President John Tyler allegedly haunts the Blue Oval Room. The stories started when the unstable Mary Todd Lincoln reported hearing his voice coming from the Oval Office. Mary said that she heard Tyler make a proposal of marriage to Julia Gardner, (above)Tyler’s second and much young wife.
Anna Surratt (Above) was the loving, innocent, and dedicated daughter of convicted Lincoln assassination co-conspirator Mary Surratt.
After the assassination of Abe Lincoln, Mary Surratt was arrested and convicted of being part of the conspiracy to kill the President, and was sentenced to be hung by the neck as a result of her part in the plot. Essentially, Surratt had allowed her boardinghouse in downtown Washington (Where it still stands today) to be used as a meeting place for Booth and the others conspirators. How much deeper her involvement went beyond that is still a matter of debate.
After the guilty verdict, Anna Surratt pleaded repeatedly for her mother's life with Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt, but he refused to consider clemency.
She then tried to see President Andrew Johnson at the White House to plead for her mother’s life but was pushed off the grounds by Senator James Lane and Preston King.
Later, Mrs. Stephen Douglas, widow of the late senator, arrived by carriage to the White to convince President Andrew Johnson not to execute Mary Surratt, but to no avail.
But there was hope until the end. General Winfield Scott Hancock was in command at the Washington Penitentiary, where Mary Hancock was being held. On the day of the execution, he stationed cavalry riders from the jail to the White House in the event President Johnson changed his mind and granted a last-minute reprieve.
After her mother was executed, Anna’s younger brother John was on the run as an accused member of the conspiracy and another brother, Isaac, was in the Confederate army and would not return home for another several months.
Eventually, in 1867, John was put on trial but the government was unable to convict him, and he was released. He became a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Emmitsburg, Maryland and later joined the Baltimore Steam Packet Company. He rose to be treasurer of the Company and married Mary Victorine Hunter a relative of Francis Scott Key. He died of pneumonia at the age of 72.
Mary was ostracized from society in general and for a while lived in poverty. On March 10, 1869, Surratt tavern in Surrattsville (now Clinton Md.) was sold to Robert W. Hunter who purchased the building and 6 acres around it for $3,500. After that, Annie married Professor William P. Tonry ina private ceremony at St. Patrick’s Church, just a short walk from Fords Theater.
Tonry was a chemist working for the surgeon general’s office. Strangely enough, he worked at Ford’s Theatre during the civil war when the theater been converted into government offices shortly after the assassination. Four days after her marriage was made public fired Tonry from his job at the War Department.
The couple eventually moved to Baltimore and Tonry went back to work as a chemist and the couple had four children and overall, became somewhat well off if not rich. But the strain of the Lincoln assassination and her mother execution left mentally unbalanced and she often suffered from bouts of anxiety, depression, and fear. Anna died of kidney disease on Oct. 24, 1904. She was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington, in an unmarked grave next to Mary.
To this day, some members of the White House staff claim that Anna's ghost returns to the White House every July 6, silently banging on the front door to plea for her mother's life. Residents of the H Street NW apartments where she lived for a while report deep moaning and sobbing sounds in the hallways.
Jenna Bush Hager, the daughter of former President George W. Bush claimed that while she lived in the White House ‘I heard a ghost. I was asleep, there was a fireplace in my room, and all of a sudden, I heard 1920s music coming out. I could feel it; I freaked out and ran into my sister's room. She was like “Please go back to sleep this is ridiculous” .The next week we were both asleep in my room, the phone had rang and woke us up. ‘We were talking and going back to bed when all of a sudden we heard this opera, coming out of the fireplace. We couldn't believe it; we both jumped in bed and were asking the people that worked there the next morning “Are we crazy?” We tried to rationalize it, but they said they heard it there all the time.’
During the early years of the Wilson administration, (1913-1921) First lady Ellen Wilson sent workmen to dig up the rose garden to redesign it. A gardener claimed that while digging up the garden the ghost Dolly Madison appeared and reprimanded him for removing the rose bushes she had planted over a hundred years ago. Ellen Wilson died from Bright’s disease, in the White House, on August 6, 1914.
William Wallace "Willie" Lincoln was the third son of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln who died in the White House at the age of 11 on February 20, 1862. The cause of death was more than probably was typhoid fever developed from drinking Washington’s contaminated water sometime in late January of 1862. He fell ill and remained ill for almost two months, his condition fluctuating from day to day. Finally, after much suffering, the child died at 5:00 PM on February 20, with his parents by his side. "My poor boy.” His father said “He was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!"
His death deeply affected the nation and the First Family. It was reported that Willie's younger brother, Tad, cried for nearly (Who was sick with the same illness at the same time, though he survived.)
