Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Ghost Story: The Whaley House/Old Town San Diego Pt.1

(Flickr User Peter Kaminski/CC)
Old Town San Diego is a great California State Park. It has a variety of both original and reconstructed adobes and other buildings from the settlements early days. It adjoins the City Of San Diego's Heritage Park Victorian Village. The greater Old Town area is a bit vague as to were it begins and ends with its variety of museums, restaurants, gift shops of both historic and falsely historic provenance. None the less, I love the place and I can't go to San Diego without stopping by for a few minutes at least.

We will want to spend some time exploring all of the neat historical features of Old Town San Diego, but since Halloween is coming in few weeks, I thought I would share with you a ghost story from Old Town San Diego. Dim the lights and let's begin...

Thomas Whaley was an adventurous New York business man. In 1849 he joined the mad Gold Rush to California where he hoped to make money off of the miners. He set up a successful retail business in San Francisco until a fire shut him down in 1851. Then he drifted South to the warm climate of the Pueblo of San Diego in 1851 started a store in the growing town.

There was a hanging in the old Pueblo of San Diego in 1852. A petty outlaw type names Yankee Jim was involved in a plot to steal a boat from the harbor.He was captured and the sentence to die.Yankee Jim was a tall man with a head of wild blond hair. He was so tall that when he the platform dropped his feet hit the ground. He did not die right away. Slowly, ever so slowly the rope dug into his neck as he struggled. For 15 minutes he fought against the rope. The whole time he protested his innocence in garbled, strangled speech. Eventually the noose did its job. He suffocated and he died. Some say, his spirit never left the gallows..

No one knows if Thomas Whaley watched the hanging. But one thing is sure. By 1852 his store was making some money. He had called the store Tienda California. He learned Spanish so that he could do more business with local Indians and found a nice return for his efforts.  He was successful enough that he returned to his home in New York to marry find a bride.

Anna Eloise DeLaunay married Thomas Whaley on August 14, 1853. With his new bride at his side Thomas Whaley returned to San Diego to settle down.  He bought a lot in the Old Town and began to build his home and new site for his business. It was the lot was where Yankee Jim had been hung so recently. Did Thomas Whaley know? Again, we do not know, perhaps its got him the land at a bargain price or perhaps we was swindled

Thomas Whaley built a large 2 story Greek Revival style home using brick and tile work he made himself, even so over 10,000 dollars was put into its construction-a lot of money in those days! The Whaley House was completed in 1857 and the family moved in.

The Whaley House (Flickr User Smart Destinations//CC)
The house itself is a grand home, considered by many to be the finest in Southern California at the time.  The home was designed so that the ground floor would house his business and his families home would be upstairs. The downstairs was split with a storefront and a hall that served as San Diego's first Opera House and later also served as the County Courthouse.  As you might imagine it was a busy place with all levels of the San Diego citizenry coming and going.

It's said that soon after moving in, certain apparitions had been seen by Thomas Whaley in his new home. Its said that the ghost of Yankee Jim haunted the sight and made himself known by his wild blond hair that Whaley would see through a ghostly haze.

Thomas and Anna Whaley had started a family while the house was being built. There first son Thomas Jr. was born in 1856. After moving Anna became pregnant with their second child. In the middle of the pregnancy, Thomas Jr contracted scarlet fever at the age of 18 months and died. Perhaps another ghost was born on that day?

The Children's Room (Flickr User Robert Glen Fogarty/CC)


Anna had 5 children who lived after young Thomas Jr.s untimely death. After the loss of their firstborn and son and a fire that put his store out out business, In 1859, Thomas Whaley decided to take his family and go back up to San Francisco to start over. He left his affairs under the direction of a local Wells Fargo agent and headed North,  It could be that the spirits drove him out. To claim as much would have made him seem a madman-not good for business!

It took Whaley nine years, during that time he left his wife and children for an extended business adventure in Alaska. He managed to build up another nest egg and set off to return to San Diego to start yet another business, Maybe the family thought the ghosts would be gone, maybe they thought they just been imagining things, maybe they thought they could bargain with the spectre of Yankee Jim, Whatever the motivation the family moved back into the house in 1868.


The Whaley House Was The County Courthouse (Flickr User greggoconnell/CC)


In 1869 and 1870  the Whaley House was the county courthouse. If you believe in such things it is possible that a loved one of a convicted criminal might have thrown a hex on the building. I can't back that up with proof, but you never know.

The family lived a fairly normal life in their haunted house at the busy little pueblo of San Diego that was growing rapidly. Then in 1882, Thomas Whaley's daughters, Anna and Violet Eloise were both married, Violet Eloise was in love, but after the wedding, on a cruise ship for her honeymoon, she was abandoned by her new husband. Her new husband, it turns out, was just a con man. He had married her in the interest of gaining what he hoped to be a sizable dowry.

San Diego was a still a small town and Victorian morals had no tolerance for divorce, When Violet Eloise returned to San Diego she was shunned by polite society. Already heart broken, the shunning by her home town drove her into a spiral of depression. On August 18, 1885, Violet Eloise shot herself in the chest with her fathers .32 caliber pistol.She was just 22 years old and thought she would end it all, but her ghost is said to live on-perhaps for eternity-within the walls of the Whaley House,

Does the Ghost of Violet Eloise Still Play The Organ-Some Say Yes! (Flickr User snabby/CC)
Once again, Thomas Whaley left the home he had built to its ghosts and moved into a more simple home near the downtown that was taking shape nearer the San Diego Bay in what is know known as Gastown. where he finally died in 1890.

