Whaley House Tours: Where historic facts meet historic legends.

For most people, the trouble about ghosts, spirts, and everything surrounding the paranormal is the lack of hard, verifiable evidence. Along these lines, many “paranormal” locations have a variety of conflicting stories that have no basis in fact or history and are easily debunked. With this as a baseline, the Whaley House stands out as a location that possibly provides solid evidence of paranormal activity, and has a primary goal of preserving San Diego’s history. Recently, I had an opportunity to tour the Whaley House with Jokie Tolentino, the Director of Museum Services for the Save our Heritage Organization (“SOHO”), the organization that manages and mantains the location. While I did not experience anything paranormal (that I noticed during) our walk, talk, and tour, I did leave the Whaley House with a greater appreciation for the location.

Whaley House Courtroom - the location of San Diego's second county courthouse.

In case you’ve never been to San Diego, or were unaware of the history of the Whaley House in San Diego, the high points are as follows – in 1857, the house was constructed on behalf of Thomas Whaley, a well-known businessman who obtained a deal on the land because it was the former site of the gallows for the city, and because of its proximity to El Campo Santo, the first official cemetery of San Diego. Upon its completion, the building was more than just a house – it was a store for the community; was San Diego’s second county courthouse, and housed San Diego’s first commercial theater. Despite the prominent business and social atmosphere that the house had; it was also a location of a number of personal tragedies for the Whaley family, including the death of Thomas Whaley’s son, Thomas Whaley, Jr.; and the death of Violet Whaley, who committed suicide. And, for much of the twentieth century – and into the twenty-first century the Whaley House has been known as one of the “most haunted” or “the most haunted” locations in North America, and the world.

The Jury Box at the Whaley House Courtroom. Popular legend states that there is an "energy vortex" in this spot.

When I met Ms. Tolentino at the entryway of the house after hours, she was just inside the doorway with another SOHO guide, who departed after introducing himself to me. While I assumed at the time that he was present to ensure that I was on the up-and-up, she later revealed to me that he was there because at times, she did not like to be inside the house alone. While Ms.  Tolentino seemed like a very knowledgeable and rational person during the entirety of our time together; such is the power of the paranormal lore surrounding the building – and the experiences that it has passed along that it makes everyday people behave differently. While the house is rumored to be haunted by Thomas Whaley, Anna Whaley (his wife), Violent Whaley, and perhaps some other entities, the residence’s most popular ghost is the infamous Yankee Jim (Santiago Robinson), who was hung on the property prior to the house being built.

The back bedroom of the first story of the Whaley House has a number of paranormal rumors.

The back bedroom of the first story of the Whaley House has a number of paranormal rumors.

Among other things, this for me is where my discussion with Ms. Tolentino became interesting because she was able to point out where Yankee Jim was supposedly hung (the archway between the sitting room on the first floor), because of facts SOHO has gleaned from the historic record, in this case, from Thomas Whaley’s own personal papers. Along these lines, Ms. Tolentino was able to also pinpoint for me that the rumors of the Whaley House being “haunted” were also started by Thomas Whaley, who would reportedly state when he heard an unexplained noise on the second floor, “that damn Yankee Jim is at it again”. While we will never know whether Thomas Whaley meant such comments in jest, or was deathly serious about the statement, what is clear is that unlike many locations, the Whaley House has a long-standing verified number of legends about it.

Thomas Whaley, the owner of the house, is rumored to stand regularly atop this staircase and look down at something of an indeterminate nature. 

As we walked through the house, Ms. Tolentino and I discussed a number of things, from the commonly known (the “vortex” in the Courtroom, for example), to the obscure – employees who disparaged the “ghosts” suddenly leaving for unexplained reasons. While Ms. Tolentino had a number of interesting stories about the house, the two that had the most impact on me were her account of having a Native American choker come apart at her throat unexpectedly in the first story back bedroom (or for the more salacious readers, being torn, or undone from her neck); and her not being able to find the beads on her return, to the story of her seeing a mysterious figure in period garb atop the stairway looking down. With respect to the latter story, Ms. Tolentino noted that later during that day, she had been talking to the SOHO historian, and he independently told her that he had seen a figure in period garb that day who had vanished, and was likely Thomas Whaley, as he is rumored to stand near the stairway.

Thomas Whaley's bedroom, Whaley House

While all of these stories and more cannot be confirmed at this time, they do lead back to the incident I referenced at the beginning of the article, about Ms. Tolentino standing in the entryway with another employee because of her intermittent discomfort about being alone in the house. When I pressed her about it near the end of the tour, she told me that for her, based on her experiences, she felt at times that the spirits in the house needed “rest” from the outside – much in the same way that people needed a break from extended visitors in their house, because they were “intelligent haunts”, and that was why she liked to come in with another party, or slowly overall, to allow the spiritual presences there the proper time to be adjusted to what was occurring.

According to historical records, Thomas Whaley would regularly tell his guests that Yankee Jim was hung on gallows that stood in the spot where this arch was later constructed in the Whaley House.

At the end of the day, whether one believes in the paranormal or not, we arrive back at where I began the article that is in 2016, there is no definitive evidence that ghosts or spirits exist. But, in 2016, there is respectful historical treatment, and even more importantly, knowledgeable historic treatment of locations, and in this respect, that makes the Whaley House a good place to visit for a greater knowledge – and education of where San Diego came from, whether one is a long-standing native resident of the county, or a first-time tourist. While I cannot confirm any paranormal rumors about the location with any of my own personal experiences, I would say that if one does experience something on one’s own, that would be an added bonus. Tours are offered year-round, but visitors should be aware that during the month of October, such tours are regularly booked well in advance, especially because of the well-known paranormal claims about the location.

With a store and courtroom, the Whaley House played a large historic role in the nineteenth century history of San Diego.

The last thing I will note about the Whaley House is that all of the SOHO staff are inclined to let visitors experience what they experience, and make their own judgments, which in my opinion, is how things should stand. Along these lines, readers can view the below photos that I shot on my tour with Ms. Tolentino, and judge for themselves what they think they see – or don’t see. For myself, I thought nothing of them, but in reviewing my work, my wife swears that there is something in them. If you think you see what she sees, be sure to leave a comment below, or a comment about the photo that my friend California Through My Lens captured. Also, do you have a story about paranormal activities in the Whaley House? If so, leave a note in the comments below!

The Whaley House Theater

The Whaley House Theater