Mary Todd Lincoln was so distraught that Lincoln feared for her sanity and Abe Lincoln fell into one of deep depressions, this one lasting for a week. He and Mary Todd held several séances in the Green Room to contact Willie’s spirit in the afterlife.
Willie Lincoln's ghost was first seen in the White House by staff members of the Grant administration in the 1870s and was seen again in the 1960s by President Lyndon B. Johnson's college-age daughter, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, who said she not only saw the ghost but conversed with it.
President Abe Lincoln is by far the most seen and heard ghost to haunt the White House. The president’s ghost is most often seen, befittingly, in the Lincoln bedroom, but Lincoln never slept in that room. Rather, he used it as a Cabinet room and signed the Emancipation Proclamation there.
One of the first reports of “Sensing” Lincoln’s ghost roaming the White House halls came from the very practical Theodore Roosevelt, who lived in the White House from 1901 to 1909.
First Lady Grace Coolidge, (Above) wife of President Calvin Coolidge, was the first to claim to have seen Lincoln's ghost. She insisted that she saw Lincoln looking towards the Potomac River from the Oval Office. (During Lincoln’s administration the Potomac ran much closer to the White House than it does today)
The no-nonsense Queen Wilhelmina (Below) of the Netherlands visited the United States for about two week in June of 1942 as guest of the U.S. government.
While in Washington, she addressed the U.S. Congress (The first queen to do so) and spent a night at the White House, staying in the Lincoln bedroom. After she had retired for the evening and was soundly asleep, the Queen awoke after hearing a persistent knocking on her door. Thinking that there might be news of her war torn homeland, she stepped from the bed, opened the door, saw before her President Abe Lincoln, and promptly fainted.
Around that same time, long time White House employee Lillian Rogers Parks said that while working in a small room near the Lincoln bedroom when she heard footsteps coming from the Lincoln room and that she kept turning expecting to see someone come near her, but no one ever did. Roosevelt’s secretary, Mary Eben, said she was saw Lincoln laying on his bed (another version says she saw the President pulling on his boots in the bedroom) and White House guest Carl Sandburg claimed to have "sensed" Lincoln do the same as well.
Eleanor Roosevelt said that she sensed Lincoln’s presence repeatedly throughout the White House and remarked that she always had the feeling of being watched when she worked in her very busy office. FDR’s dog, Fala, would sometimes bark at an empty chair.
A naked Winston Churchill was waddling about in the Lincoln bedroom when he saw Lincoln’s ghost. There are two versions of the story. In the first version there was knock on the. The Prime Minster opened the door and purportedly saw the ghost of Abraham Lincoln standing there.
Churchill slammed the door shut, demanded to be moved to another room across the hall and vowed to never enter the Lincoln bedroom again.
In the second version of the same sighting, Churchill had just stepped out of a bath and was enjoying a cigar and a glass of scotch when Lincoln appeared, standing by the fireplace. The pair are said to have started at each other for some time before the ghost faded away.
One night at 3 AM, President Harry Truman was awaken by a series of loud raps on his door. He stepped out of bed, opened the door and found no one but publicly attributed the knock to Abe Lincoln. The President’s daughter, Margaret said she heard also heard a loud knocking on her door in the White House and also believed it was Lincoln.
Gerald Ford's daughter Susan Ford refused to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom and Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Maureen, insisted that she saw Lincoln in the Lincoln Bedroom while staying there during her father’s administration.
I'm not kidding” she said "We've really seen it. When I told my parents what I saw they looked at me a little weirdly." Maureen said that the spirit appeared to her in the early morning hours as an red and sometimes orange aura. Years later, First Lady Nancy Reagan said that the family dog, Rex, would often stand outside the Lincoln Bedroom door and bark loudly but refused to go in.
The last reported sighting of Lincoln’s ghost came in the early 1980s when the White House operations foreman, Tony Savoy, came into the White House and saw Lincoln sitting in a chair at the top of some stairs.
Lincoln’s former law partner, Ward Hill Lamon wrote that he was among the "two or three persons present" when the president told them about a disturbing dream he had "only a few days before his assassination."
Prodded by Mrs. Lincoln to continue, Lincoln said "about ten days ago" he had gone to bed late after he had stayed up "waiting for important dispatches from the front." As he began to dream, he experienced "a death-like stillness about me."
