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The Mortal Face of the Whaley HouseVictor Santana
ParaXplorers Matthew, Sharon and Dawn had the pleasure to co-host monthly public museum Paranormal Investigation Tours for several years and have fond admiration for the house and staff that carefully oversees the landmark.

Arguably the most recognizable living individual to San Diego Whaley House Museum visitors with his omnipresence at the museum and many television appearances discussing the house and its mysteries is museum manager, Victor Santana.

Victor gives ParaXplorer Project a glimpse of his Whaley beginnings, musical musings, his first Whaley paranormal experience, and what it's like to be manager of America's Most Haunted.

ParaXplorer Project | What is your current position with the Museum and Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) and what does it entail?

Victor Santana | I'm the SOHO Museum Staff Coordinator, in charge of staffing the museums which includes volunteers and paid employees. I also coordinate special group tours, private tours, night tours and our monthly ghost investigation tours with The San Diego Ghost Hunters.

When did you start working for SOHO and how did it come about? | I have been working for SOHO for over eight years. I started at sixteen years old when I gained a volunteer position in their junior docent program. The mother of a good friend was on the board of directors. Luckily, they liked me and I have been here ever since.

You are known to occasionally play the family pump organ located in the front parlor. Give us a little of its history of it and how you came about learning to play. | It's called a "pump organ" and it's one of the few pieces we have in the house that is original to the family. It's very delicate. You have to play it in a special position and make sure you don't damage it.

I used to study music at the Conservatory of Music in Mexico. I was there for a couple years before coming to Whaley. SOHO had a couple pianos and a pump organ. Despite it not working well, I started practicing on the organ, using the pedals and playing the keyboard with my hands at the same time. I got the hang of it pretty quickly.

Victor Santana and the original Whaley family pump organAre you involved in any other musical endeavors? | While at the conservatory, I studied piano, guitar, percussion and vocal training. I currently have my own band called 'Radios Silent'. We play a rootsy, grundgy style of rock, like back in the early 90s. We just got signed in Mexico and will begin touring during this summer.

You and the staff have experienced unexplained strangeness here. What is your most impressive? | It happened my first day here, back in 2000 on a Sunday morning. I was on the second floor where we have a nursery with a display of children's dolls. As I was taking my family on a tour, telling everything I could about the house, one of the doll's eyes started to open and close. But here's the deal: the eyes are not the style that mechanically open and close -- they are painted on. My mom saw it and my cousins said they saw it, too, but I'm not sure if they really did. It's interesting that other people have reported seeing their eyes open and close, too. Look for the rocking chair doll.

Did you believe in the paranormal or have encounters prior to joining the museum? | I have always believed in ghosts but never experienced anything personally. You grow up hearing of legends, especially in Mexico. There is the famous story of what is called 'The Wailer' my grandmother told me. The tale tells of a woman crying late at night at your window. When you would peek out and take a look at her, you would go into shock for it is such a frightful sight.

The back story: A woman married a Spaniard in the 1400s and was promised a great life by him as they had three children. He ends up leaving her and moves back to Spain without her. She then becomes very depressed and drowns the kids. So, now she comes to your window as a ghost, wailing, "All my children, all my children".

During one our first public Paranormal Investigation Tours together, you and around twelve people experienced a disembodied girl vocalization. Tell us what happened. | Yeah, that was a trip. There was a group of about ten people in the dining room with Maritza. Both dining room doors were closed and I was sitting just outside the hallway dining room door, on the base of the stairway so I could monitor both stories. I heard Maritza ask a few questions and then heard the voice of a little girl. I didn't think much of it until I noted the reaction coming from the dining room. They had heard it, too.

Not only do you hear the voice of the girl, but it appeared to be close to the microphone which confirms it had to come from within the house. It was too late at night for children to be walking outside the house and we have no kids on the tour. My girlfriend who was present that night and a non-believer in ghosts heard it and needless to say, was quite impressed.

Yes, it can be life changing. It's interesting -- you heard it coming from the dining room and everyone in the dining room heard it originating from the stairway. | I definitely heard it come from the dining room. If I had heard it originate from upstairs, I would have attributed it to the group up there attending the tech equipment demonstration.

Thanks, Victor, for our chat today. | My pleasure. I encourage everyone to visit the Whaley House Museum for a taste of early San Diego history and join us on a Paranormal Investigation Tour to explore its ghostly side.

[ audio interview | pictorial tour | whaley history | return to top ]
Front entrance of San Diego's Whaley House

ParaXplorer Project founder, Matthew, sits down with museum manager, Victor Santana, in the Whaley backyard to discuss the house's history, Victor's personal experiences with high strangeness in the landmark and why the house carries such a robust international reputation. He even shares an EVP personally captured one eventful late evening.

Audio Interview with Victor Santana  

[ interview | pictorial tour | whaley history | return to top ]
Whaley House MKuseum exteriorThe following family history is courtesy of the San Diego Whaley House Museum.

Thomas Whaley came to California in 1849 during the Gold Rush. He left New York City, the place of his birth, on January 1, 1849, on the Sutton and arrived 204 days later in San Francisco. He set up a store with George Wardle on Montgomery Street where he sold hardware and woodwork from his family's New York business, Whaley & Pye, and offered mining equipment and utensils on consignment. This young entrepreneur, born on October 5, 1823, came from a Scots-Irish family, which immigrated to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1722. His great-grandfather, Alexander Whaley, a gunsmith, participated in the Boston Tea Party and the Revolutionary War where he provided flintlock muskets for soldiers and the use of his house on Long Island by General George Washington. Thomas' father, Thomas Whaley, carried on the family gunsmith business, and served in the New York Militia during the War of 1812. He married Rachel Pye, whose father, William, manufactured locks in Brooklyn.

