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"There are some human beings who are dimly aware of their own deaths, yet have chosen to stay on in what used to be their homes, to be close to surroundings they once held dear… " HANS HOLZER

Whaley House

Located in historic Old Town San Diego, the “birthplace of California,” the Whaley House stands today as a classic example of mid-nineteenth century Greek Revival architecture. Formally dedicated as a historic house museum on May 25, 1960 and open to the public ever since, it is one of San Diego’s most popular visitor destinations. Over 100,000 people visit the Whaley House annually, with guests traveling from across the globe to experience this world-renowned museum. It is owned by the County of San Diego and since November of 2000 Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) has managed the property. SOHO, a non-profit organization, has lead the community as a powerful catalyst for historic preservation by raising awareness and appreciation of our region's architectural and cultural heritage since 1969.

Few houses in San Diego are as historically important as the Whaley House. In addition to being the Whaley Family home, it housed a granary, the County Court House, San Diego’s first commercial theater, various businesses including Thomas Whaley’s own general store, a ballroom, a billiard hall, school, and polling place. Significant events, such as the siezure of the court documents and records in 1871, and the suicide of Violet Whaley in 1885 profoundly affected Thomas and Anna Whaley. These events, as well as the hangings which occurred on the property before the house was constructed, have suffused the Whaley House with an air of mystery and added to its reputation as something more than just California State Historic Landmark #65.

According to the Travel Channel’s America’s Most Haunted, the house is the number one most haunted house in the United States. The alleged hauntings of the Whaley House have been reported on numerous other television programs and been written up in countless publications and books since the house first opened as a museum in 1960. Although we cannot state positively that the Whaley House is really haunted, the voluminous documentation of paranormal occurances at the site makes a compelling case. But, if there are ghosts at the Whaley House, who are they and why are they here?

The earliest documented ghost at the Whaley House is “Yankee Jim.” James (aka Santiago) Robinson was convicted of attempted grand larceny in San Diego in 1852, and hanged on a gallows off the back of a wagon on the site where the house now stands. The local newspaper reported that he “kept his feet in the wagon as long as possible, but was finally pulled off. He swung back and forth like a pendulum until he strangled to death.” Although Thomas Whaley had been a spectator at the execution, he did not let it disuade him from buying the property a few years later and building a home for his family there. According to the San Diego Union, “soon after the couple and their children moved in, heavy footsteps were heard moving about the house. Whaley described them as sounding as though they were made by the boots of a large man. Finally he came to the conclusion that these unexplained footfalls were made by Yankee Jim Robinson.” Another source states that Lillian Whaley, the Whaleys’ youngest daughter who lived in the house until 1953, “had been convinced the ghost of “Yankee Jim” haunted the Old House.” A visitor to the museum in 1962 mentioned that “the ghost had driven her family from their visit there more than 60 years [earlier]… her mother was unnerved by the phantom walking noise and the strange way the windows unlatched and flew up.”

Many visitors to the house have reported encountering Thomas Whaley himself. The late June Reading, former curator of the museum, said, “We had a little girl perhaps 5 or 6 years old who waved to a man she said was standing in the parlor… We couldn’t see him. But often children’s sensitivity is greater than an adult’s.” However, many adults have reported seeing the apparition of Mr. Whaley, usually on the upper landing. One said he was “clad in frock coat and pantaloons, the face turned away from her, so she could not make it out. Suddenly it faded away.”

Whaley house ghosts?

Whaley House ghost Photo Sent to us by Mary Franks

The specter of Anna Whaley has also been reported, usually in the downstairs rooms or in the garden. In 1964, “Mrs. Whaley’s floating, drifting spirit appeared to [television personality Regis] Philbin.” “All of a sudden I noticed something on the wall…,” Philbin reported. “There was something filmy white—it looked like an apparition of some kind…I got so excited I couldn’t restrain myself! I flipped on the [flash]light—and nothing was there but a portrait of Anna Whaley, the long-dead mistress of the house.”

Other visitors have described seeing or sensing the presence of a woman in the courtroom. “I see a small figure of a woman,” one visitor said, “who has a swarthy complexion. She is wearing a long full skirt, reaching to the floor. The skirt appears to be a calico or gingham, small print. She has a kind of cap on her head, dark hair and eyes and she is wearing gold hoops in her pierced ears. She seems to stay in this room, lives here, I gather…” None of the Whaleys fit this description, but the house was rented out to numerous tenants over the years. Perhaps the mysterious woman in the courtroom was one of these.

Whaley House Ghost Photo Sent to us From Mike Davis

Another presence reported by visitors and docents is that of a young girl, who is usually found in the dining room. Psychic Sybil Leek encountered this spirit during a visit in the 1960s. “’It was a long-haired girl,’ Sybil said. ‘She was very quick, you know, in a longish dress. She went to the table in this room and I went to the chair.’” Urban legend has it that this is the ghost of a playmate of the Whaley children who accidentally broke her neck on a low-hanging clothesline in the backyard, and whose name was either Annabel or Carrie Washburn. There are no historic records of any child dying this way at the Whaley House; nor is there record of any family named Washburn residing in San Diego at the time. It is believed that the legend was believed to have been started by a one-time employee of the Whaley House, in an effort to add to the house’s mystique.