Hearing the sounds of subdued sobs, Lincoln walked downstairs in search of the "mournful sounds of distress," but encountered no living person until he entered the East Room, where he found "a sickening surprise": a covered corpse resting on a catafalque, surrounded by soldiers, with mourners gazing at the body and weeping. "'Who is dead in the White House?' I demanded of one of the soldiers,"
"'The President,' was his answer; 'he was killed by an assassin!'" Lincoln then stated that he awoke soon after in response to a "loud burst of grief from the crowd," did not sleep again that night due to the dream, and "have been strangely annoyed by it since."
Lillian Rogers Parks, a one-time society hairdresser who had used her client connections to get the White House job as a seamstress and Executive maid from the beginning of the Hoover Administration in 1929 to the end of the Eisenhower years in 1961, she had been a familiar figure at the White House since she was a little girl. Her mother, Maggie Rogers, was part of the White House staff at the start of the Taft Administration and often took her daughter to work with her.
Parks. Who lived to age 100, wrote ''My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House.'' which became the basis of a nine-part NBC miniseries in 1979, created an immediate sensation when it was published in 1961 and was on The New York Times best-seller list for 26 weeks. But its success so alarmed the incoming First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, that she ordered all White House domestic employees to sign a pledge not to write about their White House experiences. (Mrs. Kennedy's secretary, Mary Gallagher, was assigned to the task of collecting the signatures but neglected to sign one, herself, and eventually wrote her own tell-all with Miss Leighton, ''My Boss,'' in 1969.)
In her book, Park told of working in the Rose Bedroom (the modern Queen's Suite) to prepare it for a visit from Queen Elizabeth, when she gradually became aware of a cold presence standing behind her. Frightened, she rushed out of the room not looking once behind her. It was three years before she could bring herself to enter the room again.
In that same room, President Andrew Jackson is said to be seen lying on the Queens' Bedroom and his would rough laugh has been heard in the White House since the beginning of the 1860s. First Lady press secretary Liz Carpenter heard the laugh and swore it was Jackson's, and Mary Todd Lincoln (Who had some mental health issues) claimed to have heard the stomping and swearing of an invisible presence which she claimed was the uncouth Jackson. Mary Todd Lincoln was certain that President Jackson was caring for her young son Willie in the afterlife. In the 1940s, Katurah Brooks, a maid, said that she often heard laughter coming from the Queen's Suite.
Mary also once remarked that she heard President Thomas Jefferson playing his violin in the Yellow Oval Room and remarked “My, my, how that Mr. Jefferson does play that violin.” However, she was the only person who heard the sounds.
The night bodyguard to President Benjamin Harrison reported hearing near constant footsteps in the hall where he was posted and assumed it was spirit of Abe Lincoln pacing the floor, back and forth. He was said to have grown so weary of the sound that he attended a séance to ask President Lincoln to stop. The noises were heard by many others over the year but they are said to have stopped after the extensive repairs were done to the second floor of the White House in 1952.
President Benjamin Harrison grandfather, William Henry Harrison, is said to haunt the White House attic. Harrison was the last president born before the United States Declaration of Independence was signed and served the shortest term, 30 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes.
Harrison died only three weeks after his inauguration when he caught a common cold which developed into Pneumonia and then pleurisy. His last words, spoken to his Vice President, John Tyler were, “Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.”
Harrison’s death started the legend of the “curse of the Shawnee Prophet”. The curse (Which is also called The Curse of Tippecanoe) derives from the battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 while Harrison was governor of the Indiana Territory. Apparently during the negotiation of the 1809 Treaty of Fort Wayne with Native Americans, Harrison used some underhanded tactics to cede enormous tracks of land from the Indian nations to the U.S. government.
The terms brought about the battle of Tippecanoe in which the Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his brother rose up against the westward expansion of the United States. It was Harrison’s leadership of the US troops during the battle that brought him national fame as a war hero. However, Tecumseh's brother Tenskwatawa, known as the Prophet, set a curse against Harrison and all others who were elected president during years with the same end number as Harrison. (He was elected in 1840)
For the next 120 years, presidents elected during years ending in a zero (occurring every 20 years) died while serving in office, from Harrison to John F. Kennedy and including Ronald Reagan, (elected in 1980) who was shot but survived and George W. Bush (2000) who survived an attempt on his life unharmed. However, the only president who died in office without being elected in a "cursed" year was Zachary Taylor, who was elected in 1848 and died in 1850.
Harrison is said to haunt the White House attic where his ghost has been seen tossing about papers and boxes as if he was looking for something very specific.
Harrison’s guard brush with the afterworld was not the only a séance was related to the White House. President Lincoln, no doubt in a move to appease his somewhat erratic wife, attended several séance in the White House and in his book The Choice, Bob Woodward describes a 1995, a séance was held by psychic Jean Houston in the White House solarium for the benefit of Hillary Clinton.
