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.