The Whaley House is one of Southern California’s most beautiful historic homes. Mahogany and Rosewood accent the home, and Brussels carpeting and elegant Damask drapes conceal the darker past within. The Whaley House was constructed in 1857 for the residence’s previous owners, the Whaley family. The grand home has witnessed San Diego’s history from a front-row seat and has served many purposes throughout its lifetime.
The Whaley House was considered a mansion during its time and has served the community as a general store and even a theater. However, the time between the home’s changing faces was filled with chaos and heartache. Continue to learn all about one of San Diego’s most haunted houses.
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Whaley House History
Located in sunny San Diego, California, the Whaley House is maintained by a live-in caretaker who belongs to the ‘Save Our Heritage Organization,’ or ‘SOHO.’ The head of the Whaley family, Thomas, designed the home for himself beginning in 1856. Completed just a year later. It was the first of its kind in the city, and Thomas was quoted saying before its completion,
“My new house, when completed, will be the most comfortable, handsome, and convenient place in town or within 150 miles of here.”
But, oh, how wrong he was.
While it’s true that the home was beautiful, the horrors that followed after the birth of Thomas’ son, Thomas Jr., was beyond belief. His son soon contracted Scarlet Fever and died just eighteen months after his birth. Not soon after that, a fire broke out and destroyed part of the Whaley home that Thomas was using as a general store. He was dismayed, he had lost a significant amount in just a few short months, and Whaley decided the home was too filled with heartbreak to stay — he soon moved on to San Francisco, leaving the Whaley House in a state of abandoned disrepair.
Tragedies at the Whaley Home
Come 1868, the home was completely renovated, and yet again, happiness and good fortune were proven to be short-lived for Thomas and his family. In 1885, one of their six children, Violet, decided to take her own life.
But why? We need to go back a few years before the tragedy to answer that question.
In 1882, Violet and Anna Whaley married George Bertolacci and John Whaley. But just two weeks after Violet’s marriage to George, she awoke one morning during their honeymoon to find her husband gone. It turns out that George was nothing more than a heartless conman who only married Violet in hopes of securing some of the family’s fortune. When this didn’t happen, he bolted as soon as possible, leaving Violet heartbroken and alone.
The Tragedy Continues On…
During those days, society shunned women who returned home without their husbands. Divorce was frowned upon, and it must have been her fault, unable to keep a husband — what was wrong with Violet? The divorce took almost a year to finalize, and Violet never recovered from the shame.
At the age of 22, she shot herself in the chest and left nothing behind but a suicide note that quoted a poem by Thomas Hood –
“Mad from life’s history
Swift to death’s mystery
Glad to be hurled
Anywhere, anywhere, out of this world”
Another Whaley daughter, Corrine, was engaged to be married when her sister passed, but her fiance broke that union off after the scandal that Violet’s suicide caused the family. After these events, Thomas built a new family home not far from the original house. The original property was left vacant for nearly twenty years.
Thomas Meets His End
It was in this new home that Thomas Whaley died. He had been struggling with declining health for a while. He passed in 1888. The original Whaley House began to fall into complete disrepair in the years that followed. Thomas Whaley’s son, Francis, took over restoring the Whaley homestead. Instead of making it his home, Francis turned it into a tourist attraction and promoted its history while serenading guests with his guitar.
The remaining Whaley family all lived in the original home until their deaths.
Ghostly Happenings of the Whaley House
One of the most famously haunted locations in San Diego, and all of the west coast, the Whaley House’s stories are told in magazines, movies, and television shows. Even before tragedy befell them, the Whaley family reported that their home was haunted by a poltergeist who they believed was the spirit of James Robinson, who was hanged on the land for stealing a boat before the Whaley House was even built.
Not only did the spirit of a boat-jacking thief haunt their property, but the Whaley House was also built atop an old cemetery. The Whaleys always heard footsteps in the home, while passersby reported seeing apparitions in the home’s windows while no one was home.
During the home’s restoration periods, visitors and construction workers later reported hearing unexplained sounds, sights, and even smells. Most people felt a foreboding presence while inside the home. This presence is believed to be James — he was known to torment the living by leaving muddy footprints and stomping on the floor into the later hours of the evening.
Further adding to the spine-chilling stories of the home is that of the young infant Thomas Jr. He is said to be heard crying in the halls, giggling in the distance, and some people even hear tiny footsteps.
A young woman’s apparition is reported most on the home’s second floor. Many believe this spirit to be that of Violet Whaley. Her longing to linger in the home is attributed to the fact that she would lock herself away in her second-floor room while mourning the loss of her short-lived marriage.
Cold spots are frequently felt throughout the home, and the stairwells are a hotspot for full-bodied apparitions. Thomas Whaley has even been seen sporting his favorite top hat and coat while peering down from the top of the steps.
Cementing the home’s hauntings, sightings of objects moving on their own, swinging chandeliers, and lights turning on and off by unseen hands are also reported.
The tragic events surrounding the Whaley House and family surely add to the negative energies and hauntings of the home today. It cannot be denied that any happiness and joy the family had was fleeting. Their lives were filled with near-constant sorrow and despair. Thrill-seekers and ghost-hunters alike now flock to the site of these tragedies in an attempt to catch a glimpse of one of the Whaley clan. Today, the residence serves as a museum that is open to the public. There, visitors can get a first-hand look at the preserved past that exists inside the stunning home.
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For more about America’s haunted homes, take a trip to Savannah to the Sorrel-Willink House!