2476 San Diego Avenue,
San Diego, California
Whaley House has been called the most haunted house in America. Recognized as an official haunted house by the state of California, the house has also been declared an "authenticated" haunted house by the US Department of Commerce. Some of the ghosts reported to haunt the house are the Whaley's themselves (Thomas and Anna Whaley), Yankee Jim Robinson - hung on the location and later buried at El Campo Santo Cemetery, and even the Whaley's dog, a Scottish terrier named Dolly.
Before Thomas Whaley owned the location it was used as the public gallows and approximately five to ten executions were held on the site, the most notable being that of Yankee Jim Robinson who was hung here off the back of a wagon in 1852. Yankee Jim came to San Diego in 1851, presumably because he was fleeing problems up north in a mining camp. He was convicted of attempted grand larceny for stealing a pilot boat called the Plautus in San Diego harbor. The rope was a bit too long and it failed to snap his neck, causing him to hang and strangle to death for over fifteen minutes (some accounts say forty five minutes). The local newspaper reported that he "kept his feet in the wagon as long as possible, but was finally pulled off. He swung back and forth like a pendulum until he strangled to death." Additionally, the executioner was apparently his godfather, Sheriff William Crosswaithe. The archway between the music room and parlor is supposed to be the location of the gallows. Some people have reported feeling a constriction in their throat when standing here. Oddly enough, Thomas Whaley was a spectator at the hanging. Juan Verdugo, a cohort in the Antonio Garra Native American uprising of 1851, may also have been executed here on December 13, 1851 by hanging. Garra, who orchestrated the uprising, was executed by firing squad in January 1852 down the road at El Campo Santo Cemetery.
Thomas Whaley bought the property in 1855 and the residence was built and finished by 1857. It is the oldest brick structure still standing in Southern California. The Whaley family left the house in 1858, but returned in 1868. Part of the house was used as a a general store, another part as San Diego's first commercial theatre and the old granary was converted into a courthouse rented to the city. Records were kept in several rooms upstairs. This lasted until 1971, when the courthouse was moved to New Town. The city wanted to move the records residing at the Whaley House also to New Town, but their lease was not yet up, and Thomas Whaley refused to let them out of it without some form of recompense. New Town threatened to remove the records violently if need be and sandbags were erected around the Whaley House and a cannon was placed outside as the people of Old Town prepared to be assaulted by New Town. In March 1871, while Thomas Whaley was off on a business trip, the citizens of New Town raided the house and removed the court records. Anna Whaley, Thomas's wife, and their young daughter were supposedly held at gunpoint on the stairs. Rumors speculate that it was the ninth stair and visitors have reported a chill as they move up the stairs. Thomas Whaley spent the remainder of his years trying to get the city to pay for the damages done during the raid and to get some recompense for the assault. Sadly, he never received a dime, and died still wanting for the incident to be made right by the city.
Several additional tragedies occurred in the house. In 1859, the family's 18 month old boy, Thomas Whaley Jr., died. A crying baby can often be heard upstairs. Violet Whaley committed suicide by shooting herself through the heart in the house in 1885. This came about as a result of the humiliation and depression she felt after her recent divorce.
Visitors have reported hearing ghostly foot falls which have been attributed to Yankee Jim, seeing Thomas Whaley on the second floor landing, smelling cigar smoke or lavender perfume (rumored to have been worn by Anna Whaley), experiencing swinging crystals on a lamp in the music room, and seen impressions of people lying on beds or pillows. Additionally alarms have gone off in the house apparently for no particular reason. Even Regis Philbin has reported seeing Anna Whaley, Thomas Whaley's wife. Also, famed author, Arthur Conan Doyle, writer of the Sherlock Holmes stories amongst other writings, also visited the house in the 1920's intrigued by the legends of the ghosts.
Other ghosts also reside in the house. One is that of a young Native American woman who was apparently a servant of the Whaley's. She lived in small cubical erected in one corner of the courtroom. Another is the ghost of a young neighbor girl, named Annabelle or Carrie Washburn. The house use to give out cookies to the neighborhood children. The story goes that in her excitement, Miss Washburn ran into a clothesline and it ruptured her trachea. She was quickly brought inside the house, but died within minutes from the injury. Now she frolics and plays throughout the house in death.
The Whaley House is open to visitors and allows for self guided tours.
- JeniJennJenn of Lake Forest, CA on 2017-06-18 said:
- I've visited twice. The second time I brought a brand new camera and phone to take pictures. Both failed to work. I changed batteries. Nothing. I finished the tour and upon walking outside they both worked again.
