The Whaley House

San Diego is considered the birthplace of California. Father Junipero Serra established the mission of San Diego de Alcala on Presidio Hill on July 16, 1769. During the early 1820s, a small Mexican community was created that eventually became El Pueblo San Diego by 1835. Since it become the first permanent Spanish settlement in California, it is just as significant as Jamestown. The US flag was raised over San Diego in 1846.

San Diego is known for all of its haunts, but the most significant one is the Whaley House. It was built in 1857. As soon as the house was built, it became the center of government, social affairs, and business in San Diego. It is the oldest brick house in southern California. Over its lifetime, the Whaley House has served as a courthouse, theater, and boarding house. It was also the home of Thomas and Anna Whaley and their children. Now, the Whaley House is own and operated by the San Diego Historical Society.

Thomas Whaley was a businessman, the seventh of ten children of Scots-Irish immigrants born in New York on October 5, 1823.  He moved to San Francisco during the gold rush, and then traveled to San Diego in September 1851. Two years later, he moved back to New York and married Anna Delaunay on August 14, 1853. They moved back to San Diego on December 7, 1853, and moved into what became the Whaley House on August 22, 1857. They had six children together, Francis Hinton, Thomas Jr, Anna Amelia, George, Violet Eloise, and Corinne Lillian. Thomas Je contracted scarlet fever at only 18 months old and died on January 29, 1858.

After the death of their child, and the fire that destroyed their store, the family moved to San Francisco for a few years. During the summer of 1868, Thomas invested in some new capital stock and they moved back to San Diego. Thomas had the Whaley House fixed up, and the family moved back in on December 12, 1868.

They Whaley’s did not have a perfect life. On January 5, 1882, both Violet Eloise and Anna Amelia were married. Violet married a man named George Bertolacci, and Anna Amelia married her first cousin, John Whaley. Two weeks into Violet’s marriage, as they were traveling back east on their honeymoon, she awoke one morning to discover that her husband had left. As the family soon learned, he was a con artist who had just married Violet because of the substantial dowry he thought he would collect upon the marriage. Given the time and the societal and moral standards people were expected to stick to, Violet was shunned by polite society when she returned home. This was not only because she didn’t have a husband, but she was also unchaperoned, which was something proper ladies did not do during the late 19th century. Violet and George’s divorce was finalized about a year later, but Violet never recovered from the betrayal and humiliation, and fell into a deep depression. She would end her own life by shooting herself in the chest with her father’s 32-calibre gun on August 18, 1885 at the age of 22. Her suicide note was  a passage from “Bridge of Sighs,” by Thomas Hood. It read, “Mad from life’s history, Swift to death’s mystery; Glad to be hurled, Anywhere, anywhere, out of this world.”

Corrine was engaged when all of this happened, but due to the scandal, her fiancé broke off their engagement. After all of this Thomas built a single-story house for the family at 933 State Street in Downtown Sand Diego. The family moved in, and left the Whaley House vacant for nearly two decades.

The Whaley House fell into disrepair and Francis Whaley undertook the restoration and turned the home into a tourist attraction. The remaining family, Anna, Thomas’ widow, Corinne, Francis, and George lived in the house in 1912. At the age of 80, Anna died on February 24, 1913 in the house. Francis died a year later on November 19, 1914, and George died on January 6, 1928. Corrine continued to live there until she died in 1953.

While the Whaley Houses closes at 4 pm, passersby and police officers alike say that something or someone walks around the house at night, and will often turn the lights on and off. The tour guides have also hear footsteps coming from areas of the house that are not occupied.

Nearly every type of haunting phenomena has been encountered in the mansion. People have heard footsteps in the master bedroom and on the stairs. The windows, even after they have been fastened down with three or four-inch bolts, have opened up in the middle of the night, triggering the alarms. During tours, people have smelled food being cooked, the scent of Anna’s perfume, and the heavy aroma of Thomas’ favorite Cuban cigars. Screams have also been heard in the upstairs rooms. Rattling doorknobs and girlish giggles are also very common. At one time, a heavy china closet toppled over all on its own. People have also heard the piano in the music room being played, but nobody is allowed near the instruments. It is also common to hear the shuffling and milling about of ghostly crowds in the courtroom. People have also seen Anna and Thomas Whaley on several occasions.

A number of people have witnessed the sight of a man hanging from a scaffold on the south side of the mansion. Ten years before the Whaley’s bought the property and built the mansion, a renegade sailor names Yankee Jim Robinson was hanged on the land. They built the mansion over the site of his execution. To be exact, the scaffold from which Robinson was hanged is where the archway that separates the music room and living room is located. Whaley had been there when Yankee Jim was hanged.

In the fall of 1966, some reporters volunteered to spend the night in the house with Yankee Jim. The journalists had received special permission from the historical society, and the ghost hunters settled in. The wife of one of these reporters had to be taken home by 9:30 pm. She had been extremely shaken up by something she had witnessed on the upper floor, but she refused to tell anybody about it. The who group ended up leaving before dawn. They also refused to discuss why they had all left, but some say that they were confronted by Yankee Jim, still protesting is horrible death.

There are also other ghosts who call the Whaley House home. One is a young girl names Washburn, who was a playmate of the Whaley children. Another is the family’s dog,  Dolly Varden. Some people have seen an ostentatiously dressed women with a painted face leaning out of the second-story window. It is possible that this ghost belongs to one of the actresses from one of the numerous theatrical troupes that leased the second floor in November 1868.

The court house wing is one of the most haunted sections of the house. This is likely due to the violent emotions that were shared during the early years of San Diego. Many people who have visited the mansion have heard sounds of a crowded courtroom in session and the loud meetings of men in Thomas’ study. According to researchers, the fact the mansion was the site for a number of city functions, as well as being a family home, almost guaranteed there to be several layers of psychic residue. Many people have seen Anna Whaley watching over the mansion. Of those who have encountered her, she seems quite displeased with the intruding strangers.

In 1964, Regis Philbin saw Anna as he lounged on the Andrew Jackson sofa at 2:30 AM. The ghostly apparition floated from the study, through the music room, and then into the parlor, where Phiblin said it simply dissolved when Philbin shown a flashlight on the apparition. Since then, night visits have not been allowed.

A number of photographs of spirit phenomena have been taken there. Many of these photos can be seen on display in the mansion. People have been able to capture a picture of the ghostly noose that hung Yankee Jim.

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