According to the book, Hillary, while in a deep trance, channeled the spirits of Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi. Before that, First Lady Nancy Reagan asked her astrologer, Joan Quigley, to arrange an attempt to communicate with the otherworld through the so-called White House portal.
Nancy Reagan called Quigley in 1981 after John Hinckley's attempted assassination of the president and asked Quigley if she could have foreseen the assassination attempt. Quigley said she could have and Nancy then had her stay on as the White House astrologer in secret until that secret was released in 1988 by former chief of staff Donald Regan.
Explaining why she kept Quigley on, the First Lady wrote "Very few people can understand what it's like to have your husband shot at and almost die, and then have him exposed all the time to enormous crowds, tens of thousands of people, any one of whom might be a lunatic with a gun... I was doing everything I could think of to protect my husband and keep him alive."
Quigley later wrote, "Not since the days of the Roman emperors—and never in the history of the United States Presidency—has an astrologer played such a significant role in the nation's affairs of State."
First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland, (1864-1947) married to President Grover Cleveland, a life-long bachelor, in the White House's Blue Room in 1886. She was 21 years old student at Wells College at the time, the youngest First Lady in American history. He was 49 and executor of her father’s estate.(Who died in a carriage accident on July 23, 1875, without having written a will. The court appointed Cleveland administrator of his estate.) Cleveland had more or less supervised Frances upbringing since she was 11 years old.
Cleveland remains the only President to be married in the White House and the second President to be married while serving in office. The couple were wildly popular with the American people and by all reports, Francis was aid to be a warm and interesting person of great beauty. The couple eventually had five children.
After her husband's death in 1908, Frances Cleveland remarried in 1913 to Thomas J. Preston, Jr., a professor at Wells College. She was the first presidential widow to remarry. Francis died in Baltimore on October 29, 1947, and was buried in Princeton with her first husband, President Grover Cleveland.
That same year, 1947, her ghost was reported to have appeared in the Blue Room where she married sixty-one years before. She is still reported to haunt the room and visitors tell of sensing “an overpowering presence” when in the room alone.
Gary J. Walters was appointed White House Chief Usher in 1986. According to Walters, “I was standing at the state floor of the White House adjacent to the staircase that comes up from the ground floor. The police officers and I felt a cool rush of air pass between us and then two doors that stand open closed by themselves. I have never seen these doors move before without somebody specifically closing them by hand. It was quite remarkable.” Other staff member report that White House doors throughout the building close by themselves.
The White House is also said to be visited by the spirit of Mr. David Burns who owned the ground on which the White House and all of the federal park surrounding it, stand son today. Burns sold the land to the government in May 1791, but not without a struggle.
The Burns (Actually spelled as Burnes) family owned all of what is today west Washington all the way from Georgetown to Capitol Hill, about 700 acres in all, a small farm holding by standards of his day. (By comparison, the George Washington estate stretched from Arlington to where the old Naval Observatory was in Georgetown)
The other major landowners in the city were Daniel Carroll, of the fabulous Carroll family, Samuel Davidson and Notley Young. (Who was married to a Carroll). Young owned what is today the neighborhood of Near Northwest, the area bounded by North Capitol Street to the west, Florida Avenue to the north, F Street to the south, and 15th Street to the east. The area was dubbed Youngsborough.
Young gave parts of the land to the Federal government in exchange for a promise that Congress would divide the land into lots and return half of those lots to the original landowners. Young, it should be noted, was a Roman Catholic at a time when it was difficult to be a Roman Catholic in America and his estate, which sat on a high river bank on what is now G Street SE between Ninth and Tenth streets was a refugee for the city’s small Catholic population.
In an odd twist of fate, Young was buried on the grounds of his estate. As the city grew, his land was taken over by the city and a well-meaning Mayor Robert Brent had Young’s remains reinterred in the Carroll burial ground at St. John's on Rock Creek. However no one bothered to mark the exact location of the grave and its whereabouts are now lost forever.
Burn was described by those who knew him as “Very bigoted” and “choleric”, a man who willfully disagreed with everyone and who sought out an argument. He was also opposed to selling his lands for the new executive mansion and once during one of several meeting that were held between him, General Washington and Washington’s staff, Burns is said to have remarked to the general “I suppose Mr. Washington that you assume people here are going to take every grist from you as poor grain. But what would you have been if you had not married the widow Custis?” referring to the fact that George Washington came from proud but modest stock and had married the enormously wealthy Mrs. Custis. Washington, known for his ability not to become riled, lost his temper and stormed out of the house, never to return and refusing to meet with Burns again, calling him “That obstinate Mr. Burns”
Actually, all that Burns wanted was a fair price for his land, which was now in demand by powerful and wealthy people. Those same people who had threatened him with eminent domain if he didn’t sell at a price they wanted for all of his land, not just parts of it as the story is so often told.