For twenty years, the house sat idle, although people would report lights burning and shadowy figures in the windows, often with wild yellow hair.

In 1909, Thomas Whaleys son Francis, who had been married in Mendocino, brought his bride to San Diego to establish a residence in the old family home, Another son, George, threw a party that year in the large room. it was a dance with guitar and fiddle music. Fifty couples attended and had a grand time enjoying the music and the already old house, When the night was over, many insisted that the party should be an annual event.

Francis Whaley, plunged into restoring the old house to its former glory. The next year George had another gala at the house. Old Town San Diego was starting to take shape as a tourist area, with the electric streetcar serving the area starting in 1912. The Whaley House was now part of a tourist attraction. Francis died in the house in 1914. Brother George moved in, and lived there until his death in 1928. Georges wife Lillian would stay on in the house until 1935.

The house then stood vacant and slowly turned to ruin. For decades, it was vacant and the ghosts had the place to themselves, But in 1953, a court order was issued to put the house up for sale. Thomas's last daughter, Lillian Corinne, fell and broke her hip. The house was to pay for her medical care.

A real estate agent listed the house, with the intention of demolishing it and using the land to build a motel. The community rallied to save the run down ruins of on of the most glorious homes in Old San Diego. With Lillian passing away less than a month after the court order, and a citizen outcry to deal with. In 1953 the County of San Diego purchased the home and began yet another round of restoration. The house has been used as a historical attraction ever since.

A Ghost In This Photo? (Flickr User greggoconnell/CC)


The house has been called one one of the most haunted places in America, bu the US Commerce department. Tours pass through daily and many tourist claim to have had encounters with the spirits of the old Whaley House. Regis Philbin spent a night there and Says that he was visited by the ghosts. This week I have a few YouTube videos for you to consider. Fakery abounds so I will let you be the judge. Are there ghosts in the Whaley House? I'd say if ghosts even exist, this is a place where they would be,




Playlist Additions


When you think of Halloween Songs what  comes to mind? For many people it would be The Monster Mash, but for me it is Haunted House by Jumpin' Gene Simmons (Not the same as the guy from KISS). A fun little record released originally on the Hi record label. My version is from a mid 1970's K-tel collection called Looney Tunes (Not the same as the classic animated cartoon series).






Portland's Sam Hill, a bluegrass act make our next addition with their song Haunted By A Memory. Has any one ever noticed that there is a lot of tragic bluegrass music? Also tragically I could not find a clip or video to share this song with you, but if you like bluegrass music, they are a pretty hot band.




The Spreckles Organ is featured in our next addition. I talked a little bit about the organ and the CD this track is pulled from back when we were crossing the border from Tijuana. A video search online led me to a performance of this piece by the same organist, but it is on a church pipe organ and not the magnificent Spreckles Outdoor Organ. To compliment that and give you an idea of the sound of the big organ, we have a performance of the Mario Brothers Theme, Enjoy!


  • Haunted House For The Fun Of It-Spreckles Outdoor Organ David Peckham 2:52




Our next track, Ghost is a new addition to my collection. In 1985, David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame, released an album Called The Knee Plays. It was a contribution to an opera by director Robert Wilson that would feature music by Philip Glass, David Byrne, Gavin Bryars and others.It was titled the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down. The opera spanned an epic long five acts and has never been performed live.The song was not featured on the original release of the album, but was included later in a 2007 re-release. I could not find a video that featured this track alone to share with you, so instead here is a complete album someone uploaded to YouTube.






Another ghost song comes to us from Alison Krauss & Union Station. Again we get that tragic bluegrass thing with her song Ghost In This House from her excellent double live album released in 2002.






Wrapping up our playlist additions this week is a cut from a 2 CD set from 1997 celebrating A Century Of Ragtime. A less well known rag than many, it does a great job of evoking the musical era of the dance party George Whaley hosted at the Whaley House in 1909. And it a ghost song. The video is a different performance of the song than featured on the CD.






Signing Off And Coming Attractions

If you have a ghost story you would like to share or if you have been to the Whaley House, tell us about in the comments, Here is a preview of what we will be exploring in the weeks to come. I hope you can join us.

Next Week: A few posts back, we got off Interstate 95 to explore Jupiter, Florida. We'll have a Wild Man to look into before we get back out on the Interstate.
Two Weeks; We will still be in Chicago, Illinois at the start Route 66 where we will look into the life of Howlin' Wolf.
Three Weeks: Back in San Diego, California for more Old Town before we return to our drive North on the old Highway 101.


Mileage Stats

Route 66: 0 Miles/1 State/694 Tracks/166 Videos/31 Posts

Highway 101: 22 Miles/2 Countries/1 State/518 Tracks/216 Videos/24 Posts

Interstate 95: 92 Miles/1 State/38 Tracks/78 Videos/9 Posts

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    8 comments :

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    2. Since I do not believe in ghosts and such, this story didn't hit a particular string with me. The video was interesting though!

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      1. I don't believe in ghosts either. But it has a significant impact on its popularity as a tourist site.

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      1. No, I did miss the spam however. Thank you for pointing it out. :)

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