The Whaley House: A Historical Haunt in Old Town San Diego

The Whaley House: A Historical Haunt in Old Town San Diego

The Whaley House

In 1850 a man named Yankee Jim Robinson made his way to San Diego, California. Shortly after his arrival he was prosecuted for being a thief and hanged from the back of a wagon. Another man, Thomas Whaley, stood in the crowd to witness this execution. He later purchased the land on which the hanging occurred to build his family home and business, the Whaley House.

Outside of the haunted Whaley House at night.
The historic and very haunted Whaley House in Old Town San Diego, California.

Today, the Whaley house is the center of much of Old Town San Diego’s history, as well as haunted folklore. It was built in 1857 and was luxurious for its time. It was the location of the Whaley’s general store, courthouse, at one point in time the Tanner Troupe Theatre and the home to Thomas, his wife Anna, their 6 children and for some of the Whaley’s, their place of death.

Whaley House General Store
The recreated shop front for the general store inside the Whaley House.

Today, the Whaley house building is historically listed, operates as a museum and is a favorite location for paranormal investigations and ghost tours, due to the many reports of paranormal activity that have occurred within the house.

Courtroom in Whaley House.
The Whaley House Courtroom.

Ghosts of the Whaley House

Ever since its construction, the Whaley House has captured the imaginations of many with its ghost stories. Local children would peer in through the windows of the home trying to capture a glimpse of Yankee Jim Robinson’s specter, long rumored to walk the halls of the Whaley House.  The claims of Yankee Jim Robinson haunting the house were reputed by the Whaley’s themselves. Thomas was the first to experience the disembodied, heavy footsteps of a large set man walk through the empty house, many more would hear in the years to come. His wife Anna also believed there to be an unexplained presence within the Whaley House.

Dining room table and mantel in Whaley House.
Dining room inside the Whaley House.

Many Whaley family members haven’t strayed too far from the house named after them since their deaths. Thomas and Anna Whaley are both thought to haunt the Whaley House. Thomas has been sighted standing at the top of the stair case, while Anna is usually seen in the parlor, each sporting Victorian style clothing. One of their children, Thomas Jr., who passed away in 1858 at just 18 months old is also believed to reside within the house. Dying suddenly and tragically at such a young age may have trapped the spirit of the young boy, with many reporting to hear sounds of a child within the Whaley House. Then there is the ghost of Violet, another of the Whaley’s children. Violet was shamed, abandoned and conned by her own husband, which spiraled her into a depressive state. She retreated to her family home where, at just 22 years old, she took her own life by shooting herself on the second floor. The influence of Violet’s entity is felt by many people who experience extreme bouts of sadness in the area she committed suicide. The Whaley’s dog and cat are amongst other spirits of the family that have taken up a ghostly residence within the home, seen occasionally chasing each other inside and across the gardens.

Bedroom in Haunted Whaley House.
Child’s bedroom inside the Whaley House Museum.

Plenty of other unexplainable reports have come out of the Whaley House. There is a strong tendency for objects to move on their own. Staff explain how doors open and close on their own, light fixtures move without wind present and empty rocking chairs rock. Strange noises are even more common with many reporting the sounds of music from instruments that have long since been removed from the home, sounds of the gavel pounding from the courtroom, chatter, voices, footsteps, laughter and cries are all also presented to visitors without explanation. Smells that shouldn’t be present are reported frequently too, with the scents of baking, perfume and cigar smoke being amongst the most popular.

Theater inside spooky Whaley House.
Theater room inside the Whaley House. Around 150 people had crowded into this room to watch performances.

Visiting the Whaley House

The Whaley House Museum is open for tours in the Old Town San Diego area at 2476 San Diego Avenue. The museum run day time self guided tours with staff on hand to answer questions as well as nighttime tours and paranormal focussed investigations.

Haunted bedroom in Whaley House San Diego.
Another of the Whaley House’s bedrooms.

The house is beautifully restored to what it would have looked like between 1868 and 1871. This includes recreations of the family’s living areas, courthouse, general store and theater. The self guided tours are excellent to move at ones own pace and photography is permitted. The house lies a short distance from many other haunted locations within the Old Town San Diego area, which is an interesting place to spend the day.

Front rooms of Whaley House San Diego, California.
The parlor and study inside the Whaley House. Yankee Jim Robinson was supposedly hanged in the very spot the archway is present.

If you found this article interesting and want to learn more about other Californian home’s ghost stories, check out my blog on the three most haunted houses in San Francisco.

Thanks for reading!


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Amy is a world traveller and explorer of creepy locations. She has visited some of the most famously haunted places around the world in search of evidence of the paranormal. Follow Amy's Journey:

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