Wednesday, May 4, 2016

HGB Episode 122 - The Whaley House

Moment in Oddity - Mallows Bay

The largest ship graveyard in the Northern Hemisphere is found at Mallows Bay. Mallows Bay is the Maryland side of the Potomac River. Today, this recreational park offers outdoor enthusiasts a wonderful habitat to observe a unique ecosystem that developed from this ghost fleet of ships. A fleet of wooden steamships was built during World War I by the United States Shipping Board Merchant Fleet Corporation. By the end of the war, these steamships were obsolete. Americans called the project "the grandest white elephant." The ships were burned and stored in the James River. Western Marine and Salvage Company bought the ships and moved them to the Potomac River and shortly thereafter in 1925, the ships were towed to Mallows Bay. During World War II, the steel from the ships was salvaged. The salvage company could not decide what to do with the ships and the company went bankrupt. Nature made the final decision as the hulls enriched the sediment and were overgrown with a new ecosystem that now makes the ship graveyard appear to be a bunch of oval shaped islands from the air. The idea that this large ship graveyard has now become a group of islands, certainly is odd.

This Day in History - The San Francisco Fire of May 1851
by: April Rogers-Krick

On this day, May 4th, in 1851, a fire believed to be arson, broke out in a paint and upholstery store above a hotel on the south side of Portsmouth Square in San Francisco. High winds fueled the fire and helped carry it down Kearny Street. The winds shifted to the south into the downtown area, where the elevated wood-plank sidewalks provided extra fuel. The fire was visible for miles out to sea and continued to burn for around 10 hours. It eventually extended to at least 18 blocks of the main business district, an area three-quarters of a mile long by a third of a mile wide. Before the fire was under control  it had burned down around 2000 buildings, which was by some estimates three-quarters of the city of San Francisco. There were at least nine lives lost in the fire, some of them in new, so called fireproof iron buildings whose doors and shutters expanded with the heat, trapping people inside. Among the properties destroyed that day were the Niantic whaling vessel, which had been run aground to serve as a store and was subsequently rebuilt as a hotel; a general store founded by Domenico Ghirardelli, who would go on to found the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company; and all half dozen of the city’s newspapers except for Alta Californian. This fire is considered the sixth and worst of a series of major fires that burned parts of San Francisco from 1849 to 1851. In terms of property values, it did twice the damage of all those earlier fires combined. Author Frank Marryat provides a vivid description of the fire in his memoir Molehills and Mountains, “The wind was unusually high, and the flames spread in a broad sheet over the town. All efforts to arrest them were useless; houses were blown up and torn down in attempts to cut off communication; but the engines were driven back step by step, while some brave firemen fell victims to their determined opposition. As the wind increased to a gale, the fire became beyond control; the brick buildings on Montgomery crumbled before it; and before it was arrested over 1000 houses, many of which were filled with merchandise, were left in ashes. Many lives were lost, and the amount of property destroyed was estimated at two and a half million pounds sterling. No conception can be formed of the grandeur of the scene, for at one time the burning district was covered by one vast sheet of flame that extended half a mile in length.”

The Whaley House (Suggested by listeners Michelle DePriest and Candice Nelson, Research Assistant April Rogers-Krick)

When it comes to San Diego, few other homes carry the historical significance of the Whaley House. It was built in 1856 by Thomas Whaley, Jr., who had followed the call of the Gold Rush from New York. The home would become a social center in San Diego and over the years it would serve as a courthouse, theater, school and many other businesses. The spot Whaley chose to build his home upon seemed like a choice piece of land, but the history says otherwise. This was hanging ground. And one executed criminal by the name of Yankee Jim seems to have stayed right there on that land, even when a house was built on that spot. The Whaley House is considered by some to be THE most haunted house in America. There are several spirits that seem to be here, both of the human persuasion and animals. The house was thought to be cursed. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Whaley House!

The Whaley House is located in Old Town San Diego that today is a historic district with buildings dating from 1820 to 1870. Adjacent to Old Town is Presidio Park. Originally this area was a military outpost set up by the Spanish and named the San Diego Presidio. For decades it served as the primary settlement because of the military presence. After most of the major threats were dealt with, the settlers moved to the lower part of the bluff that the Presidio sat upon and this newer settlement became the center of the government. By the 1820s, the town of San Diego was flourishing. The Mexican government gave San Diego its city charter in 1834. Mexico referred to cities as pueblos and San Diego only held this status for a few years because the population declined. California became a state in 1850 and San Diego was named the county seat of San Diego County. By the 1860s, people were moving from the area to what is now Downtown San Diego because it made shipping easier and Old Town moved into the background.

