Mayflower Mysteries—Washington, D.C.

Mayflower Hotel
1127 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C.

In researching Mississippi hauntings, I somehow stumbled on a 2000 article regarding haunted hotels. The hotels in the article mostly included the usual haunted hotel fare like Colorado’s Stanley Park Hotel, San Diego’s Hotel Coronado, and Arkansas’ Crescent Hotel, but I had not seen anything about Washington’s Mayflower Hotel in my previous research. The mysteries in this grandest of Washington hotels are very interesting, though I began to run into problems when I tried to match up the history and the hauntings.

The Mayflower Hotel after opening in 1925. Photo b y Harris & Ewing, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

As one of the most impressive hotels in the city, the Mayflower has been deemed “the Hotel of Presidents,” due to the panoply of presidents and world leaders who have stayed or attended functions here. Construction began on this massive hotel in 1922 and the building officially opened for guests in mid-February of 1925. The hotel’s grand opening was boosted by the inaugural ball following the second inauguration of Calvin Coolidge. From 1925 until 1981, the Mayflower would host inaugural balls for every presidential inauguration.

From the left, Warren G. Harding, Florence Harding, Grace Coolidge, and Calvin Coolidge, 1921. Photo by the National Photo Company.

It is from Coolidge’s inaugural ball that the hotel’s mysteries stem. Coolidge, who had served as governor of Massachusetts, doesn’t seem to have wanted the tremendous spotlight that the presidency brought with it. He had been elected as Vice President under President Warren G. Harding–who while popular, Harding’s time in office was buffeted by scandal. In 1923, Harding undertook a cross-country trip he dubbed a “Voyage of Understanding,” he expected to boost his popularity and expand his reach through the American West. After becoming the first president to visit the Alaska territory, Harding visited Seattle and traveled south to San Francisco. Harding had begun to complain of illness and his doctor ordered bed rest. After the arrival of the entourage at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel, Harding was found to be suffering from pneumonia and confined to his bed. As his wife, Florence, read to him on the evening of August 2nd, Harding suffered a massive heart attack and died.

When the President passed away in San Francisco, Coolidge was visiting the family home in the community of Plymouth Notch, Vermont, which did not have a phone or electricity. A messenger delivered the news that Coolidge was to be sworn in as president. In the dead stillness of the early morning hours of August 3rd, Coolidge took the oath of office by the flicker of a kerosene lamp in the family’s parlor given by his father, a local notary and justice of the peace. “Silent Cal,” as he was known, then retired to bed before traveling to Washington to take the full reigns of the country.

With the nation in mourning, there were no festivities for the new president. Coolidge allowed investigations into the scandals of the Hardin administration completed and that all loose ends were thoroughly tied up. With the election of 1924 looming, he threw his hat into the ring against the Democratic challenger, John W. Davis. In July of 1924, the President and his wife, Grace, were called the bedside of their son, Calvin, Jr. who had developed a blister which became infected. The blister, which had formed during a tennis match, developed into blood poisoning which was being treated at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

The Democratic National Convention was in full swing at New York City when word filtered in that Calvin Coolidge, Jr. had died in Washington. Out of the respect to the President and Mrs. Coolidge, the convention suspended its furious debate. The death pulled a pall over the election for Coolidge. He later recorded in his autobiography that “when he died, the power and glory of the Presidency went with him.” Coolidge went on to easily garner the electoral votes from every region of the country, except for the South which went for Davis and Wisconsin which elected a favorite son, Senator Robert M. La Follette. Coolidge was sworn in the second time on March 4th, 1925.

The Mayflower Hotel, 2017, by Difference engine. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Here’s where the Mayflower Hotel first enters the annals of the Presidency. Coolidge’s inaugural ball was held in the hotel’s Grand Ballroom, though he and his wife declined to attend as they were still mourning their son. The ball was held anyway despite the absence of the man of honor. The legend reports that on January 20th, at 10 PM, the lights in the ballroom will flicker and one of the elevators will stop on the 8th floor and stay there until descending at 10:15, around the time the president’s party would have made their entrance at the ball. A 1996 article further reports that a plate of hors d’oeuvres and a glass of wine will often be found in the ballroom’s balcony, though the previous event did not serve such things.

There are several problems with this legend. The first issue concerns the date that this activity occurs. Coolidge’s inauguration took place on March 4, though starting in 1937 (for FDR’s second term), the date was pushed back to January 20. Can spectral activity of this nature change the date? The second issue is that this activity seems to be motivated by the fact that Coolidge did not attend the inaugural ball. Though the ball did take place without the president and first lady’s attendance, it seems odd that paranormal activity would rise from something not happening. While this activity appears to be pure legend, the hotel’s long history does not preclude it from being haunted.

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Sources

  • Calvin Coolidge. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 March 2018.
  • “Coolidge’s son shows slight improvement.” Baltimore Sun. 7 July 1924.
  • Farrell, Brenda D. “Halloween haunts.” The Santa Fe New Mexican. 22 October 2000.
  • Greenberg, Peter. “Staying overnight with ghoulish guests in haunted hotels.” The Daily Tribune (Wisconsin Rapids, WI). 1 November 1996.
  • Maxwell, Shirley. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for the Mayflower Hotel. 15 August 1983.
  • “M’Adoo is deprived of his veto power; Calvin Coolidge, Jr., dies in hospital.” Baltimore Sun. 8 July 1924.
  • Ogden, Tom. Haunted Washington, D.C. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2016.
  • Warren G. Harding. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 March 2018.
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