Burns lived in a small wood framed, whitewashed cottage on what is today 7th Street NW (Where the Pan American Union Building stands today) the only sign of his wealth being that it was equipped with two chimneys.
The rudely-fashioned structure had two rooms on the ground floor and was said to be only slightly better than a slaves cabin. Burns only son, John had died as a teenager (1772-1795) and several years later and his wife (Anne Wight Burnes) died shortly afterwards. His only family was his daughter, Maria, (Some record the name as having been Marcia, 1782-1832) who was described by many as “lovely”. Burns placed his daughter with a cultivated Baltimore family so she could receive an social breeding and literary training. She returned to live with her father in 1801 when she was 19-years-old in 1801.
Maria stood to inherit a fortune from her father’s estate. In 1802 she married a dashing young Congressman named from New York named John Peter Van Ness (for whom Van Ness Street NW, between Wisconsin Avenue and River Road). Van Ness, a lawyer with his own Knickerbocker-Dutch fortune, was a disciple of the popular Arron Burr. He would go on to be a Major in the District Militia, bank owner and Mayor of Washington.
When David Burns died he left his daughter his entire and very substantial estate telling her from his death bed “Marcia, you have been a good daughter; you'll now be the richest girl in America." She was said to be the richest woman in America at the time of the inheritance. (She signed all of her wealth over to Van Ness as was the custom of the day)
Since his death, Burns ghost has been seen in the Oval Office when a reporter told a security guard during the Truman administration that, while standing in the Yellow Oval Room, he heard a whisper which said, "I'm Mr. Burns."
Around that same time, a White House guard reported that he heard a voice call out from the attic above the Oval Office “I’m Mr. Burns” several times. The guard assumed that he was hearing the voice of Truman’s Secretary of State, James Byrnes but learned that Byrnes was out of the country at the time.
Prior to that, FDR’s valet, Cesar Carrera, heard a voice as he stood in the Yellow Oval Room. When he turned to see who it was, the voice said , “I’m Mr. Burns.” Although Mr. Burns has not been heard of since the 1940s, the old man would take some pride in the fact that his is the oldest ghost to haunt of the White House. After Burns death, Maria and John Van Ness House constructed their own estate between 1813-1816.
A behemoth Greek revival home bounded by C Street, Constitution Avenue, 17th Street, and 18th Street and designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who was then the superintendent of government buildings.
Latrobe one of the architects of the Capitol, spent a small fortune trying to make it the finest private residence in North America. A brick wall enclosed the ground that were an array of trees, flowers, fountains and statuary. The couple had David Burns cottage moved to the property, Marcia would never allow it to be torn down.
Their daughter Ann held her wedding to South Carolinian Arthur Middleton was held there. Middleton was the son of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Ann died a year later giving birth to a stillborn baby and Marcia, who was close friends with Dolly Madison, soon became something of a recluse and retreated into religion. She commissioned the city orphanage in her daughter’s memory. She spent her years as a philanthropist and was a beloved and influential figure in the city until her death, at age 50 in a cholera epidemic. She was given a massive public funeral, the only woman, up to that time, to be given such an honor.
The sculptor Horatio Greenough wrote this tribute to her
Mid rank and wealth and worldly pride.
From every snare she turned aside.
She sought the low, the humble shed.
Where gaunt disease and famine tread;
And from that time, in youthful pride.
She stood Van Ness's blooming bride.
No day her blameless head o'er past
But saw her dearer than the last.
The Van Ness Mausoleum was fashioned after the Temple of Vesta as a tribute to Marcia Burnes Van Ness, by her husband, John Peter. George Hadfield designed the mausoleum and the cost to build it was $30,000 in 1824. It was originally set at the old Burnes graveyard, on Square 375, 9th & 10th, G & H Streets, Northwest. It was said that after Marcia died that Van Ness became obsessed with building the mausoleum and spent most of his free time there. It can be found today on a knoll in Oak Hill Cemetery.
The great Van Ness mansion started to crumble as John Van Ness withdrew from the world after his wives and daughter’s deaths and he, like his wife before him, become a recluse. Rumors spread that the house staff quick after run in with ghosts and that many of the servants who stayed refused to enter certain rooms in the mansion because they were so haunted. There were reports of footsteps coming from empty rooms and laughter that turned to screams of agony, said to be from the spirit of young Ann as she died. Several people claimed that the apparition of Marcia Van Ness materialized in the upstairs hallway and roamed the house at will.
