Though I haven’t really touched on it much yet, the geographical region for this blog includes the District of Columbia. When it was established in 1790, the district was not based in a specific state and instead is under the direct supervision of the Federal Government. With the drama that has and continues to occur in this monumental city, it’s no surprise that there are spiritual remnants. The spirits of past presidents, politicians and their families, civil servants and common people are found throughout the city, from the White House to the Capitol and beyond.
Among the more interesting legends of this most legendary city is that of Statuary Hall in the Capitol. The magnificent domed chamber originally served as the chamber for the House of Representatives in the first half of the nineteenth century. When the House of Representatives moved into a new chamber, legislation was put forth to use the room to celebrate prominent Americans with each state adding statues of two of its most prominent citizens. The collection of statues has grown to the point where only 38 are actually located in the hall with the remainder of the collection scattered throughout the Capitol. The legend associated with this room is that on the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, the statues all climb down from their pedestals and dance to celebrate another year of the Republic’s survival. According to Dennis William Hauck, the guard who swore he saw this happen was dismissed.
1801 E Street, SE
Established as a private burying ground in 1807, the Congressional Cemetery was not designated as such until 10 year later. It has served as a cemetery for the burial of statesmen and other notables but also as a place to memorialize, with cenotaphs, those buried elsewhere. Two of the more famous burials have sparked legends: John Philip Sousa and Mathew Brady. Sousa, the bandleader and composer known for such patriotic standards as The Washington Post and Stars and Stripes Forever, also invented the sousaphone, a type of marching tuba. Legend has it that the bass tones of a sousaphone are sometimes heard around Sousa’s grave. As for famed Civil War photographer, Mathew Brady, his spirit has been reported wandering among the graves of some of the same government officials who denied Brady compensation for his photographs leaving him destitute.
1610 H Street, NW
Overlooking Lafayette Park and situated just down the street from the White House stands the Decatur House which has recently been opened as the National Center for White House History by a joint effort of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the White House Historical Association. Built in 1818 by Commodore Stephen Decatur, a naval hero of the War of 1812, the house was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, America’s first professional architect. Decatur lived in the house only a little more than a year before he was killed in a duel with Commodore James Barron. Decatur’s spirit has been seen standing at a window perhaps contemplating the duel that would end his life while his wife’s piteous spirit has been heard and felt throughout the house.
3400 Prospect Street
Hey, wanna buy a haunted house? The recent real estate bubble has even affected ghosts. Originally listed for sale for $30 million, Halcyon House was relisted earlier this year for $19.5 million and is currently listed for $15 million, half of the original listing price. Built in 1787 by Benjamin Stoddert, Secretary of the Navy, this house was later owned by Albert Adsit Clemons, a nephew of Mark Twain who altered the house considerably. According to Dennis Hauck there has been considerable spiritual activity in the house ranging from full apparitions to rapping, footsteps and even people being levitated.
In the vicinity of FAA Headquarters
Much of early Washington was built on the backs of African-American slaves. Two of the most notorious slave markets, the Williams Slave Pen and the Robey Slave Pen were ironically located along Independence Avenue near what is now the headquarters of the Federal Aviation Administration. Witnesses in the area report the clanking of chains and screams in this area.
2020 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Formerly the Walsh-McLean House, the Indonesian Embassy is an architectural masterpiece that is associated with a famous Washington cursed resident: the Hope Diamond. The diamond, a 45.52 carat blue diamond now housed in the Smithsonian Institute, has an infamous, if partially fictitious, history. Legend has it that the diamond has cursed all hands it has passed through including those of Evalyn Walsh McLean, whose husband Edward presented her with the diamond. Labeled by the press as a “talisman of evil,” the diamond was blamed for a series of misfortunes which befell the family including the death of the McLean’s son in an automobile accident, her husband having an affair, their daughter from an overdose of sleeping pills and Evalyn’s demise from disease in 1947. It is Evalyn’s spirit that is supposedly seen descending the grand staircase of the house.
National Building Museum
(Old Pension Building)
440 G Street, NW
Some of the first paranormal phenomena witnessed in the 1885 Old Pension Building were odd faces appearing on the simulated onyx Corinthian columns in the main court of the building. In 1917, on the eve of the death of “Buffalo” Bill Cody, a guard saw the veins in the onyx take on the shape of a Native American head and a buffalo. Other faces seen on the columns include George and Martha Washington and eventually got so bad the columns were painted over. Following the painting, the spirits took to the halls in the form of shadowy figures.
1799 New York Avenue
Described by the National Park Service as “a zenith in Federal architecture in the United States, through its brilliant plan which combines a circle, two rectangles, and a triangle, and through the elegance and restraint of the interior and exterior decoration,” construction on The Octagon began in 1798 and was completed two years later. The house was home to Colonel John Tayloe, one of the wealthiest planters in Virginia and his spirit as well as the spirits of two of his daughters have been seen in the house. One daughter died after plunging over the stair’s railing. Among other spirits reported is that of Dolley Madison who spent time in house when it served temporarily as Executive Mansion after the White House was burned by the British.