The Whaley family left to California from New York during the Gold Rush on January 1, 1849.
The Whaley family left to California from New York during the Gold Rush on January 1, 1849.

Whaley's business acumen, acquired in part from his education at the Washington Institute, proved beneficial in San Francisco. He was so successful that he was able to establish his own store on Montgomery Street, erect a two-story residence near the bay, and rent out Wardle's edifice. After an arson-set fire destroyed his buildings on Montgomery Street in May 1851, he relocated to Old Town San Diego upon the advice of Lewis Franklin, a merchant who operated stores in San Francisco and Old Town. Whaley set up various businesses with Franklin, Ephraim Morse, Francis Hinton, and even his brother, Henry, and amassed enough money to return to New York to marry his sweetheart, Anna Eloise DeLaunay, the daughter of French-born parents, on May 14, 1853.

Upon the couple's return to San Diego, Whaley entered various business general store partnerships, most of which lasted less than a year. He purchased this property in September 1855, which had been the site of the hanging of the infamous Yankee Jim Robinson in August of 1852. He first built a single-story granary for 300,000 to 400,000 pounds of grain in May 1856, with bricks manufactured in his brickyard on Conde Street. The adjacent two-story $10,000 Greek Revival style brick residence, designed by Whaley, commenced construction in September 1856 and was finished in 1857. The home, acclaimed as the "finest new brick block in Southern California" by the San Diego Herald, contained mahogany and rosewood furniture, damask drapes, and Brussels carpets.

In August 1857, Whaley established his general store in this residence, and solicited cash customers only. As this location proved too far from the center of the small community, he relocated his business in a frame building on the Plaza, which he rented.

Thomas Whaley in later years
Thomas Whaley in later years.

By 1858, Thomas and Anna Whaley had produced three children: Francis Hinton (named for a business partner), Thomas (who died at just 18 months), and Anna Amelia. In August 1858, another arson-set fire destroyed Whaley's business on the Plaza. Despondent over this loss and the death of Thomas earlier that year, the family moved to San Francisco.

In San Francisco, Whaley worked as an U.S. Army Commissary Storekeeper. Three more children, George Hays Ringgold (named for a business partner), Violet Eloise, and Corinne Lillian, were born. In 1867, Thomas Whaley assisted in the American takeover of Alaska, where he established stores at Sitka, helped set up an American base, and served as councilman. Anna and the family, during this time, remained in San Francisco.

After a major earthquake in May 1868, the Whaley couple and their five children returned to the brick house in San Diego, out of which Whaley & Crosthwaite ran a general store. From October 1868 to January 1869, the Tanner Troupe Theatre operated out of the front upstairs bedroom. The San Diego County Courthouse utilized the former granary in August 1869 and rented three upstairs rooms for records storage. After the establishment of New Town San Diego by Alonzo Horton in 1868, the town focus changed to present day downtown San Diego. During a March 1871 raid, courthouse documents were removed from the Whaley House and taken to Horton's Hall on 6th and F in San Diego. After the County's exit, Whaley connected the former granary and courtroom to the residence, changed windows and doors, and altered the front portico.

From 1874 to 1879, Thomas Whaley returned to New York, supposedly to settle his father's estate (his father died in 1832), and then journeyed to San Francisco seeking employment, which eluded him. During this time the Whaley family in San Diego lived in dire straits and was dependent upon Francis Whaley for support.

On January 5, 1882, Violet Whaley and Anna Amelia Whaley married in Old San Diego, probably in this house. Anna married her first cousin, John T. Whaley, and Violet wed George T. Bertolacci, which proved unbearable. After a divorce, which caused Violet tremendous humiliation in 1884 and a period of great depression monitored by the local physician, she committed suicide at the home by shooting herself through the heart on August 18, 1885.

The Whaley family
The Whaley House in early San Diego.

After this tragic event, Thomas Whaley built a single-story frame home for his family at 933 State Street in downtown San Diego. Attempting to capitalize on the boom in that area, he maintained a real estate office at 5th and G in the First National Bank Building, with various partners. After retirement from business in 1888 due to ill health, he died at the State Street address on December 14, 1890.

The Whaley House on San Diego Avenue remained vacant and fell into disrepair until late 1909 when Francis Whaley returned to the old brick and undertook the restoration of the building which greatly improved its appearance. Rehabilitated at the same time as the Estudillo House on the Plaza (which became publicized as Ramona√Ęs Marriage Place), and the establishment of the San Diego Electric Railway down San Diego Avenue, Francis utilized the family home as a residence and a tourist attraction where he posted signs outside promoting its historicity and entertained visitors with his guitar.

Anna, Thomas' widow, Lillian (Corinne), then assistant at the Public Library, Francis, and George, a musician, all lived in the old dwelling in 1912. On February 24, 1913, Anna died in the house. Francis passed away in the home on November 19, 1914. Lillian continued residency in the structure until her death in 1953. Because she had spent the better part of the first half of the twentieth century in the house alone, it had fallen once again into a terrible state of disrepair.

[ interview | audio interview | pictorial tour | return to top ]

Xspot References

:: Whaley House

:: Victor Santana on FaceBook

:: Radio Silent Music on MySpace

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