The Whaley House San Diego Story
Likely one of the biggest haunted attractions in all of San Diego, the Whaley House is infamous around the world as one of the most haunted places in America. San Diego already has a long history of mystery and ghost stories, there are many ghost tours you can go on year-round. However, nothing quite tops the Whaley House Story. It not only involves Thomas Whaley and his family but a plethora of other stories and mysteries that have happened on the land.
The Whaley House has been so famous that they even made a movie about it. In 2012, they made a horror movie called The Haunting of Whaley House. Now, much like other horror movies based on real places, the Whaley House movie is an exaggerated movie for fun. It by no means sets the tone for the actual house.
If you’re a San Diego native or have lived in town for over 5 years, you would know at least a little bit about the Whaley House. As a kid, I would go on field trips to the Old Town and more often than not did we go on the ghost tour. I didn’t use to be a believer in ghosts until I went on the Whaley House ghost tour.
I remember feeling as if someone was following me when I was at the very back of the group. As we walked through the dining room, I saw her. A little girl around my age looking at me. We made eye contact for what felt like ages but could’ve only been a couple of long seconds. I’ve believed in the supernatural ever since. Let’s dive into the fascinating ghost stories and how you can experience them yourself.
A Little About The Whaley House
The house has turned into a museum located in Old Town San Diego. For my architecture nerds, it is a perfect example of a mid-nineteenth century Greek revival. It’s a gorgeous house with a red brick facade, green window panes, and white detailing. I’ve always thought it was the most beautiful building in Old Town.
The house has been a formal historic house museum and open to the public since May 25th, 1960. San Diego county own it but is operated and managed by the SOHO (Save Our Heritage Organization). They have been restoring the house it is former historic glory for accuracy. Thomas Whaley was very proud of his handy work and boasted of its convenience to the town.
I’d have to agree. The Whaley House was the most convenient house of the time. There was a courtroom where many were convicted of crimes. Copies of the case records can be seen at the house. In another room was a general store where patrons could purchase anything from tobacco to shavers. Upstairs, amongst the bedrooms, there was a theater. Each room has been restored to its former glory so visitors can soak in the history.
Daytime tours are offered and tickets can be purchased at the museum shop next to the actual house. Unlike a lot of tours in San Diego, this one is self-guided and super inexpensive. The normal rate is $10 but for active Military, seniors (55+) and children (6-12) it’s only $8. There are employees all around so if you have any questions they can answer them. On your daytime tour, you have a little pamphlet with the history and details of each room on the tour route. Beware though, you may feel the presence of a specter. Let’s explore the specters you may encounter.
Dark History Turned to Modern Mystery
There is a reason why the Whaley House has been dubbed one of the most haunted places in America. Visitors report seeing orbs and apparitions all over the house during both the day and night tours. There are quite a few ghosts that are rumored to show themselves.
Yankee Jim Robinson
James Robinson was originally from Australia and a bandit who stole horses. He found gold in 1849 a few miles from Foresthill. He formulated a plan to hide the discovery from miners and camps that ultimately failed. In fact, because of how many came flocking, a town was created.
Jim stayed in town until a fire broke out in 1852 destroying the town. The papers reported three different fires started simultaneously then grew into one huge destructive fire. The townspeople suspected arson. While they didn’t point fingers at Jim, the miners did discover his thieving ways. He was forced out of town under the threat of hanging.
He ended up in San Diego in late 1852. His kleptomania did not stop and he was arrested for stealing a boat. He ended up being convicted of grand larceny and sentenced to death by hanging on the grounds of the Whaley House.
His hanging wasn’t exactly normal because James was a lanky guy. He was very tall and slender so when they pulled the wagon from underneath him, he swung like a pendulum while slowly choking to death. Usually, a person’s neck breaks and they die under their own weight. Jim was reportedly hanging for an unusually long time before he finally died.
Due to this torturous death, Yankee Jim still walks amongst living in the unseen world. Visitors have captured pictures of a lanky man with Jim’s description. Mrs. Whaley was even plagued by his presence during her time in the house. Thomas Whaley himself reported mysterious footfalls around the house that he concluded was Yankee Jim.
Thomas Whaley Jr.
Many believe that the land has always been cursed, doomed to hold spirits for eternity. Yankee Jim was simply the first to suffer from that curse. The second was the Whaley’s first son, Thomas Whaley Jr. After moving into the finished house, their first son was stricken with scarlet fever and died at 18 months. The tragedy did not end there.
A few months after the baby’s death, there was a fire inside the house that destroyed the general store. So Thomas Whaley decided to move the family to San Francisco. They didn’t return until a few years after in 1868 with both Mr. and Mrs. Whaley and their five children.
Some visitors can hear the sound of a baby crying softly, little footfalls, and his innocent giggle when nobody else is around.
