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October ushers in spooky season, and that means it’s time for my annual round up of ghost stories from around the world. Every Friday during October I’ll post a fresh batch of haunting tales from my travels.
Having just returned from the beautiful US capital, I’ll start with Ghost Stories from Washington DC. Grab a cup of hot tea and read these fun scary stories.
Founded in July, 1790, DC is the capital of the United States. During its long history, the sprawling city has experienced military battles, fires, deadly duels, assassinations, untimely deaths and many other tragedies.
It’s no wonder that DC is considered a city of many haunts. Ghosts range from past presidents and first ladies to workers who died constructing the massive buildings to Civil War soldiers to government officials. There’s even the ghost of a black cat that appears in the Capitol Building.
Enjoy these five ghost stories from Washington DC…and watch for more in future posts.
Located at 511 10th Street NW, Ford’s Theatre is one of the oldest stage theatres in the US. Built in 1833, the theatre once housed a church. However, when the membership outgrew the facility, the building passed to theatre producer John T Ford. After a fire in 1861, Ford’s Theatre opened to the public in 1863.
On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary attended a production of “Our American Cousin”, five days after the official end of the Civil War. Seated in the theatre’s presidential box, Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth, seeking revenge for the defeat of the Confederacy. Lincoln died from his wound the following day.
While the assassination is the most well known death at Ford’s Theatre, it’s not the only one. In 1893 the front of the building inexplicably collapsed, killing 22 clerks of the War Department. Another 70 people were injured. The accident, never explained, led to the belief that the building is cursed.
Ghosts of the Theatre
Ghosts reported in the theatre include the somber specter of Abraham Lincoln, in his tall stovepipe hat, his wife Mary Lincoln who is seen leaning over the balcony and John Wilkes Booth, most often spotted sprinting across the stage or walking into the theatre box.
Visitors also report encountering cold spots, hearing disembodied voices and footsteps, ghostly gunshots and the sound of screaming and feeling nauseous and shaky on the stage where Booth apparently stood after shooting Lincoln.
Ghost Stories from Washington DC – Ford’s Theatre
US Capitol Building
George Washington laid the cornerstone for the Capitol Building in 1791. The construction of the huge building was not without complications and perils however. A collapsed beam crushed the construction supervisor. Another man fell to his death working on the dome. Both of their ghosts haunt the structure.
Other Capitol Building Specters
The spirit of John Quincy Adams reportedly prowls the Capitol Building. He suffered a stroke while giving an impassioned speech on the floor of the House of Representatives. People claim to hear his wails throughout the building and even his emphatic “NO” that he uttered during that last speech.
During the Civil War the building served as a military hospital for Union soldiers. Cots filled the Statuary Hall. At least one ghost soldier remains in the building, his shadowy figure drifting among the statues
In 1890 Congressman William Taulbee was shot and killed on a stairwell by a reporter that Taulbee taunted. His blood stains the steps and Taulbee’s ghost likes to trip reporters as they climb those stairs.
The strangest spook in the Capitol Building is a black cat said to appear in the hallways before historic or tragic national events. As early as 1862, night watchmen reported spotting the cat and even shooting at it, only to see the animal disappear. The cat supposedly appeared before the assassinations of President Lincoln and President Kennedy.
The Ghosts of the White House
Since its completion in 1800, many presidents, first families and staff members called this grand house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home. The property is also the site of countless historic events. Over the past 200+ years, presidents, first ladies, visitors and staff shared stories about the ghosts that wander in the White House.
The most frequently sighted apparition is Abraham Lincoln. He’s most often heard or seen near or in the bedroom he used while living in the White House and occasionally peering out of a window in the room he used as an office.
In 1942 Queen Wihelmina of the Netherlands woke to the sound of someone knocking on the door while sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom. She opened the door to see the former president standing there…and promptly fainted.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill stepped out of a hot bath and walked into that same bedroom where he encountered Lincoln’s ghost standing near the fireplace. Caught naked, the prime minister supposedly quipped, “Good evening Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.” Lincoln smiled…and faded away.
Others report seeing Lincoln pacing up and down the second floor hallways, knocking on doors and peering out windows. President Reagan, in 1989, commented that his dog refused to enter that room. Others reported that their dogs barked at Lincoln’s bedroom door.
