STATUS: Open as tourist destination
The Whaley House was the residence of Thomas Whaley and his family. It also served as Mr. Whaley’s general store, the second county courthouse in San Diego, and the first commercial theater over the years.
Thomas Whaley was born October 5th, 1823 in New York, and was the seventh born to a family of ten. On January 1st, 1849, Whaley left for San Francisco to join the California gold rush. He was a semi-successful business man there up until he moved to San Diego in September, 1851. However, he left two years later to return to New York. There, he married Anna Eloise Delaunay on August 14th, 1853. On December 7th of the same years, they left for San Diego. On August 22nd, 1857, the Whaleys moved into their home – the Whaley House.
Thomas and Anna Whaley had a total of six children; Francis Hinton, Anna Amelia, Thomas Whaley Jr., George, Violet, and Corinne Lillian. Francis, who was named after a business parter, was the first born on December 28th, 1854. Thomas Whaley, Jr. was born on August 18th, 1856, but he suffered from scarlet fever at 18 months old and died on January 29th, 1858.
Anna Amelia Whaley was born on June 27th, 1858, and the Whaleys decided to move to San Francisco shortly afterwards. George Hay Ringgold Whaley was the fourth child of Thomas and Anna, born on November 5th, 1860. The fifth born was Violet Eloise Whaley on October 14th, 1862. The youngest of the six children, born on September 4th, 1864, was Corinne Lillian.
Thomas had invested some of his new capitol of stock in merchandise in the summer of 1868, and he headed back to San Diego. He fixed up the old house, and the family moved into it again on December 12th, 1868.
On January 5th, 1882, two of Thomas and Anna’s daughters got married in Old San Diego. Anna Amelia married her first cousin, John T. Whaley, who was the son of Henry Hurst Whaley, while Violet married a man named George T. Bertolacci. Two weeks after Violet’s marriage while they were on their honeymoon, she awoke to find that her husband had left. She discovered that George was a con artist who married her for money.
Society shunned Violet when she returned without her husband and arrived unchaperoned. One year later, the two divorced, but Violet did not recover from the public humiliation and betrayal from her husband. She fell into depression, and committed suicide via shot to the chest with her father’s 32-caliber on August 18th, 1885, when she was only 22 years old. Her suicide note said: “Mad from life’s history, Swift to death’s mystery; Glad to be hurled, Anywhere, anywhere, out of this world.”
During the time of her sister’s death, Corrine Lillian was engaged, but her fiancé broke it off due to the scandal it raised from the previous event. After Violet’s suicide, Thomas Whaley built a single-story home at 933 State Street in Downtown San Diego. The family moved in, which left the Whaley House empty for more than twenty years.
On December 31st, 1888, Francis Whaley wed Susan E. Murray in Mendocino, California. Thomas Whaley died on December 14th, 1890 due to poor health. Anna Amelia Whaley died in Modesto, California on December 12th, 1905.
The Whaley House remained vacant and in disrepair up until 1909, when Francis Whaley decided to restore the building. He turned the house into a tourist attraction, posting signs outside to promote its historical background. There, he entertained his visitors by playing guitar.
Anna Whaley, Corinne Lillian, Francis, and George had all moved into the house once more in 1912. However, Anna died on February 24th, 1913 at age eighty. Francis died a year later on November 19th, 1914. George Whaley died on January 5th, 1928. The house remained in the possession of Corinne Lillian Whaley up until her death in 1953.
It opened as a museum on May 25th, 1960, and it is now one of Southern California’s most popular tourist attractions. The house is now regarded as one of the most haunted places in the world. In the 1960s, the United States Commerce Department designated it as an “official haunted house” (the only other official haunted house in California is the Winchester Mystery House located in San Jose). Ghosts include Thomas Jr., Violet, Anna, Francis, George, and Corinne Lillian.
Supposedly, the grounds were haunted even before the Whaley House was built. The first ghost to be reported was that of James “Yankee Jim” Robinson, who was hanged on the property in 1852 before Thomas Whaley had even bought it. The San Diego Union reported that the Whaley family had, after they moved in, experienced the sound of heavy footsteps moving about the house. Many theorized that they came from Yankee Jim.
Nowadays, many visitors have seen the ghost of Thomas Whaley. One former housekeeper saw a little girl wave to a man that she said was in the parlor, even though there was no man to be seen.
Four members of the Whaley family died within the walls of the home, causing paranormal activity. Anna Whaley has been seen in the garden and in rooms on the first floor. The apparition of a woman has been seen in the courtroom, but her description doesn’t fit any of the family members.
During the 1960s, Sybil Leek, a psychic, felt the presence of a little girl that is believed to be Thomas and Anna’s great grand-daughter, Marion Reynolds. While visiting the house with her parents in 1913, Marion accidentally had ingested ant poison while playing around in the dining room. She passed away on the ride home to Oceanside. She was only ten days short of her third birthday.
Marion has been sighted in the dining room, and she is most drawn to women and girls, as she tends to tug on their clothing or grab their hands or legs. The Whaley family dog also haunts the house, and she has been seen running into the dining room. She was a terrier named Dolly Varden who died of natural causes. Dolly has been known to lick people’s toes or legs, and she is mostly seen by young children.
The Whaley House Museum offers a paranormal investigation every last weekend of the month, with each tour co-hosted by The San Diego Ghost Hunters (sdGH), who are considered San Diego’s premier paranormal investigation team. During the tour, guests are given the history of the house, and investigate the paranormal element of the place.
In Popular Culture
- The house was mentioned in the animated film Hellboy: Blood and Iron.
- Group Mega64 used the house as a location for their skit about the video game Luigi’s Mansion, where Derrick Acosta mocked gameplay by pretending to vacuum up ghosts.
- The Whaley House was featured on Most Terrifying Places in America 2.
- The house ranked the #1 position on Travel Channel’s America’s Most Haunted.
- It was featured on SyFy Channel’s Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files.
- Film studio Asylum released a low-budget movie in 2012 entitled The Haunting of Whaley House. It received mostly negative reviews, and it was filmed at Bembridge House in Long Beach, California rather than the actual house.
- Regis Philbin, while filming for a local San Diego morning show, visited the house in 1964 and had a paranormal experience with Anna Whaley. He stated, “You know a lot people pooh-pooh it because they can’t see it. But there was something going on in that house.”. In 2012, the Bio Channel’s The Haunting of Regis Philbin featured the house and his encounter.
- On an episode of MTV’s Ridiculousness, Rob Dyrdek said he lived near the “most haunted house in California”, and he would spend nights calling for “Old Man Whaley”.