As the nearby cemetary reveals, children were at special risk for early death in those days. The Whaleys lost one son as a toddler, and a young boy is sometimes seen playing in the master bedroom. A young girl named Washburn was playing with the Whaley children and ran full-force into a taut, low-hanging clothesline, crushing her throat and essentially hanging herself. She died in Thomas Whaley's arms as he carried her into the kitchen.
The hanging death of a little girl is unusual enough, but that death took place within feet of a more notorious death, the 1853 hanging of Yankee Jim Robinson. Robinson is a colorful figure who attempted to steal the pilot boat Plutus, rumored to be his first step in setting up as a pirate. During the attempt, Yankee Jim was clubbed over the head with the butt of a sword and badly injured. The drunken judge and kangaroo court that was set up to convict him found his delirium convenient, and the semi-conscious Jim Robinson was hung on a makeshift scaffold at a spot directly under the future Whaley House. The tall Yankee's feet scraped the ground as he hung from the noose, and he took nearly an hour to die.
Oddly, Thomas Whaley is said to have been among the crowd witnessing Yankee Jim's death. It seems strange to modern sensibilities that he would then choose to buy that same land to build his family home directly over the site of such dramatic pain and suffering. Yankee Jim is said to haunt the stairs from the first floor to the second, specifically the ninth step, which is believed to be where he dangled during his drawn-out death. Some visitors have experienced the feeling of a noose tightening around their necks as they tour the house. Yankee Jim has been observed standing behind tour guides during their presentations, assuring the rapt attention of the visitors.
PHOTOS: Left- The bed in the Whaley's master bedroom, with rumpled covers said to be caused by the spirits. Right- Yankee Jim died painfully, hanging over the stairwell area before the house was built. Visitors sometimes feel a choking sensation, especially on the ninth step.
The Whaley's red-haired daughter died under mysterious circumstances at age eleven. For an unknown reason, she ate a quantity of poisonous powder. She prefers to appear to children, in such a clear form that children usually don't realize she is anything but just another kid. Pulling hair and tickling other children are her specialty, especially little girls of about her age. Though I didn't know of her existence at the time of my first visit, I've since heard that this girl ghost is believed to be the one who plays with the kitchen cleaver. I'm flattered to think that she may have been trying to get my attention when I visited the house as a child.
Even after the Whaleys moved into the building, parts of it were adapted for other uses. Whaley seemed never able to miss out on the prospect of renting portions of the house for various purposes. The north room, originally a granary, was refurbished and leased to the County of San Diego for use as a courthouse, at the princely sum of $65 in gold coin each month. The upper rooms were included in the deal as meeting rooms, diminishing the size of the living quarters substantially. The courtroom was occasionally used as a morgue. When civic leader Alonzo Horton had the courtroom records seized and brought to a site four miles away in "New Town," where Horton owned a lot of property, the courtroom lease payments ceased. This loss obsessed Whaley, and he repeatedly approached the city council for reparations, but received nothing.
PHOTO: Left: A bookcase in the courtroom reflects light from across the room. Right: A close-up of the reflection reveals a face-like image. Ghost or coincidence?