The Whaley House in San Diego was always destined to be special. Designed by Thomas Whaley himself, not only it was the town’s first two-storey house, but also its very first brick building. Constructed in 1856 using bricks made in Whaley’s own brickyard, it still stands as a proud example of Greek revival architecture of the time.

This opulently furnished house was reputedly the finest in Southern California, and quickly became San Diego’s gathering place. As well as the Whaley family home, the house served the community as the County Courthouse, San Diego’s first commercial Theatre and a General Store. At various times it was also a granary, a ballroom, a school, a billiard hall and a polling place.

Ghosts Of America’s Most Haunted House

Some believe the Whaley House could hardly avoid being haunted, even before Thomas Whaley had laid his first brick. It was built on the site of one of the town’s most famous public hangings – that of Yankee Jim Robinson, the infamous thief. Throughout their time living there, members of the Whaley family allegedly reported eerie noises, along with unexplained footsteps that left behind disembodied footprints – thought to be linked to Yankee Jim Robinson.

But it was also a place of much sadness and tragedy for the Whaley family. Soon after Thomas and his wife Anna moved there in 1857, their second child, Thomas Jr tragically died from scarlet fever, aged just eighteen months. To this day, visitors have reported hearing tiny footsteps and the sounds of a baby crying or giggling.

The General Store within the house was destroyed by fire shortly after it opened, prompting the family to move to San Francisco. A while later in 1868, they returned to live there – now with their five children.

For a time, the house was a hub of local activity; but one day in 1871, a group of armed men raided the house while Thomas was away on a business trip. They held Anna at gunpoint and stole courthouse records. This was viewed by some as a turning point for the family.

Some years later in 1882, two of the Whaley daughters were married inside Whaley House. But the younger daughter Violet married a man who turned out to be unscrupulous and only interested in her dowry. Shortly after the marriage, he abandoned her; then a year later they were divorced.

Now alone, Violet was shunned by society; unable to cope with the humiliation, she became ill with severe depression. In 1885, at the age of 22, Violet took her own life, shooting herself with her father’s pistol.

The Ghost of Violet Whaley

There have been several reports of apparitions of a young woman, believed to be the ghost of Violet Whaley still consumed with misery. The ghostly form lingers mostly on the second floor of the house, the area where Violet spent much of her time before she committed suicide. According to the rumours, certain areas within the house can sometimes become quite cold, and her presence can be felt throughout.

Violet’s sister Corinne Lillian was also engaged to be married at the time of Violet’s death; but her fiancé broke off the engagement, because of the scandal now surrounding the family. Profoundly affected by all of this tragedy and misfortune, Thomas Whaley moved them all to a single-storey home he built in Downtown San Diego.

The Whaley House stood empty for over twenty years and fell into disrepair. Thomas Whaley died in 1890, and in 1909 his eldest child Francis undertook the house’s restoration, turning it into a tourist attraction. The remaining family members moved back, and remained living there until the last of them, Corinne Lillian, died there in 1953. Since then, the house has been unoccupied.

The spirits of Thomas, Anna and others have reportedly been sensed in various parts of the house. The image of Thomas, dressed in his frock, coat and top hat, has been seen standing at the top of the stairs. Others say they can smell the aroma of Anna’s familiar French perfume around the building.

Most Visited Haunted House?

Other supposedly paranormal happenings include mists, lights turning on and off, and lamp pulls swinging on their own. These are all considered evidence of the spirits of those who once lived in the house. Figures are sometimes seen peering out of upstairs windows when the house is known to be empty; curtains have been known to move when all windows are sealed shut. There are also reports of cold spots, and shadows appearing then disappearing.

These days, the Whaley House is an important museum and state historical landmark. Managed and operated by SOHO (Save Our Heritage Organisation), it welcomes over 100,000 visitors each year.

One certainty is that this is a house shrouded in mystery. It is one of only two Californian houses formally recognised by the US Commerce Department as haunted; many believe it has fully earned its reputation as America’s most haunted house. 

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