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Whaley House San Diego

Photo: Alik Griffin (Flickr)

Whaley House: This San Diego Haunted House Museum Has a Dark Past

Sarah Paschall
Sarah Paschall

San Diego, home of stunning beaches, warm weather, cultural diversity, and one of the most haunted houses in the United States – that’s right, we’re talking about the Whaley house. Located in the Old Town San Diego neighborhood, the Whaley house San Diego (also known as the Old Town San Diego haunted house), acts as a prominent landmark for the area and a popular museum both for history lovers and those looking for a good ghost story. The home was owned by Thomas Whaley, a successful businessman of the time, and houses 162 years of history within its walls – some good, some tragic, and some just downright creepy.


The Whaley House San Diego

The darkest history of the Whaley house doesn’t originate from the brick building itself, but rather the land it was built upon. Prior to Thomas Whaley purchasing the plot and building his dream home, the land was used as the site of the town gallows, where it’s estimated that up to ten hangings took place before it was converted into a residence. The Greek Revival style home features a parlor, a study (used by Mr. Whaley), a dining room, 4 bedrooms, and a lean-to kitchen.

As for the commercially used locations on the property, there was a courthouse as well as a theater and the Whaley & Crosthwaite General Store. The two-story residence was designed by Mr. Whaley himself and construction was completed in 1857, a year after the plot was purchased. The overall cost for the home was over $10,000, which is the equivalent of about $295,000 today.

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Whaley House Tickets

Standard daytime and evening tour admission fees are $10 per adult and $8 for seniors, children (ages 6-12), and active-duty military. The daytime tour is self-guided, and guests are given an information sheet to help them navigate through the home. On the nighttime tour, however, guests can expect to have a guide with them during their visit.

Tickets can be purchased at the Whaley House Museum Shop directly next door to the museum. The shop also features lots of goodies for sale, everything from postcards to souvenirs and apparel related to the Whaley House.

The museum does not recommend bringing children age 5 and under to evening tours.

Whaley House Ghost Tour

As for visitors hoping to have a spookier experience, the museum offers private after-hours tours. The price for a private tour is $75 per person for one hour and $50 for every additional hour spent in the museum (there is a 3-hour limit, folks, so you won’t be able to camp out there overnight). Reservations for the nighttime tour must be made two weeks in advance and these specific tours will not be available during the last week of October.

The price for a private tour may seem a bit steep, but it’s important to remember that the money that’s made from ticket sales goes towards helping to manage and care for the museum (plus, I mean, you think you’re gonna get to see a ghost for cheap? Come on!).


Whaley House Museum

The Whaley house opened to the public as a museum in 1960 and welcomes over 100,000 visitors every year. People travel from all over the world to visit this historic house and numerous television shows have covered the story of the Whaley house, including Ghost Adventures and even the Travel Channel series America’s Most Haunted.

The museum was originally established and managed by the San Diego Historical Shrine Foundation, a non-profit formed in the late 50s by James Reading and June Strudwick-Reading, who served as Director of the museum until her death in 1998. In 2000, Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO), a group dedicated to preserving historical buildings and landmarks around San Diego took over management of the museum and began a massive restoration process to preserve this crucial piece of local history.

Whaley House Hours

Non-summer hours for Whaley House tours:

  • Mondays & Tuesdays: 10am-4:30am
  • Thursdays & Saturdays: 10am-9:30pm
  • Sunday: 10am-8:30pm
  • (Closed on Wednesdays)

Evening tours (non-summer):

  • Thursdays & Fridays: 6pm-9:30pm
  • Saturday: 5pm-9:30
  • Sunday: 5pm-8:30pm

Summer hours for Whaley House tours:

  • Open daily from 10am-9:30pm

Evening tours (summer):

  • Sunday-Friday: 6pm-9:30pm
  • Saturdays: 5pm-9:30

It’s recommended by the museum that you arrive 30 minutes prior to the time of your tour.


What Happened in the Whaley House?

The Whaley House has been around for over 160 years now, so it’s no surprise that it has its fair share of history. The tragedies and misfortune that took place in the home, however, seem to have left a spiritual imprint on the property that has stood the test of time.

The start of this misfortune took place long before 1859, when the Whaley’s 18-month-old son, Thomas Whaley Jr., died of scarlet fever. It’s noted that the land was once home to two gallows where at least ten people we killed. Years later in 1885, Thomas and Anna’s daughter, Violet Whaley, became deeply depressed after her divorce and committed suicide in the home by shooting herself in the heart.

In 1871, the courthouse on the property was moved to New Town and the city requested that all documents stored at the Whaley House be moved to the new location, but Thomas Whaley refused to release these records until his family was provided compensation. The city of New Town threatened to take the documents by force if necessary. Sandbags were placed around the Whaley home and a cannon was even positioned outside as the citizens of Old Town prepared for the attack. While Thomas Whaley was away from home on business, however, the people of New Town commenced a full-blown raid on the home and it’s believed that Anna Whaley and her youngest daughter were held at gunpoint on the stairs inside the home while the raiders removed the legal documents from the residence. Thomas spent years trying to get the city to reimburse him for property damage as well as the trauma his family endured, but no form recompense was ever given.

Whaley House Ghost Adventures

On the 11th episode of their 9th season, Zach Bagans, Nick Groff, and Aaron Goodwin of the hit Travel Channel series Ghost Adventures did an overnight lockdown and paranormal investigation at the Whaley House. The team ended up getting way more than they bargained for that night, experiencing unexplained noises, disembodied voices, an EVP that is believed to have said “no power”, and a ghostly apparition of a hand caught on camera. During the investigation, Zach Bagans even claimed that he felt as though he was repeatedly scratched down his back – yikes!


