A reflection of someone watching was present in the chrome hubcaps of the VW Bus. Someone was peering through the windows atop, then at a quick glance to catch the peeper, no one was there, with the exception of the miniature Hawaiian dancer that remained stationery up front. I’m at the notorious Whaley House, shooting photographs of Joe Passalacqua’s 1963 VW Bus parked right outside of this historical landmark. I was warned by the bikers lounging at the sombrero shop regarding this part of Old Town, and the only strange thing that I saw, was the metallic green with gold pearl VW Bus, and blown rat-rods, cramping the antiquities of the ominous Greek revival style home. 1963 VW 23-Window Bus (Deluxe)
The curator of the house came outside, and she didn’t look happy, but who would be, being dressed in heavy 1800s Victorian garb and granny boots, this humid summer day. Her three blonde kids stayed up top by the white butterfly doors.
“That spot was where they use to hang criminals, and its haunted!” whispered Patricia Petersen.
This humid September 6th day was the Fiesta de Kustom Kulture fair on the streets of Old Town. Many custom rats and hogs lined up on the street from the Old Town signage, down three blocks towards the stage barricaded with gear-head trophies. The eye candy at this venue was plentiful, but the surrealism in front of San Diego’s eeriest homestead (circa 1856), was what possessed me to probe about.
Petersen checking out the blower on top of the rat-rod in front of Joe’s VW Joe was a Vietnam Veteran who served with the 1st Marines south of the DMZ, and being parked at this location didn’t scare him one bit. “A middle-aged woman was here, sitting on that wall (the 2 foot brick wall behind him) talking to somebody,” Joe said “…… and she just walked around the corner.” A sudden case of horripilation affected my concentration as I photographed the interior decked with rattan lining and hippie pillows. I thought there were paranormal anomalies in the viewfinder, but I then realized the massive amount of light peering in from the 23 windows and the open sliding rag-top, was killing my shots.
“It’s not uncommon for us to hear them, actually people have been touched here, we don’t get surprised anymore,” as Petersen interjected out of nowhere. I asked Petersen if the presence of Joe, the greasers, and Betty Boop look-a-likes were creating a stir in front of their historical landmark. “There is so much energy, (and) its giving me a headache, most of the heavy feelings were coming from the court room and upstairs in the theater,” Petersen responded as she pointed up through the sunroof. Circa 1856
I then realized that she’s actually befriending us, and taking a break from the inside of the spooky confides. As she peered in the front cabin full of over 20 pairs of sunglasses, she inquired how much this VW Bus was worth.
” …… one sold in auction for $212,000 in museum quality, everyone seems to go for the 23 window and the rag-top buses (as this one),” Joe boasted, “but for your Mike, I’ll take $75,000.”
Mike Madriaga, and his 4-Year-Old interviewing Joe Joe’s been building VWs and collecting authentic parts since he got back from Vietnam in the early 1970s.
“This took me one and a half years to build, over the years I’ve developed a personal formula on how to get them safe (to drive) to where I want to go,” Joe explained. Joe re-did the brakes, beefed up the motor with a 1776 and dual Weber carburetor, and added a freeway flyer transmission to get the power down to the pavement.
“It’s enough power to get me around, and I even drove this to Big Sur by San Francisco with no problem, I build them as a daily driver … ,” Joe was then interrupted.
” … I often wonder if the Whaleys are actually able to hear us and see whats going on, what do they think of all of this?” as Petersen looked at Joe.
Joe responded, “My wife Kathy calls this van the exploding swap-meet. I take old luggage and decoupage them (with vintage stickers) … but the ones I have on here (on top by the surfboard) are full of camping equipment and spare parts, for long trips”, just like when Thomas Whaley trekked cross country in 1849.
While we closed up shop, we asked Petersen how mysterious it felt as the spirit entered her body inside the Whaley house, she responded, while reenacting the scenario by shaking her body; “The 1st time someone walked through me, it felt tingly, almost like pins and needles, the same feeling when you foot falls asleep.”
“Did you shake like that?” Joe then gestured to the suddenly vibrating toy Hula dancer upfront.