The Whaley family were of Scots-Irish origin and they immigrated to America in 1722, laying down roots in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Alexander Whaley was an American patriot and contemporary of General George Washington. He was one of the participants in the Boston Tea Party and he later fought in the Revolutionary War. He was a gunsmith by trade and used his skills to provide flintlock muskets to the soldiers. He also gave them use of his Long Island home. The gunsmith business would continue on in the Whaley family. Alexander's grandson, Thomas Whaley, Sr., served in the New York Militia during the War of 1812.  He married Rachel Pye whose father, William, manufactured locks in Brooklyn. They had ten children together and on October 5, 1823 Thomas Whaley, Jr. was born in New York City, New York. In 1832, Thomas Whaley, Sr. died. In his will, he directed that young Thomas should receive a liberal education at the Washington Institution.

On January 1, 1849, Thomas Whaley left New York on a steamer cargo passenger ship called the Sutton, headed for San Francisco, CA.  Cargo plus 53 passengers sailed for two hundred and four days with a stop in Valparaiso, Chile. On July 22, 1849 the Sutton docked in San Francisco. Thomas Whaley’s knack for business, partly due to his education at the Washington Institution, proved highly beneficial in San Francisco.  He set up a store with another businessman, named George Wardle, on Montgomery Street. They sold hardware and woodwork from Whaley’s family business, Whaley and Pye, that was located in New York.  They also offered mining equipment and utensils on consignment to the many men coming to California during the gold rush. Whaley was so successful that he was able to establish his own store on Montgomery Street, build a two story house near the bay, and he rented out Wardle’s building.

Tragedy struck in May of 1851 when an arson-set fire destroyed Whaley’s buildings on Montgomery Street. He decided at that time, based on the advice of Lewis Franklin, to relocate to Old Town San Diego.  Lewis Franklin was a merchant who operated stores in San Francisco and Old Town San Diego, so he knew what he was talking about. Once Whaley arrived in San Diego, he set up various businesses with Franklin, Ephraim Morse, Frances Hinton, and even his brother Henry Whaley. With the success of his many businesses, he quickly amassed enough money to return to New York. On May 14, 1853, Whaley married his sweetheart, Anna Eloise Delaunay, the daughter of French-born parents. They set sail for California and arrived on Dec, 7 1853.  Once the couple returned to San Diego, Whaley entered into various business partnerships, most of which lasted less than a year.  On December 28, 1854 Anna gave birth to the couple’s first child, Frances Hinton.  He was named after a business associate of Whaley.

In May of 1855, Henry Whaley, Thomas’ brother, and his wife Annie came west from New York.  After arriving they lived with Thomas and his family.  Thomas and Henry went into business together and opened Whaley and Co., a general store. Starting a business with his brother would prove to be a poor business decision. Henry liked his liquor and was often publically drunk. Thomas and Henry did not get along and quarreling was a normal way of life. Finally, Thomas had enough and in November of 1855, Whaley and Co. was dissolved. He noticed when he studied their records that Henry often over charged customers. With henry also being loud and drunk most of the time, it was a no brainer for Thomas to sever the business partnership. Henry reacted bitterly and assaulted Thomas in the store. After he was sent out into the street, he shouted insults and obscenities and challenged Thomas to come out and fight. This ended not only their business partnership but their personal one as well.

