California Trips: The Whaley House in San Diego

Updated on July 18, 2018
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Finn Liam has a career in librarianship, having worked in a variety of library settings. He currently lives in Southern California.

The Whaley House in San Diego

Rumored to be haunted
Rumored to be haunted

San Diego Has the Nicest Weather

Even in winter, San Diego remains comfortably warm. The cool, sea breezes that glide off the pristine ocean waters grace the colorful hills. The azure sky is filled with fresh air, fragrant with the aromas of flowers and fine foods. Streets are lined with antiquated adobe houses, and bright hanging lanterns light up the cafes and galleries of Old Town.

While walking down the streets filled with the laughter of tourists, you may find yourself looking at the scenic hills and trying to imagine what this town was like at the turn of the century. Let me paint a picture: brick sidewalks with hitching posts and church steeples with iron bells. A hotel with garlands like the colors of the flag; the balcony-walkway with wooden railings. Old Town San Diego will take you back in time. Buildings were named after Father Juanipero Serra, including the courthouse and blacksmith.

But along Haley Avenue, tucked between the gift shops and restaurants, you will find a place called the Whaley House. With a history filled with unfortunate events, you can see how the Victorians lived and may even encounter some troubled spirits.

Whaley House

Some Tours You Can Take:

Self-Paced, Daytime Tour:

$8 General

$7 Active Military

$6 Seniors and Children

Under 5 FREE

Nighttime Tour

$13 Adults

$8 Seniors and Children

Under 5 Not recommended

Several Other Tours Available - See Link at the End of the Page

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Front Entrance During the DayPorch at NightA Registered Historical LandmarkThe Night Street
Front Entrance During the Day
Front Entrance During the Day
Porch at Night
Porch at Night
A Registered Historical Landmark
A Registered Historical Landmark
The Night Street
The Night Street

A Little History

The focus of this article will be more on the house rather than the family. What can be offered though is that Mr. Whaley was a successful businessman who managed to acquire a parcel of land where the condemned were executed. The main room on the ground floor served many purposes: a granary, a school. a pool hall, ballroom and a church. Eventually the county of San Diego rented it out to be used as a courthouse.

When you step inside it's quite interesting to see the layout with the movable chairs and the large desk for the judge. The jury area is over to the side as you would expect. It seems almost casual by some standards in this diminutive room that is actually part of a private residence. It is here in this location that our guide tells us about some of the ghosts who haunt these grounds.

Keeping in mind that there were prisoners who hung by the neck until death on the same land underneath the floorboards is a bit unsettling. Much of the recognized activity also comes from the jury box area.

The Old County Courthouse

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Hauntings and Rumors of Hauntings

One of the interesting things about this house is not only the fact that it was one of the first mansions in the San Diego area, but it may be haunted.

One of the ghosts is that of a little girl who seems to frequent the dining area. She is blonde and about three years old and is said to tug on the fingers, skirts, or jackets of adults who walk into the room. The poor spirit may be seeking out a motherly figure or searching for a friend to play with. Sometimes she can be seen underneath the table or sitting on one of the chairs.

Another ghost rumored to be in the house is sometimes heard in the kitchen. This spirit isn't really seen but rather makes noises by dropping the pans or slamming stuff about near the stove. This poltergeist is interesting because those who hear its rumblings run to investigate the source of the noise can find nothing amiss.

Part of the Whaley House Also Served as a General Store

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One of the few places to buy dry goodsPhotos of the Whaley Family membersMiners looking for gold panning tools as well as the general public used the store
One of the few places to buy dry goods
One of the few places to buy dry goods
Photos of the Whaley Family members
Photos of the Whaley Family members
Miners looking for gold panning tools as well as the general public used the store
Miners looking for gold panning tools as well as the general public used the store

The Mansion Had Many Uses

It seems that in addition to being a house, the place also served as a store, a courthouse, and a place where the city records were kept and a theater.

The stage area was upstairs and literature claims that it could accommodate up to 150 patrons. Quite a large number of audience members. There are several bedrooms upstairs and a guest room downstairs. It seems odd that someone would open up their own home to the public like that.

