Thomas Whaley was born in New York City in 1823 to Scott-Irish parents. His grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War and allowed George Washington to use his Long-Island house; he also participated in the Boston Tea Party. Whaley moved to California in 1849, which took him just over 200 days. He followed countless others who moved there during the Gold Rush.
His family owned a successful hardware and woodworking business in New York City. When he arrived in California, he set up a store attached to his house where he sold his family's products. He too was very successful and later in life got into real estate.
Thomas Whaley set out to make his own legacy and in 1853 married Anna Eloise DeLaunay and had an idea of creating his own business empire.
Whaley House deaths and history
The house was built on top of the property where infamous yankee Jim Robinson’s hanging took place. Jim also known as James Robinson stole a wagon but was caught and hanged on the back of a wagon on the property in 1852, despite being a witness to the execution, Thomas Whaley still bought the property in 1855 were he built the now infamous Whaley house and a general store.
However, Robinson’s death was not the last to occur on the property. Some short after moving in Thomas Whaley’s eighteen-month son died of scarlet fever, and only a few months after the death of baby Thomas, the general store that the family owned was destroyed in a fire.
Unable to deal with the death and destruction associated with the property, the Whaley family relocated, but in 1868, Thomas Whaley with his wife and five other children returned to their previous home.
By 1870, the Whaley family had expanded the property to hold multiple businesses like a theater and another general store. But their financial heaven was short lived, and merchants began to move away leaving the district in ruins compared to its former glory.
In 1871, Anna Whaley was held hostage in the home as robbers ransacked the house for valuables and paperwork. Unfortunately, the Whaley family’s trouble does not stop there and on August 18, 1885, Violet the youngest daughter committed suicide in the house by shooting herself in the chest to escape a horrible marriage.
SOHO obtained the house in 2000. The museum is undergoing a major restoration project. Just recently in February of 2020, they have restored the master bedroom of Thomas Whaley and his wife Anna because of their daughter Lillian’s meticulous diary that she kept with details full of what the house looks like. Lillian’s dairy has also been used to restore other major parts of the museum. Check out the full restoration project archive with pictures here: http://www.sohosandiego.org/enews/0719whstraw.htm .
The Most Haunted House in America?
The Whaley House is also renowned for the alleged hauntings that have been reported at the site, many of which have been presented by the Travel Channel’s America’s Most Haunted and many other TV shows and books. The first known death on the property of Jim Robinson is what many believe could have sparked the supernatural element that seems to be connected to the property. When the Whaley family moved into their home, they began to hear heavy footsteps on the floorboards and would witness windows unlocking and opening themselves – all of which was believed to have been caused by Robinson’s spirit. Other sightings within the house and courtyard include the ghosts of Thomas and Anna Whaley, who had taken the suicide of their daughter, Violet, in 1885 particularly badly. Even animals are believed to haunt the home – there have been several sightings of the Whaley’s fox terrier, Dolly Varden, running through the dining room. Ghost hunting tours are organized by the Whaley House Museum each month and are especially popular around Halloween.