In September 1855, Whaley purchased land that contained the public gallows and cemetery.  Countless hangings occurred on the property before the house was the built. The public gallows had been the site of the hanging of the infamous Yankee Jim Robinson in September of 1852. He had been convicted of attempted grand larceny. Upon Yankee Jim's conviction the Los Angeles Star wrote on August 28, 1852: "At the recent term of the County Court at San Diego, James Robinson, otherwise called 'Yankee Jim,' was tried for burglary, and sentenced to be hung. Two accomplices, Gray and Harris, were each sentenced to be imprisoned one year in the State Prison. The charge upon which they were tried was for stealing a boat, but they are strongly suspected of horse stealing and even murder. Yankee Jim made powerful resistance to the arrest, and was finally captured by the aid of the 'lasso', which in the hands of a person expert in its use is irresistible. His execution is fixed for the 18th of September, and he says that before that time he will make a confession that will tonish the natives." Yankee Jim was a tall man and he had been hanged off the back of a wagon.  It is said that he kept his feet in the wagon until they finally pulled them off.  He then swung like a pendulum until he was strangled to death.  It took nearly an hour for him die.
Whaley was well aware that the land he was buying had been a place of executions. He had attended the hanging of Yankee Jim. He had noticed that the spot was prime real estate at the time and when he realized he could buy it on the cheap, his decision was easily made. In May of 1856, Whaley built a single-story granary for 300,000 to 400,000 pounds of grain with bricks manufactured in his brickyard on Conde Street. On August 18, 1856, Anna gave birth to the couple’s second child, Thomas Whaley, III. Construction began on a two-story house and store addition in September of 1856. The Whaley House was built from brick in the Greek Revival style and cost $10,000 to build. Whaley boasted, “My new house, when completed, will be the handsomest, most comfortable, and convenient place in town or within 150 miles of here.”

Construction finished on August 22, 1857 and the family moved into the second floor of the house, which was meant to be their living area. The lower level was the store. Across the 32-foot wide front area, there were five pairs of doors which corresponded to five windows upstairs. The Whaleys' new home was known as the finest in Southern California.  It was furnished with mahogany and rosewood furniture, there was wall-to-wall Brussels carpet and damask drapes hung at the windows. Despite being considered small in our era, at the time, it was a mansion. The store downstairs was a general store and Thomas solicited cash customers only. The store did not do well because the location proved to be too far from the center of the small community. Whaley rented a frame building on the plaza and relocated the store there.

Things were going well, but only a few months after moving into the house, little Thomas contracted Scarlet Fever. He was only 18 months old and the disease proved fatal. He died in the home on January 28, 1858.    Anna was pregnant at the time with the couple's third child who was born on June 27, 1858. They named the baby girl Anna Amelia. The joy evaporated when another arson-set fire destroyed Whaley’s business on the plaza two months later.  Despondent from the loss of their son Thomas Jr. and the loss of the business the, family decided to move to San Francisco. They rented out their home in Old Town.

Mail agent Robert E. Doyle and his wife Sarah Doyle moved into the Whaley House in 1860. The house was large enough for more than just their family and three mail carriers joined them: James E. Mason, Samuel A. Aimes and Gabriel Parades. Unfortunately, the Doyle's did not pay rent and they were quickly evicted and in July of 1860, Augustus S. Ensworth, a lawyer and Justice of the Peace, moved into the Whaley House. Because the home had sat vacant for a while, it was infested with rats. Ensworth managed the Whaley’s business interest during this time. In San Francisco, Thomas gained employment as a U.S. Commissary Storekeeper under Capt. M.D.L. Simpson. While living in San Francisco, Anna gave birth to three more children: George Hays Ringgold (named for Major Ringgold) was born on November 11, 1860, Violet Eloise was born on October 14, 1862 and Corrine Lillian was born on September 4, 1864.

Whaley assisted in the American takeover of Alaska in 1867 and he established stores in Sitka, helped set up an American base and served as councilman. Anna and the children remained in San Francisco during this time.  On February 19, 1865, Whaley’s superior officer, Major Kirkham, received a request for Whaley’s dismissal. In Washington, there had been a stream of complaints against a Whaley and it was a detriment to the department. For his part, Whaley claimed his conduct had been honorable, but resigned to avoid dishonorable discharge. A year later, Whaley’s side businesses failed and he took heavy financial losses.  He applied for and received another position with the Army’s Quartermaster Department in San Francisco as an issuing clerk, but the position was dissolved in September in 1867. Whaley was forced to accept a position he had earlier rejected because it paid less. This position was that of issuing clerk with the Army in the territory of Alaska.

A major earthquake in San Francisco in 1868 sent the family back to San Diego. Whaley opened the Whaley & Crosthwaite general store out of the house. The family's lack of funds made them decide to rent out the front upstairs bedroom for $20 in gold coins to the Tanner Troupe. This was a theater group ran by T.W. Tanner, who within 17 days of setting up the theater died. They had a small stage and benches that held up to 150 people. One night a member of the theater group was drunk and accused his girlfriend of being unfaithful.  She denied it, but he stabbed her to death at the back door anyway.  In January 1869, the Tanner Troupe moved on.

