Silent Screams at the Whaley House

Not many theaters playing scary movies this month offer the added bonus of purportedly being one of the most haunted houses in the United States.

For the second year running the Whaley House in Old Town is presenting Silent Screams, a collection of mystery and horror from the silent era every Wednesday in October.

Businessman Thomas Whaley built the house in 1857 on or near the site where Yankee Jim was hanged for stealing a boat. Over the years the house has served as a private residence, general store, courtroom and theater.

In 1868, The Tanner Troupe paid Thomas Whaley a fee to rent a room upstairs to stage dramas, becoming the first commercial theater in San Diego.

Many paranormal happenings have been reported inside the house, and the theater itself is said to be haunted by the troupe’s leader Thomas Tanner. Tanner died backstage after a performance 17 days after opening.

The first two movies shown in the festival were Waxworks and The Bat, both lesser known films from 1926. Waxworks is a German expressionist masterpiece, with a dizzying backdrop similar to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

The Bat is a crime mystery about a criminal who dresses up as a bat. Batman creator Bill Finger cited the film as one of his main inspirations.

The film festival continues the last two weeks of October with Nosferatu and The Phantom of the Opera, two of the most famous silent films ever made.

Nosferatu, 1922, was a Dracula movie made without the permission of the Bram Stoker estate. The estate sued and the court ordered all Nosferatu prints burned. Luckily one copy of the film had already been distributed.

The Phantom of the Opera, 1925, stars the inimitable Lon Chaney, Sr. as the lovesick outcast living in the sewers below the Paris Opera House.

Silent Screams is a great way to celebrate Halloween, but at the Whaley House the biggest scares might not be onscreen.

Nosferatu plays Wednesday, October 21 and The Phantom of the Opera will screen Wednesday, October 28. Tickets can be bought on their website.

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