Thursday, February 2, 2023

HGB Ep. 472 - Investigation of the Whaley House

Moment of Oddity  -  Larger than life balloons

Many of us have had the fun experience of a clown twisting and turning balloons into this object or that. However most of us have not had a balloon artist create something taller than us and worthy of an artistic award. Let me introduce you to Mark Verge of Canada. This man creates larger than life sculptures that require thousands of balloons to assemble. This artist began twisting balloons around 30 years ago and is today an eight time world champion of balloon artistry. His company is appropriately named Xtreme Balloons. Some of his pieces of art encompass a life-sized Flintstone car with Fred and Dino in the vehicle. He has also created Bumblebee from the transformers amongst many others. However his most popular pieces of balloon art are various dinosaurs like a T-Rex using 1,400 balloons, a Stegosaurus, Utahraptor, Allosaurus and Spinosaurus. The artist has had commissioned work from the Royal Ontario Museum, Field Station: Dinosaurs, in the U.S. and even a T-Rex balloon costume in Shanghai. According to Mark his favorite creation to date was the Bumblebee Transformer. To be certain, creating balloon creatures larger than the average man, certainly is odd.

This Month in History - Birth of Andre Michelin

In January, on the 16th in 1853, Andre Michelin was born in Paris, France. Andre was a French industrialist who, along with his brother, ended up founding the Michelin Tyre Company. Due to a cyclist asking the brothers for assistance with fixing a flat tire, the brothers began exploring methods of creating detachable tires. At the time, cycling was one of the most common modes of transportation for the area. During this timeframe, the common way for mounting tires was for them to be glued directly to the rims of the wheels. Andre's brother, Edouard, developed a patent for a detachable pneumatic bicycle tire. Once this bike tire patent became instantly popular, the brothers set their sights on automotive tires. In 1895, the brothers entered the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris automobile race using their patented tires. Their entry did not win the race, but due to the impressive tires, the race launched the market for the detachable pneumatic tires for cars. After this, the Michelin brothers quickly became the leading Automotive tire supply company to the newly begun car industry and still remains one of the largest suppliers in the world today.

Investigation of the Whaley House

History Goes Bump featured the Whaley House on an episode in 2016 and it has been on our bucket list to investigate for quite a while. We finally had the opportunity to do that in January of 2023 during a quick trip to hang out with family back in California. The Whaley House is the oldest brick structure in southern California and was built by Thomas Whaley, Jr. The home served a variety of purposes and sits on an old hanging ground, so it isn't surprising that people claim that this is one of the most haunted houses in America. Join us as we share our investigation 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.

The California Gold Rush called many men and one of those men was Thomas Whaley. He wasn't interested in mining, but he was interested in the businesses that formed around mining operations. On January 1, 1849, Thomas Whaley left New York on a steamer cargo passenger ship called the Sutton, headed for San Francisco, CA, which wouldn't arrive until July 22, 1849. Whaley 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's and Francis would be key in the Whaley House surviving through the years.

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. Thomas told Henry he was ending the business and 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 and he knew that was the case because he watched one of the executions. This was 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 to die. Thomas Whaley would use the wood from that gallows to build an archway in the parlor, so that the spot of execution would always be marked in the house, probably as an interesting conversation piece.  

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 III 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. 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 into a nearby well.  Hearing her screams as she fell, her father ran outside and was able to save her. The family never let her out of their sight as the melancholy deepened. It was almost as though Violet were in a trance. After about three weeks, she seemed to be doing better and her mother Anna let Violet out of her sight. Violet went to her father's desk, took out his gun and went to the outhouse. This was on August 18, 1885 and Violet shot herself in the chest. Thomas ran out to the outhouse when he heard the shot and he carried Violet to the parlor and laid her on a couch there, where she died.  

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 III, 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. 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.

(Skunk story)

We started our tour in the re-creation of the courthouse. The judge's chair and the witness stand are original to the courthouse. This room has a heavy feeling and it is a favorite haunt of Francis Whaley, who was the first tour guide at the house after he turned it into a museum. Sam told us that many tour guides have felt his presence and also seen him. He likes to sit in the jury box and we later conducted an Estes Spirit Box Session with Diane sitting where Francis usually is seen, always wearing all black. The REM Pod was going off a lot. Sam says that several psychics who have visited the house claim that there is some kind of portal in this part of the house and that is why this seems to be the most active room. What was interesting for us is that Kelly immediately wanted to sit in the jury box when we walked in. The four walls of the courthouse were the first part of the house built in 1856, the rest of the house was built in 1857.

