Phone: (619) 297-7511
Dog-Friendly: No Kid-Friendly: Yes
Hours: Sunday - Tuesday 10am-4:30pm // Wednesday Closed // Thursday - Saturday 10am-9:30pm
Admission: $10 Adults · $8 Seniors (55+), Active Duty Military, & Children (ages 6-12)
Free for children 5 and under
The Whaley House was built where a graveyard once was. At various times it also housed Whaley's general store, San Diego's second county courthouse, and the first commercial theater in San Diego. The house has "witnessed more history than any other building in the city".
Thomas and Anna Whaley had six children, Francis Hinton (December 28, 1854), Thomas Whaley Jr. (August 18, 1856), Anna Amelia (June 27, 1858), George Hay Ringgold (November 5, 1860), Violet Eloise (October 14, 1862), and Corinne Lillian (September 4, 1864). Francis Hinton was named after a business partner. Thomas Whaley, Jr. suffered from Scarlet Fever at 18 months and died on January 29, 1858.
After the death of baby Thomas and the loss by fire of their store, Thomas and Anna moved to San Francisco. In January 1859, Whaley turned his affairs in Old Town over to Frank Ames, a Wells Fargo agent. In the summer of 1868, Thomas invested some of his new capitol of stock in merchandise and headed back to San Diego. Thomas fixed up the old Whaley House, and Anna and the rest of the family arrived back home to San Diego on December 12, 1868.
On January 5, 1882, Violet Eloise Whaley and Anna Amelia Whaley were both married in Old San Diego. Violet married George T. Bertolacci and Anna Amelia wed her first cousin, John T. Whaley, son of Henry Hurst Whaley.
Two weeks into Violet's marriage, as the couple was traveling back east on their honeymoon, she awoke one morning to find her husband gone. Bertolacci, as it turned out, was a con artist and, as Violet and her family later learned, had only married her for the substantial dowry he believed he would collect upon the marriage.
Due to the restrictive morals and societal standards of the time period, Violet was essentially shunned by polite society upon returning home, not only without her husband, but also unchaperoned, something proper ladies simply did not do in late 19th century Victorian society.
Violet and George's divorce was finalized approximately a year later, but Violet never recovered from the public humiliation and betrayal, and suffered from depression. Violet committed suicide by shooting herself in the chest with Thomas's 32-calibre on August 18, 1885. She was then 22 years of age. Her suicide note reads thus:
Mad from life's history,
Swift to death's mystery;
Glad to be hurled,
Anywhere, anywhere, out of this world.
— Violet Whaley
Haunted? "The earliest documented ghost at the Whaley House is "Yankee Jim." James (aka Santiago) Robinson was convicted of attempted grand larceny in San Diego in 1852, and hanged on a gallows off the back of a wagon on the site where the house now stands. 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."
Although Thomas Whaley had been a spectator at the execution, he did not let it dissuade him from buying the property a few years later and building a home for his family there. According to the San Diego Union, "soon after the couple and their children moved in, heavy footsteps were heard moving about the house. Whaley described them as sounding as though they were made by the boots of a large man.
Finally he came to the conclusion that these unexplained footfalls were made by Yankee Jim Robinson." Another source states that Lillian Whaley, the Whaleys' youngest daughter who lived in the house until 1953, "had been convinced the ghost of "Yankee Jim" haunted the Old House." A visitor to the museum in 1962 mentioned that "the ghost had driven her family from their visit there more than 60 years [earlier], her mother was unnerved by the phantom walking noise and the strange way the windows unlatched and flew up."
Personal Story: I happen to have had a personal ghostly experience in the Whaley House when I was a child and would love to share it. These days all of the rooms are glassed off so you can’t go inside them. When I was a kid there was just a rope keeping you from going in the rooms, and well, that wasn't going to stop me from going in!
In one of the rooms I went in I remember extremely vividly looking in a long mirror and seeing behind me a young boy (about 5 yrs. old) in a 19th century-style outfit. He had suspenders, a paperboy hat, knee highs, etc. He was talking to a beautiful lady who actually kept looking at me through the mirror and giving me a mischievous smile. She didn't seem evil, but devious.
The weird thing about her was that she was all green! I mean green face, clothes, hair, etc. I wasn't scared though. I was intrigued. I heard people coming up the stairs and I instinctively turned to see who it was. The little boy and lady were nowhere to be seen when I looked behind me & when I turned back to look in the mirror, the only person looking at me was my own reflection. The ghostly pair had vanished. It was an amazing experience. At such a young age, when my imagination was still going full-force, it was impossible for me to fully wrap this experience around my head. Regardless though, it has remained vividly in my memory ever since.
Until last night, the only mention I have ever heard or read about a green lady in the Whaley House was in a book I was thumbing through about 8 years back in Old Town. It briefly mentioned a green female spirit that haunts Old Town accompanied with a cheesy illustration of a green ghost woman. I've been kicking myself in the butt ever since for not at least writing down the title and author of that book.
Fast forward to October 31st, 2010. I went to Old Town that night and there was a group of ghost hunters there advertising their group and putting together haunted tours of the Whaley House. I decided to talk to them about my experience and get their take on it. To my surprise, they were actually very interested in my story and believed me (unlike most people). One of the ladies asked if I would look at some of the female ghosts they were able to capture on camera there and of course, I naturally agreed.
The first photo was of Anna Whaley, the mother. I immediately said no and that she wasn't the lady I saw. She then showed me a second ghostly photo of a female (I can't remember who she said that woman was). Again, no. I explained that she looked to be in her twenties and was beautiful. They both said at the same time “Violet”. They then showed me a ghost photo of Violet, the daughter who committed suicide there.
Immediately I knew it was her. They then both got really excited when they realized that Violet had been seen with a green orb around her numerous times and was, in fact, associated with that color. I cannot tell you how excited I was to not only put a face and name to the female ghost that I had seen, but to also have people believe me and give me props for seeing her!!
Since I learned that the female ghost I saw was Violet Whaley, I began reading up on the Whaley family more. I then learned that a young girl was rumored to haunt the house, but a psychic ghost-hunting group who frequents this place all agreed that there is no spirit of a young girl there but instead of a young boy. That too would go right along with the little boy I saw there! This is all so exciting for me!