Anna Eloise Whaley
Mrs. Anna Whaley is the most common spirit in the house. People can smell her potent French perfume or see her in the parlor. Mrs. Whaley grieved of attracting the spirits in the house a lot. Perhaps it’s fitting that in the afterlife she provides a comforting presence rather than a malicious one. More often than not, she appears to young people in an effort to welcome them and interact.
She was not the luckiest of ladies in terms of her adult life. She married a man who watched an execution then decided to build his home on that very land and she outlived 3 of her children and her husband. Not to mention that while her husband was away, she was held at gunpoint by a group of men so they could steal courtroom records. This was a turning point in our tragic story.
Violet’s is a tale of sorrow. She grew up in a family that was well endowed yet she met a tragic end. A few years after the courtroom records were stolen, Violet and her sister got married in the house. Violet married George Bertolacci and the marriage, despite her best efforts, was doomed from the start. George left her divorced and depressed.
She was so full of grief that she decided that she simply couldn’t live on. In 1885, she shot herself. Now, people claim to see a woman looking very sad wandering around the second floor. Actually, I believe I encountered her on my most recent visit to the Whaley House.
My friend from Kansas was visiting and she, like myself, love the occult and the paranormal. Since I hadn’t visited the Whaley House in years, we decided to visit. We were looking over the bedrooms and trying to guess which family member slept there without looking at the pamphlet. Suddenly, I got hit with a massive wave of sadness and I just wanted to cry. It followed me around the second floor but stop once we went back downstairs. It was the strangest thing.
Thomas Whaley Sr.
The last ghost with a very specific presence is none other than Thomas Whaley himself. He was a pioneer in his time. Mr. Whaley followed the Gold Rush like many men of the time. He sought to make a name for himself. He just didn’t know he’d be more well known in death than life.
Thomas married Anna in New York before the construction of the house. In fact, he saw Yankee Jim die. Despite what literally everyone told him, he bought the land anyways and built on it. Now anyone who has seen a haunted house movie knows that most haunted houses are a result of a dead person being disrespected. A dead person that either lived or died on the land. Do you see where the trouble is?
Unlike most horror movie characters, Thomas Whaley saw the trouble brewing with his now-dead namesake and the fire erupting. So he left for San Fransisco. Their family curse traveled with them. Years later, they moved back to their San Diego house with their five kids. An earthquake had run them out of town.
When the Whaley’s came back, it was like they never left. Their businesses began to boom again and he was, in fact, running the most convenient business in town. He lived in San Diego until his death in 1890. His specter accompanies his wife Anna in all black. Some visitors have even reported Mr. Whaley blowing smoke right into their faces.
Whaley House Ghost Tour
There are, of course, a few specters I didn’t go into detail on. But most of the Whaley family appears in the house including Thomas Whaley Sr., Anna Eloise Whaley, Thomas Whaley Jr., Violet Whaley, Anna Amelia Whaley, Corinne Lilian “Lily” Whaley, and even the family cat and dog. Yankee Jim is another resident of the house but it is suspected that other spirits roam the house if Mrs. Whaley’s complaints about them are to be believed. You can get a chance to experience the spookiness of it on your own.
10 AM – 4:30 PM
$10 admission for adults
$8 admission for Active Duty, Seniors, and Children 6-12
Free Admission for children 5 and under
Ticket purchases are made in person at 2476 San Diego Avenue in Historic Old Town San Diego
Nighttime Tours/Whaley House Ghost Tour: FIRST COME FIRST SERVE:
Non-Summer Hours (Day After Labor Day – Day Before Memorial Day):
Thursday – Friday: 6 PM – 9:30 PM
Saturday: 5 PM – 9:30 PM
Sunday: 5 PM – 8:30 PM
Summer Hours (Memorial Day-Labor Day):
Sunday – Friday: 6 PM – 9:30 PM
Saturday: 5 PM – 9:30 PM
$13 Admission (children are not recommended to participate)
20 person limit to each tour
Tickets can be purchased in person at 2476 San Diego Avenue in Historic Old Town San Diego
Whaley House Ghost Hunting Tours:
Due to circumstances out of their control, the ghost hunting tours are on a temporary hiatus.
Private After-Hours Tour:
10:30 PM start time
- 2 person minimum
- $75/person for 1 hour
- $50/person for each additional hour
- 3 hours maximum
- Reservations must be made two weeks in advance
- Tickets must be paid for at time of reservation
- Offer Sunday – Wednesday
- No private tours the last week of October
October and Halloween Whaley House Tour:
Hours are extended the last week of October! Most tours happen during the nighttime in October due to the spooky demand at the time. But the most special thing is on Halloween.
Halloween at the Whaley House:
$15/person for nighttime (7 PM-Midnight)
Regular price otherwise (10 AM-5 PM)
Many believe that a haunted house should have some malicious feeling behind it, some kind of evil like the Whaley House movie depicts. But that’s not always the case. The majority of the occurrences at the Whaley House are innocent and even kind of funny. Who can say a ghost blew smoke in their faces? Even if you don’t believe in the supernatural, a visit to the Whaley House is a great look into the past. It is absolutely worth it.