The Ghosts of Whaley House
Posted 19 July 2010 - 04:34 PM
Whaley House, for quite a few years, has been the locus of dozens of ghost sightings. Famed psychic, Sybil Leek claimed to have sensed several spirits there, and renowned ghost hunter Hanz Holzer considered the Whaley House to be one of the most reliably haunted structures in the United States
This is the story of my encounter with The Whaley House’s resident ghosts, late in the afternoon, one summer day, in the early 1990’s.
My friend, Lori, and I were walking around in “Old Town” San Diego, and getting increasingly concerned at what we saw in the sky. Large black clouds, were heading our way and we could see that they were full of rain and could hear the thunder. A summer monsoon storm was on the way and our car was parked on the other side of Old Town. We started to run to try to beat the storm back as we had no rain gear at all. We didn’t make it. Huge drops started to fall and we ran to the first open door we saw, which happened to be The Whaley House.
We ran up the steps and dove into the house, just as the rain really started to come down, hard. We were greeted by a lovely older lady, whom I will call Sue, as I can’t remember her name, one of the house’s docents. We explained our problem and she told us that it was ok to stay in the house, as it was not closing for another hour. She did need to collect the fee though and we were joking about getting a “rainy day discount” but we paid her. Sue’s fellow docent, whom I will call Bill, was on break and Lori and I decided to walk around a bit, on our own.
At this point, I am going to describe the layout of the house, as it was at that time.
From the front door, off to the left, was the general store and you would walk through the store to get to the court room. Strait ahead was a kitchen/dining area and off to the right was the stairs going up to the second story. Going up the stairs, at the top, you would take a sharp right to Mr. & Mrs. Whaley’s bedroom. Strait ahead was the room for the theater and around to the left were the children’s bed rooms. Think of the second story as roughly U shaped with the inside stairs in the middle (there is a set of stairs outside at the back of the house that go directly to the theater, but they are not a part of this story and there is also a parlor, on the ground floor, to the right of the stairs which is alsonot a part of this story).
Back to the story: Lori and I went upstairs and turned to the first bedroom on our right. We stood at the glass panel in the entrance of the bedroom (all the bedrooms had “door” made of glass, allowing you to see, but not walk, into the rooms) and our attention was immediately captured by the rocking chair. It was rocking vigorously, by itself, with no one VISIBLE sitting in it. Very interesting, we thought and said. We watched it for a minute or so then turned and walked into the theater. The stage was to our right and an upright piano was off to the left, at what would have been the back of the theater and we were walking around where the audience would have sat. It smelled a bit musty in there, probably due the dampness we thought. We turned to leave and had taken about two steps into the hall when we both stopped. “Did you hear that?” Lori asked me. “Piano music?” I replied. We back stepped into the theater and I walked over to the piano. It was closed and looked like nothing had touched it in years. I shrugged and not being able to explain the music, we left the theater again and walked back up the hall to look at the children’s bedrooms.
After viewing the last bedroom, we headed back toward the theater and the stairs, with Lori ahead of me. She suddenly stopped and said “It’s freezing in this spot.” I reached out and put my hand on the back of her shoulder and it was freezing, goosebumps popped out on my arm and were traveling back up my shoulder into the rest of my body. I then gave Lori a little push and said “Don’t just stand there, MOVE!” She moved, I walked through the cold spot and we made our way to the stairs. We stopped by the first bedroom to check on the rocking chair and noticed that it was slowing down, like someone had gotten out of it in a hurry! Then we turned to the stairs and I took the lead, going down the and about half-way down, found another cold spot. I announced loudly “COLD SPOT” to warn Lori and kept moving. She announced “FOUND IT!” and we got to the bottom and met up with Sue and a gentleman she called Bill. Both were looking at us, so I gave them a quick run-thru on our adventures upstairs. Bill did walk half way up the stairs, but did not find the cold spot. Neither was surprised and both said they had many experiences in the house.
We then went with Bill on a mini-tour. We walked into the general store and as Bill was explaining what used to happen in there, my nose started twitching and then I sneezed. “Where is that tobacco smoke coming from?” I asked. Bill and Lori gave me a blank stare. “I smell tobacco smoke. Doesn’t smell like cigarettes, more like pipe or cigar” I said. Lori shrugged and said that she didn’t smell anything but if there was tobacco smoke there “You’re more likely to smell it first.” Then I explained to Bill that I was allergic to tobacco products and highly sensitive to anything that smelled like tobacco. He shrugged and said that they had a non-smoking policy in the Whaley House. Since we couldn’t solve that mystery we moved into the court room.
