May 5, 2011

FoF: Whaley House

For once, I beat the FoF team somewhere. Last year (mid-2010), I was down in San Diego with my wife. While she attended a conference, I searched the net for local haunted spots and found Whaley House, supposedly the only haunted house certified by the US Government! I packed my gear into the car and drove on over.

In 1852, "Yankee Jim" Robinson was hanged for grand theft riverboat. Attending the hanging was wealthy merchant Thomas Whaley, who later realized that he could buy the site of the hanging cheap. After all, who else would want it? There were consequences, though. According to the Whaley House's web site, Whaley was haunted the rest of his life by the sound of heavy boots tromping around his home, and believed he was being tormented by the late Yankee Jim. (Ignore the stock gallows photo on the show. They improvised a gallows for Yankee Jim out of some wooden beams, a mule, and a cart.)

As a historical site, Whaley House is worth a visit. The house was originally built as a granary, since its brick construction was supposed to prevent rats from entering and eating the grain. The bricks proved to be only a minor inconvenience to the rats, however. Whaley converted the downstairs area to a general store. The lower level at one point served as the local courthouse, and a room upstairs served as the town stage. During Whaley's lifetime, it served as his residence and as the center of town.

The actual paranormal claims made for the house are a mixed bag. For the most officially haunted house in America, they're pretty mild stuff. Once, a small girl waved to a man no one else could see in the parlor. Various psychics and parapsychologists have made unsubstantiated and unfalsifiable claims over the years. The house was even investigated by the incredible ghost-hunting duo of Regis Philbin and Hans Holzer. (This is a concept so bizarre that I can barely believe I just typed it.) Poking around in the dark, Philbin claimed to have seen something filmy and white on the wall. Unable to restrain himself, he turned his flashlight on, only to find himself looking at a portrait of Anna Whaley. Holzer then chided Philbin for turning the flashlight on and making the ghost disappear!

I found no ghosts of my own in my visit, but did hear some stories from two docents in period dresses. One had heard mysterious footsteps in the house. The other had just gotten up from a chair– the very one she was sitting in while telling the story!– and had started to walk away from it, when she heard it move. A co-worker, who was facing her direction, told her excitedly that the chair had slid of its own accord. I asked them about Thomas Whaley's reports of being haunted, which are supposedly from his diary. Apparently the diary is in the possession of SOHO, the historical society in charge of Whaley House, and viewing it is only available by permission. The docents appeared slightly weirded out by my insistent questions, so I stopped pestering.

When the FoF crew visited, they seemed a lot more impressed– at least at first. What brought them to the site were some still photos that they couldn't explain. When I visited, there was a binder of similar photos sitting on a table in the courtroom. These guys had picked the cream of the crop. Watching FoF ooh and ahh over these photos made my teeth grind, which I'm sure my dentist will complain about. I do understand that these cases are selected entirely based on whether they think they'll be able to get good video footage, not on whether the producers/investigators actually buy what they're selling. Still, guys, I'm sitting here watching. The least you could do is pretend to investigate.

The photos that FoF found so compelling were one misshapen light blotch on a wall, one supposed face in a flash pattern on a window, and one ghostly image of a dress. At least they debunked the ghostly dress image fairly. Once they got down there, it was obviously a reflection on the plexiglass that covers all the rooms. They also did some neat work recreating the light blotch on the wall. At first glance, it looks like a photo processing defect, but it is reflected in the glass of a picture hanging on the wall, so we can be pretty sure that the light was in the room at the time. The FoF team brought in a powerful light and moved it around until they got a blob similar to the one on the wall, indicating that it was probably a refraction caused by the lamp on the table. A more interesting approach, though, would be to find out the hour and time of day that the original photo was taken (if possible) and position the light outside to approximate the sun's position in the sky.

