Whaley House                                                     Back to Famous Haunted Places

by Walter Bissell
The Thomas Whaley House Museum is located at
2482 San Diego Avenue in the heart of Old Town,
San Diego, California.  In 1857, Whaley built what
is thought to be the first brick house in San Diego.
whaley house
Made from the bricks of his own kiln, this two-story home with a one-story addition is said
by some to be haunted.  According to America's Most Haunted, “the house is the number
one most haunted house in the United States.”  In addition to being the family’s home, it
was also Thomas Whaley's own general store.  It served many other purposes such as
County Court House, grainery, ballroom, school, pool-hall and San Diego's first
commercial theater.

Born in New York City in 1823, Thomas was the son of Thomas Alexander Whaley Sr. and
Rachel Pye.  After acquiring a general education he enrolled in business classes at
Washington Institute.  In 1849 at the height of the Gold Rush, he left New York and headed
for San Francisco.  With the help of George Wardle, Thomas set up a store on
Montgomery Street selling items from his father’s company and lending out mining
equipment and utensils on consignment.  The store was a smashing success, but ended
suddenly in May 1851 when an arsonist set a fire that destroyed the plaza and his store

Aware of booming business opportunities in San Diego, Thomas Whaley set sail with a
fellow merchant named Lewis Franklin.  Arriving in San Diego, they opened a store called
Tienda California.  The following year Franklin sold out his share of the business to
Whaley.  Thomas was well liked and soon became known for his ability to generate and
maintain retail stores.  He returned to New York City and married his high school
sweetheart Anna Eloise DeLaunay in 1853.  Continuing success made Thomas quite
wealthy and he wanted to build a home for Anna and himself.  Even though he knew that
public hangings had occurred where he planned to build, he did so anyway.  They moved
into the house in the fall of 1857.  Thomas was appointed as President for the San Diego
city Board of Trustees for the 1858-1859 term.  Later, this position became known as that
of Mayor.  The one-story addition on the house served as the county courthouse until 1870.  
The County Board of Supervisors also met and kept city records there.  When Alonzo
Horton established New Town, San Diego in 1868 he built a new court house and
demanded the old records from Old Town.  The people of Old Town fought to remain
independent and refused to hand over the records.  In March 1871 while Whaley was away
on business, Horton staged a raid on Whaley House.  Holding Anna on the stairs at
gunpoint, he forcefully seized the records.  Many people say they still feel a cold chill when
they reach the ninth step on the staircase.

At 17 months, Little Thomas Whaley III mysteriously died in his bed.  The cries of a baby
have been reported coming from the bedroom.  Young Violet Whaley committed suicide in
1885 leaving Thomas and Anna heartbroken.  They moved to New Town, San Diego
leaving Lillian, the Whaleys' youngest daughter, behind them.  She lived in the old house
until 1953.  Thomas Whaley died in 1890 and his wife Anna died in 1913.

Lillian was convinced that the ghost of “Yankee Jim” haunted the Whaley House.  James
Robinson had been convicted of grand larceny in 1852 and hanged on a gallows erected
on the spot where the house now stands.  The heavy footsteps of Yankee Jim can be heard
throughout the house.  Another reported haunting is that of a young blond girl who has been
seen in the kitchen and running around out in the yard.  She is thought to be the apparition
of a young girl who in the mid-1800s’s crushed her throat when she ran into a clothesline.  
She was carried into the kitchen and placed on the kitchen table.  She died a short time

Hundreds of strange incidents have been reported by visitors to the Whaley House.   The
sounds of piano music, singing and laughter have been heard throughout the house.  The
smell of perfume and cigar smoke linger in the hallway.  Objects are often seen moving as
if someone touched them.  Curtains move without a draft; rocking chairs rock; pots and
pans sway back and forth; crystals on the lamp move without being touched; and pillows
and beds show the impression of someone lying there.  Mirrors and the glass bookcase
cast the reflections of the former residents of Whaley House.  Even the family pet, a terrier
named Dolly Varden, is said to have been seen running down the hall and entering the
dining room - its’ ears flapping and tail wagging.

Some believe the ghost of Thomas Whaley, wearing a black frock coat and wide-brimmed
hat, stands on the second floor landing surveying his home while Anna, wearing her
favorite calico dress, moves throughout the house preparing it for an unknown visitor.  Will
you be the next guest at the Whaley House?

Ghost Pictures taken at the Whaley House:
Whaley House Ghost Photograph
Whaley House Ghost Picture  
Whaley House Ectoplasm Ghost Picture
For more information visit the:
Whaley House Official Site
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