The Whaley House

Posted by blogger in San Diego Ghost Tours
The Whaley House - Photo

The Whaley House gets its name from the residence’s previous owners, the Whaley family. Built for them back in 1857, the grand home is known throughout San Diego as having witnessed more history than any other building in the city.

One of the absolute finest of homes in Southern California, its beauty was accented by the use of mahogany and rosewood throughout, Brussels carpeting, and elegant damask drapes.

Long considered a mansion during its time, the Whaley House has functioned as a multitude of services, from a general store to a theater. But the time between such ventures was fraught with heartache and chaos. Read on to share in the sadness that made the Whaley House one of San Diego’s most haunted locations.


What Is the Whaley House?

Still standing to this day, the Whaley House is located in San Diego, California, and is presently maintained by a live-in caretaker under the employ of a group called the “Save Our Heritage Organization, or SOHO.

The head of the Whaley family, Thomas Whaley, designed the home himself, with construction beginning in 1856. Completed in the following year, the Whaley House was the very first of its kind in the city of San Diego. Thomas was quoted as saying, “My new house, when completed, will be the most handsome, most comfortable, and convenient place in town or within 150 miles of here”.

If only he could have been wrong. While it’s true that his home was indeed handsome, the horrors that followed were anything but. Shortly after the birth of the Whaley’s son, Thomas Junior, they were met with tragedy. The poor child had contracted scarlet fever and died just 18 months after his birth.

Not soon after, a fire broke out and destroyed part of the house that Thomas had transformed into a general store. Dismayed over their significant losses, the Whaley’s decided it was time for a change and moved to San Francisco.

Over the course of the next ten years, Thomas invested in a stock that proved to be financially beneficial. With his affairs in order, he and the family moved back to San Diego to attempt to repair what had been ruined by the fire those many years prior.

Completion on the house was finalized at the end of 1868, and all was well with the Whaleys. For now. Sadly, any happiness that was to be found proved to be short-lived, for in 1885, one of their six children, Violet, took her own life.

But we need to go back three years before her suicide to learn what would make her do such a thing. In 1882, Violet and Anna Whaley married George T. Bertolacci and John T. Whaley, respectively. But just two weeks in Violet’s marriage, she awoke one morning during their extended honeymoon to find that her husband had left.

It turns out, Bertolacci was a con artist who only married Violet in the hopes of securing some of the Whaley family fortunes upon their marriage. When this didn’t come to fruition, he bolted, leaving Violet alone and beside herself.

The Tragedy Continues

During these times, society tended to shun women who returned home without their husbands, as it was something that 19th-century ladies simply did not do. The divorce took almost a year to finalize, and Violet never recovered from the shame. At the young age of 22, she shot herself in the chest with a 32-caliber. She left a suicide note that quoted a poem by Thomas Hood.

Another Whaley daughter, Corrine, was engaged to be married at the time of Violet’s death, but her fiance broke off the marriage due to the scandal that the suicide caused the family. After such tragic events, Thomas built the family a new home not far from the Whaley house, leaving their original home vacant for nearly two decades.

It was there that Thomas Whaley would meet his fate, dying in 1888 due to his declining health. In the years to follow, the Whaley House fell into disrepair. It wasn’t until 1909 that Thomas Whaley’s son, Francis, took on the massive undertaking of restoring the Whaley homestead.

Instead of making it his home, Francis took this opportunity to turn the restoration into a tourist attraction, promoting its history while entertaining guests with his guitar. The remaining surviving Whaley family – Anna Whaley, Thomas’s widow, Corinne Lillian, Francis, and George – all lived in the original Whaley House until their deaths.

Paranormal Activity Within the Whaley House

The Whaley House is perhaps the most famous of all haunted locations in San Diego, with its stories told in magazines, movies, and television shows.

Even before all the tragedy that befell them, the Whaleys told the local newspaper that they were experiencing a poltergeist that they believed was the ghost of James “Yankee Jim” Robinson, who was hanged on the property for stealing a boat years before the infamous home was built.

Not helping matters is the fact that the Whaley House was built upon an old cemetery. The Whaleys long maintained that they heard footsteps in the house, with passersby corroborating the Whaley’s claims by reporting apparitions in the home’s windows from the streets.

During the house’s later periods of restoration, workers and visitors claimed to hear strange, unexplained sounds, sights and even smells. Most felt a powerful presence whenever inside the residence.

This is believed by many to be the lingering ghost of Jim Robinson mentioned earlier. He would torment the living by leaving footprints, stomping on the floor, and making chilling noises throughout the abode.


Further adding to the spine-tingling tales is that of young baby Thomas Junior, He is said to cry down the Whaley House’s halls, giggle in the distance, and if listening closely, you can even hear the tiny patter of infant footsteps.

A young woman has been reported on numerous occasions to inhabit the second floor of the house. This ghost is widely believed to be that of young Violet Whaley, still saddened over her broken sham of a marriage. Her longing to linger on the second floor is attributed to the fact that she often locked herself away in her room after her marriage fell apart.

Cold spots are frequent throughout the mansion, believed to be Violet’s doing, as well. The stairwells within the residence have been mentioned by many to be the wandering area for Thomas, Anna, and other poltergeists. Thomas is often seen sporting his trademark top hat and coat while looking down from the top of the stairs.

It’s interesting to add that many people have detected the scent of French perfume permeating the house, a favorite of Anna’s that she often wore.

Serving to cement the house’s hauntings are several sightings of physical objects being manipulated on their own, such as the music room’s chandelier, which will swing back and forth at will when no wind is present. Lights will turn off and on without explanation, too, and there is frequently the presence of an odd mist that seems to linger.


The events surrounding the Whaley House are indeed sad and heartbreaking. One has to wonder if Thomas having the home built on top of a cemetery and execution site is to blame for the tragedies that seemed to follow the family all of their collective lives.

It cannot be denied that any happiness and joy the family had was fleeting at best. Their lives were filled with near-constant sorrow and despair. So well-known are these tragic lives that ghost-hunters and thrill-seekers flock to its location every year in order to attempt to catch a glimpse of one of the long-dead Whaleys.

Today the residence serves as a museum that is open to the public. There, people can get a first-hand look at the house that was meant to be the Whaley’s forever home. Instead, it turned out to be forever haunted by the Whaleys.