- Anonymous of San Diego, California on 2015-10-18 said:
- Would like to make a few corrections to both the original article as well as Jennifer's comments. There is no record of Arthur Conan Doyle's visit to the Whaley House at any time in his life. He may have visited San Diego, but he did not visit Lillian Whaley in her home. I have gone through her journals with a fine toothed comb and she mentions nothing about this. Being a librarian and book lover, she would certainly have recorded this momentous occasion in her life. This is a myth propagated by the Historical Shrine Foundation, one of many such myths created to encourage more visitation to the museum in a time when it was in danger of closing to the public. The "Annabelle/Carrie Washburn" story is also a myth. They began with Annabelle Washburn, a purported neighbor of the Whaley's 'up the hill.' Annabelle Washburn indeed resides 'up the hill' from the Whaleys, in the cemetery where they are buried. She was also one month old when she died, so not likely running anywhere, let alone into a clothesline. There WAS a clothesline incident involving one of the Whaley children, and while it could have been fatal, it was not. Per Jennifer's correction as to the identity of the small girl haunting the house formerly purported to be Annabelle/Carrie (the name was changed to Carrie in the 1970's to capitalize on the thriller film "Carrie" as it was deemed 'creepier) Washburn: The spirit of the young girl is NOT "identified" as Marion Reynolds, the Whaley's great granddaughter. It is felt that there is a spirit that belongs to a young girl, who occupies the dining room and nothing more. There is no way to determine 'who' she is. Marion's death had NOTHING whatever to do with the Whaley House. She died after ingesting a substance she and her sister found in a vacant lot next to their home. She, her older sister and their Uncle (who was their age) brought numerous items of what were deemed 'trash' home and these items thrown away by their mother. Marion retrieved one of these items from the trash, which was a pesticide, and ate it. The treatment for the ingestion of the poison is what killed Marion. She was basically purged to death and dehydrated. It was a horrific way to die and the family was devastated. There are family descendants living who knew the people affected by this death, and it is plain immoral to go about stating as fact, that this little girl is now a trapped 'ghost' and the further spreading of false rumors just to get extra attendance to the museum.
- Jennifer of Santee, California on 2012-04-17 said:
- Pardon me, but I must correct part of your summary on the Whaley House. I work and give tours at the Whaley House and the story of "Annabelle" or "Carrie Washburn" and her freak, accidental death is absolutely false and one that we at SOHO (Save Our Heritage Organisation) have been working to correct for years now. It was made up by the company that owned the Whaley House prior to the year 2000 (probably in the 80s or early 90s) to account for the spirit of a little girl that many believe DOES haunt the Whaley House, in particular, the family dining room. However, that child's name is Marion Reynolds and she was the Whaley's great-granddaughter, not a family friend/neighbor. She died in 1913, on her way home from a visit to the Whaley House, from accidental poisoning. It was caused by her eating what she thought was a cookie she found on the floor in the dining room, but was actually a form of pesticide for rats/ants in those days. She was only 2 years old when she passed. Mediums who've visited the house speculate she prefers the dining room as her haunt, because she had her last happy memory there. She's a very sweet, friendly spirit, by all accounts, but is only attracted to women/girls. Many ladies in that room have sensed/felt her presence in the forms of a small hand tugging on their clothing, grabbing their leg or hand -essentially, the behavior of a small child, asking for attention.
- J.S. on 2010-05-24 said:
- Me and my father did a haunted San Diego tour once and it was a lot of fun. We had a particularly odd experience in the Whaley house. They had just let our group of about 10 or 15 people in to walk around the place. We were the only people there and there weren't any other people in the grounds surrounding the house. My father and I were walking past the staircase where they had a dressed mannequin blocking the stairway. As we glanced at her, we heard shrieks, as if 20 or 30 people were just terrified of something. Me and my dad were startled and went to find everyone else in our group... and no one else had heard the screams. We also checked with the staff and they said they hadn't heard anything either. And the house is not that big, it would've been heard throughout. I also peered through the window one day and saw a ghostly image in the glass, and the living room piano was playing itself.
- Rob of Los Angeles, Ca on 2009-09-10 said:
- Been there many times and all the times i been there always an experience, One time I was there in the daytime (as a Musuem)we saw the curtain moving and the house does not have central air not to mentioned the rooms are glassed off for presevation
- Victoria J. Dennison of New Orleans, LA on 2008-02-27 said:
- I went on a tour at the Winchester House years ago, and it is haunted. My daughter and I both heard objects falling about 20 feet from us, and nothing had fell.
- The Field Guide to North American Hauntings (1998) by Blackman, W. Haden, p: 36 - 37
- California's Historic Haunts (2014) by Clune, Brian with Bob Davis, p: 98 - 105
- Ghost Hunter's Guide to Los Angeles (2007) by Dwyer, Jeff, p: 185 - 188
- The Ruby Slippers, Madonna's Bra, and Einstein's Brain (2006) by Epting, Chris, p: 30
- Weird California (2006) by Greg Bishop, Joe Oesterle, Mike Marinacci, p: 218 - 219
- Haunted Places: The National Directory (2002) by Hauck, Dennis, p: 69
- Visiting Haunted Southern California (2005) by Hilber H. Graf, p: 115 - 118
- San Diego Specters: Ghosts, Poltergeists and Phantastic Tales (1999) by Lamb, John, p: 31 - 48
- Mysterious California (1988) by Marinacci, Mike, p: 131 - 134
- Haunted Houses of California (1993) by May, Antoinette, p: 199 - 210
- Ghosthunting Southern California (2012) by Richards, Sally, p: 35 - 44
- Ghost Stalker's Guide To Haunted California (1998) by Senate, Richard, p: 109 - 111
- The Haunted Southland (1993) by Senate, Richard, p: 4 - 7
- Ghost Stories of California (2000) by Smith, Barbara, p: 24 - 29
- Haunted Southern California (2009) by Stansfield Jr., Charles A., p: 81-82
- Montezuma's Serpent (1982) by Steiger, Brad and Sherry Hansen-Steiger, p: 183 - 186
- Haunted San Diego - 9th Printing (2005) by White, Gail, p: 3 - 17
- Coastal Ghosts of Southern California (2009) by Yasuda, Anita, p: 160 - 164
Last Edited: 2006-07-19