Monday, October 13, 2008

The Haunted Whaley House in San Diego

When Regis Philbin was a television personality in San Diego during the 1960's, he did a show from the historic Whaley House in Old Town San Diego. In the show, he saw an apparition of Anna Whaley, the wife of one of the earliest owners of the house in the late 1800's, in the dark room.

My buddy Randy and I watched this with considerable interest as 21 year-olds, and Randy challenged me to "go spend the night in the Whaley House and see if you can see ghosts too." I, of course, said "I will if you will" and a great "dare" conspiracy was born.

We had to figure out how to stay in the House after it closed, of course. We visited the house late in the afternoon, posing as tourists, to see if there were hiding places available, and to check out the security arrangements in the house. We saw that some stairs were blocked off to the upstairs bedrooms but that they weren't easily seen from the admissions desk. There was only one docent on duty, and they only took the customers through the downstairs rooms. We decided that, if we were lucky, that we could enter as customers, lurk near closing time, and sneak up the stairs and hide in a room - if we were careful and quiet. The hard part would be finding the right time to sneak up the stairs quietly. We weren't sure if there was someone stationed upstairs - if there was, we were doomed.

It took several months to find a good day - we chose a Saturday because there would be more customers there late in the afternoon and the people at the house would be busier than usual. We each told our parents that we were staying at the other guy's house, and Randy drove us down to Old Town and parked near the Whaley House. We ate our sandwiches and loaded our pockets with apples and cookies, screwed up our courage and sauntered down the street to the house.

We went into the house, paid the admission fee, signed in, and tagged along at the end of a docent-led group. When the time was opportune, we doubled back to the stairs - no one was watching - and we gingerly snuck up the narrow staircase, walking on the side of the stairs near the wall to avoid creaking boards. On the second floor, there was a long hallway, but there was a bedroom right next to the stairs and we carefully opened that door and found that it had a double bed with a rolled up rug underneath it. This seemed like a good place to hide, so we lay down under the bed with the rug hiding us from view from the doorway to await closing, darkness, midnight and, hopefully, ghost time.

At closing time, an employee came up the creaking stairs, checked the bathroom, closet and the bedrooms, and returned down the stairs. By nightfall, the house was quiet, all the lights were off on the second floor, and we were alone. We thought. Outside, there were people going to or from the nearby restaurants and bars so there was quite a bit of noise until about midnight.

We didn't talk much, and it was dark in the bedroom, although there were street lights outside the window. We got out from under the bed, ate our snacks, and watched out the window. After it got quiet outside, we ventured out into the hall and sat down at the corner of the staircase - where we could see the hall in back of us and the room below in front of us. We had no idea when or where any ghosts might appear, but we figured that we had a better chance of seeing apparitions if we were not noticeable, demonstrative or noisy.

From our point on the staircase, we could see some of the room below. Soon there was a shadow of something - a young girl in loose-fitting clothes? - dancing on the walls of the room below. Of course, it could have been a shadow of a person walking by outside cast through the window curtains, or it might have been an apparition. We stayed quiet and watchful, and somewhat fearful, as the apparition started to come up the stairs - we heard a footfall - but it must have sensed our presence, and she (?) vanished quickly. We had cold sweats and the hair on our neck raised, but it was pretty cool.

Then we heard a door creak open in the hallway behind us, and footsteps coming toward us at the top of the steps. When we turned and looked over the top of the staircase, it looked like an older man carrying a candle slipped into the open door. That was enough for us - we carefully but quickly went down the staircase and tried the lock on the front door - it was a deadbolt lock that could be opened from the inside, so we carefully turned it and carefully snuck outside. We tried to walk nonchalantly down the street to the parking lot where the car was parked, but we found that the lot was chained up with the car inside. We ended up "sleeping" in the car - but we didn't sleep much!

Of course, we told the story of our night in the Whaley House to our buddies at the baseball field (our younger brothers played on the same team) and even at our radio club meetings (we didn't claim that we listened to the radio, though. The story might have been embellished a little to where a hand touched us on the back of the neck and we shouted out in terror, but that was not true, of course.

The Whaley House has a web site at and the "legends" of the ghosts are discussed at

What does this have to do with genealogy and family history research? Not much - it's just a story from my young and semi-brave days. Hopefully, my kids and grandkids will read it and marvel at the bravery, and stupidity, of there forebear.

Oh, and I needed a Hallowe'en story for the Carnival of genealogy this week!


Bill West said...

Hmmm....I flipped a coin on this one, Randy. True!

Fun post to read!

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

I think you're trying to put one over on us and this is a well crafted piece of fiction.

Jasia said...

You've got me going on this one Randy! I'm going to say it's Fact... but I won't be surprised if you say you made it up!