It seemed completely obvious to me that the mysterious man with a moustache was a simulacrum– a facelike image created by the flash reflecting from the old, rippled glass in the window. (Actually, without their helpful superimposition of Thomas Whaley's face on the glass, I couldn't see it at all) Reproducing it would be difficult, but a necessary step would be to recreate that precise flash pattern! Instead, they put a moustache on Austin and tried to get his reflection in the window. Sure enough, the flash washed him out. Putting him inside the house made just as little sense, since of course his face would be visible. Yes, once again I realize that this is a photo-op, not a real investigation. How about looking at the irregularities in the glass and seeing if they match up with the features of the "face", for example?

At the time, they claimed that this was enough to justify a "night investigation" of the site. Of course, this means throwing all credibility out the window and running around collecting EVPs.┬áSure enough, when Bill asks an invisible Yankee Jim if he learned anything from his experience of… being hanged, I guess… he gets a paranormal double-thump sound on the tape. He knows it's paranormal because he doesn't remember hearing it at the time! Bill triumphantly states that that must be the sound of the gavel which Big Jim heard when he was pronounced guilty. Naturally, there's nothing about this noise that actually makes it paranormal. It could be anything from creaking boards to a stumbling sound guy.

Back at headquarters, the FoF team considered that although they could explain all of the photos they'd chosen, the mysterious bangs and the thousands of other ghost photographs taken at Whaley House must mean that the place is haunted. If the photos that I saw at Whaley House are any indication, then this is a vast collection of nothing. As for the government certification, Whaley House is indeed certified as an actual haunted house attraction by the Department of Commerce, which means that you can have the paranormal experience there of buying a ticket. Whether the organizers believe that the place is haunted or not, they know with certainty that claiming it brings in the tourists by the busload. There is a nice gift shop.

There is one unanswered question, though. Did Thomas Whaley actually believe that his house was haunted? Did he write about it in his journal, as the docents claimed? Only SOHO knows. I'll try asking them nicely. I will not hold my breath.

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Comments on FoF: Whaley House »

May 17, 2011

Thomas @ 11:46 am

I said once, I'll say it again.

Nothing brings in the tourists more than ghost stories, and the ability to accept VISA, Mastercard, American Express, and now EBT cards.

June 2, 2011

Marie @ 1:14 pm

And let's never forget (despite the hype) the name of the tv channel it's airing on- from its inception known as SCIFI, the Science FICTION channel.

June 11, 2011

thetalkingmongoose @ 7:51 am

Stephen, I am so disappointed you didn't experience anything weird at the Whaley House. While I admit to being gullible, the Whaley House is one of my great memories of a place actually panning out to be what it purported to be. I visited in May of 2000 with a group of friends, One of them found a spot in the back garden and called me over to walk through it. It was Instant Wooziness, highly localized. You could step into and out of it. It was one of the strangest things I've ever experienced, being that specific to a spot about four square feet. So I accepted that the Whaley House really was haunted then and there. But maybe it was only a vortex to hell. Whatever, it was pretty cool.

Stephen @ 10:32 am

Hmm… I wandered around in the back for a while, since there was an on-line photo I was trying to duplicate. I don't remember any dizzy spells.

thetalkingmongoose @ 12:25 pm

I swear to god, or… um, whatever – that it was there. What it was, I have no idea.

June 13, 2011

Revenant @ 12:13 pm

thetalkingmongoose said: "It was one of the strangest things I've ever experienced, being that specific to a spot about four square feet. So I accepted that the Whaley House really was haunted then and there."

This is what I have trouble understanding. If one experiences something and is at a loss to explain it…it therefore must be paranormal. Another way to put it…if one does not know the answer to 14+21=X it does not mean that no one can answer it. I am not making fun of thetalkingmongoose or dismissing his experience. I just don't understand the direct jump to the conclusion that it is paranormal.

There could be many possibilities. Let me throw out one. In Greek mythology, we had the Delphic Oracle. For years, the Pythia (or priestess) would fall into a trance and tell of her visions.

In the past century, scientists have batted around an idea of why this particular location held the power of prophecy. In this area of Greece, earthquakes would rock the vault lines. Things would heat up and gases would escape upwards. The Pythia, being in the bottom chamber of the temple, may have been exposed to ethylene gas…which would explain the "trances" and wild behavior.