Ghosts are said to be visible in pictures sometimes and that often the haunting is not just of a visible nature: sounds, smells and physical sensations have been reported. Some visitors have smelled perfumes, cigar smoke, food cooking and felt a coldness envelope them.

Given the location of the place next to the number of restaurants and cigar shops however, some of these reports might be a bit skeptical. If you are fan of ghosts though, and are inclined toward the paranormal, you might want to take one of the nighttime tours just in case.

Do you believe in ghosts?

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Some More Images of the Mansion

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Kitchen areaThe table and chairs where the little girl is seenone of the downstairs guest roomsa sinister chandelier
Kitchen area
Kitchen area
The table and chairs where the little girl is seen
The table and chairs where the little girl is seen
one of the downstairs guest rooms
one of the downstairs guest rooms
a sinister chandelier
a sinister chandelier

If Here There Be Music

One of the other unnerving apparitions that has made its appearance has done so in the form of music. Sometimes the organ can be heard playing. The organ is still in working condition and was one of the original pieces of furniture in the house. I believe it was a source of entertainment for Mrs. Whaley who was an avid player.

In the night, sounds have been heard coming from the residence and you are permitted to walk along the outside of the house in the public park where the building is located. (It's a State Historical Landmark). Some people at night have put their ears up against the wall and heard the music emitting from the century past through the brick walls teaming with history.

The sacred sanctity of the grounds is reinforced by the fact that at one time, the condemned were hung from gallows that rested here...and the bodies that swayed in the cool San Diego winds before there were lights or streetcars.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
People came from all around to watch a performanceA window with a viewthe steep staircase where spirits ascendthe stage silently awaits an audience
People came from all around to watch a performance
People came from all around to watch a performance
A window with a view
A window with a view
the steep staircase where spirits ascend
the steep staircase where spirits ascend
the stage silently awaits an audience
the stage silently awaits an audience

Have you ever been to the Whaley House?

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He Thrusts His Fists Against the Post and Still Insists He Sees the Ghost

Well one amusing thing that did happen on my particular visit is that another fellow tourists took photos and noticed a white shadow in his photo of one of the upstairs bedrooms. It almost looked like the outline of a ghost.

I think however it was wishful thinking. My photos seemed to have similar images - a bit of a light spot in an area of the wall next to a bed. Another man explained that it was the camera that was doing it...the flash.

It was sure a bit exciting though, for about five or ten seconds.

if you do go here and see the place and hear the stories about what happened in these walls, you probably would understand why it might be haunted.

A nice place to visit for sure and was probably a pretty nice place to live. The furniture is authentic to the Victorian time period and most of the house - except for the upgrades of course—is in its original state.

Some More Photos

Click thumbnail to view full-size
this is the room where the "ghost" appeared.  Above the books to the right of the bed.the organ sometimes awakes with music from a spirit playerthe dolls have done weird things in photos - made faces, turned upside down, disappeared but not here.a guest room with furnishings
this is the room where the "ghost" appeared.  Above the books to the right of the bed.
this is the room where the "ghost" appeared. Above the books to the right of the bed.
the organ sometimes awakes with music from a spirit player
the organ sometimes awakes with music from a spirit player
the dolls have done weird things in photos - made faces, turned upside down, disappeared but not here.
the dolls have done weird things in photos - made faces, turned upside down, disappeared but not here.
a guest room with furnishings
a guest room with furnishings

Do You Know the Way to San. . . Diego

There are quite a few nice sites to see if you happen to be in Old Town. If you liked this write up and want to know about some more tourist oriented establishments, look for my other article about what to do in Old Town.

We had a really nice tour guide who answered our questions. There were five of us in all and it went for about an hour maybe. You could walk around and step back in history bit to see how those who have gone before us lived.

If you happen to stop by the place, drop me a line and let me know about your experience. I'd be curious.

Do you see any ghosts?

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A Video About the Whaley House Hauntings (some possibly offensive language)

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Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Finn Liam Cooper

    Comments

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      • wpcooper profile imageAUTHOR

        Finn Liam Cooper 

        10 months ago from Los Angeles

        yes it is quite fascinating....

      • Coffeequeeen profile image

        Louise Powles 

        10 months ago from Norfolk, England

        Oh this sounds really interesting. I'd love to visit here.

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