Other White House Ghosts
Other White House ghost stories feature Abigail Adams, hanging sheets to dry in the East Room and Dolley Madison, tending the garden. People report hearing Andrew Jackson swearing and Thomas Jefferson playing the violin. It’s even reported that David Burns, the man who sold the land for the building of the White House, introduces himself as Mr Burns in the Oval Office.
Ghosts of Lafayette Square Park
Directly behind the White House lies Lafayette Square Park. Created by President Thomas Jefferson in 1804, this green space served as a graveyard, a slave market and during the War of 1812, an encampment for soldiers. Many tragedies occurred in the park, including a revenge murder. It’s no surprise that ghosts haunt this spot.
Representative Daniel Sickles shot and killed District Attorney Philip Barton Key, son of Francis Scott Key, in the park when he discovered Philip was having an affair with his wife. Sickles pled temporary insanity and escaped a prison sentence. However, as fate would have it, while fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg a cannonball severed Sickles’ leg. Both men supposedly haunt the park as Sickles relentlessly stalks Key.
Surrounding the park are a number of haunted buildings and houses. These include Decatur House, Hay-Adams Hotel, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Cutts-Madison House and Octagon House, now a museum.
Smithsonian Castle Ghosts
You’ve heard of the Smithsonian museums in DC. There are 19 of them. Have you heard of the Smithsonian Castle?
The castle’s namesake and founder of the institute, James Smithson, was born in Paris and kept a secret. He was illegitimate and not allowed to use the Smithson surname for many years. As a result of early rejection, he traveled throughout his life in search of a place to belong.
Although James never visited the US, when he died he donated his vast fortune for the founding of the Smithsonian Institute. His remains, brought to the US in 1904, are entombed in one of the castle’s main rooms. His ghost frequently wanders through the castle. So many people reported seeing Smithson that in 1973, they opened and examined his coffin. His skeleton remained within.
Today the castle serves as a space for administrative offices and a visitor center.
Other Smithsonian Castle Ghosts
Another frequently seen ghost is that of the first curator, Spencer Fullerton Baird. When approached by the night watchmen, Spencer vanishes.
Paleontologist Fielding Meek, who lived with his cat in a tiny suite of rooms beneath the castle grand staircase, also roams the hallways at night, seeking other scientists to converse with.
And James Henry, the Smithsonian’s first secretary, walks at night in the castle dressed in a frock coat, cravat and a starched white collar. When approached by security guards, he fades away.
Do You Believe in Ghosts?
You might, after this ghost story series completes at the end of October. I’m excited to share spooky tales every Friday, from different locations.
I believe that everything is energy and vibration. Some energy frequencies loop and repeat in a particular space, especially after a tragedy occurs, creating a haunting. And some lower energies feel heavy, troubled and yes, scary. Those are hauntings too.
When I visit a city or region, I learn the local ghost stories because historical information intertwines with those tales. Washington DC, with its long and varied history, is certainly a hotspot for paranormal activity.
Have you visited DC and toured any of the city’s haunted locations? Share your experiences in the comments below!
And check out one of the posts from last year: Ghost Stories from Rome
Check out these DC finds, from Amazon:
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7 Replies to “Ghost Stories from Washington DC”
I love your Friday ghost stories. I am headed to DC the last weekend in October to run the Marine Corps Marathon. This is all so interesting. I am looking forward to next Friday’s post.
When visiting new towns, I like to find out if they have night ghost walks. I trust there are many ghost stories from Washington DC. It is a good time of year to learn more about them.
Don’t you just love things that go bump in the night! Who knew there were so many ghost stories from Washington DC?
I love your ghost story series and greatly appreciate the ghost stories from Washington DC. I’ve visited many times and was not aware of these.
Wow! There’s so many ghost stories from Washington, DC. We had no clue.
I think I just confirmed I am a nerd because if I saw any of those ghosts I would be a fangirl! I would be so excited because I have such a love for the founding fathers and women by their sides who started the country.
I’d love to spot Abigail Adams hanging out her sheets, or Abraham Lincoln in any location!