Oct. 3, 2021

Whaley House // 78 // Supernatural // Haunted

Whaley House // 78 // Supernatural // Haunted

The Whaley House is located in San Diego, California and is considered to be one of the most haunted houses in America.  The land was purchased in 1855, but many people believe that the home was destined to be haunted before it was ever built.  The land itself had seen many tragedies over the years including one of the town's most famous public executions.  Several of the Whaley family members are believed to be haunting the house and people say that Thomas Whaley is the most active spirit.


BOOK: The Kumeyaay, The Whaley House And The Ghosts by Misty Smith

The Whaley House is located in San Diego, California and is considered to be one of the most haunted houses in America. It was dubbed this by Time Magazine and the Travel channel's TV show America's Most Haunted. The land was purchased in 1855, but many people believe this home was destined to be haunted before it was ever built. The land itself had seen many tragedies over the years including one of the town's most famous public executions. Before we even talk about the house, we need to travel back to the 1700s. A group of Native Americans called the Kumeyeaay resided in Old Town, San Diego. They were being abused, enslaved, and forced to convert their religion. Father Junipero Serra (hunEpado Serra) established the first San Diego Mission on Presidio Hill and this was officially proclaimed a Spanish Presidio on January 1st 1774. This was located close to the land that would be the future Whaley House. The Whaley House is only one of two properties recognized by the US government as being officially haunted. 

This land was a place of religious conversion and ended up being a safe haven after the Kumeyaay attack on the Mission San Diego de Alcala. On this land, Father Junipero Serra (hunEpado Serra) forced native peoples to convert religions. Many of them attempted to escape, but they were hunted down and many lives were lost. In the book, it states that 16,000 Kumeyeaay were baptized over a ten year period, but by the end of this time, 9,000 had died. Diseases were brought in and malaria and smallpox swept through the Kumeyaay. Many people had to be buried in a very short amount of time as the death toll was rising, the burial ground expanded and numerous graves are believed to be on the Whaley property.

Thomas Whaley was an entrepreneur. His parents ran a business selling hardware and woodwork in New York. In 1849 when Thomas was 26, he headed to San Francisco to take advantage of the California Gold Rush. He was a business savvy man that had knowledge of running a store and he opened his own store on Montgomery St. and had a two story home with a view of the San Francisco Bay. Unfortunately, all of his buildings were destroyed by an arsonist in May of 1851 Thomas was pretty devastated and he had to postpone his wedding plans. A friend of his told him he should move to San Diego to start up a new business. Two years later, he made enough money to get back to New York and marry his sweetheart, Anna.

The Whaley House was built in 1856 through 1857 in the Old Town area of San Diego and this was built on top of the land with such terrible history. The Whaley House is one of the oldest brick structures in southern California and it served many purposes. It was a family home, store, courthouse, school, and theater. Thomas figured it would be much tougher for arsonists to target his store when it was attached to the family home. It was one of the most luxurious and upscale homes in the area and is described as a classic example of mid-nineteenth century Greek Revival architecture. The Kumeyaay actually helped with the construction of the house, but their relationship with the Whaley's seemed to be pretty poor. According to records, the Whaley's employed and sold goods to the Kumeyaay, but it appears to be more of a slavery type situation. Thomas Whaley had records of his purchase of a young Kumeyaay girl. She was supposed to work for him, but she ran away and he had to pay for her again. 

Thomas Whaley intensified the riff between himself and the Kumeyaay when he was part of the 12 men on a firing squad that ended the life of Antonio Garra who was found guilty of the Indian uprising at a homestead known as Warner's Ranch. Antonio was the chief of the Cupeno (koo-pane-yoh) tribe. The land that would become the Whaley House residence was also the site of a public gallows. Thomas Whaley even witnessed an execution on the very land that he later purchased. I hate to say he was asking for trouble, but seriously?! Yankee Jim Robinson was an accused boat and horse thief, and also a possible murder suspect and he was hanged. He was beaten and barely conscious due to a head wound. It was reported in the Los Angeles Herald paper that Yankee Jim was standing on a wagon waiting to be executed. The wagon started to slowly move forward, and he kept his feet on the wagon as long as possible. Once he finally slid off the wagon, his body swung back and forth like a pendulum, it took 45 minutes for this man to die because his toes were dragging on the ground. The drop was too short for the size of his body. He was 6'4” and since he was hung too low, there wasn't enough force to snap his neck. There were two accomplices in the boat theft and they were only sentenced to a year in prison. Thomas Whaley, being the entrepreneur he was, thought to himself, I could get this land for a great price because no one would want this after it's been used for executions.

