Just over two years ago, I posted my husband’s notes about when he visited the Whaley House while he was at recruiting school in San Diego. Since then, I have received several messages asking that I do a new post talking about the house’s history and the hauntings that are supposed to happen there. Today’s post is as y’all requested!
Before we get into the Whaley House history, we need to first talk about Yankee Jim. Yankee Jim was Jim Robinson from Sydney, Australia. He accidentally found gold near Foresthill, California, in 1849 while hiding from people looking for him because he had stolen a few horses. Though he tried to keep the location a secret, others hoping to become rich came and built a town called Yankee Jims. A few years later, Yankee Jim was run out of his o town because people got tired of his stealing. Yankee Jim made his way south until he made it to San Diego. In August 1852, Yankee Jim was found guilty of grand larceny and sentenced to be hung on August 18th. His hanging was pushed back until September 18th, 1852. Yankee Jim was a big man at 6′ 4″ tall, and his noose was made to fit a shorter man. This caused him to be still able to stand on his tiptoes on the wagon until someone pulled them off the wagon. Since the noose didn’t snap his neck, he had a prolonged death. The local newspaper is quoted as saying, “he swung back and forth like a pendulum until he strangled to death.” Some of the reports I came across in my research said that he hung for over 45 minutes before he died—such a brutal way to die.
As was the custom back then, there were many townsfolk there to see the hanging. One of those townfolks was Thomas Whaley. He had just arrived in San Deigo the previous year. He lived in town until 1853 when he went back to his hometown of New York City to marry Anna Eloise Lannay. After their wedding, he brought his bride back to San Diego. He purchased the property that Yankee Jim was killed on in September 1855. He built a granary in 1856 and a two-story brick residence that was completed in 1857. This house was the first brick house in San Diego. The house had a general store attached to it until Mr. Whaley moved it to the Plaza in August 1857. When Mr. and Mrs. Whaley moved into with their two sons, Francis and Thomas, they said that they had paranormal activity. They would hear footsteps that sounded like they were being made by boots of a big man. They also reported that the windows would become unlatched and spring open by themselves. Mr. Whaley concluded that it was the ghost of Yankee Jim that was causing these hauntings.
In January 1958, their son, Thomas, died in the house from scarlet fever. That summer, Anna gave birth to their daughter Anna Amelia. A few months later, though, after a fire destroyed their general store, the Whaley family moved to San Francisco for a bit. While in San Fransico, Anna gave birth to another son, George, and two daughters, Violet and Corrine. They moved back to their San Diego house in 1868. While they lived in the house, the Tanner Troupe rented out one of the upstairs bedrooms to perform. The Tanner Troupe was San Deigo’s first theatre troupe. However, after just fifteen days after their opening performance in the house, the troupe’s leader, Thomas Tanner, passed away. The troupe disbanded shortly after his death. The San Diego County Courthouse also rented out a space for their courtroom and rooms in the house and granary for offices and record storage.
On January 5th, 1882, Violet and Anna Amelia are married at the house. Violet marries George Bertolacci, and Anna Amelia marries their first cousin, John Whaley. Two weeks later, George abandons Violet and later divorces her. Violet returns home in shame and heavily depressed. She first attempted suicide on July 5th, 1885, by trying to drown herself in the cistern. Despite being under the care of a local doctor, Violet attempted suicide a second time on August 18th, 1885. She had taken her father’s 32-caliber, Smith & Wesson, out to the privy and shot herself in the heart. After her death, her family found a letter that quoted part of Thomas Hoods’ poem, The Bridge of Sighs.
“Mad from life’s history,
Swift to death’s mystery;
Glad to be hurled,
Anywhere, anywhere, out of this world.”
After Violet’s death, Mr. Whaley builds a house in downtown San Diego for the remaining family to live in. Mr. Whaley dies in the new house on December 14th, 1890. A little over eighteen years later, Francis moves back to their old home and restores it. His mother and sister, Corrine, move back into the house with him. Anna Whaley dies in the house on February 24th, 1913. Her son, Francis, dies in the house as well on November 19th, 1914. Corrine was moved to a nursing home before her death in 1953.
Since the property has been converted into a historical site, the staff and visitors have reported many ghostly activities. So much so that Life magazine and the Travel Channel’s America’s Most Haunted have claimed it is the most haunted house in the United States. The ghost of Thomas Whaley has been seen on the upper landing wearing a frock coat and pantaloons. Either Anna or Violet has been seen downstairs in some of the rooms or out in the garden. Children are seen waving to a little girl spirit and an adult man (adults seem not to see either of these spirits). A woman has been seen in the courtroom wearing a long calico skirt. She is said to have a cap on her dark hair and has dark eyes. In the dining room, a long hair girl has been seen in a long dress. There have reports of a ghost dog running through the hallways. Several people have reported smelling a french perfume, a signature scent of Thomas Whaley’s wife. People have reported seeing mists, especially in photos. Lights seem to turn themselves on and off. Footprints can be seen in and around the house. People have heard the sound of a man crying, laughing, or clearing his throat. A figure has been seen looking out of one of the upstairs windows. Curtains have been seen moving by themselves despite the windows being sealed shut. Children can be heard running on the stairs when no one is on the stairs. The chandelier in the courtroom has been seen swinging by itself.
As I mentioned in the first post about the Whaley House, this is a location I very much want to visit. My dad spoke of this location and history often. I am jealous that Jeremy was able to see it. Hopefully, soon I will be able to as well.
If there is a location or legend that you want me to write about, let me know. Also, let me know if you want to share your paranormal experience.