winchester story, and the mansion itself. Cue our resident Winchester expert Brian, former Winchester Mystery House tour guide. Here are his thoughts on some ways Hollywood can maximize the story.

The earthquake
“If there’s one scene that I would love to see put to screen, it would be the 1906 earthquake. The mansion used to be considerably larger than it is now, and the most spectacular piece was the large, 7 story tower. Following the earthquake it was so damaged that it had to come down (and an entire wing of the mansion was sealed off to boot), but it’d be very slick to Hollywood that up. Add in the shrieking of angry spirits and so forth as the gigantic 7 story tower goes toppling down to the path below. And it should also probably explode.

In seriousness, though, it seems like the earthquake had a pretty profound effect on Sarah. She was trapped in an unfinished room for several hours, and while I’m not sure that she blamed the spirits for the earthquake, she definitely blamed them for her being stuck in that part of the mansion. She boarded it off (basically the entire front part of the mansion, aka the only part of the mansion that actually looks a little bit nice) and focused more on cheap, rapid, eternal building. That’s one of the reasons for the varied designs you see when you walk through the house. You have her initial, crazy stage where she’s trying all sorts of fun, kooky stuff (the secret passages, traps, and so forth). Then she gets to the, “Oh… wait… I’m rich…” portion, where she tries to make things look like a rich person’s home. Then the earthquake hits and suddenly she goes into the “clearly I’m not building fast enough” phase, where she just builds as cheap and fast as humanly possible.”

The supernatural

Meet Brian!

Meet Brian!

“If they’re going to go with the ghost angle, it might be fun to have the workers (who are supposed to be the current ongoing residents of the mansion, not Sarah) start developing their unnatural connection to the place. Like you could have one of them quit and move away, but the work crew continues to see him around the site. They could even telegraph him to make sure he’s not still around, but he’s just sort of left this permanent imprint. Or you could have them develop their own superstitions and paranoias about various portions of the house.

There was one spot in there that always freaked me out at the end of the day. When we would shut the lights off and begin to close up, there was a long hallway that had an intersection with another long hallway. No matter which way you looked: in front of you, behind you, to the left or to the right, the hallways stretched straight away into dark eternity. I HATED that part of the mansion. I can’t help but imagine that the workers would develop their own aversions, maybe particularly to the sealed off front part of the house.”

The Winchester rifle victims
“Another supernatural angle: what if the ghosts of the people killed by the Winchesters forgot how to be human, and so they started imitating the workers whose routines were predictable and constant? So the ghosts at the mansion today are actually the same ones Sarah was afraid of, only they behave like the workers they observed for so long.”

What do you think should be included in the movie?

Great Scott! San Jose has a Back to the Future Connection!

Century DomeBack to the Future Day may have come and gone however its celebration allowed us here at SearchlightSJ to go back to the past and find an interesting San Jose connection to the film.  The bonus features include commentary from Bob Gale, the Co-Creator of the trilogy.  In the commentary Gale describes the first public screening of the film in which movie-goers entered the theater not knowing what to expect and left not wanting the fun to end.  Steven Spielberg remarks that other than E.T. the first screening of Back to the Future was the greatest preview he had ever seen.  Where would such an enthusiastic and fun audience come from?  From San Jose of course!  In May of 1985 Back to the Future received its first test screening at the Century Domes Theater Complex off of Winchester (the dome has since been granted historic building status by the City of San Jose saving the now defunct theater from the wrecking ball).  The screening went so well that the release date was moved up from mid-August to July 3rd in order to capture larger summer audiences.  It also resulted in the removal of over 6 minutes of footage which are now available as bonus scenes in the DVD and Blu-ray releases of the trilogy.

One question remains unanswered surrounding the screening; what prompted the creators of Back to the Future to hold their first screening in San Jose and not at Universal?  Spielberg, with his South Bay ties, may have had familiarity with the dome which was completed in 1964, a year prior to his graduation from Saratoga High School.   Perhaps more importantly, the creators of Back to the Future wanted an initial screening to occur without the presence of studio executives to maintain creative control over the film.  Following the screening several minor tweaks were made before a formal screening at Universal Studios which included studio executive who gave their immediate approval of the film.  Regardless the reason of how the sneak peek ended up at the Century Domes it just goes to show that whether back to the future or back to the past, we can always bring it back around to San Jose.

Hicks Road: Haunted or Hyped?

hicksAs a YA reader in the ‘90’s and In honor of the Goosebumps movie (coming to a theater near you in October!) I wanted to cover a topic that has been the fodder of many a San Jose sleepover story: Hicks Road.