John Van Ness outlived her by 16 years and died on March 7, 1846, at the age of 76. The couple is buried in a private mausoleum at Oak Hill Cemetery.
Hundreds of Washingtonians lined the route to see their Mayor off drawn by six white horses that had been so cherished by Van Ness, carry his coffin to the family mausoleum.
Those horses were later sold during the settlement of Van Ness’s estate and there was constant talk of demolishing the now dilapidated Van Ness Mansion and the reports of its haunting increased.
The house became the residence of a man named Thomas Green. Years later Green and his wife were arrested after the Lincoln assassination because it was rumored that they had been involved in Booth’s original plot to kidnap Lincoln and hold him captive for a few days in the mansion’s wine cellar before spiriting him into Confederate territory. The Greens were found innocent, released, and then fled the city forever. Over the next fifty years the property was used as a German beer garden, florist's nursery, headquarters of the city street cleaners, and Columbia Athletic Club.
Columbian College, now called George Washington University, purchased the property in 1903 for $161,000 and planned to build a new campus on the site but were voted down by alumni who said the property was unhealthy because it was near marsh on what was then B Street and is now Constitution Avenue. The university sold the property in 1907 for $200,000 to the State Department which tore down the estate building in 1908 to build the Pan American Union Building.
Over the years there were reports by several about people who claimed to have seen, six headless white horses galloping around the house. In the 1980s, a man ran his car off the road on Rock Creek Park claiming that as his car passed by Oak Hill Cemetery, he was distracted by the sight of six headless white horses up on the hill by the Van Ness Mausoleum. The legend is that on the anniversary John Van Ness’s death, that his favorite troop of six white horses make a midnight run around the old mansion.
On August 19, 1814, during the War of 1812, over 4,500 British soldiers landed at Benedict, Maryland, on the shores of the Patuxent River and marched towards Washington. Their mission was to capture Washington and take revenge for the burning of their British Capitol in Canada a year earlier by American forces.
It what remains one of the worst pieces of advice ever given to a President, Secretary of War John Armstrong said that Washington was safe and didn’t need military protection because the British were focused on Baltimore. After the destruction of Washington, Madison forced him to resign in September 1814.
Arriving in the city, the British sent a party of men under a white flag of truce to Capitol Hill to come to terms, but they were attacked by snipers hiding in a house at the corners of Maryland, Constitution, and Second Street NE. It was the only resistance the soldiers met within the city. The English responded by setting the house afire, tossing the white flag and marching into the city proper under the British flag.
Arriving to the top of Capitol Hill, the troops set fire to the partially completed the Senate and House of Representatives building there, and set fire to what was the miniscule Library of Congress inside the Senate building. However the library was replaced through Thomas Jefferson who, in 1815, sold his personal library of more than 6,487 volumes to the government to restock the Library of Congress for $23,950, a staggering amount of money for the time. (Prior to the fire the library held about 3,000 volumes).
But the collection was incredible. It had taken Jefferson 50 years to accumulate the wide variety of books that included volumes in foreign languages, philosophy, science, literature and cookbooks.
"I do not know” Said Jefferson “that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer." Oddly enough, a second fire on Christmas Eve of 1851 destroyed nearly two thirds of the 6,487 volumes Congress had purchased from Jefferson.
The English intended to capture the supplies stored at the vast Washington Navy Yard but the Americans had already set it afire rather than have the English capture it. The English sent two hundred men to secure a fort on Greenleaf's Point. (Now Fort McNair) but the fort had already been destroyed by the Americans, however, for some reason, they had left behind 150 barrels of gunpowder. The British arrived, found the powder and tried to destroy it by dropping the barrels into a well, the powder ignited killing about thirty men and maiming many others in the explosion that followed.
The US Patent Office was saved from destruction by the Superintendent of Patents, Dr. William Thornton who convinced the British of the importance of its preservation.
Then the troops marched down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House where a gallant First Lady, Dolley Madison remained behind, alone. President James Madison had left the White House on August 22 to meet with his generals on the battlefield and his cabinet had already fled the city, and saved the nation’s valuables from the British. (Silverware, books, clocks, curtains) However it is not true that she removed Gilbert Stuart's full-length portrait of George Washington. (The portrait was actually a copy of Gilbert Stuart's original)
James Madison's personal servant, the slave Paul Jennings, was an eyewitness (He was 15 years old at the time) to the event and wrote later’ “It has often been stated in print, that when Mrs. Madison escaped from the White House, she cut out from the frame the large portrait of Washington, and carried it off. She had no time for doing it. It would have required a ladder to get it down. All she carried off was the silver in her reticule, as the British were thought to be but a few squares off, and were expected any moment.”