Could there have been a small and temporary gas leak in the backyard of the Whaley House the day that you visited? Maybe. I wouldn't throw money on it, but let us just consider it a possibility. I mean, if "being paranormal" is on the table, why not the gas leak theory? It's just an example of thinking outside the box. I am much more willing to explore possibilities all day long then I am in just stamping somethng "paranormal" and leaving it be. That's too…tidy to me. Too clean. Too easy. I like like hard and messy…probably why I love science.

June 14, 2011

CrowTRobot @ 10:55 pm


June 16, 2011

Stephen @ 12:14 am

An interesting test would be to blindfold you, lead you onto the site, and see if you could find the vortex without external cues. If you still experienced the wooziness in a specific spot, then we'd have something we could investigate further, even if I was standing next to you and didn't notice anything!

CrowTRobot @ 12:44 am

I think someone has been watching too many paranormal tv shows.

July 2, 2011

thetalkingmongoose @ 7:20 pm

Oh, heck. This is why I should hang out here more. I apologize for not returning sooner. I like having reasonable discussions about weird stuff, even if my gullibility gets over-exposed. Most people I know just look at me funny when I try to engage them in these topics. I suppose Revenant could be right. It could have been a gas leak. I mean, it was out in the middle of a garden, but anything is possible. I also wouldn't expect a gas leak to be quite that precise in its effects, but then maybe it wasn't a gas leak. Maybe it was – yes! Stephen! An electromagnetic vortex! With a ley line leading straight to – somewhere (the Winchester House?).

Really, I should have been more careful with my wording, because the only thing that totally convinces me that a spot is haunted is an unexpected break-out of cold sweat that runs up and down the spine and back of legs (although, yes, I know there are plenty of possible explanations for that – it 's just my personal line in the sand). I didn't get that here, so I'm open to conceding it might have been a gas leak, or a wicked strong magnetic rock. It's more fun to think it wasn't, of course.

September 3, 2011

Shawn @ 11:37 am

What is that in my photo? I also visited the "Whaley House." It's fun hearing ghost stories, but I'm very skeptical about what people claim to see or experience. What I found most interesting was the photo album that the whaley house has on view, the photo album has many photos taken by tourists with strange things floating in them. Not sure if their ghosts but its odd that this is happening to photos taken here, probably a scientific reason for it who knows, but its strange. It was mid-week and near closing and along with two staff members we were the only ones in the place. So I started taking photos everywhere hoping to capture something similar in a frame. As soon as I got home, I processed the film, the one-hour seemed like an eternity. Photo after photo, NOTHING! Not one single thing, until I got to literally the last photo in the stack. The photo was taken outside the house on the grounds of the property. You can see the photo taken at

September 7, 2011

Junkyard @ 5:03 pm

I live outside San Diego, not long after moving to the area my wife and I were in Old Town and decided to pony up the cash and tour the Whaley House. All the employees there had interesting experiences to share with us. After a couple hours my wife and I were ready to go. I was disappointed to hear and read all the hype and not experience anything myself.

I was alone upstairs sitting in the theatre, I stood up, grabbed the chandeler and gave a nice solid swinging push on it. I quickly walked out and met up with my wife downs stairs and exited. Just as we were leaving a group of new visitors walked up the stairs. I only hope they had an unexplained experience themselves seeing the lighting swinging away in the empty theatre.

September 20, 2011

Maryann Zano-Reynolds @ 12:48 pm

I know everybody is being skeptical on here but should we really believe that when it comes to hauntings, ghosts, and all things paranormal that it HAS to be just like what we see in the movies and TV. Does phenomenon HAVE to be scary or malicious and we, as living beings, really think we can ALWAYS detect everything? I'd like to say that I do believe that there is more than "just us" but I don't believe it's what everybody says it's like. I've been to the Whaley House in San Diego and even though I didn't get to SEE anything, I got my own kind of proof. I did a private tour with an amateur ghost hunting group (friends of friends) to which, surprise suprise, I was the skeptic of the bunch. They had used an ovilus to communicate, which spits out (at the time, my opinion) random words of what the "ghosts were saying." But things took a turn for the interesting. At one point the ovilus said, "mother." Someone in our group began to ask questions concerning the word "mother." About 30 seconds into them questioning the machine, my cell phone vibrated and I saw my mother was calling! Truthfully I was creeped out, but I ignored it brushing it off as a coincidence. She left a message but decided to check it afterwards. Then the ovilus said, "home," "mother," "go," "father." Just as it finished its last word, I received a text from my mother that my father (suffering from Alzheimer) was having a bad episode and to come home now. I was shocked, not scared, but definitely shocked. So if you believe the ghosts in the Whaley House have to be hovering in front of you or make the walls bleed, then go ahead and believe that. But in my opinion, they have just as much heart as a human does.

December 21, 2011

Steve @ 8:06 pm

Living in San Diego, I've visited the Whaley House countless times. Quite often (most often, in fact), I enjoy nothing more than a nice walk around an old home. There have been times, however, where I have seen or experienced things which I simply cannot explain. Now, I'm not at all prepared to assume that what I experienced or saw was, in fact, a ghost or something else paranormal. But I defy anyone (and have) to prove to me that it wasn't. I'm completely at ease not knowing what it was. Maybe it'll show up the next time I go. Maybe it won't. That's part of the fun.

Interestingly enough, as many photos as I've taken in the house and yard, I've never captured anything unusual. I did, however, capture something VERY odd down the road in El Campo Santo Cemetery. Again, I'm not saying it's a ghost, but no one's been able to prove to me that it wasn't…

December 22, 2011

Learjet @ 12:09 am

"But I defy anyone (and have) to prove to me that it wasn't."

The burden of proof does not lie with others, since you are the one making a claim, it lies with you. Otherwise you are presenting an argument from ignorance.

"Argument from ignorance, also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam or "appeal to ignorance" (where "ignorance" stands for: "lack of evidence to the contrary"), is a fallacy in informal logic. It asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false,"

If you have photos then present them, otherwise…..

Steve @ 8:47 am

Actually, the burden doesn't lie with me, because I'm not making a definitive claim that it was, in fact, something paranormal. I got something weird, and no one's been able to explain what it is.

Perhaps I should've stated it differently: I'm not making the claim that it was paranormal. I would welcome someone proving otherwise but, so far, no one's been able to do that.

The truth of the matter is that I don't really care if it is or not. It weird, and I'm good with "weird".

How does one post a photo here? I would be happy to do that…

Nosfer @ 12:14 pm

As Learjet said, your asking us to prove that it WASN'T paranormal is not the way things are done. Null hypothesis and all…

You can post in the forums under this same thread and make a link to an image if you have one, we'd be glad to take a look at it, there are at least two people here with much more photography expertise than has been exhibited on FoF

Steve @ 2:51 pm

And, as I said, I phrased my statement poorly.

No one has yet offered a compelling explanation for what I shot at El Camp Santo. I hope this works:


The photo was taken around on June 2, 2010, around 11:30pm. There were two people in the cemetery at the time, me and a friend. Neither I or my buddy were wearing anything white. The photo was taken with a Canon G10. This was an exposure of 15 seconds. I don't recall the aperture.

I'm not saying it's a ghost, or anything paranormal. What I'm saying is that there's yet to be reasonable explanation as to what it is…

December 23, 2011

Learjet @ 8:20 am

Thanks for posting the photo. I can't offer an explanation of what it is either I'm afraid.

Can you upload the original though? There may be something visible that I've missed on this resized image.

Steve @ 11:53 am

Tracking down the original would be tough. I didn't catalog stuff too well back then. If I can find it, I'll do it, but it's not something I'm going to spend a lot of time trying to find. Like I said, I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything.

It's a weird shot in a cemetery, and that's cool enough for me…

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