Omni Shoreham Hotel
2500 Calvert Street, NW
Suite 870 of this 1930 hotel has seen three odd deaths. Juliette Brown, a live-in maid to the hotel’s owner, Henry Doherty and his family, died there unexpectedly as well as Doherty’s wife and daughter some time later. The apartment remained abandoned for some 50 years while guests staying in rooms around the suite would complain of the sound of late-night vacuuming coming from the room. Hotel staff has experienced being locked out of the room, cold breezes and odd noises in and around the haunted suite.
Rock Creek Cemetery
North Capitol Street
Nestled in the Rock Creek Cemetery is St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Yard, the oldest burying ground in Washington, DC. Surrounding the churchyard is the nineteenth century Rock Creek Cemetery which houses graves for many of Washington’s elite including Evalyn Walsh McLean who haunts her former home, now the Indonesian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue. The work of famous American architects and sculptors is scattered throughout the cemetery including a statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in a setting by architect Stanford White. The memorial was built by author and historian Henry Adams in memory of his wife, Marian “Clover” Hooper Adams. Commonly known as Grief, Adams hated the name and wrote in a letter to the sculptors son, Homer:
Do not allow the world to tag my figure with a name! Every magazine writer wants to label it as some American patent medicine for popular consumption—Grief, Despair, Pear’s Soap, or Macy’s Mens’ Suits Made to Measure. Your father meant it to ask a question, not to give an answer; and the man who answers will be damned to eternity like the men who answered the Sphinx.
Legend states that visitors near the statue are often overcome with a feeling of despair and others have seen the wraith of Clover Adams near the statue. This sculpture is interesting in the fact that a copy of it, placed in Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikeville Maryland is also associated with a ghost. Druid Ridge has a number of spirits associated with it, but “Black Aggie” is perhaps the best known. The copy of Saint-Gaudens’ sculpture was created by sculptor Edward L. A. Pausch and placed on the grave of the wife of Felix Agnus. For decades the sculpture attracted vandals and the legend grew that the figure’s eyes would glow red and those looking into the eyes were struck blind. Another tale told of a fraternity pledge crushed to death when he spent the night in the statue’s embrace. Disturbed by the activity the statue attracted, the family had it removed and it was given to the Smithsonian and now resides in the courtyard of the haunted Cutts-Madison House on Lafayette Square which faces the Decatur House across the square.
Woodrow Wilson House
2340 S Street, NW
The shade of our 28th president, Woodrow Wilson apparently appears in two places: Blair House and his home in the northwestern part of the city. Also facing Lafayette Square near the Decatur, Cutts-Madison and White Houses, all of which are haunted, the Blair House is now the official state guest house. According to Michael Varhola, Wilson’s spirit has been seen rocking in a rocking chair in one of the bedrooms. His spirit is also seen in the home he occupied following his presidency and where he subsequently died in 1924. Wilson’s “slow shuffle” aided by a cane, which he used following a stroke in 1919, has been heard frequently in this house.
- Adams Memorial (grave marker). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 December 2010.
- Beauchamp, Tanya. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Rock Creek Church Yard and Cemetery. Listed 12 August 1977.
- Blair House. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 December 2010.
- Congressional Cemetery. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.Accessed 20 December 2010.
- Ganschinietz, Suzanne. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Indonesian Embassy. Listed 18 January 1973.
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. NYC: Checkmark Books, 2007.
- Halcyon House. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 December 2010.
- Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
- History. Decatur House on Lafayette Square. Accessed 20 December 2010.
- Holzer, Hans. Where the Ghosts Are: The Ultimate Guide To Haunted Houses. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1995.
- Hope Diamond. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 December 2010.
- John Philip Sousa. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 December 2010.
- Mathew Brady. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 December 2010.
- McCurry, Jason. “Decatur House” in Jeff Belanger’s Encyclopedia of Haunted Places. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books, 2005.
- National Building Museum. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 December 2010.
- National Park Service. “Octagon Hall.” Accessed 22 December 2010.
- National Statuary Hall. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 December 2010.
- Nuzum, Eric. “I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts.” Washingtonian.com. 1 November 2007.
- Reportedly haunted locations in Washington, D.C. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 December 2010.
- Taylor, Nancy C. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Halcyon House. Listed 31 March 1971.
- Taylor, Troy. Beyond the Grave: The History of America’s Most Haunted Graveyards. Alton, IL: Whitechapel Press, 2001.
- Varhola, Michael J. Ghosthunting Virginia. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2008.
- Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola Ghosthunting Maryland. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.
- Washington, D.C. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 December 2010.
- Woodrow Wilson House (Washington, D.C.). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 December 2010.