Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Whaley House?
The Whaley House is a world-famous historic house museum. Completed in 1857, it housed not only the Whaley Family, but also Mr. Whaley's general store, San Diego's first commercial theater, and the second county courthouse, all of which have been accurately restored.
How do you pronounce "Whaley"?
It is pronounced with a long A, WAY-lee.
What is a docent?
A docent is a museum staff person. Our docents receive training in both content and technique so that they can enhance the museum experience for the visitors. They must be prepared to answer questions from visitors not only about the museum, the Whaley Family, and the history of early San Diego in general, but often about the paranormal, which is handled in terms of folklore of the house. They are also required to dress in period-correct clothing as part of our Interpretive Program. Our youth docent program has been one of our proudest accomplishments. Youth docents begin working as early as twelve years old and commit enormous amounts of time and care to the museum. They are exemplary examples of their generation.
What does the tour consist of?
Our basic tour is self-guided. You will be greeted by a docent, who will provide you with three information sheets: a room-by-room tour guide, a brief history of the Whaley Family, and Ghostly Legends of the Whaley House. You may explore the house at your own pace, and docents are always available to answer questions. We also offer a variety of Guided Group Tours and Private After Hours Tours.
Is it worth the price of admission?
We think so. For the price of your ticket you will see the beautifully furnished home of a prominent San Diego family of the nineteenth century, including the elegant parlor; dining room; Mr. Whaley's study; four bedrooms; and the reconstructed lean-to kitchen. You will also see San Diego's first commercial theater and second county courthouse, both located inside the building. The grounds, featuring the rose garden and replica nineteenth century gazebo, are a county park and are free to the public. All admission monies go toward keeping the museum operating, paying our staff, general upkeep, and the ongoing restoration of the Whaley House.
Why do prices increase after 5pm?
For security reasons, we have to put on extra staff after dark, and this, with the added overhead of operating the museum at night requires an increase in nighttime admission prices.
Can I spend the night in the Whaley House?
Although we do not offer overnight stays, you can take a private, after-hours tour for up to three hours.
Is it true that a little girl was killed in the backyard when she ran into a low-hanging clothesline?
No. Although legends states that a girl named either Annabelle or Carrie Washburn died by running into a clothesline, there is no historic documentation or any other evidence that this ever happened.
Were people hanged in the Whaley House yard?
Yes. The grounds upon which the house stands were used for public hangings prior to Mr. Whaley's purchase of the property. The most famous hanging on the property was that of Yankee Jim Robinson on September 18, 1852.
Which tree was Yankee Jim hanged from?
Yankee Jim was hanged from a gallows that stood on the property before the house was built. He stood on the back of a wagon that was pulled out from under him. According to the San Diego Union of October 9, 1873 [recalling the incident 21 years later], Yankee Jim "kept his feet in the wagon as long as possible, but was finally pulled off. He swung back and forth like a pendulum until he strangled to death." The California pepper trees in the Whaley House yard were planted by Anna Whaley in the 1870s, long after anyone was hanged on the property.
Why has the Whaley House changed so much since I visited 10-20-30 years ago?
In 2000, the County of San Diego, which owns the Whaley House, turned over museum operations to Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), instigating a lawsuit by the previous operators over ownership of antiques donated to the museum since 1960. The matter was settled in 2001, with the three buildings on the property-the Verna House and the two false front store buildings, structures that were moved to the property by the previous museum operators in the 1960s-becoming the properties of the County of San Diego. And in exchange the majority of the contents of the Whaley House itself, the former pharmacy museum, and the Derby Pendleton house were given to the former operators. The County retained items that were verified by official documents or could otherwise be determined to be Whaley or Whaley-related items.
Why is the front hall painted faux-marble?
The faux-marble paint design is known as an Ashlar block pattern. Ashlar patterns were fashionable for nineteenth century stair halls, particularly in Greek Revival style houses. It can be found in many other historic homes in America, including the 1852 Perrault Home in Frederick, MD; the c.1876 Bentley House in St. George, UT; and the 1799-1808 Travellers Rest Plantation & Museum in Nashville, TN. It is very likely that the Whaleys would have had this or a similar wall treatment in the entry hall.
What happened to the back stairs?
The back stairs were non-historic, having been added to the building just prior to the May 1960 opening of the Whaley House Museum. After 45 years, they were on the verge of collapse. They were removed in 2006 as part of the restoration of the Whaley House back porch and kitchen. The back of the building now looks as it did when the Whaley family occupied the house.
Why is the Whaley House haunted?
Oral tradition states that the Whaley family believed the house to be haunted by Yankee Jim Robinson, the man Thomas Whaley watched hang on the property before the house was built. Some believe that the spirit of Violet Whaley, who committed suicide here in 1885, haunts the house. Mr. and Mrs. Whaley are both believed to haunt the house, perhaps because their daughter Violet is still here. Another spirit believed to inhabit the home is that of Marion Reynolds, Thomas and Anna Whaley's great-granddaughter, who died tragically in Oceanside, CA in 1912 but had lived most of her young life in the Whaley House.
Do you guarantee that I will see a ghost at the Whaley House?
No. The Whaley House is a historical house museum which some say is haunted, not a Disneyland-style haunted house. Therefore we cannot produce ghosts for our visitors. However, many people have reported supernatural occurrences in the house.
Is it scary?
As a fully furnished house museum, most people will not be scared in the Whaley House. However, occasionally visitors do report supernatural encounters within the museum's walls.
What do people experience?
Visitors to the Whaley House will experience a beautifully restored historic house museum, including an 1860s general store, theater, and courthouse. Some people claim to have encounters with the supernatural, including apparitions, cold or warm spots, sensations of being touched, seeing objects move unaccountably, and having anomalies appear in photographs. We do not stage the "hauntings" so we do not guarantee that visitors will experience them, but we do guarantee an interesting and educational visit to a world-class house museum.
Are the ghosts friendly?
No mean or harmful spirits have been reported at the Whaley House.