Strange shoulder taps, flying pushpins: All in a day’s work at Winchester for CSUB alum


Jake Williams, who graduated from CSUB in 2016, is the marketing coordinator at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.

Staircases that lead to nowhere. Onetime balconies that are now enclosed rooms. Doors that open onto blank walls and corridors that are said to be haunted.

This bizarre place, the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, is the workplace of CSUB alumnus Jake Williams. As marketing coordinator, he has developed tours and Halloween events and now is helping sell “Winchester,” a thriller starring Helen Mirren that’s in theaters now.

Williams, a Bakersfield native who graduated with a communications degree from CSUB in 2016, also makes a brief appearance in the movie. He’s a stunt double for actor Jason Clarke, climbing across roof lines of what was a seven-story house before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

“It’s been incredibly intense, but it’s also been a great amount of fun,” Williams, 25, said of helping plan for the movie and now working with his team and CBS Films to promote it.

The Winchester Mystery House is a 160-room mansion built by Sarah Winchester, heiress to the rifle company fortune, non-stop for 38 years beginning in 1884. Legend has it that after her husband and daughter died, Winchester met with a medium in Boston who suggested she move to California, buy a house and continuously build on it to appease the spirits of people killed by the weapons her husband’s family created, Williams said.

Winchester held nightly seances with spirits to see what rooms should be built next and where, then sketched them out and directed builders to construct them, he said. The house features many curiosities, according to the Winchester Mystery House website.

There’s a window built onto a floor, stairs that reach ceilings and an apparent obsession with cobweb motifs and the number 13.

“People could argue she was crazy and insane, but I really believe it’s a good kind of crazy,” Williams said. “Not a neurotic crazy, just this, ‘I need to do this to appease my own guilt and to appease the pain of others.’”

People also say the place is haunted. It sure sounds like it, from talking to Williams.

Winchester movie promo

A few weeks into his job, Williams was sitting at his desk not realizing he was the only person in the office when a push pin flew past him, hit his corkboard and landed on his desk, he said.

“I thought it was just our graphic designer messing with me as guys do but I looked around and nobody else was in my office, nobody was in the other offices,” Williams said. “So I took that as my first initiation into the house.”

Then the night before Williams and his team launched the Explore More Tour, they held a preview night event for annual pass holders. They were gathered on the front porch steps in a semi-circle, Williams facing the front doors with no one behind him, when he felt a shoulder tap.

“I thought it was maybe one of the janitors coming over to join the conversation, but I turned around and no one was there,” Williams said. “I looked back to everyone in the semi-circle kind of puzzled and everybody was like, ‘You felt a shoulder tap, didn’t you?’ I said, ‘Yep,’ and they said, ‘Yeah, that happens.’”

“Nothing here is mean or vicious,” he was quick to add. “At the very worst I would say whatever has happened to tour guides or guests has been mischievous.”

The bulk of “Winchester” was filmed on studio sets in Australia but there were about three days of filming at the actual house last May. Williams helped shut down the house – a rare occurrence – so the crews could get exterior shots from a drone and interior shots in the house.

Williams also served as a stunt double for Clarke, whose character is summoned to the house by Winchester.

“I climbed across roof lines as Dr. Eric Price, and it made the final cut,” he said. “That’s my small little claim to Hollywood fame.”


Williams came to work for the Winchester Mystery House in the summer of 2016. The job couldn’t have come along at a better time. He’d lost his job and his wife, Hailey, was pregnant.

In fact, Williams was offered the job just hours after their son, Archer, was born.

He had to hit the ground running.

At one of his first work meetings, Williams was tasked with launching Halloween candlelight tours in just five months.  As soon as that was done, he was made project manager of the first daytime tour in more than 20 years, which involved opening more than 30 rooms that had never been accessible to the public in 94 years of tour history. Then the movie came along.

As Williams puts it, things have been “rocking and rolling” since day one of the job.

“My dream for a long time was to work for Disney. Plans change,” he said. “This was and is an absolutely fantastic start to a career that I’m incredibly happy to be in.”