Haunted or Not? We Ask the Winchester Historian

“One day, I was at the house very early when no one else was there, and I heard the clearest footsteps treading on the metal roof above me.” Meet Janan Boehme ’81, the first-ever historian of the Winchester Mystery House.

Janan And Demeter 3
Janan Boehme ’81 standing alongside a statue of the goddess Demeter in front of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. Photos provided by Boehme.

As a child, Janan Boehme ’81 fell in love with the Winchester Mystery House from the backseat window on car rides to her grandmother’s house. Over the past 45 years, Boehme found her way inside the mansion, holding various roles including tour guide, tour manager, and most recently, the first Winchester historian.

She even brought her family in to work alongside her.

“My family’s extremely ingrained in the Winchester house. For a while, my mother, brother, and I all worked on the property at the same time, and it was a lot of fun!” says Boehme. “My great-grandfather had a fruit ranch much like Sarah’s in the eastern foothills of the valley, and one of his sons went on to work for Sarah Winchester as an orchardist. The house has been in my family for a while!”

Boehme’s role as the house historian, created about seven years ago, is a perfect fit. With her deep knowledge of the mansion’s history and her decades-long association, she offers unique insights into the property’s evolution.

San Jose’s Winchester Mystery House is a sprawling and enigmatic mansion created by Sarah Winchester, the widow of the son of the Winchester rifle inventor. Known for its architectural oddities and labyrinthine design, what still remains a mystery is the motive behind Sarah’s continuous construction of the historic landmark.

Even during Sarah’s lifetime, rumors about an eccentric mansion being constructed by a wealthy socialite abounded: Did lingering ghosts of the “Gun that Won the West” haunt her?

While Boehme cannot confirm or deny the paranormal motive, she can answer every other question regarding the history and current state of the home.

The core responsibilities of Boehme’s role include addressing inquiries related to the property, such as providing copies of Sarah’s will or estate blueprints. Boehme also presents at various historical sites to share her expertise on Winchester history, allowing her to establish valuable connections with fellow Bay Area historians.

Having been intrigued by Sarah Winchester’s story since childhood, Boehme feels an energetic connection to the house, even speculating about a possible past-life connection.

Janan In North Dining Room
Boehme in the north dining room, which is believed to be one of the oldest rooms in the modest farm house that Sarah Winchester bought when she moved to San Jose in the mid-1880s. It now forms the nucleus of what eventually became her 160-room “mystery house.”

Boehme’s unexplained bond to the landmark fuels her passion for preserving and sharing the history of the Winchester Mystery House every day.

“Most only consider the estate as a tourist attraction, so a huge part of my job is really delving deep into the historical side and establishing more credibility on that front,” says Boehme. “That wasn’t as much of a focus in the past, so I am working hard to share my extensive knowledge and create more relationships with our Bay Area historical sister sites.”

Having taken language studies, art history, and photography courses at Santa Clara, Boehme consistently refers back to her time as a Bronco in her new position. “I learned so much on that campus. We have a lot of visitors from all over Europe, and I’m able to talk and interact with them all due to my language studies,” says Boehme. “The research and photography skills I developed during my time as an SCU student also continue to help me at work every day.”

When asked about her paranormal experiences at the estate, Boehme explains that she has only ever had a few auditory encounters.

“One day, I was at the house very early when no one else was there, and I heard the clearest footsteps treading on the metal roof above me, but when I went upstairs to check, nobody was there,” says Boehme. “But whatever spirits are here are very friendly. They’ve never bothered me. When I die, I’m probably going to end up haunting the place, too. I quite like it here.”

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