Tag Archives: San Diego

The Whaley House

Context: Z is a 21 year old Filipino American man. Growing up with a close community of Filipino friends and family. Z went to an elementary school within California. This story was collected over a Discord audio call.

Z: “The one that I thought of the other day, which is ‘spooky’ but not really, is The Whaley House. Which is like the only ghost house I know of, like, a unified school district takes everyone in the school district out of class to go visit it for like a week. There’s like a bunch of weird stories, and I don’t know a lot of the history off of the top of my head, but I know there was a family that lived there in the 1800s, and they all had some untimely deaths. Then there was some guy who was hanged who got buried in the graveyard adjacent to it.” 

Intv: “So there were just a ton of stories surrounding the place?”

Z: “Oh yeah, and you know one thing that I think really contributed to that, were the people who would always be walking around in period dress, like era accurate garb to the 1800s and you’d wonder if you saw a ghost. You know, it’s supposedly one of the most haunted houses in America, but I’ve never seen a ghost there, and I don’t know if I really believe in all of it. I think it’s probably just an old house, but it at least made an old house fun.” 

Analysis: I find it very interesting that the Unified School District of San Diego actually pulls  children out of class for a week to go and study the myths of The Whaley House. While some historical activities are present (like children learning how early settlers panned for gold) it really is a week that glorifies to the children of San Diego just how important culturally folklore can be. As Old Town and The Whaley House are two major tourist attractions within an already tourist heavy city. 

Active Angels

This friend of mine has always mentioned that his family is very Christian, while he himself is more secular. He believes in God, and prays regularly, however he is a bit skeptical in terms of miracles happening here on Earth. Having grown up in San Diego in close proximity to his grandparents, who are even more religious than his parents, he often shares stories from his childhood, many of which involve church or some other religious attribute. Though he attends Mass somewhat regularly here at USC, college has made him even more of a skeptic than before.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Is it okay, if this is like, religious? Alright so, it was like evening. It wasn’t dark, it was almost dark. That time between five and six pm. You know what I’m talking about. So I’m at Torrey Pines Cove. Er, no that’s not a thing. La Jolla Cove. But it’s near Torrey Pines, anyways so. I’m there, and I’m climbing on the cliffs. I started off on just little ones, but then I got to bigger ones, and it was sort of like, more dangerous. My mom was talking to my dad, and like, just, they were walking around and stuff. And they didn’t see that I had moved on to more dangerous areas. And, I am afraid of heights, I don’t know if you know about this. But I don’t like being up high ever. I can’t look down if I’m higher than like a story. A third floor freaks me out. So anyways, I’m at a cliff – I can’t remember how far it was, but when I was a kid it felt like really really really far. You know? Like a giant gap. So I look down and I’m like way high up. And I look down and am like, holy shit? How am I gonna get down? And I didn’t know. My mom saw me at this point, and she couldn’t climb that high up, she was freaking out. She wouldn’t climb that. She was like, ‘oh my God, he’s up there, you know, he’s gotta climb down or something’. I was just frozen, I was there the whole time, and then. This guy was at the top of the cliff, and went and like helped me down. Like, I don’t – he didn’t, okay. This is hard to envision, but he went and like walked down and helped guide me down the rock face. And then, like. And then he was like, ‘there you go’, and then walked away. And then my mom was like, ‘that was an angel. A guardian angel’. Because we didn’t see any guys up there, like – it didn’t look like. She didn’t recall anyone being up there, and he just showed up. And then got me down. And then left. And my mom was like, ‘that’s a guardian angel up there’.

“My grandmother used to tell me stories about what my guardian angels looked like. And it was really like, it was a way for me to bond with my grandmother on a deeper level. Sort of supernatural, like, are there really angels out there that are everyday people? She would make up the stories. She was like – this was like what guardian angels would do. Like if I had a big test coming up, she was like, ‘the guardian angel is watching. He’ll help you with the answers,’ or I don’t know what it was. Help you study – that’s more ethical. So, but yeah. She was a big believer in angels, like active angels. Not ones that were just up there. She was like, ‘nah, they’re out there. They’re helping people’. And I always thought that was just good Samaritans. People that were like, ‘yo, this kid’s on a cliff face. I need to help him out.’ You know? And we just didn’t see him. That’s what I think happened. But my mom has a different take that that was my guardian angel like stepping in. Like, ‘this kid’s about to die’.”

This story fascinates me, as I never really think of angels as walking among us. While I, myself, believe in a higher power with a sort of spiritual-hierarchy of subservient deities (aka God with His angels, a Creation God with Nature Spirits, something along those lines), I’ve never really pictured them as being physical incarnates that interact with us one-on-one. Though my friend claims to have interacted with one face to face, he still is a skeptic that it was, in fact, an angel. It beautifully illustrates the sharp generational divide in beliefs, even if those beliefs share a common root.

The San Diego Kook

My friend from San Diego frequently mentions some of the great things that are characteristic of San Diego. The following tradition is an example.

