Whenever someone asks if I am a Ghosthunter, I feel fingernails go across the chalkboard of my soul. It rings to me of fancy shows and high production values and crews running around in night vision gear at break neck speed hoping to catch a glimpse of the “paranormal”. Me? I am the one no one talks about. The bastard child. The ugly cousin. I clutch reason, science, and above all historical facts as my main tools while I keep my more obscure talents like a holstered gun.
What is a haunting? There are many answers and all of them are good. At the same time none are. To me, I never thought of the pursuit of the paranormal as a science, rather an art, open to interpretation and views from many angles. For the sake of simplicity, I shall cover the basics. Ghosts and spirits. Term seems interchangeable but many do not believe that. The common theory is that a ghost is also what known as a “residual haunt”. It seems to the same thing over and over again because it is. Its not sentient, instead it’ more a kin to a record player skipping in time. A spirit, though is a completely different animal. Aware at least in part of its predicament, it walks the earth in its limited prison (be it house, room, object) and will continue to do so until its task is complete or till the end of time. Poltergeists are usually thought of as being one of two things. Either a mischievous spirit that moves objects or psychokinesis. That is an agent causing the object to move by the sheer force of will.
There are many things that can be encountered while attempting to document and classify a haunting. Cold spots in unusual places throughout the site. Flickering lights or other electrical disturbances such as batteries being drained suddenly and without warning. Physical manifestations can be seen. The “famous” orbs or mist. Actual apparitions have been reported as well. And you must not forget the other sense. Sound. Taste. Touch. All can be reached by the unknown.
Through the many years of interest and investigating the paranormal and occult. I have come across many types of my ilk. Cousins all, though some more distant than others. From the rational and geeky to the freakshow. I even was a partner and production manager for a ghost tour, giving tours to the public when needed or asked for. The one thing I heard over and over again from not just my fellow investigators and guides but from the published material out there is this: Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. How many times have I heard stories that have no basis in historical truth? Stories of murder, suicide, drowning, mayhem of all kind… without a single shred of paper or historical validation to support their claims. Or even more offensive, when the facts have obviously been altered or the haunting exposed as a hoax and people insist on the haunting as true. History becomes legend, which becomes urban legend
Probably the best known “real” ghost story in America is the Amityville Horror. If you were to believe Jay Anson, the author of the 1977 novel. doors came off their hinges. Priests were assaulted with blisters on their hands and of course demonic eyes staring at the residents. When I ask people what they first think of when I say “Amityville Horror” they pipe in, “true story”. After all, its what the author of the book claims. Its what the movie claims, made in 1979 and starring Margot Kidder and James Brolin. After the Lutzes supposedly fled in terror from their home after only 28 days. Psychics and paranormal researchers including Ed and Lorraine Warren and Hans Holzer with Sybil Leek. A lot of these alleged psychics proclaimed demonic forces at work. The home was built on an insane asylum for indians (huh?) and it was also the sight for early settlers that worshipped the devil. All of these legends of this story have been discounted or torn apart by independent researchers. Anson’s book has been found to have so many flaws in the actual book itself that to even look outside the book wasn’t necessary for some. There was even a confession by William Weber, Butch Defeo’s lawyer ( the man who slain his family in the home a year before the Lutzes moved in ), he claimed that the story was prefabricated between he and the Lutzes over a few bottles of wine in hopes of getting his client a new trial. What started out as a haunted house story in hopes of gaining a new trial became the sensational demonic quagmire it is known as today. No hauntings have been reported since the family has moved out. In fact the owners after the Lutzes had to change the siding as well as the actual street address for no other reason than to confuse the curious and keep the tourists at bay.
San Diego has its own haunted abodes and locales, and as a pursuer of the paranormal and occult as well as a San Diego native, I am proud to say I have been to most if not all. Some, such as the Hotel Del Coronado, have a tight historical link to the death of Kate Morgan (a.ka. Lottie Bernard) who allegedly haunts one of the rooms there. And then there are those that lack of evidence, a botched historical timeline, and downright fluffing of the facts to produce the fantastic stories of maligned undead haunting these popular locations. This next story is quite good. I know…I used to tell it.