Situated alongside Almaden Quicksilver County Park, Hicks Road has become legendary in San Jose for all the wrong reasons. If you even mention it in driving directions, you’ll get a “oh hayyyllllllll no” response and a request for a different route. Hearing the stories about what makes Hicks Road so dang creepy might turn you as ghostly white as the albinos rumored to inhabit the area. Which leads me to the first piece of Hicks Lore.

The Albinos

There’s said to be a community of albinos (in some versions of the story, Satanic albinos) on Hicks that are rather wary of visitors. They reside in what people have spun as either harmless “small trailer homes” or “creepy huts,” once you turn right at a fork in the road onto a no-through street. While hard evidence of their hostility towards “out-of-streeters” is a bit hard to come by, there are some favorite anecdotes, for instance, this gem:

“He was coming after us in his Jeep…my buddy got a good look and said he was hella’ white.”

…or one brilliant skeptic who simply asserts:

“I personally do not believe in albinos.”

Oh NorCal.

The Devil’s Door

…is a giant rock. With a door painted on it.

The Movie

San Jose, perhaps desperate for a solidly great urban legend, has seen stories of Hicks Road perpetuate through several decades. And its influence has even made it to the silver screen. Several college students produced a short Blair Witch-style movie called—appropriately— Hicks Road in 2009. Here’s the plot summary:

The urban legend of Hicks Road has captured the minds and thoughts of many residents in San Jose, California. And especially the imagination of four college students that grew up hearing the story again and again. These four curiosity seekers attempt to find out what is really going on in the shadows of Hicks Road. But little do they know that what lies ahead will haunt and change them for the rest of their lives…

 

It may not be The Hills Have Eyes, but it’s something.

The Threatening Motorists in Cars That Are, Like, WAY Faster Than Yours

One of our own Searchlighters had a late-night experience on Hicks that left him convinced that the hype is true. Here’s his version of the story:

It was a dark and stormy night, or at least, 15 years later in my mind it was.  As bored South San Jose teenagers we were sick of roaming the halls of Oakridge, sitting outside of Starbucks, or killing time at the Cardinal Lounge so we decided to go for some real adventure – a trip on Hicks Road.  About five minutes after turning onto the road an old busted up pickup truck raced up behind our car.  The driver flashed his high beams multiple times so we assumed he simply wanted to pass.  We pulled off into the first turn off and the truck slammed on its breaks behind us, high beams still shining bright and the driver opened his door and exited carrying a large object which in our retellings of the story has been everything from a shotgun to a fishing pole. The screams from our vehicle could be heard from Quicksilver park to Old Almaden and we hit the gas and raced off of Hicks as quickly as possible.  Was he albino?  Hard to tell.  Was he Satanic?  I suppose it’s possible.  Was he a poor local who lives off of Hicks and hates having teenagers who are terrible drivers and likely up to nefarious activities roaming around his neighborhood?  Probably yes but on that fateful night he was only one thing; our worst nightmares. 

HicksRoad

The Road Itself

As the paved road gives way to dirt, abandoned cars, sketchy messages on cardboard, and people threatening you with shotguns make Hicks, well, potentially “less-than-friendly.” And maybe not where you want to teach your teenager to drive.

If you want to brave the road, just get on Camden from 85 and head for the hills. It might turn out to be no big deal. It might turn out to be the stuff nightmares are made of.

But ultimately, the way I see it, how scary can a road that scales a hill called “Mt. Umunhum” be?

Setting Sail on the Mighty Guadalupe

A few of our favorite San Jose sites had recent posts about the short lived Guadalupe Lake, a small lake with boat rentals that was formed in 1914 with the damming of the Guadalupe River.   This got us wondering here at Searchlight SJ, when the rains return and the Guadalupe rises, is the river still navigable by boat?  After some extensive searching we came across this intriguing and somewhat amazing sign:

riversign

That’s right, brown water rafting (new favorite term) right here in our own backyard!  In rainy years the Guadalupe can be floated on in several different areas.  One particularly memorable route sets sail from Park Ave downtown and takes you all the way into the Alviso Slough that feeds into the Bay.  One veteran of these trips recommends that they be made in early spring, only after a winter with strong rains.

Sadly there are no dedicated Guadalupe River guides however experienced kayakers can learn about some of San Jose’s urban runs here.  Care to take your urban kayaking to the next level?  Check out this Stanford Kayak Club video where members not only found Guadalupe River runs, but also some fast moving surf under 880 perfect for back flips and barrel rolls.   For those less adventurous the recently completed Alviso Slough boat dock offers gentle kayaking at the southernmost tip of the Bay.

Bon voyage!

Hot Dog!