Informant: “So in Cardiff, there’s a statue of a guy surfing like this [gets in surf position]. Cardiff is a beach city in North County San Diego, and there’s this statue on the coast highway, like right on the beach by the beach campsites, and it’s a guy surfing, like a little bronze statue. And I don’t know, like maybe 50 years ago or something they started this tradition where you could dress him up, and the authorities don’t do anything about it. And so people have started since then to like every time, like, if it’s your friend’s birthday you can go and have him holding a sign that says “happy birthday, blah blah blah” so when they drive down the coast they’ll see it, and whenever it’s like earth day, they do something to him, and if it’s like president’s day they always dress him in funky hats and everything like that, and it’s a tradition for any major event that’s happening in San Diego. They do stuff, like comic con they’ll dress him up in like, some nerdy costume or something like that and it s really cool because you’ll be driving down the coast and its rarely just the statue; like it’s always decked out in some costume or something like that.”

Collector: “So, is there like an org that helps reserve the days that you can dress him up, or is this just like a free-for-all?”

Informant: “its just a free for all basically. Like I think it’s kind of your responsibility to take the stuff back down if you’re the one who dressed him up but basically you can just go whenever you want. Its really cool because you never see anyone actually actively put anything on in the middle of the day… at the nighttime you and your friends will like, go in this mission, like night mission to not get seen and dress him up so the next day like by the time it’s daylight he’ll be all dressed up. It’s pretty fun… I did it once… we did it for our graduation or whatever our senior year of high school, and so our rivals had dressed him up the day before their graduation and dressed him up in like, Mission Hills Black, blaahhh! And we were just like, ‘that’s not ok,’ so we went in the middle of the night and took every spirit gear item we’ve ever gotten from our high school, and put it all over him. So there was a mess of like layers, and t shirts and like football gear, and field hockey sticks and everything… it was great and we won.”


The surfer statue known as “Kook” that was erected to celebrate the surfing culture in Cardiff is a great example of how a local community adopts something that is created by some sort of formal institution, and transforms it into something entirely new and different from its original intended purpose. When it was erected, it is unlikely that anyone expected the local community to adopt the tradition of dressing up the statue for special occasions. But it only takes something as simple as someone deciding to do it once for everyone else to jump on the bandwagon. The fact that the authorities allowed this activity and did not condemn it on grounds of vandalism is key to this tradition; otherwise it would not be possible for it to exist. Having said that, it’s worth mentioning that dressing up the statue probably did not cause any major damage to the statue, which would most likely be good reason for the authorities to attempt to stop this practice. According to the informant, dressing up “Kook” is a very well-known tradition for the locals (especially surfers), and the informant has known about the tradition ever since she can remember.


This informant grew up in San Diego, CA.  He is now a sophomore student at USC.  He told me about a few folk expressions from his high school and I chose “Lope”

Informant: Lope is short for “Low Profile” but it can be used in all different sorts of contexts.  If someone if drinking vodka in the parking lot they might ask their friends if they are being “lope,” meaning “is this cool? Will anyone see me?”  Also kids used to use the phrase all the time when smoking marijuana around school or parents.

Me: Do you know where the phrase came from?

Informant: I’m pretty sure someone at my high school came up with it when I was there.  It was basically a way to check with your friends if you were chill doing whatever thing you weren’t allowed to do, without anyone else around knowing.

Me: Was it a widely used word around the school?

Informant: Uhh I wouldn’t say widely, but all my friend group knew was it meant or anyone who partied.

The word “lope” looks like it was created by someone to remain secretive when they were breaking the law or doing something they shouldn’t.   More likely than not, some popular kid starting using it and then everyone tagged along.

Pirate’s Cave

Here my informant recounts a tradition among the local youth he knew in Point Loma to visit a place they called the “Pirate Cave” he describes the historical basis for the tradition, and the reasons people are still drawn there.

“Alright, well I grew up in Point Loma San Diego, and there’s this thing called sunset cliffs, and it’s a bunch of like 40 or 60 foot cliffs, big and really pretty, and, um, in the 1920’s during prohibition, it was like a major smuggling destination for alcohol, and there’s a really cool cave that’s connected to where boats could land at the cliffs, and has like access at low tide only, and then it goes up to the top of the cliff like through and under and um its really cool cause like you can go in and explore and um people have like found bones in there, and there’s like notches in the wall where they used to put candles to light the passage ways, and what’s really sketchy is like, its been known about for a while by locals, and they [the smugglers] tried to catch them, so they have like pitfalls in the path like inside the cliffs  like, that were traps for police forces which were set up, um, yeah, pretty awesome. We just call it pirate’s cave because of people who pirated the alcohol brought it in that way and, now they stopped using it. And there’s like carved steps, yeah it’s really cool.”

The informant enumerates undeniable draws to explore this former bootlegging hideout. From rotting bones to booby traps, many of these rumors are so adventurous  they seem likely to be fabricated. However, regardless of their accuracy, there must be some foundation for rumors, and my informants’ description of “Pirate Cave” shows how tradition can develop from a desire for adventure.