Another popular “haunt” in San Diego is the Whaley House, located in Old Town San Diego. In fact, I am very hard pressed to come across my peers or even fans of the paranormal without the name being brought up. I will never forget one evening during my tours when a young man exclaimed to me, “the Whaley House is the most haunted house in America”. When asked how he knew this, his answer was simple… and absurd. “The internet says so”. Popular media up to the 1990s spread rumor like wildfire, but with inventions such as the internet, truth and urban legend dance almost instantaneously. I enjoy reading the websites and books published on this holy grail of haunts and check not just for inconsistencies, but sheer fabrication as well. And like all good ghost stories, it all starts with a séance. If you like to bone up on your Whaley lore, you will come across Hans Holzer’s book aptly titled “Ghosts”, and look up the Whaley House in which he and Regis Philbin, along with Sybil Leek, a professional psychic (and druidic priestess- funny how most don’t mention that in her credentials) conducted a séance in the mid 1960s. The ghosts in the house were many. One of the ghosts listed in the séance caught my attention immediately, that of Anna Belle. Working in a trance, Sybil claimed that Anna Belle didn’t know what was going on, a pain in her chest confused her and that she died when she was thirteen. This possibly may also be another ghost in the kitchen, a twelve-year-old girl who consumed poison found in the cupboard”. Ok, the stage is set, let the chaos begin.
The story of Annabelle or Carrie Washburn has been part of the Whaley Mythos for many years. Even though SOHO claim that the story was possibly made up by a former employee to liven up the ghost legend, many believe it to be fact. In many different incantations can the story be told. Her age, how she died (hanged by clothesline, strangulation, broken neck, etc) But the end result is the same, she died in the Whaley kitchen and there she haunts. Right? Maybe. See there is no Annabelle or Carrie Washburn that lived in the area at the supposed time of the accident. It made no newspaper accounts nor is there a death certificate or coroner’s inquest.
I recently took a sojourn to Mt Hope Cemetery and scanned the files there. Yes, there was an Anna B. Washburn buried there. So, I drove over to the section in which she resides. After a few minutes of searching, I found her. Poor child, died in 1892, at the age of 1 month. As I looked up and turned around, I noticed something interesting. I was in a straight line and had a clear sight of the Whaley grave.
The second girl mentioned in the séance is even better, for in this myth is the element of truth. Making the mountain out of the proverbial molehill as they say. Some stories say that the girl in the kitchen is little. She complains of a stomach pain. Certain sources even say she is a descendant, a granddaughter of the Whaley’s. That is the truth. Marion Reynold’s, age 3, and part of the Whaley line did die by consuming poison mistaking it for something sweet. But she did not consume the poison there nor did she die there. According to the San Diego Union: August 6, 1912, the child found the ant paste “…in a vacant house…”. Looking at the city directory, the Whaley home was occupied, not vacant. So, Marion Reynold’s could not be the child that haunts the kitchen, for after she consumed the poison in a vacant house, she was taken home (Oceanside, CA) where she died within hours. A different girl, perhaps? Highly unlikely.
Perhaps the most famous ghost that allegedly haunts the home is that of Yankee Jim Robinson. The boat thief that was hanged on the lot with makeshift gallows that is the site of where the home now stands. Well, we don’t know too much about the location of the gallows and even less about Yankee Jim. Whey does he haunt the home? No one really knows. Sybil Leek didn’t mention him in her original séance there. How do we come to know of his presence? Hans Holzer. He stated in his book Ghosts that he was contacted by a woman whose friend wrote a play on the outlaw and the woman stated, “…merely thought he ought to be there, having been hanged in the backyard of the house.” A statement in its self can only be described as historically vague. There is a local legend that states that the archway between the parlor and the living room is where the gallows stood and that sometimes you may feel tenseness about the neck. June Reading, the first curator of this home states that Thomas Whaley himself thought that the home was haunted by the thief. His daughter felt the same. Both writing this down in their diaries. The diaries that no one has seen in years.
Over the years, historical ghost stories become more and more convoluted. Details change, people disappear. The body is moved. Do these details serve or hinder the belief in the phenomena? I believe it makes the paranormalist job that much harder. Like a crime scene that over the years has been trodden and stepped on, the truth becomes murkier and murkier. And in studying the facts of the places we covered here, very few real historical facts survive. Sometimes we experience a something and instead of just accepting it and searching, we label it and move along. We save it for a campfire or a cold night in a cemetery and look at our friends and whisper, “I once saw the ghost of…”