The San Diego County Courthouse utilized the former granary and rented three upstairs rooms for record storage.  After the establishment of New Town San Diego by Alonzo Horton in 1868, the town focus changed to present day downtown San Diego. During a March 1871 raid, courthouse documents were removed from the Whaley House and taken to Horton’s Hall on 6th and F in San Diego.  After the County’s exit, Whaley connected the former granary and courtroom to the residence, changed windows and doors, and altered the front portico. For some reason, Thomas Whaley returned to New York. He claimed he was settling his father’s estate, but more than likely, he was running away. He left Anna and the kids in San Diego and when he returned in 1879, they were in dire straits living off of Francis Whaley for support.

Violet and Anna Amelia Whaley both married on January 5, 1882 in Old San Diego. Anna married her first cousin, John T. Whaley and Violet wed George T. Bertolacci. That marriage was unhappy and Violet and George divorced in 1884. This caused her tremendous humiliation. Violet suffered from severe depression after that and attempted suicide. She climbed to the roof of the brick two-story home she shared with her family and jumped.  She landed in a nearby well.  Hearing her screams as she fell, her father ran outside and was able to save her. Three weeks later though, on August 18, 1885, Violet succeeded in ending her own life. She shot herself in the heart. 

After the tragic death of Violet, Thomas Whaley built a single-story frame home for his family at 933 State Street in downtown San Diego.  Attempting to capitalize on the boom in that area, he maintained a real estate office at 5th and G in the First National Bank Building, with various partners. Thomas became ill in 1888 and retired from the business. He died at the State Street residence on December 14, 1890. The Whaley House remained vacant and fell into desperate disrepair until late 1899, when Francis Whaley returned to the old home and undertook the restoration of the building.  After restoring the Whaley House, Francis lived in the residence and made it a tourist attraction where he posted signs outside promoting its history and entertained visitors with his guitar.

Other members of the family moved in and by 1912 siblings Francis, George and Anna and her daughter Lillian all lived in the old house. Anna died in the house on February 24, 1913 and Francis passed away on November 19, 1914 in the home.  Lillian continued to live in the house until 1953 when she moved out to enter a nursing home. The house had once again fallen into disrepair while Lillian had been living there alone.
Before Lillian’s death the old Whaley House was placed under court order for immediate liquidation to provide physical care for her. A progressive Old Town realtor listed the property for sale recommending that it be used as a motel. Activists rallied to save the Whaley House. On September 14, 1953, Lillian Whaley died and two and a half years later the county of San Diego assumed ownership of the Whaley House.  The house was a dilapidated mess by this time and the county undertook an immediate renovation. From 1956 through 2000, The Historic Shrine Foundation, under the guidance of June and Jim Reading, took charge of the Whaley House as a historic site.  The Whaley house was officially named a Historical Site on May 25, 1960 and has been open to the public as a museum since.

The hauntings here at the Whaley House are numerous. Famous ghost hunter Hans Holzer had said that the Whaley House was "possibly the most haunted house in America." The Whaleys themselves told people about their haunting experiences. Thomas was the first to hear the disembodied footsteps coming from the second floor of the house. It was not long before Anna heard them too and complained about an oppressive feeling that would envelope her. She felt the home was cursed. And based on their experiences, some might agree. The Whaleys' eighteen month old son, Thomas Jr., had died of Scarlet Fever in 1858 in the house. His disembodied cries are heard throughout the home.

No one knows if the Whaleys heard those cries, but they definitely felt the presence of Yankee Jim. The location of his hanging was thought to either be where the staircase was located or in the space between the parlor and the study. Yankee Jim's spirit is described as a wraith and he is thought to be quite angry. Wraith is basically the Scottish term for spirit, but they are generally associated with omens. The term also sometimes refers to aquatic spirits. Yankee Jim's heavy booted footfalls have been heard by staff and guests. The Whaleys' youngest daughter Lillian lived in the house until 1953. She was convinced that Yankee Jim haunted the house. A visitor to the house once commented that "the ghost had driven her family from their visit there more than 60 years [earlier], her mother was unnerved by the phantom walking noise and the strange way the windows unlatched and flew up."
There is an apparition that seems to be from the time when the home served as a courthouse. It was in October of 1960 that a woman from British Columbia, Canada named Mrs. Kirbey observed the following: "I saw a small figure of a woman who had a swarthy complexion. She was wearing a long full skirt, reaching to the floor. The skirt appeared to be of calico or gingham, small print. She had a kind of cap on her head, dark hair and eyes and she was wearing gold hoops in her pierced ears. She seemed to stay in this room, lives here, I gather, and I got the impression we are sort of invading her privacy." This female specter seems to have been caught in a picture as well appearing as a shadowy female figure.