Thomas Whaley designed the home himself and said, “My new house when completed, will be the most handsome, most comfortable, and convenient place in town or within 150 miles of here.” As soon as The Whaley house was completed in 1857, his family moved in and began hearing heavy booted footsteps walking around the house. Thomas Whaley said the sound was like boots from a very large man and eventually decided it must be the ghost of Yankee Jim. The Whaley's weren't the only people that lived in the home at this time. Thomas often rented out rooms of his home and most of the rooms on the first floor were for commercial or public use. The only rooms on the first floor that the family really used were the office, dining room, and kitchen. Initially, the kitchen was actually built outside the home to prevent house fires, but the kitchen was later added to the house. 

The guest room was half-way up the staircase, off a landing. This room was used as a birthing room and a sick room. The bedrooms were located on the second floor, and the Whaley's had a a vegetable and flower garden and a courtyard outside. The Whaley's did realize that the General Store was too far from the heart of the community and they weren't making a lot of money. Thomas decided to move the store to the main plaza in New Town San Diego. By 1857, Thomas and Anna had three children; Francis, Thomas, and Anna. In 1858, the store on the Plaza was burned down by an arsonist and their 18 month old son, Thomas, died of Scarlet Fever. This took place in their brand new home, so they ended up moving out for a bit. The Whaley family went back to their previous home on the San Francisco Bay and they rented out both floors of their San Diego home. 

Thomas was able to get work as a U.S. Army Commissary Storekeeper and he and his wife had three more kids; George, Violet, and Corinne who was mainly called Lillian. The family remained where they were for nine years and in 1867, Thomas was sent away to help set up a store in Sitka, Alaska. He was also elected to be a councilman in Sitka in 1867. In 1868, there was a San Francisco earthquake and the family decided to move back to their brick home in San Diego. Thomas had received some inheritance money and was able to fix up the brick house and rented out their master bedroom for a few months.

In October 1868, the Tanner Troupe Theater was operating out of the front upstairs bedroom. The room was able to accommodate 150 guests, but it was standing room only and the ladies weren't allowed to wear their hoop skirts because they'd take up too much room. One of the members accused his girlfriend of infidelity. He stabbed her and chased her into the rose garden and murdered her. In August, part of the mansion was rented out to San Diego County as a courtroom. The courtroom served as the town morgue. 

In August of 1869, the County of San Diego signed a two year lease to use the first floor space as their County Courthouse and they were also using three of the upstairs rooms for storage of court records. This didn't end up working in the family's favor though. Initially, it was great because they were getting a decent income off of this deal, but in July of 1870, the people in New Town San Diego voted to move the court house so it would be more convenient for them. The city decided that they didn't want to wait for the lease to end. On April 4th, 1871, at 2 AM, the Sheriff, Supervisor, and other townspeople ransacked the Whaley House while Thomas was out of town. They just stormed in there and held a mother and her children at gunpoint. It's rumored that they held the family on the ninth stair and that's where people often feel a chill. The court papers and court furniture were all removed from the house and the County decided that they no longer owed money for rent. According to an article I read, it was mentioned that Thomas tried to fight this for twenty years and get compensated for the damages from his home being ransacked, but the city didn't give him anything.

From 1874 to 1879, the Whaley family struggled financially. Thomas was looking for work and went to New York. He was able to go back to his family in San Diego in 1881 and he was now working in real estate. He set up an office and things were going really well. In 1882, two of his daughters, Anna, and Violet both got married. Anna married her cousin John and Violet married a guy named George T. Bertolacii. After just two weeks of being married, he left her which caused a ton of humiliation for Violet. Her husband had given her a fake name and had many aliases because he was a con man. Divorce meant that the townspeople pretty much had to shun her and I'm sure it brought a lot of embarrassment to her family. She was no longer a proper lady. On August, 18th, 1885, Violet shot herself in the Whaley home with her father's gun. Thomas found her and carried her to the parlor couch and she died. Supposedly, the death was very suspicious and some people believe her father or sister, Lillian may have murdered her. There was a suicide note that said: Mad from life's history, swift to death's mystery' glad to be hurled, anywhere, anywhere, out of this world. The note is a passage from 'Bridge of Sighs' a poem by Thomas Hood. This whole thing was just too scandalous for Lillian's first cousin husband to handle and he left her.

The mother, Anna decided that they need to move again. She stated that the property was doomed and was the cause of all the tragedy in her life. Thomas built a one story single frame house for his family in New Town San Diego so they could move. He had to retire in 1888 due to his failing health. His son, Francis, took over the family business and Thomas died in their new home in 1890. The Whaley House that had seen all the tragedies now belonged to Francis, but it stood vacant for almost 20 years. In 1909 he decided to move back to the home and finished some restorations. There was another historic home in town that was bringing in tourists and was getting a lot of attention. Francis put signs up about the Whaley House stories. After fixing the place up for three years, he moved his mother, Anna, his sister Lillian, and brother George into the house. The mother, Anna, died in the home on February 24th, 1913. Francis ended up dying in the house on November 19th, 1914. George was in the house for 16 years and died in the home in 1928. The only one left was Lillian and she lived there until 1953, when she had a bad fall due to her dementia. Under court order, the house was liquidated to pay for her care and she died a month later. The property was put up for sale and was a possible tear down to make room for a new building, but preservation activists in San Diego worked hard to save the home.