The heroes of the White House burning were John Susé, Frenchman and doorkeeper, and a man named Magraw [McGraw], the President's gardener. They saved Washington’s portrait (The portrait was screwed to the wall) along with large silver urns, packed it aboard a wagon and sent if off to Virginia. Senior clerk Stephen Pleasonton saved the Declaration of Independence by hiding it in a gristmill near Georgetown.
Secretary of State James Monroe directed Senior clerk Stephen Pleasonton with preserving the books and papers of the State Department during the burning of Washington. He filled several coarse linen bags, and filled them with all the Department's records, including the still-unpublished secret journals of Congress, the commission and correspondence of George Washington, the Articles of Confederation, the United States Constitution, and all the treaties, laws, and correspondence of the Department made since 1789. Before he left, he noticed the Declaration of Independence had been forgotten and was still hanging in its frame on the wall, and took it all to Leesburg, Virginia, where they were stored in an empty stone house.
Jennings concluded, “When the British did arrive, they ate up the very dinner, and drank the wines, &c., that I had prepared for the President's party”
Admiral Cockburn made his way to the White House after his officers arrived and began taking souvenirs. Dolly Madison had abandoned the couple's personal belongings and the admiral was able to take one of President Madison's hats, and a cushion from Dolley Madison's chair. He then issued an order for his troops to drink Madison's wine and helped themselves to food.
British soldier George Gleig wrote “[H]aving satisfied their appetites … and partaken pretty freely of the wines, they finished by setting fire to the house which had so liberally entertained them. … Of the Senate house, the President's palace, the barracks, the dockyard, etc., nothing could be seen except heaps of smoking ruins.”
They set fire to the White House (Then called the Presidents House) by tossing torches through the windows and adding fuel to the fire to ensure that it would keep burning and reports had it that the thick black smoke could be seen as far away as Baltimore (Which is very doubtful) and the Patuxent River (Which is likely). They also set fire to the adjacent Treasury Department building.
Washington lay in ruins. American soldiers, government officials, and residents fled the city. The White House, the Capitol, and many other public buildings and residences were burning and the next day, August 25, Washington was still burning. Suddenly, in the early afternoon, the sky darkened, lightening flashed, loud thunder could be heard and the winds swept up into what one resident called “a frightening roar.”
The White House in ruins. After the 1812 burning, the White House was whitewashed to cover the smoke stains. Originally light gray in color, the building’s exterior was painted white during the restoration to cover the smoke stain.
It was a tornado. On the one hand, the city, which was made mostly of wood, was saved from a rapidly expanding fire by the storm but on the other hand, the tornado probably did more damage to the city than it stopped. Buildings were lifted into the air and tossed a block away. Flying debris killed several English soldiers and one gust made off with several cannons. Hundreds of English soldiers laid face down in the streets as the storm passed over them and one account describes how a British officer on horseback did not dismount and the winds slammed both horse and rider violently to the ground.
It ended after two hours and the heavy rain that followed put out most of the flames and prevented Washington from burning to the ground. The British regrouped on Capitol Hill and marched out of the city that night.
As the English left the city, Admiral Cockburn asked a local woman, “Great God, Madam! Is this the kind of storm to which you are accustomed in this infernal country?” The lady answered, “No, Sir, this is a special interposition of Providence to drive our enemies from our city.”
“Not so Madam.” The Admiral answered, “It is rather to aid your enemies in the destruction of your city.”
Hours later, the British forces left Washington and returned to their ships on the Patuxent River but the journey back to their ships was a difficult one. Downed trees on the roadway slowed their return and the war ships they arrived on had been badly damaged in the storm. Still, the English stopped their ships in Old Town Alexandria long enough to loot it. (A separate British force had already captured Alexandria, The mayor of Alexandria made a deal and the British refrained from burning the town.)
President Madison and Dolly returned to Washington three days later, but the White House was made unlivable by the fire. President Madison served the rest of his term residing at the Octagon House. It was not until 1817 that newly elected president James Monroe moved back into the reconstructed building.
After the attack, Congress was determined to relocate the nation's capital north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Fearful that the capitol would be moved to Philadelphia, local Washington businessmen financed the construction of the Old Brick Capitol, (Mayor Thomas Corcoran offered Georgetown College as a temporary home for Congress.) where Congress met while the Capitol was reconstructed from 1815 to 1819.
For many decades the White House has had reports that the ghost of a British soldier dressed in a uniform from the War of 1812 and carrying a torch haunts the executive mansion. (He has also been seen on the front lawn) Some think the soldier is one of those who burned the White House, or accidently killed while burning down the White House or who lost his life the following tornado. He is the only malicious spirit who haunts the White House. In 1953, one couple staying in a second-floor bedroom said the ghost tried to set fire to their bed with a flaming torch.
