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The Convocation of Souls at the Historic Whaley House

By David Marshall

On a warm May night as the sun sank behind the Pacific, we began our efforts to communicate with the dead. Around a large wooden table sat five renowned haunted house investigators and several curious SOHO board members, like myself. We were sitting quietly in the glow of candlelight waiting for the evening's main event, The Convocation of Souls.

The host was Michael Kouri, paranormal investigator, psychic, author and medium. Kouri and his associates, most of whom are members of the Orange County Society for Psychic Research, had submitted a proposal to SOHO to conduct an investigation of the long rumored ghosts. The co-organizer of the event was Rob Wlodarski. An archeologist for 30 years, Rob and his wife Anne run G-Host Publishing and together they co-authored the popular book The Haunted Whaley House: A History and Guide to the Most Haunted House in America. Their intent was to monitor and record paranormal activity as part of an ongoing investigation.

Whaley family

Also in attendance was a small crew to videotape the event. Television journalist, anchor and thrill-seeker Michelle Garforth, who has done work for The Travel Channel, The Discovery Channel and ESPN, was also there, eager to witness the Whaley spirits.

At the dark table Michael laid out the ground rules (or below-ground rules) for all of us who were new to this, open your mind, don't be scared, hold hands, don't cross your legs and try to think of "yes" or "no" questions that the spirits might want to answer. Michael spoke calmly and noted that we should watch our toes and keep away from the table legs because "the table has been known to raise and lower" during the normal course of events. We were also told to remove all watches and metal jewelry because we could inadvertently get "burned by the energy" of the spirits. If anyone got scared during the event, Michael said they should just leave the room, preferably not screaming.

The table was littered with tape recorders, a digital thermometer, an electromagnetic field meter, a compass, feathers, three candles, and a toy cradle that hopefully would be manipulated by our ghostly guests.

After our orientation Michael spoke directly to the spirits. They were told to communicate by raising or lowering the flame of the middle candle or by moving the table or other objects in the room. Michael closed his eyes and declared, "there is a lot of presence in this room." It was about 9pm and our Convocation of Souls had officially begun.

One by one we went around the table, each of us asking questions. Many of the initial questions were to determine who among the list of famous dead was joining us. The first 20 minutes were quite uneventful. The center candle barely moved and the room was quiet (except for the Cinco de Mayo clean-up crews out on the street). It's not easy to think of questions to ask of the dead. "How's the weather?" "Do you haunt here often?" Michael warned us not to ask how the ghosts had died because it might upset them since (in true Sixth Sense-speak) "some of these people don't know that they're dead."

In an attempt to broaden our discussion with the spirits I asked, "Did George W. Bush really win the election?" The candle flickered a "yes," but Michael noted, "ghosts can be biased too." Michael's reading of the candle flame fluctuations was far from definitive. He kept asking, "was that a "yes?""

Questions then began to get what appeared to be more emphatic answers, in the form of noises and movements from the table. First we heard a rapid tapping sound from the middle of the table. It first sounded like creaking wood, but it was too rhythmic and fast. It was like someone tapping out Morse code with pencils. All of our hands were flat atop the table and in clear view, so the night was starting to get interesting. The table antics then got more dramatic. The tapping seemed to travel around the table and we began to see and feel the table vibrating. One woman said it felt "like an earthquake." Several times we could see the corner of the table nearest Michael lift up and fall back with a bang as the leg hit the floor. The light-hearted nature of our seance suddenly got more serious.

Michael reminded us not to get scared and Mrs. Pat Brian, one of the paranormal investigators on hand, commented that this was pretty tame compared with her past experiences. The tapping and shaking continued. Questions were asked of Thomas and Anna Whaley and "Yankee" Jim Robinson who was reportedly hanged at the site before the house was built. Questions about Violet Whaley, who committed suicide as a young woman, brought aggressive responses. The rattling was loud and quick, the chandelier in the room, which had been still all night, began to swing.

Having been a witness to the evening's events, I must admit that I don't have a logical explanation for what I heard and saw. The candle flame was unconvincing, but the table noises and movements defied easy explanation. Even though the part of the table that raised and dropped was near Michael Kouri, his hands were flat on the table and his legs were not near the corner that lifted.

During a break I looked under the table and sat in Michael's seat. My knee could easily reach the bottom of the table, but I wasn't able to lift the corner like I'd witnessed. At different times there were two non-psychics next to the moving corner and if they were making it move I don't see how. Plus the rapidness of the shaking and tapping would make it near impossible for someone to use their leg without it being obvious.

The spirits apparently wandered off during our intermission because the table rattling didn't resume and the candle remained still. Our night of communicating with the dead was drawing to a close. As Regis might have asked, "Is that your final rattle?"

The evening's drama was not exactly an episode of "The X-Files," but it was still a fascinating experience. Michael, Rob, Pat and the others were enthusiastic and seemed genuinely interested in documenting unexplainable phenomena at the Whaley House. Earlier in the evening I had asked Rob how the Old Town landmark compared to the many other haunted sites he'd investigated and written about. "On a scale of 1 to 10," he told me, "this house is probably a 15."

The Whaley House is open to visitors Monday through Sunday from 10:00 to 4:30. Admission is free to SOHO members.

The Haunted San Diego Ghosts and Gravestones nighttime tours in partnership with San Diego Historical Society and Old Town Trolley may also be purchased at the Whaley House.

2001 - Volume 32, Issue 2

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