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Whaley House
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Whaley House Is One Spooky Museum

By James Donahue

Located in the heart of historic "Old Town" San Diego, the Whaley House has been referred to as "possibly the most haunted house in America."

Among the apparitions reportedly observed by visitors and "ghost hunters" have been the original owner, Mr. Whaley, his wife, a character known as Yankee Jim, one of the Whaley children who died in the house from scarlet fever, and several unidentified characters included an executed man.

The beautifully restored house was built by San Diego pioneer Thomas Whaley, a prominent man about town. Consequently the home was the center for many social events. Parts of the building was used as a theater and the San Diego County Court House while the family continued to live there.

The last Whaley to occupy the home was Corinne Lillian Whaley, youngest of Thomas Whaley’s six children. She died in 1953. The family is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego.

After falling into disrepair, the historic house was restored in 1956 after the formation of the Historical Shrine Foundation which bought the property and then turned it into a historical museum.

People who knew the Whaley family say the place was haunted from the start. Daughter Corinne told about hearing heavy steps, like someone in big boots, moving across the second floor. Whaley would say: "Don’t worry, that’s just Yankee Jim." It was said that Yankee Jim was a convicted felon hung on the property before the house was built on that site.

Further ghostly activity was not reported until about 1960, after the Whaley House opened as a museum. Right away, visitors began experiencing peculiar feelings when entering certain rooms, and seeing strange people dressed in period clothes. Since the museum was only open during daylight hours, the sightings were all made during the day.

According to a report on the museum website, a Canadian visitor entered the courtroom, the former living room, and met "a small figure of a woman" wearing a long full skirt that reached to the floor. The woman had dark hair and dark eyes, and was wearing a cap on her head and gold hoops in her pierced ears."

A photograph that shows a shadowy form of a woman also was taken in that room. While she is not identified, some people believe she is somehow linked to the days when court was held there.

After one especially busy day in the museum, as soon as the last visitor left the building, a staff member was startled to find that all of the doors and windows were suddenly locked. It was as if an invisible hand closed the place up for the night, having had enough interference for one day.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Whaley have been observed in the house. Someone caught Mr. Whaley smoking his pipe by an upstairs bedroom window in a photograph. Sometimes the rocking chair is seen moving with no one in it. At other times, workers notice especially cold spots in various rooms. Sounds of music and singing, children laughing, the smell of cigar smoke and fragrance of perfume have all been reported.

The vision of a little red-haired girl, dressed in late 1800 period clothing, has been seen in the garden, and playing with toys in the playroom. She is thought to have been a child that died in the kitchen after strangling on a clothesline in the yard.

Even the apparition of a ghostly spotted dog has been seen on the property.