So, is the Whaley House Haunted?

Regardless of what spooky happenings occur on the grounds of the Whaley House, you’re going to have those who believe it’s haunted, and those who don’t. With all the paranormal evidence that’s been presented throughout the years, however, it does make it difficult even for skeptics to say with 100% certainty that there’s nothing going ‘bump’ in the night at the Whaley House. The place was listed as the most haunted house in America by the series America’s Most Haunted and was even declared an authentic haunted house by the US Department of Commerce.

People have reported hearing a baby crying inside the home, felt cold spots on the ninth step of the stairs leading to the second level (where it is believed Anna and her daughter were held at gunpoint while their home was raided), smelled perfume and cigar smoke, heard footsteps, and some guests and staff have even had red marks appear around their neck while visiting the home, which many feel could be due to the land’s previous use as the site of the gallows. People have also reported seeing apparitions of Mr. and Mrs. Whaley around the home as well as a man by the name of Jim Robinson or “Yankee Jim Robinson” as he is often called. Jim was a thief executed on the land only 3 years before Thomas purchased the plot to build his home. In fact, Thomas Whaley attended Robinson’s execution.

Thomas himself was one of the first to experience strange happenings in the residence, hearing phantom footsteps in the home with no source. Even the lady of the house, Anna Whaley, believed there was paranormal activity residing within the family home and felt that it could be Yankee Jim Robinson’s spirit still lingering long after his execution.

In the end, the best way to determine if the home is actually haunted is to go check it out for yourself…if you dare!

The Haunting of Whaley House

In 2012, the Whaley House movie – a horror film called The Haunting of Whaley House – was released. It told the fictitious story of a tour guide that breaks into the Whaley House with some friends to do an after-hours ghost hunt and, in typical horror movie fashion, scary stuff ensues. The film received mixed reviews and wasn’t a box office hit upon its release, but then most horror movies aren’t, sadly.

Fun fact: None of the film was actually shot in the real Whaley House due to the actual location being way too small inside for tons of lighting, crew, and camera equipment.

Whaley House San Diego

The Whaley Family

The Whaley family was highly respected in the Old Town San Diego area. He was even appointed President for the San Diego City Board of Trustees and was informally referred to as “Mayor.”


Thomas Whaley traveled from his birthplace of New York City to California in 1849 while the gold rush was in full swing. Through various business ventures in San Francisco and Old Town, he was able to build up enough income to return to New York in order to marry his love, Anna Eloise Delaunay, in 1853 and the newlywed couple made the long trip back out west, where they would start a family and eventually establish their place at the Whaley House. They had 6 children, Francis Hinton (named after a business partner), Anna Amelia, Thomas Whaley Jr. (died of scarlet fever just 18 months after birth), George Hays Ringgold (another son named after a business partner), Violet Eloise, and Corinne Lillian.


Violet Whaley

Of all the Whaley children born to Thomas and Anna Whaley, Violet’s name and her story are most commonly remembered due to her tragic fate. In January of 1882, Violet married George T. Bertolacci (likely at the Whaley House) on the same day that her sister, Anna Amelia, married their first cousin, John T. Whaley. Two weeks into Violet’s honeymoon, as the newly married couple was heading back east, Violet awoke one morning to find that George was gone without a trace. It was later discovered that Bertolacci was a con man and only married Violet Whaley for the dowry he believed he would be collecting from the union.


Feeling shamed and shunned by “polite” society after returning alone from what should have been a happy honeymoon, George and Violet’s divorce was finalized around a year after Bertolacci’s betrayal. The impact of this failed marriage would end up being too much for Violet to handle.

She committed suicide by shooting herself in the chest, in the Whaley House, with her father’s 32-caliber in August of 1885 at the age of 22. In her suicide note, Violet quoted a poem by writer Thomas Hood –

“Mad from life’s history,

Swift to death’s mystery;

Glad to be hurled,

Anywhere, anywhere, out of this world”      



On August 20, 1885, the San Diego Union reported that Violet had jumped into the cistern that July, in an attempt to commit suicide.

“On July 5th, I was harnessing my horse and heard a scream, issuing from the cistern. Went there and found Violet holding to the pipe. Asked if she could hold on. She said yes. I ran to the house and told my wife Violet had jumped into the cistern.”

Then, on August 22, 1885, when reporting on her death, the San Diego Sun mentioned the previous suicide attempt and gave details of the Whaley well, reporting:

“However, in addition, it was testified that the deceased [Violet Whaley] had attempted to take her life about three weeks ago by throwing herself into a deep well, from which she was rescued.”

It is believed that Violet Whaley still resides in the Whaley House even to this day and makes her presence known from time to time to guests of the residence.

Anna Whaley Ghost

It seems Anna Whaley, much like the other spirits that are believed to inhabit the residence, refuses to let go of the home where much of her family lived, and where some even died. Guests of the Whaley House have reported smelling perfume as well as seeing the apparition of a woman that resembles Mrs. Whaley. Talk show personality, Regis Philbin, believes he may have even had an encounter with Mrs. Whaley during a visit to the home. Philbin reported seeing a “filmy white” anomaly on the wall that appeared as though it could be an apparition. Upon turning on his flashlight, there was nothing there except the portrait of Anna Whaley to greet him.



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Sarah Paschall
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Sarah Paschall

Sarah has written and edited for numerous media outlets in a variety of different niches – though entertainment is her all-time favorite topic to cover. When she is not hard at work researching and writing about Hollywood’s top talents for Velvet Ropes, Sarah enjoys working on her fiction novels, developing her blog, and gaming. You can follow Sarah on Twitter at: