Status: Former Courthouse; Former Residence; Historical Landmark and Museum
The Whaley House is one of only 30 recognized haunted houses by the US Department of Commerce (1 of only 2 in California).
The house was built and designed by Thomas Whaley in 1857; it was built with bricks from his own brickyard at a cost of $10,000.00. It was also built on a site once used for hanging criminals at the gallows.
As well as being the Whaley family home it was also used as the County Courthouse, San Diego’s first commercial theater and a general store. 6 members of the Whaley family are known to have died in the house including Violet who committed suicide by shooting herself in the heart in 1885 after her divorce.
After Violet’s tragedy the family moved out of the house leaving it abandoned and it soon fell into disrepair. Francis Whaley returned and began extensive renovations in 1909 returning the home to its former grandeur and turning the family home into a tourist attraction. The last member of the Whaley family to live in the home passed away in 1953 and the house was turned into a museum in May of 1960.
Since November 2020 the Whaley House has been closed in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic. It is normally open for historical tours and for rental events.
According to the Travel Channel this house is the most haunted house in the United States.
The first ghost reported was that of “Yankee Jim”. He was hung in 1852 at the gallows that occupied the site before Thomas Whaley purchased the land and built the house. James Robinson (Yankee Jim’s real name) was hung from the back of a wagon for committing grand larceny and had to pulled from the wagon in order to be hanged. Thomas Whaley was a witness to the hanging but that did not seem to deter him from building a house on the same site.
Activity recorded as being caused by “Yankee Jim” includes heavy footsteps throughout the house which was reported from the first days that the Whaley moved into the house, windows latching and unlatching themselves as well his apparition has been seen many times beginning in the 19th century and continuing to this day.
The apparition of Thomas Whaley has also been seen many times. He is often seen by children but has been seen by adults as well appearing to fade in and out of reality.
His wife, Anna Whaley, also appears in the downstairs rooms and the garden. She was once witnessed by TV personality Regis Philbin.
Many visitors have seen or sensed the presence of a small woman with a swarthy complexion in the courtroom. Her description fits none of the Whaleys but may have been tenant of the house at some point.
A young girl is sometimes seen in the dining room or smelling flowers in the garden. Legend has it that she was a playmate of the Whaley girls by the name of Carrie or Annabel and broke her neck on a low clothesline in the backyard and died in the kitchen. There is no historical proof that this girl ever existed.
Even the ghost of the Whaley’s fox terrier, Dolly Varden, has been seen in the house and around the property.
Other activity: sounds of music and singing; sounds of children laughing; sound of a toddler crying; smell of cigar smoke; smells of perfume and the smell of baking around Christmas time. The toddler crying is believed to the infant son of Thomas and Anna who died of Scarlett Fever.
We close with Regis Philbin’s quote concerning the house. “You know a lot of people pooh-pooh it because they can’t see it. But there is something going on in that house.”