A culinary trip to east San Jose conjures up thoughts of the delicious Salsa Festival, a bowl of warm Pho on a cold day, or brightly colored helados from a push cart.  Chances are you don’t think of classic style hot dogs when you head east of 101 however at Mark’s Hot Dogs at 48 South Capitol Ave that’s exactly what you’ll find.  What may be the last San Jose restaurant to provide carhop service Mark’s has been serving up delicious dogs since 1936 out of a tiny round orange building that can only be described as Flinstonian.

The hot dog stand has moved several times in the last 75 years and most recently relocated to its current location in 2000.  Fortunately the unique hut has remained intact and proves to be impossible to miss if you happen to drive by.  While the dogs won’t send ripples through the restaurant world they are big, messy, and cheap and above all the novelty of being served meat products in your parked car out of a building that looks like a big piece of fruit makes the trip well worth it.

Secrets of the Library

What does a secret hiding spot, a hilarious window, and a really creepy lock of aged hair have in common? They’re all part of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. library in San Jose, which is so much more than a bunch of books and college students half-reading them. If you’re meandering through downtown, stop in at the library and check out these hidden gems along with a favorite book:

Secret in the Browsing Library: On the first floor of the library in the area labeled “Browsing Library” you’ll find a Harry Potter-esque secret hiding space. One of the bookshelves, when pushed, will swing open and reveal a space large enough to hide inside.

Spinning bookshelf

The Reason Why San Jose is the North American Vienna: Thanks to a donation in the early ‘80’s by avid Beethoven collector, Ira F. Brilliant, the DMLK library’s third floor houses the largest collection of Beethoven paraphernalia outside of Europe. An impressive collection of fortepianos, manuscripts in Beethoven’s own handwriting, and…yes…a now famous lock of Beethoven’s hair (clipped off of his dead body by a visitor to the funeral home where he was temporarily housed *shudder*), make this museum a must-see if you’re making your way through the library’s oddities.

Fortepianos at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library

The oldest lock of hair in the MLK library

Alice’s Adventures in the Elevator: In the southernmost elevator on the first floor of the library, you’ll see a door that is totally inefficient for anyone riding up to check out a science textbook, but just perfect if you’re 2 feet tall and fixing to go to Wonderland. The door, otherwise known as the “Hatch,” is a work of art by Mel Chin, who contributed to artistic installations throughout the library.

The Hatch

The Burned and the Banned: Throughout the library are bookshelves that stand over “vaults” of books that have been burned or otherwise banned in the past.

Wisecracking Windows: On the 7th floor bridge you’ll find a window paying homage to artist Marcel Duchamp’s “Large Glass.” Look closely and you’ll find that the cracks are comprised of eensy-weensy etched jokes and puns.

Am I hearing things?: On the third floor around call numbers 642-658, you’ll hear the sound of pages turning above you followed by the sound of a book closing as you reach the end of the row.

Finish your trip to the library with a literature-themed sandwich from On Fourth: A Novel Café on the ground floor. (I highly recommend the “Great Gatsby!”) For a complete list of oddities to round out your library scavenger hunt, visit http://www.sjlibrary.org/melchin-art-list.

Dookie in the Park

Quetzalcoatl

Yes, children are climbing on it, and yes, I find that gross too.

Ascending nearly 8 feet into the sky above Plaza de Cesar Chavez in San Jose, is the “plumed serpent,” a fearsome Aztec deity, the anthropomorphic god of the morning star…who, very unfortunately, resembles a pile of you-know-what.

Yes, San Jose’s “Quetzalcoatl” is a big, brown, steaming pile of…artistic iteration….that based on its weirdness alone makes it worthy to be visited. Erected in 1994 in downtown San Jose, this sculpture has left many confused, few inspired, but all interested in learning—why oh WHY would we let this statue reside at the end of such a prominent San Jose park?

Now, don’t all go blaming Richard Graham- San Jose’s Quetzalcoatl sculptor who was commissioned to make a piece that would honor the city’s Mexican heritage. We possibly have author D.H. Lawrence to thank for this particular rendition of the ubiquitous Aztec god based on Lawrence’s note in 1926, that existing statues of Quetzalcoatl in Mexico were “coiled like excrement.” Graham’s original vision- one of multicolored bronze, three stories high- was given the big “deny” stamp by San Jose. What they got instead was, well, visit the Plaza de Cesar Chavez and see for yourself. D.H. Lawrence…what hath thou wrought?!

If you’re anything like us you may often be tempted to string Quetzalcoatl in Christmas lights or put him in a Santa hat or dress him in an oversize bikini in the summertime. Beware! We assume that the fine for dressing up, a.k.a. “defacing” the $500,000 landmark would be extremely costly, not to mention that a charge of “getting arrested for dressing up a humungous turd like a pirate” would be a difficult blot on any permanent record to explain. Thusly, we urge anyone tempted to give our coiled colon-release a makeover to perhaps just Photoshop a Santa hat in.