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A Very Whaley Halloween

By David Marshall

Balboa Park

(Left to right) Autumn Acker, Mary Jones, Rae Symonds, George Plum


When you are the caretakers of a house that some consider the most haunted in America, you don't want to leave the spirits all by themselves on Halloween night.

Save Our Heritage Organisation decided to open the doors of the famed Whaley House in Old Town for special tours on three nights in late October, from 10pm to midnight, culminating on Halloween night. Thirty tickets were available for each night and the fund-raising event sold out several weeks in advance.

On the first night, guests gathered on the front porch of the Whaley House and were each given handmade scarves as keepsakes and to identify ticket holders for the event. The scarves were sewn by volunteers Sarai Marlow & Becci Fajardo, who dyed them with onion skins or marigolds to give them tan and pale yellow tints. Bob and Lunella Harrill were in charge of the dying process.

Speaking of dying, the tour began with a one-block walk to the nearby El Campo Santo cemetery (literally "sanctified ground"). The group was lead to the graveyard by candlelit lanterns and quietly circled around graves marked with candles. Out from the shadows appeared a gray-bearded man who identified himself as Mr. Wrightington, who was the occupant of the grave at which they stood. Wrightington said he met a very unfortunate end in the late 1800's when he passed out drunk in rural San Diego and was eaten by coyotes. I hate when that happens.

Wrightington proceeded to tell the tour group many stories about others he knew who occupied spots in the cemetery. There is Thomas Marshall, who was wrongly convicted of a crime and became known a "The Wickedest Man in California." Then there was "Yankee" Jim, the petty criminal who met his demise on the grounds of the Whaley House, several years before its construction. Marshall and "Yankee" Jim were among the many graveyard occupants who were tried, convicted and hung in a single day. Such was justice in the old west.

"Yankee" Jim's death was especially unpleasant because the hanging gallows was not constructed for men of his tall stature. When the trap doors opened, Jim's toes touched the ground, so instead of a quick death from a broken neck, witnesses had to watch as Jim was slowly strangled by the noose for almost an hour. Wrightington noted that many of the residents of the El Campo Santo cemetery do not rest in peace, "Yankee" Jim being among them.

Cabrillo Bridge in Balboa Park

(Left to right) Mary Wendorf, David Swarens, Michelle & Lynn Hamilton


The tour then returned to the Whaley House where top hat-clad Martin Wolfe, who is affectionately referred to as the 'nighttime ghost docent', gave a talk in the old courtroom. Wolfe spent the first 30 minutes describing the history of the Whaleys and their house, making special note of the many deaths associated with theproperty. Then, as the clock approached midnight, the ghost stories began.

Wolfe pointed out that a young woman on the tour was seated in a ghost's favorite courtroom spot, and her initial laugh soon turned into a nervous smile. Wolfe shared his firsthand accounts of seeing, hearing and feeling odd things in the year since beginning work at the Whaley House. Martin has witnessed and photographed blurry, human-formed apparitions in the upstairs bedrooms as well as floating orbs of light that vaporize into balls of energy when they hit an object.

Martin then spoke about the mystery of the Whaley House staircase, particularly the ninth through thirteenth steps, that are rumored to exhibit supernatural traits. Many say they've felt an unexplained chill and even a tightness around their necks as they stand on those steps. At the conclusion of the courthouse portion, Wolfe spread out a collection of his enlarged ghost and orb photographs for the guests to examine.

The last event of the night was a short history talk by Bruce Coons up on the second floor in the restored theater space. At the close of this presentation, the evening concluded with self-guided tours of the house, with docents throughout to provide information and answer questions. As the clocks chimed midnight the guides bid a good night to the guests, encouraging them to return to the Whaley House and store during regular museum hours.

The event was very well received by the participants and was a successful fundraiser for SOHO. Many new memberships were sold and SOHO furthered its mission by bringing history to the people and bringing people to the museum. The ghosts could not be reached for comment.

2001 - Volume 32, Issue 4

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Who's Who to Know in Historic Preservation


President's Message


Executive Director Report


Obituary: Bertha B. Mitchell House


Neon Majorette Receives Women's Business Award
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ASLA Nominates Balboa Park For Cultural Landscape Designation

SOHO Museum Shop Grand Opening


Adieu to Beth


Welcome to new Board Members


Dr. Lynne Christenson: New County Historian


Got Some Spare Time?


Volunteer Profile: George Plum


A Very Whaley Halloween


Whaley House Christmas


Preservation Revolving Fund Kick Off


The Gift of the Magi Cast & Crew


Back Stage: The Gift of the Magi


Contributors to Success


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