San Diego’s Haunted Museums
Filled To The Brim With Haunted History
Museums capture the attention and love of most who enter them, homes to relics of the past, a safe haven for history to live on. The United States alone is home to over 35,000 museums, with California holding onto just over 1,000 of them.
Known lovingly as “America’s Finest City,” San Diego is as beautiful as it is historic. As the oldest city in The Golden State and built over two hundred and fifty years ago in 1769, San Diego provides its residents and visitors with all the history and lore to satisfy. The state of California wasn’t even admitted to the Union until 1850, almost a hundred years after San Diego got its name! San Diego has over 35 museums, and below are a few of them that store historical artifacts and long-gone spirits. Read on for a couple of of San Diego’s Haunted Museums!
Whaley House Museum
Built back in 1857, the Whaley House has many tales to tell. Located on namesake street San Diego Avenue, the house was the home of Thomas Whaley and his family. A beautiful old gem, built right atop a graveyard. No harm is done there, right? It also once existed as a general store, a county courthouse, as well as the first commercial theater in San Diego. Residents to the area state that the house has ‘witnessed more history than any other building in the city.’
So, who was Thomas Whaley? Mr. Whaley was born in NYC, later moving to San Francisco during California’s gold rush, and found himself settled in San Diego in 1851. After marrying Anna Eloise, he and his new wife had six children here at the house. One of his children died from scarlet fever in the home at 18 months, and after a 9-year sabbatical in San Francisco, his family moved back into the San Diego home.
Thomas’s daughters, Violet and Anna, were both married in Old San Diego. Violet married a man named George Bertolacci, and Anna married her first cousin, John Whaley. (Times were strange back then, it seems.) While Anna’s marriage was odd, Violet’s marriage was downright horrific. Two weeks into her marriage, she awoke to her husband gone. Bertolacci, it turned out, was an incredible con artist and only married Violet to receive the substantial dowry. After she returned home unchaperoned, she was shunned by her society since this was something’ proper 19th century ladies should never do.’
Violet and George’s divorce became finalized about a year later, but Violet never recovered from the public humiliation and betrayal. Her depression got the best of her on August 18th, 1885, when she shot herself in the chest with Thomas’ 32-caliber gun. She did leave a truly chilling suicide note…
‘Mad from life’s history,
swift to death’s mystery,
glad to be hurled,
anywhere, anywhere, out of this world.’
Shortly after Violet’s death, the Whaley family fell into disrepair. Thomas fell ill at the home and died. Her sister’s engagement was broken off due to the scandal that Violet’s death caused. In late 1909, the Whaley House remained vacant and began to rot. Francis Whaley undertook the restoration of the home and turned it into a tourist attraction. After the history of deaths in the house, it remains well known as a local haunted hotspot. It is said that guests and staff will catch glimpses of apparitions of those who took their final breaths within the walls of the home, baby Thomas Jr., Violet, and Thomas Sr. In 2005, LIFE magazine called the Whaley House ‘The Most Haunted House in America.’ Even the Whaley family themselves experienced hauntings in the home. They began hearing the footsteps of a man they claimed to be ‘Yankee Jim’ who was hanged on the property for stealing a boat.
Today, more than 30 spirits are said to roam the Whaley House, from relatives to strangers to a fox terrier named Dolly. If you ever visit the Whaley House Museum, be sure to keep an eye out for those who died but never left! Maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of history in ways you’d never expect.
Villa Montezuma Museum
The Villa Montezuma Museum was built in 1887 and was once a mansion to Jesse Shepard, who is said to haunt the building. He was a pianist and spiritualist who sat at his piano bench and claimed to channel famous composers.
Sitting on San Diego’s outskirts, the home is now a historical landmark and has been named one of San Diego’s most haunted houses. Just looking at the home itself shows you the strange fascinations and eclectic tastes that Jesse had. Stained glass windows lining the home, gargoyles perched around on the tallest parts, and five fireplaces can be found inside. Jesse also had a tower built that was used as his study and an entire east wing set aside for his love of music.
Due to Jesse’s affluent tastes, he had many connections that would eventually draw the attention of those interested in the paranormal. He found himself holding séances in the home with his closest friends. During these gatherings, Jesse believed that he had the power to open doors and a line of communication with the dead. Many of his friends thought he was successful in contacting spirits during these séances. People on the streets started to hear full orchestras playing at night when Jesse was the only one home! Residents began to believe that he was playing with a ghastly orchestra!
These days, several spirits are said to haunt the Villa Montezuma. While details are scarce, one spirit is said to be of a man who hanged himself from the second-floor observatory, and another is said to be a former owner of the mansion. Multiple visitors have seen a hanging apparition, disembodied voices, and phantom music echoing throughout the large home.
Interestingly enough, none of the villa’s many owners have ever found success in their lives while living there. Each of them faced severe and life-changing financial ruin and was forced the sell the Villa to someone else. It is rumored that the Villa Montezuma has had a curse placed on it that guaranteed the quick decline of all who moved into it. The poltergeist of Jesse Shepard himself is also said to play his piano here when the house is empty; passersby can hear the keys tinkling from inside the dark mansion. Tourists to the museum confirm the Villa’s eerie vibe, and many have also reported seeing ghostly figures and faces in the colorful stained glass windows. One face, in particular, seems to capture the attention of eyewitnesses the most, Flemish artist Peter Paul, whose ghostly beard can be seen graying more and more as each year passes.
What is genuinely most astounding about the hauntings at Villa Montezuma is the manner in which Jesse Shepard died. He was with his roommate, Lawrence Tonner, like any other night, playing the piano for guests. After striking the last key to finish his piece, he died. No one had noticed until they realized that Jesse was unresponsive to their adoration and praise. Tonner approached the bench and soon realized that Shepard was completely frozen with his hands still on the keys. Even though Jesse did not die in the Villa, he died in Los Angeles, and it is said that his spirit returned here due to his love and attachment for the Villa.
Today the Villa Montezuma is open to the public to visitors who register with the San Diego Parks and Recreation department. Free tours are given four times a year to all who gather. Have you ever toured the Villa Montezuma? If you’d like to read more regarding this historical landmark, feel free to check out our in-depth Villa Montezuma article.
Museums play an essential role in any society, giving each new generation a chance to learn the history of the places surrounding them. Making sure important pieces of the past live on forever, these two haunted San Diego museums live on, and so do the ghosts inside them!
If you find yourself in San Diego and don’t feel up to driving home after exploring all of these haunted locations, maybe one of these haunted hotels will pique your interest!
Featured Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons