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Monday, February 12, 2018

Southern California Vol. 11 - The Ghosts of the Whaley House, San Diego

The Whaley House.  Chances are, if you have any interest in ghosts or have ever watched one of those shows on Travel Channel about supernatural stuff in California, then you’ve heard of The Whaley House.  It is officially recognized by the U.S. Commerce Department as the most haunted place in California.  Located in Old Town San Diego, the house was built by Thomas Whaley in 1855. 

Prior to the house being built, the site had been used once before to hang a criminal named Jim Robinson.  He’d been convicted of trying to steal a boat and having a long record of previous crimes, the locals strung him up on a gallows.  Unfortunately for Robinson, he was taller than most people and so when he was hung, he was able to get his toes on the boards and occasionally lift himself to get a breath.  It took him forty-five minutes to die.

Most accounts mark this as the source for the first occurrences on the land.  Once Whaley built the house, he moved his family in and according to the docents and historians my wife and I spoke to when we visited Whaley House, they were the first to report seeing and hearing ghosts.  Whaley was not a superstitious man though and while his family reported hearing strange footsteps, he refused to be alarmed by it.

The Whaley family lived in the house all the way up to 1953, with only one exception.  There was a period where Thomas Whaley refused to live there because he was overcome with grief over the death of his daughter.  Otherwise, with the Whaley family spending almost 100 years in the house, you can imagine that there is some history there and that history includes some tragedy.  Overall, six family members died in the house.  Also, a small neighbor child died there in an accident involving a clothesline. 

Throughout its history, people living in the house have reported ghostly presences.  Now that it’s a historic site and museum, the volunteers who work there are the ones who see things most often.  Which brings me to our visit.

Karen and I had lived here for eighteen years and never bothered visiting the Whaley House.  We would go to Old Town San Diego about four or five times a year on average but just never bothered checking the place out.  Last year, we decided to visit it before heading home from a long weekend.  The tour is self-guided and the house has been set up to show the various things it has been used for over the years.  For instance, one of the great rooms is set up as a court room, since Whaley House acted as the courtroom for San Diego at one point.  Upstairs, there is a room that set up with a stage.  This room was used as a theater at one point.  The rest of the house is what you’d expect of a semi-wealthy family’s home from the 1800’s.

As Karen and I walked into the theater room, a docent was just beginning to give her speech.  There were about ten other people in the room, all sitting on chairs facing the stage.  We took two seats on the far side.  On the side nearest the door, there was a family of four (mom, dad and two daughters who were in their late teens or early twenties).  As the docent talked about the theater, the mother from this group jumped.  She said she felt something tug her hair. 
The docent stopped and then told everyone that there was a young child ghost that often liked to prank people in the house.  She went on to say that she was very susceptible to feeling the ghosts presence when they were in the room and that indeed there was one there.

Now, understand that I love horror movies, horror books, and all things spooky, yet I have never seen a ghost.  As much as I want them to exist, I highly doubt that they do.  Karen and I watched this whole thing unfold as if it were a theater of the absurd performance.  The docent continued her talk but occasionally broke it up by pointing and saying, “There’s a presence there.”
As she did that, this woman continued to get more and more freaked out.  She described her hair being pulled.  She felt someone tickle her neck.  She felt someone grab her arm.  After about ten minutes of this, she insisted her family leave and they did. 

I set my phone camera on “burst” mode and took a ton of pictures during this.  Every time the docent pointed somewhere, I turned and shot pictures.  The whole time this other lady was squirming, I was taking pictures.  When I got home, guess what I had?
Yep, a bunch of pictures of this lady and that room.  There was not one single ghostly image.

Don’t let that deter you though.  Go to Whaley House and check it out yourself.  At the very least, it’s a part of California history and it’s right next to Old Town San Diego where you can find fantastic Mexican food.  Not to mention there are a ton of great breweries all close by.  Maybe after a night of eating a drinking, you’ll see your own ghosts.

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