From the outside, the two-storey brick structure with white painted trim looks pleasant, even cheerful, as it looks down over the busy streets of San Diego's "Old Town." But inside, this benign edifice has another face to show- one that reaches back to the darker roots of California history.
The land beneath Whaley House was adjacent to what the Spanish conquerors called a rancheria, a small Native American settlement where the local Kumeyaay tribe would spend the winters. Nearby, Father Junipero Serra's first Mission began its process of converting the Kumeyaay, an often harsh endeavor. Recalcitrant converts were hunted down by Spanish soldiers retrieving the Mission's human property. The Whaley's sold goods to the Kumeyaay, and also employed some of them, though their "employment" was closer to slavery. Thomas Whaley recorded how he had bought one young girl from her parents to work for him, and then was a bit irritated that she ran away, forcing him to pay for her again to get her back. The apparition of at least one Indian man has been seen inside of the house.
The city of San Diego encroached on the native settlement. Due to disease and conflict, the Kumeyaay population dropped quickly- of 16,000 Kumeyaay baptised in a ten-year period, 9,000 died. The cemetary from the nearby Catholic church expanded, and some graves may have lain on what would become the Whaley property. In 1857, Thomas Whaley built the house adjacent to the new railroad line. At the time, the Greek Revival-style house was the most magnificent example of architecture in the area- which speaks volumes for the primitive conditions.
Visiting Old Town and Whaley house as a child, I was unaware of the many reasons why this particular plot of earth should be so haunted. I just knew that the place was haunted and felt a child's combined fear and fascination.
My first visit to Whaley House took place when I was about seven. The building was crowded with summertime visitors and there was hardly room for the docents, never mind ghosts. But the unearthly manifested itself. In the kitchen, a row of various cooking implements hangs from a shelf. The third one over is a nasty-looking meat cleaver. As my family looked at the kitchen, the cleaver began to swing ominously. My grandmother thought it was a pre-arranged trick. We watched, comforted by this belief. It was only years later that I discovered that the swinging cleaver is a part of the "standard" haunting package at Whaley House.