Even animals aren’t left out of the singular occurances. A parapsychologist reported he saw ‘a spotted dog, like a fox terrier, that ran down the hall with his ears flapping and into the dining room.’ The dog, he said, was an apparition. When they lived in the house, the Whaley’s owned a terrier named Dolly Varden.

The Whaley House stands silently watching over San Diego Avenue as it has done for a century and a half. Every day visitors come from around the world to tour the historic museum. It contains so much history within its walls, that even the non-believer will enjoy the tour. For believers and sceptics alike, the house draws them back time and again, in search of those elusive ghosts. As Regis Philbin once said, “You know a lot of people pooh-pooh it because they can’t see it. But there was something going on in that house.”


Whaley House Ghost Photo Sent ot us from Janice Potter

The house is now in the process of a major restoration. Our interpretive period is from 1856 when construction began on the house to 1885 when Thomas Whaley moved his family to a new home on State Street, with a focus on 1868 to 1871, when the Whaley House was not only the Whaley family residence, but also San Diego’s first theater, the county courthouse, and the Whaley and Crosthwaite General Store.

The building was started with the construction of a granary which later became the courtroom. The two-story house and store addition was designed by Thomas Whaley himself and constructed in 1857. It was the first two-story brick edifice in San Diego, and was built from bricks made in Thomas Whaley’s own brickyard.

The Whaley House has been structurally altered several times in its 150 years of existence. Thomas Whaley himself made changes to accommodate his businesses and growing family, including bricking up the south window of the original granary; one second floor wall was removed and a set of exterior stairs were added to the front of the house in 1868 to accommodate the Tanner Troupe Theater; Frank Whaley conducted a major remodel in late 1909-1910, altering the doors and windows on the front façade as well as the front porch; and a wooden “lean-to” structure that probably housed a bathroom was added at some point in the first half of the 20th century. Finally, in the late 1950s after the County purchased the property, many more changes were made to prepare the building to function as a museum: the existing porch was removed and replaced; the original lean–to kitchen was demolished, as was the latter-day bathroom; a doorway was added to the wall dividing the courtroom and the general store; the roof was replaced; a back window was changed to a door; a new flight of stairs was added to the back of the house; and inside courses of bricks were removed from the outer walls (and used for patching) and replaced with steel and concrete.

Whaley House Ghost face in window. Sent to us by Gerard French

SOHO’s long-term goals for the house include rebuilding the Whaley’s lean-to kitchen, restoring the front façade and porch to its original 1857 appearance, replacing the window on the back of the building, removing the back stairs, returning the grounds to a period style, and a complete interior makeover that will take the museum out of the 1960s and into the 1870s.

About the Whaley House Museum Complex

The Whaley House Complex consists of:

The Whaley House Museum, a not-to-be-missed experience that will be enjoyed by persons of all ages.

Whaley House Haunted Piano Ghost Pocture, Sent to us from Terry.

The historic Verna House, which houses the SOHO Museum Shop. This 1870s French Mansard was moved to its current location, right next to the Whaley House, to save it from demolition in 1965. The Museum Shop features Whaley House souvenirs and t-shirts, an eclectic assortment of gifts and greeting cards that will appeal to everyone, and a large selection of books on San Diego History, architecture, children’s books, art, and L. Frank Baum’s famous Oz books.
Two historic 1870s false-front buildings of which there are only one or two others in San Diego, moved from downtown San Diego to the Whaley House Complex in the 1960s to save them from demolition. The two at the Whaley House Complex currently house the New Orleans Creole Café. The Café offers indoor and outdoor patio dining.

Whaley House Courtroom ghosts sent to us by Dan Manahan

A replica nineteenth-century rustic gazebo seating area is the perfect place to relax after a hearty meal or a walk through Old Town State Park.

The historic Derby-Pendleton House. Although this 1852 wood-frame and adobe structure houses SOHO’s offices and is not open to the public, it provides a classic backdrop to the Whaley House grounds.

Group Tour Fee Schedule & Procedures

Daytime Groups:
Includes School Groups, Senior Groups, Prearranged Groups of Children, Disadvantaged or Disabled Groups, etc.
Minimum 15 people: $2.50 per person. Call (619) 297-7511 for reservations. www.whaleyhouse.org

What if someone told you the piece of ground you were standing on was known as the "Most Haunted Scariest Spot in the world"! Would you believe them?

THE MOST HAUNTED PLACE ON EART

Whaley House, Sloss Furnace, Amityville, Spittalfields, London East End, London, England, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, Oswiecim, Poland, Amityville, NY, or the Waverly Ghosts of the Kentucky Sanatorium, Bachelor's Grove, Bald Mountain Or The entire Haunted City of New Orleans. It's all up to conjecture... Haunted America Tours lets People who visit the site vote to see what they believe is the most haunted location, other paranormal sites, and television shows pick and choose their haunted places for you.

THIS STORY MAY JUST PUT A NEW REAL HAUNTED HOTSPOT ON YOUR LIST OF REAL SCARY AND MOST HAUNTED PLACES TO INVESTIGATE!

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