As we toured the house, we were struck by how much of the furnishings are original to the family. And how small the Whaley family was in stature. Doorways and windows have changed and some of the apparitions seen, appear to be going through walls that had once been doors, especially a closet area in the former general store area where Thomas Whaley's desk is located. It was in this room that we heard about the black sheep of the family, George Whaley. He died in the house like most of the family. He too was named for a business partner. We then went on to the Dining Room, which was relatively small. Thomas was 5'3" and Anna was 4'9". The walls are lined with family pictures. Our tour guide Sam seemed surprised to see one of the chairs pulled out awkwardly at the table and he said, "That's not cool," but didn't elaborate as to whether this was something paranormal or something else. We heard about the special relationship between Grandma Anna and her great-grandaughter Marion. Unfortunately, Marion ate ant paste right before her third birthday and passed away. We also were told that Anna was a secret smoker. Corinne Lillian Whaley was the last surviving family member to live in the house and she was there until 1953. She never married or had children and it is believed that her spirit is still in the house. The family had two Chinese servants and a Native American girl named Modesta who worked in the kitchen. Not all at the same time. Modesta was unhappy here and ran away many times, only to be returned by her family. She leaves an angry feeling in the kitchen dining room area. The kitchen had an opening like a window to the dining room.

We went upstairs where there is the recreation of the theater that had been in the house for three months. This has a very small stage and it is tilted up higher in the back than in the front. There are several benches for sitting. The back corner is said to have a dark presence that hangs out there. People fell a heaviness in here and get scratched. Sam told us that on four separate nights, with different groups, it was reported that the first word to come out of the Spirit Box was "Leave." We went to the Master Bedroom and Sam wouldn't join us inside the room because he had a harrowing enough experience that he doesn't want to tempt fate. Our group then went to Violet's room and heard her tragic story. They keep lots of artifacts that they have dug up on the property in 2008 and 2012. The floor boards in this room are original and were the same floors that Violet stood on when she decided to end her life. We next went downstairs to the only bedroom on the first floor, which has many belongings from the family like Thomas Whaley's mustache cup. Next was the parlor and we heard about the gallows wood and the archway. A clock on the mantle sometimes goes off even though it isn't supposed to work anymore. Sam also shared this and then an interesting thing happened with another person on the tour. (Parlor Choking)

We decided to investigate the theater first and Diane turned on the Ghost Tube app on the phone. And interestingly, we got Don't Leave, rather than leave. (Ghost Tube Whaley) Sam came up and talked to Kelly about the corner in the theater. (Sam Theater) Then we started our first Estes Session. (Estes Session 1) Did we catch an EVP at the end there? (EVP Theater) Here is the rest of the Estes Session in the theater. (Estes Session Theater) So I said Yankee there at the end. Could that be Yankee Jim? We then went to the Master Bedroom and put the Spirit Box on. I thought this was interesting because it stretches over 5 seconds and sounds like a similar voice through the whole thing. Can you understand it? (Spirit Box Master) The end sounds like Did Ma and then can't understand the rest. Maybe cry? Did Ma cry? (Did Ma Cry) There was this on Spirit Box (Spirit Box Tom) Kelly felt very uncomfortable in this room, which goes back to Sam not liking the room.

Next we hit the dining room where Marion is said to play and pull on people's clothing. We did manage to get someone to light up one of our cat balls for us and it moved slightly. This is the first quick EVP Session we conducted and it sounded like we may have gotten a couple of answers. We'll play the full audio first without amplification of the answers. (Whaley House EVP Session1) We think after we asked if someone was with us that we got a breathy yes and then when we asked the name, it sounds like a name was given. (Whaley House Yes) Diane thought the name sounded like Curtis? And then there was this (Whaley House Gulp) Was that a gulp? 

Next, we went into the former store area and we stood around Mr. Whaley's desk. (Whaley House Desk EVP) Sounded almost like a kid saying Dad or yeah to me. And we finished the evening in the courtroom. The REM Pod was going off a lot in here. Diane sat in the jury box and did an Estes Session. (Estes Courtroom) Interesting that the EMF went off after I said "Anna." At the end, everybody shared their experiences. (Wrap-up)

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. And we definitely feel like we interacted with possible spirits. 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!

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