Whaley House Museum
The Whaley House Museum is comprised of several buildings, but the main one, the Whaley House, is the focal point. It is the oldest brick structure in San Diego, with authentic period furnishings from the mid to late 1800s. The home was built in 1856 by Thomas Whaley in the Greek Revival style. Whaley, who was a successful entrepreneur, established the first brickyard in San Diego for its construction. The home has an extensive biography, having been the site of a granary, the county courthouse, the earliest commercial theatre in San Diego, a ballroom, a billiard hall, a school, and the location of many other businesses. It has been described by many as the most haunted house in America. A number of strange sounds have been heard by visitors, as well as unusual sightings. Today, it is managed by the Save Our Heritage Organization, which formed in 2000. The museum opened to visitors in 1960 and receives over 100,000 visitors per year, many of whom come from abroad.
Backstory and Context
Thomas Whaley was born in New York City in 1823 to Scott-Irish parents. His grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War and allowed George Washington to use his Long-Island house; he also participated in the Boston Tea Party. Whaley moved to California in 1849, which took him just over 200 days. He followed countless others who moved there during the Gold Rush. His family owned a successful hardware and woodworking business in New York City. When he arrived in California, he set up a store attached to his house where he sold his family's products. He too was very successful and later in life got into real estate. Thomas Whaley set out to make his own legacy and in 1853 married Anna Eloise DeLaunay and had an idea of creating his own business empire.
The house was built at the site where the handing of Yankee Jim Robinson took place in 1852. Despite being a witness to the execution, Thomas Whaley still bought this property in 1855 and built his house and a general store.Robinson’s death was not the last to occur on the property. Some short after moving in Thomas Whaley’s eighteen-month son died of scarlet fever, and only a few months after the death of baby Thomas, the general store that the family owned was destroyed in a fire. Unable to deal with the death and destruction associated with the property, the Whaley family relocated, but in 1868, Thomas Whaley with his wife and five other children returned to their previous home.
By 1870, the Whaley family had expanded the property to hold multiple businesses like a theater and another general store. But their financial heaven was short lived, and merchants began to move away leaving the district in ruins compared to its former glory. In 1871, Anna Whaley was held hostage in the home as robbers ransacked the house for valuables and paperwork. Unfortunately, the Whaley family’s trouble does not stop there and on August 18, 1885, Violet the youngest daughter committed suicide in the house by shooting herself in the chest to escape a horrible marriage.
SOHO obtained the house in 2000. The museum is undergoing a major restoration project and in February of 2020, the organization has have restored the master bedroom of Thomas Whaley and his wife Anna. This was made possible by the meticulous diary that their daughter Lillian maintained that was full of details and used to restore other parts of the home.
The Whaley House is also renowned for the alleged hauntings that have been reported at the site, many of which have been presented by the Travel Channel’s America’s Most Haunted and many other TV shows and books. These shows speculate about the connection between the hanging that occurred here with the troubled lives of Thomas and Anna Whaley after the suicide of their daughter, Violet, in 1885. Ghost hunting tours are organized by the Whaley House Museum each month and are especially popular around Halloween.
"Family History." Whaley House Museum. Accessed May 29, 2015. http://whaleyhouse.org/familyhistory.htm.
"History & Restoration." Whaley House Museum. Accessed May 29, 2015. http://whaleyhouse.org/familyhistory.htm.
“Haunted Folklore.” Whaley House Museum. Accessed August 2016. http://whaleyhouse.org/hauntedfolklore.htm.
Family History. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://whaleyhouse.org/familyhistory.htm
Ghosts & Gravestones. (2020, January 20). Whaley House: San Diego Haunted House Guide. Retrieved from https://www.ghostsandgravestones.com/san-diego/whaley-house