The legend of the Black Cat (AKA the Demon Cat) is shared by the White House and Capitol Building, a few blocks away.
At the White House, the Black Cat is seen in the basement before various tragic events. But up in the Capitol, it apparently roams the halls at will. It should be noted that back in the 19th century, both buildings employed cats to check the rat population, which is numerous in Washington.
Supposedly (No actual report exists) A Capital Building Policeman (The Capital has its own police force, as does the US Supreme Court and the local DC federally managed park system) said he saw the cat in the very early 19th century and another was said to have shot at it in 1862. “It seemed to grow” he said “as I looked at it. When I shot at the critter, it jumped right over my head”
The cat sightings in both the White House and Capitol Building tend to follow a national tragedy. A White House guard claimed to have seen just before the Lincoln assassination, a week before the stock market crash of 1929 and also reportedly seen days before the assassination of JFK. The last semi-official sighting of the Demon Cat was in 1940.
Interestingly enough, a few block away from the White House sits the Octagon House, which is said to be curse and haunted. Legend says that Betty Taylor, the married niece of the first owner of the house, tripped and fell to her death by a black cat as she raced down the houses circular stairs. She was running in the dark to greet her lover who entered the property by a secret passage that opened on the bank of the Potomac (The river has since been pushed by, but at one time it did run close to the house)
Abigail Adams (November 22 1744 – October 28, 1818) was the wife of John Adams, (They were third cousins and had known each other since childhood) the second President of the United States and the first to live in the White House (George Washington selected the site, oversaw construction of the executive mansion but never lived in there.) Mrs. Adams, the second First Lady of America (Thomas Jefferson never married) was also the mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States.
Abigail Adams died on October 28, 1818, of typhoid fever at age 73. (Two weeks shy of her 74th birthday.) Her last words were, "Do not grieve, my friend, my dearest friend. I am ready to go. And John, it will not be long." She was buried beside her husband in a crypt in the United First Parish Church (AKA “The Church of the Presidents”) in Quincy, Massachusetts, a very long way from the White House. However, her spirit is still seen there.
She was reported to have been seen by White House staffers shortly after her death, as an aberration, her arms extended as if she were still carrying laundry into the cavernous East Room. (There was no furniture in the East Room at the time) where water was brought in by jugs (The White House would not having running water until 1834) to be used for washing and bathing.
The ghost was said to be accompanied by the smell of soap or damp clothing. (Reportedly Abigail hung the family's laundry up to dry in the East Room during inclement weather) In more recent times, the Household staff in the Taft administration reported that they observed Abigail walking through walls.
THE HAUNTED WHITE HOUSE
According to the Gallup Poll News Service, about 32 percent of Americans believe in ghosts, haunted houses, ghosts, communication with the dead and evil witches. So it comes almost as no surprise that the national house of the people, the White House, and our capitol, would be seeped in ghost tales. Indeed, Washington DC and the surrounding area the site of a vast number of reportedly haunted locations ranging from battle fields to dueling ground and assassinations.
Of all these places, the White House is said to be the most haunted location of them all. In fact, the White House is on the list of Time Magazine’s Top Ten Haunted Places, and on the New York Daily News List of the Most Haunted Places on Earth. Yet the White House (Originally, the White house was known as The Presidential Palace. President Theodore Roosevelt would officially call it the White House in 1901, although the name had been informally used before.) has never been investigated by a paranormal group and it’s highly unlikely that it ever will be.
But still the lists of important and reliable people who have reported unexplainable footsteps, knocks, slamming doors, barking dogs, and cold chills in the White House is impressive. President Harry Truman once wrote to his wife: ‘I sit here in this old house, all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway. At 4 o’clock I was awakened by three distinct knocks on my bedroom door. No one there. Damned place is haunted, sure as shootin’’
President Eisenhower’s no-nonsense press secretary James Hagerty said that he always sensed presence of Lincoln’s Ghost walking the White House halls and Bill Clinton’s press secretary, Mike McCurry believed the house is haunted overall.
Former first lady Hilary Clinton said ‘There is something about the house at night that you just feel like you are summoning up the spirits of all the people who have lived there and worked there and walked through the halls there…..It’s neat, it can be a little creepy. You know, they think there’s a ghost there. It is a big old house and when the lights are out it is dark and quiet and any movement at all catches your attention.’
Most recently, First Lady Michelle Obama said that her husband was awakened from a sound sleep in the middle of the night after hearing what she called strange sounds in the hall. She also said that family members and friends had reported the unusual sensation of someone or something gnawing or chewing on their feet.