The haunts of Washington, D.C.

N.B. This article was edited and revised 2 September 2020.

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.

Congressional Cemetery
1801 E Street, SE

Congressional Cemetery, 2008. Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Established as a private burying ground in 1807, this cemetery was later deemed the Washington Parish Burial Ground. About ten years later, space was designated for the burial of government officials and legislators. Cenotaphs, monuments to persons buried elsewhere, were also erected here to memorialize certain notables. Over time, as the burial spot for many of Washington’s elite, this became known as the Congressional Cemetery, though it was not officially a congressional entity.

Among the many famous people who rest here are three who are believed to remain in this plane of existence. John Philip Sousa, was a bandleader and composer known for such patriotic standards as The Washington Post March and Stars and Stripes Forever, he 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.

Famed Civil War-era photographer Mathew Brady, whose stunning images captured the horrors of war is also buried here. After the war, Brady expected that the government would purchase his photographs. When they declined to do so, Brady was left in a penurious state. After being forced to sell his New York studio, he died penniless. His spirit has been reported wandering among the graves of some of those same government officials who denied him compensation.

In 1824, Choctaw Chief Pushmataha, considered by some historians to be the greatest of the chiefs to serve this particular tribe, journeyed to Washington to argue against further concessions of his tribal lands. While on this trip, he fell ill and died and was given full military honors in his burial in this cemetery. Despite his eloquent arguments against the removal of his people, the Choctaw were removed from their homeland. It is possible that his spirit remains here causing trouble at the graves of those who spurned his people after his death.

Sources

  • Congressional Cemetery. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.Accessed 20 December 2010.
  • Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
  • John Philip Sousa. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 December 2010.
  • Mathew Brady. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 December 2010.
  • Ogden, Tom. Haunted Washington, DC: Federal Phantoms, Government Ghosts, and Beltway Banshee. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot, 2016.
  • PushmatahaWikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 September 2020.
  • Taylor, Troy. Beyond the Grave: The History of America’s Most Haunted Graveyards. Alton, IL: Whitechapel Press, 2001.

Decatur House
1610 H Street, NW

Decatur House, 2009. Photo by Tim1965, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Overlooking Lafayette Park and situated just down the street from the White House stands the Decatur House which is open as the National Center for White House History, 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 and the designer of the U.S. Capitol Building. 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.

Sources

  • Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
  • Decatur HouseWikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 September 2020.
  • McCurry, Jason. “Decatur House” in Jeff Belanger’s Encyclopedia of Haunted Places. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books, 2005.
  • Reportedly haunted locations in Washington, D.C. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 December 2010.

Independence Avenue
In the vicinity of FAA Headquarters

FAA Headquarters on Independence Avenue, 2009. Photo by Matthew Bisanz, courtesy of Wikipedia.

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.

Sources

Indonesian Embassy
(Walsh-McLean Mansion)
2020 Massachusetts Avenue, NW

Indonesian Embassy (Walsh-McLean Mansion), 2008. Photo by Josh Carolina, courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

 

 

The Walsh-McLean Mansion is an architectural gem and currently the home to the Indonesian Embassy and several mysteries. The home was owned by the wealthy Edward Beale McLean, owner and publisher of The Washington Post. In 1911, he purchased the famed Hope Diamond, which he presented to his wife, socialite Evelyn Walsh McLean. The purchase went through despite the rumors of a curse attached to the stone.

For eight years the McLeans avoided any tragedy that could be blamed on the stone. As a series of misfortunes befell the family, the press labeled the diamond a “talisman of evil.” These tragedies included the death of the McLean’s son in an automobile accident, their eventual divorce, their daughter from an overdose of sleeping pills, Edward’s dive into insanity, and Evalyn’s demise from disease in 1947. It is Evalyn’s spirit that is supposedly seen descending the grand staircase of the house.

Sources

  • Edward Beale McLeanWikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 September 2020.
  • Ganschinietz, Suzanne. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Indonesian Embassy. Listed 18 January 1973.
  • Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
  • 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.

National Building Museum
(Old Pension Building)
440 G Street, NW

National Building Museum, 2010. Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid, courtesy of Wikipedia.
The faux-onyx Corinthian columns in the National Building Museum, 1918. Photo by National Photo Company, courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

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.

Sources

  • Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
  • National Building Museum. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 December 2010.

Octagon House
1799 New York Avenue

The Octagon House, 2009. Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Octagon House is 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 this magnificent manse 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.

Sources

  • Holzer, Hans. Where the Ghosts Are: The Ultimate Guide To Haunted Houses. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1995.
  • National Park Service. “Octagon Hall.” Accessed 22 December 2010.

United States Capitol Building
Capitol Hill

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.

For information on a ghost from the Library of Congress’ original location within the Capitol that may continue to haunt the building see my article on the haunted libraries of D.C.

Sources

  • Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
  • National Statuary Hall. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 December 2010.

Woodrow Wilson House
2340 S StrOeet, NW

Woodrow Wilson House, 2008. Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid, courtesy of Wikipedia.

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.

Sources

    • Blair House. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 December 2010.
    • Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
    • Varhola, Michael J. Ghosthunting Virginia. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2008.
    • Woodrow Wilson House (Washington, D.C.). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 December 2010.
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