Described by her husband as “gentle and innocent as a lamb,” Anna Whaley had a fragile nature. Accustomed to New England civility, she ran from her first bullfight “and never attended another.” She adapted to Old Town and made many friends among her neighbors, but she was at best a reluctant pioneer.
Scott angled his double-barreled shotgun at her chest. At first, he didn’t announce his intentions — he’d just stormed up the stairs as if trying to punch them out.
Anna Whaley froze. Who was this man twice her size? What was all this banging in her house?
“The records,” Scott shouted. “Where are they?”
At first Anna stood mute. Then she screamed, “Get away! Stay away! Leave us alone.”
In some accounts, Scott knocked her to the floor. In others, fearing he’d shoot her and the children, Anna pointed to the three rooms left of the stairs. “There,” she mumbled. Anna and Yow herded the children into the master bedroom
The invaders began separating court records, rusty-orange with wear and kept in 24 wooden boxes, from family possessions. Toys and stuffed animals flew across the room. Books slammed off the walls. A mirror shattered. Thick-soled boots crunched the shards into smaller fragments as the men carried the boxes down the stairs.
It took three hours to transfer the legal history of San Diego County. Anna Whaley’s fear lasted a lifetime.
On August 12, 1869, Thomas Whaley rented the “big room” and three upstairs bedrooms to the county for $65 per month. The lease for a “temporary” courthouse ran two years. On April 5, 1871, Chalmers Scott wrote to Whaley: Now that the rooms are vacated, “the county will no longer be responsible for the rent.” That day, Judge Morrison conducted the first court session in New San Diego.
Always tight with money, when Whaley returned home and heard the news, he dashed off a bill to the Board of Supervisors “for the rent up to August 12.” When the board didn’t reply, he fired off another, demanding not only back rent but repairs to the building, especially for “all glass broken during the occupancy.”
The board tabled each letter and never paid Whaley a cent.
Less than two weeks after the transfer, a marker proclaimed victory: the “South San Diego” Post Office became the San Diego Post Office.
“New” San Diego had become San Diego.
June Reading: “The controversy signified the end of Old Town dominance of San Diego political affairs; it was no longer the county seat, and its glory had departed.”
But not the controversy, and as the years have passed, the two sides have grown even farther apart.
An Old Town Rebuttal
Contrary to the official story, in which Whaley’s complaints dwindle away, he seethed for years — and may still.
In 1965, the psychic Sybil Leek held a séance at the Whaley House. Among the four ghosts she identified was a 5'10" male with a mustache and sideburns. His long green coat smelled of cigar smoke. He was a “vicious spirit,” said Leek. He would rather “have his revenge on the house” than “go peacefully into the light.
“The man continually worries about…papers taken from the house which are four miles away.”
The man spoke through Leek: “An injustice has been done to me!” He proclaimed he was “still master of the house” and bemoaned removal of the records because the thieves also took some of his personal papers. Among them was a journal so private, Whaley had told a friend, that if someone stole it, he “would not hesitate running that man through with a sword or shooting him.”
June Reading, the no-nonsense curator who shepherded the Whaley House restoration, was at the séance. When the spirit spoke of injustice, she wrote, “Of all of us in the room, only I could have known those words. They appeared in letters [Whaley] had written to the Board of Supervisors in 1871…No one had access to the collection but me, and this material…was safely locked in filing cabinets in the house.”
Thomas Whaley, she added, was fond of cigars.
A New Town Rebuttal
Whaley’s lease included the “big room,” his former granary, along with three upstairs rooms for the county records. These filled 24 wooden boxes. Eight boxes per room, or 24 jammed in one, doesn’t leave much space for the family. According to the census of June, 1870, Whaley occupied the house with wife Anna, five children, and S. Yow.
But according to Robert Wells Haven, in order to make room for the court and documents, at some point in 1869 “Whaley moved his family from Old Town.” Haven doesn’t cite references: he says neither when nor where they moved. But if he’s right, the night the New Town thugs banged on the door, there was no one home. ■
— Jeff Smith
Cleveland, Daniel, “Pioneer San Diegan Tells of Strife in Early Days over New Courthouse,” San Diego Union, February 21, 1926.
Haven, Robert Wells, “Thomas Whaley,” Masters Thesis, SDSU, 1963.
Lamb, John J., San Diego Specters, San Diego, 1999.
MacPhail, Elizabeth C., New San Diego and Alonzo E. Horton, San Diego, 1979.
Reading, June, “Another Perspective of the 1965 Séance,” The Haunted Whaley House II: A History and Paranormal Guide to America’s Most Haunted House in Old Town, San Diego, California, West Hills, 2004; The Thomas Whaley House, San Diego, 1960.
Stanford, Leland Ghent, San Diego’s LL.B. (Legal Lore & the Bar): A History of Law and Justice in San Diego County, San Diego, 1968.
Strudwick, June A., “The Whaley House,” San Diego Historical Society Quarterly, April 1960, vol. 6, number 2.
Whaley, Thomas, personal papers and letters, manuscripts, Whaley House, San Diego.
Articles in the San Diego Union and the San Diego Bulletin.
View Part One of this story.