The County of San Diego took ownership of the home and began the restoration process. They partnered with The Historic Shrine Foundation and the house was restored and open for public tours in 1960. In the year 2000, Save Our Heritage Organization or SOHO took over the house and was committed to restoring the Whaley House to the way it looked when they were there. They wanted it to be very authentic. They used the original plans that were drawn by Thomas Whaley himself. When Francis had taken over the house, he changed many things, so they basically had to change it all back and un-do his renovations/upgrades.

Experiences by staff and visitors:

Rocking chairs move on their own and chandeliers swing.

The piano will play on it's own, or people can hear singing

Doors and windows close and open on their own

Voices can be heard

Silverware clinks

Bread and pies can be smelled especially around the holidays

People smell Cuban tobacco which were the cigars Thomas loved and they also smell Anna's French perfume

Several of the Whaley family members are believed to be haunting the house and many people say that Thomas Whaley is the most active spirit. Thomas, the father, is often seen wearing a long coat and a top hat and people can hear him laughing. He can be seen all through the house, but is typically at the top of the stairs or in the master bedroom.

Mother Anna seems to keep a watchful eye on all of the visitors. When her daughter Lillian was alive, she wrote about seeing the spirits of her parents in the house. Anna actually appeared in front of Regis Philbin when he toured the home one time. She often hangs out in the parlor, but has been known to appear on the second floor as well. She keeps herself busy cooking and people often smell fresh baked bread or pies coming from the kitchen.

Yankee Jim appears stomps around the house and hangs around the ninth stair and people believe that's in the spot of his 45 minute torturous death. Some people have said they feel a tightness around their necks in this area. During tours, Yankee Jim has been seen behind the tour guides. 

The daughter, Violet is sensed on the second floor near the bedrooms and hallway. She also stands in the archway of the parlor which is where she died.

Thomas Jr. can be heard crying in his parent's bedroom. You can also hear tiny baby feet running around the second floor.

Legend says that a young neighbor known as the Washburn child died while running across the Whaley House property. She was running and didn't see the clothesline which crushed her trachea. She was brought into the kitchen and died. Many stories say that the child was named Annabelle or Carrie Washburn, but people that are part of SOHO say this is not a true story. It was made up by the company that owned the Whaley House prior to them. There is a spirit of a little red-haired girl in the kitchen, but they say her name was Marion Reynolds and she was the Whaley's great-granddaughter. She died in 1913 on her way home from visiting the Whaley's. She found a cookie on the dining room floor and ate it, but it was actually rat poison. This child has been seen playing with the toys in the playroom and it's believed that she's the one that moves the meat cleaver around in the kitchen.

There's a woman in the courtroom wearing a long full skirt and a cap over her dark hair. She has dark eyes and wears gold hoop earrings. 

The Whaley's had a terrier named Dolly Varden that has been seen.

June Reading, who was the curator of the museum said, “We had a little girl pherhaps 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.” 

The Whaley family descendants have donated many original artifacts to the museum such as Thomas' books, hat and cane, musical instruments, and the original bed that was in the master bedroom.


-Dimensional discontinuity allows the transfer of spirits. This makes use of hyperdimensional physics and wormholes. This may be how spirits can travel to and from the Whaley House.

-There is a possibility that there is a psychic crossroads that constantly attracts disembodies traffic. The Whaley House is no longer furnished with just their families belongings. It actually has a collections of objects that have been donated from other families. They say that spirits are drawn to their personal belongings and now all of these items are on display in the house. 

-The Quantum Physics Law of Attraction stems from Plato's Laws of Affinity. Negative occurrences create a low frequency vibrational energy that in turn creates the conditions for more negative occurrences of the same vibrational frequency. This on is referring to all of the tragedies that occurred on the land. This area has seen a lot of high emotional energy and that can attract energy in the form of ghosts or spirits. 


Whaley House | San Diego Haunted House Guide (ghostsandgravestones.com)

Los Angeles Herald 7 October 1873 — California Digital Newspaper Collection (ucr.edu)

The Whaley House – Haunted Houses

Haunted Places: Whaley House – TPKs Stories (wordpress.com)

The Kumeyaay, the Whaley House, and the Ghosts: Mehrdad, Marsha: 9781365358609: Amazon.com: Books