The court room has a raised area on one side, with the judge’s desk and seats for witness to testify from. We sat in the observer’s seats and listened to Bill as he explained what usually went on in count. A strange creaking noise, coming from above us caught our attention and we looked up. A small chandler was swinging back and forth right above our heads! We bolted out of our seats and ran back to the door of the court room. Bill joined us there and commented that sometimes the chains that are used to block access to certain areas of the court room, would sometimes start swinging as well. These did not, this time, but the chandler was slowing down and we walked back to the hall and headed to the kitchen/dining room.
This last room was a combination room at that time, as the real kitchen would have been in a lean-to outside of the house in the late 1800’s. There was a wood-burning stove on the left side and a long “farmhouse table” in the middle of the room. On the right end of the table there was a mid-size bowl. Bill picked this saying that it was usually on the other end of the table, he walked to the indicated end and set the bowl down. He also commented that it was not unusual to find stuff out of place in there. He told us that one time he was walking into the kitchen and a butcher’s knife went flying past his face, missing his nose by about an inch. I asked him if he got hazard pay for that! He laughed and said no, but thought he should. We then turned to leave and turned back around again when we heard a scrapping, sliding noise. The bowl was sliding down the table, by itself. We watched, silently, until the bowl stopped in its original spot and I said to Bill, “I suggest that you leave it there and move it in the morning. Doesn’t seem to be a battle worth fighting right now!” He agreed and we all joined Sue in the hall by the front door.
Both Bill and Sue were wondering why there was so much activity. They both said that it was unusual and normally there was no ghostly activity at that time of day. I looked out the open door and got an idea, turned to them and said that I had a theory about that. Since the usual weather at that time of year was hot and dry, I thought that something in the atmosphere must be making the difference and the difference was the storm. I pointed out the door and said “That’s your reason!” Right as I was doing this, a bolt of lighting flashed into view, jumping from cloud to cloud. Nice timing, I thought, then proceeded to explain that I thought the ghosts were “riding in” on the storm’s energy, using that energy to manifest. Good theory, they said.
There is not much left to tell. Lori and I left the house and got back to our car, during a break in the storm, we never got wet and Sue and Bill both left for their respective houses.
As for the identity of the ghosts, I will probably never know. Tobacco smells usually are associated with Thomas Whaley, so that might have been him. Upstairs was either Thomas’ wife Anna or daughter, Violet. Violet did die in the house and her death was mysterious. Her death also deeply affected Thomas and Anna. The stairs might have been Yankee Jim, or Violet and the kitchen was probably either a young boy or girl, both have been sensed in the house as well as other members of the Whaley family
This was my first visit to the house and I came away with vivid and interesting memories of my contact with the Whaley house and its ghosts and that the contact was benign, almost friendly. I felt no fear and they did seem to be around where the living people were almost as if they wanted to say hello...
Posted 19 July 2010 - 07:38 PM
I think if I were around when the bowl slid across the table my blood would have turned to ice right there lol.
Posted 19 July 2010 - 11:19 PM
Posted 20 July 2010 - 09:20 AM
Posted 20 July 2010 - 04:49 PM
Posted 21 July 2010 - 03:43 PM
The phenomena you reported has been witnessed by many people over the decades.
The theater you saw was originally the Whaley's bedroom suite. The bedroom you were told was the Whaley's was actually Violet Whaley's bedroom while she was alive. The other bedrooms were used by various people at various times.
The cold spots have often been reported and are historically attributed to the Whaley women. One more recent development is that it might be Yankee Jim Robinson. Although Robinson was not hung on the property as you may have been told, there seems to have been a connection between him and Thomas Whaley. Whaley wrote in the mid-19th century that he heard loud footsteps upstairs in the house and attributed them to the deceased Robinson.
The smoke you smelled was likely that of a Havana Cubano cigar, long since out of production. Both Thomas Whaley and one of his business partners favored them, and both have been seen by visitors over the decades. Given the level of activity I'm surprised no one was seen.
The organ music has likewise been heard for a long time. June Reading was even able to identify the song on one occasion. It was an old song that had long ago gone out of fashion.
Object movements are very common at Whaley House and have been for decades. The flying knife, rocking chair, moving bowels, silverware and tables are all examples witnessed by many people.
The moving chain in the courtroom is particularly amusing. Decades ago, San Diego school children would tour the house. Often while sitting in the courtroom listening to June telling of Thomas Whaley's voyage around the southern tip of South America, they would notice the chains undulating, like ocean waves. The name of the song played on the organ as a matter of fact likewise makes reference to an ocean voyage.
I'm glad you enjoyed your visit to Whaley House. While things have changed over the years, in terms of the activity, quite a bit has remained the same. As to why things really happen there and what is truly going on - I have my opinions and we'll leave it at that for now. The most important thing is that it is truly one of most interesting sites in the U.S. despite being a modest home in Old Town San Diego.
Posted 21 July 2010 - 05:20 PM
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