Mr. and Mrs. Whaley haunt the house as well according to multiple witnesses. Staff members claim that occasionally the doors will all lock simultaneously at the end of a tour day as if the Whaley family is saying that they are done having guests. Their spirits seem to be residual in nature carrying on the same duties in the afterlife as those that they did when they were living. Thomas Whaley has been photographed smoking his cigar.  He has been seen walking throughout the house. Former museum curator June Reading said that a little girl of about 5 or 6 waved to a man she said was standing in the parlor. No one else could see him. He has been seen by adults as well who describe him as wearing a frock coat and pantaloons with his face turned away. He suddenly fades away after being seen.

Anna Whaley has been seen rocking a baby in a chair and tucking a child into bed as well as folding clothes. In 1964, Anna's floating, drifting spirit appeared to television personality Regis Philbin.  “All of a sudden I noticed something on the wall,” Philbin reported. “There was something filmy white, it looked like an apparition of some kind. I got so excited I couldn’t restrain myself! I flipped on the flash light and nothing was there but a portrait of Anna Whaley, the long-dead mistress of the house.” The reason Philbin was at the house was because he had just finished an interview with Hans Holzer who had told him about the Whaley House. Philbin decided to visit the house with a friend. He detailed the experience over forty years later with psychic Kim Russo on her TV show The Haunting Of in 2013.

The upstairs rooms have cold spots in the heat of summer and even during the winter when the heat is on in the house. Violet, who committed suicide at the house, is seen upstairs sitting or walking and her spirit seems full of sorrow. Animals aren’t left out.  A parapsychologist reported that he saw a spotted dog that looked like a fox terrier run down the hall with his ears flapping and go into the dining room.  The dog was an apparition.  The Whaley’s owned a terrier named Dolly. Every sense is touched by the supernatural here. There are the scents of cigar smoke, perfume and baked goods. There is the sound of children laughing.  There is the feel of an icy touch. And many apparitions are seen. The only thing missing is a paranormal taste experience.

In the mid-1800s, a young girl named Carrie Washburn who was a friend of the Whaley children, was playing in their backyard.  She wasn’t looking where she was going and ran into the clothesline.  The rope wrapped around her neck and crushed her throat as if she had been hanged.  Her body was brought into the kitchen and laid on the table.  Ever since a young blond girl has been seen standing in the kitchen and running in the yard or smelling flowers in the garden. There is no record of a young girl being killed at the Whaley House. Nor is there a family with the name of Washburn listed as living in San Diego at this time.  It is believed that this story was started by an employee who wanted to increase the museum mystique.

Carrie wrote on TripAdvisor: "My husband and I were the last visitors of the day. The spooks got active. Temperature changes, orbs and ghost images in my pictures (saw later.) The weirdest two things that happened was a constant static electricity shock on my finger and watching the curator freak out when she saw the door knob turn and open by itself! The curator told me the shock I felt was a ghost!"

Shanley wrote on TripAdvisor: "Enjoyed visiting this famous Most Haunted House in America during a night time tour. Loved the history and learning all about the family. We just happened to be there on the anniversary of the death date of the youngest child of the family. While standing in front of that child's room I felt a small hand brush my up from my little finger up past my wrist. It made my hair stand up on ends. It was a cold, spooky experience. I haven't looked closely at our photographs to see is anything was caught on film. You can feel the old atmosphere when you walk into this house. A must go for all those interested in ghosts."

The Whaley House makes it hard to be a skeptic with the hundreds of photographs that seem to have captured ghostly mists and figures and the hundreds of eyewitness accounts of interaction with things unseen. Have most of the members of the Whaley family that once lived here decided to stay here in the afterlife? Are the spirits of the executed still haunting the land and the home built here? Is the Whaley House haunted? That is for you to decide!


By a woman named Heather whose husband took this photo a week ago. She posted it to the Whaley page on Facebook:

Another from the courthouse area:

Photo off internet by Marie Davidson:

1 comment: