The Whaley House: San Diego’s Haunted Mansion

One of San Diego’s oldest historical sights allows guests to see if it is truly haunted
According to the museum’s website, the Whaley House served as a court house, general store, and community theater for the residents of Old Town.
According to the museum’s website, the Whaley House served as a court house, general store, and community theater for the residents of Old Town.
(Instagram: @whaleyhousesd)

In the heart of San Diego’s Old Town, just off the South 8 freeway towards downtown, sits the historic Whaley House which is considered by Forbes to be “the Most Haunted House in California.” It has been open to the public since 1960, but it has only recently started offering “after hour paranormal investigations,” complete with ghost hunting equipment, special access to certain areas of the home, and assistance from an experienced paranormal investigator. Fortunately enough, I was able to experience one of these tours myself.

My adventure began at 11 o’clock at night in the Derby Pedeleton House, which is behind the main museum. Here, the guide greeted me warmly and asked to make sure I indeed came for the tour; as the rest of the group arrived, he was nice enough to talk to incoming guests about times they thought to have encountered people of the afterlife. In his introduction, it seemed as though he could go on forever with intriguing theories and stories about the paranormal; it was clear he had a genuine enthusiasm to share with us all.

By using green lights to indicate low levels of electricity in an area, as well as yellow, orange, and red lights for high levels of electricity, the EMF reader is meant to detect if any spirits in the house have left residual energy. (Credit: Seth-Joseph Pintar)

Our guide then explained how the provided ghost hunting equipment was supposed to be used and how it worked; the electromagnetic field reader (EMF) had color-coded lights to supposedly indicate if a spirit manipulated any electricity; coming in the ironic form of little coffins, the devices known as “music boxes” would play a creepy song if anyone (living or dead) were to move in front of it; the “dousing rods” were two pieces of copper on moveable hinges that spirits could supposedly move by manipulating the electricity around them.

  After this, the group and I entered the house; as per the cautionary words of our guide, we made sure to thank Ms. Whaley for letting us in and complimented her for “keeping her home so well put together”; as far as anyone could tell, there was no one else in the building to hear our group’s hospitality. As I walked through the historic halls, my eyes were magnetized to the Victorian-Era furniture and business records written by Tomas Whaley himself; it was as though time had stood still. The darkness and the silence of the night made any small movement or sound strike the ear like lightning; this made everyone’s footsteps creaking the floorboards behind my field of vision that much more eerie.

According to legend, Tomas Whaley used the wood of the gallows used in “Yankee” Jim Robinson’s hanging to build the arches of the house’s drawing room. (Instagram: @whaleyhousesd)

As the tour went on, the guide shared tragic moments of the Whaley House’s history that are attached to the alleged hauntings. Despite his land being the site of the brutally botched execution of “Yankee” Jim Robinson, Tomas Whaley used it to build his dream house 1856. Two years after finding out her husband had a child with another woman, Violet Whaley took her own life by shooting herself in the chest. One day, Meriam Whaley mistook a jar of Kellogg’s ant poison for honey and died shortly after; she was just three years old. It was impossible to stand in a room and not visualize its corresponding horror story as if they were happening in real-time.

Throughout the night, I experienced things that were surprising and hard to explain; at one point, I asked any present spirits to ring a bell sitting on a counter, and it rang before the sentence even finished; seeing an open door to a room our group was just in shouldn’t have been shocking, but a man in our group claimed to have closed it when exiting; when our guide demonstrated how the dousing rods could be used to answer questions, by asking the spirits to move the rods inward or outward, they seemed to move almost on command.

Although it is hard to explain these events, it is not impossible to come up with plausible theories for them. A device that could make the bell ring without touching it would have been able to go under the radar in the dimly lit room. Since the doors in the house are almost two and a half centuries old, it is possible that their hinges and knobs have lost strength and allow the doors to open. If one were to hold the dousing rods themselves, they would find that they can make them move outward or inward by tilting the handles.

If you ever decide to sign up for it, the Whaley House’s “Paranormal Investigation” can give you a satisfying and spooky time; however, it should be noted that before you leave, you are instructed to thank Ms. Whaley for opening up her home as to “not let any spirits follow you home.”

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