Friday, May 1, 2009

Spooks of State

white house ghosts
Haunted America Tours

Hey, the White House has been burned down, gutted for remodeling, been the scene of death, and is home to some very famous and powerful people and their often-times dysfunctional families. In other words, it's a perfect spot for spook sightings.

The most famous ghost, and the one most often seen, is Honest Abe, who departed this vale tragically and with work left undone. It seems like all the overnight visitors want to stay in the Lincoln bedroom. A few were sorry they made that choice.

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was staying in the Lincoln Room on the second floor when she heard a late night knock on the door. She opened it, saw Abe's ghost, stove-pipe hat and all - and promptly fainted.

Winston Churchill just stepped out of the tub and was heading naked towards bed with his famous cigar between his teeth when Abe showed up. They looked at one another, and Lincoln disappeared. It's hard to tell who shocked whom the most that night.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, Grace Coolidge (Mrs. Cal), Jackie Kennedy, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Lady Byrd Johnson, Maureen Reagan, Carl Sandburg, and numerous staffers all either saw Lincoln or sensed his presence. And he's not a stay-at-home spook. He's been spotted all over the White House, and even around his Springfield, Illinois, grave site.

A bodyguard to Benjamin Harrison had to pull night duty trying to protect the president from mysterious footsteps he heard in the hall. Harrison was convinced they belonged to Lincoln pacing the hallway.

Little Willie, Abe's son who died while living in the White House, was often seen by Mary Todd Lincoln, his mom, and others through the U.S. Grant administration. It was thought that he crossed over to join his parents then, although LBJ's daughter Lynda was alleged to have felt his presence one night in the 1960's. Soooo...

Mrs. Lincoln started another tale when she said she heard Old Hickory, Andrew Jackson, hollering and swearing up a storm in his former office, the Rose Bedroom (often called the Queen's Suite). Others have heard laughter coming from the room. He's still supposed to haunt the old canopy bed, although he manifests himself more as a cold spot than as an actual apparition, which is no doubt a relief to the White House maid.

An original occupant frequents the East Room. Abigail Adams was the inaugural First Lady to move in to the White House, which wasn't quite up to snuff at the time. The only room in the White House that wasn't dank and humid then was the East Room, and that's where Abigail would hang the presidential laundry.

Maybe someone should have told her when her hubby John's term was over; she's still spotted in the room occasionally, carrying an armful of damp clothes to dry. You'd think a helpful psychic would at least point her in the direction of a DC laundromat.

The best tale, though, may be the sighting of Dolley Madison. She loved gardening, and planted the famous White House Rose Garden. Ellen Wilson (others swear it was Woodrow's second wife, Edith), wasn't a fan, and decided to take out the roses for her own arrangement. As the laborers approached with their shovels, ready to dig out the thorny beauties, Dolley's misty image appeared to the work gang.

Actually, she did more than show up; she scolded the workers and warned them not to harm a stem in her garden. They dropped their tools and fled at Olympic speed from the wraith's wrath. Needless to say, the Rose Garden remains in place to this day, and Dolley is sometimes seen there, just enjoying her roses.

Hey, you don't even have to be a Yankee to join the spooky scene. The ghost of Anne Surratt has been seen beating on the doors of the White House every July 7th, the date her mother, Mary Surratt, was hung for her part in the Lincoln assassination in 1865.

And there's a story of a British soldier who died on the grounds in 1814 when the White House was burned during the War of 1812. People see his spirit wandering the front lawn, torch in hand, hoping to finish off the Brit arson job on the White House. The redcoat has also been seen on the second floor, where it's alleged he once tried to set a bed on fire with his torch.

Heck, you don't even have to be a person. The White House basement is supposed to be home to the Demon Cat, who only shows in times of national disaster, like the Stock Market Crash of 1920 or JFK's assassination. The Demon starts out as a black kitten, but as you approach it, the cat becomes larger and more menacing, growing absolutely Puma-esque. Let's hope no one spots that kitty for a long while.

The White House has had many seances held there, dating from the time of Mary Todd Lincoln. Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton have been quoted on odd happenings in the White House, and both are alleged to have held seances while living there.

Laura Bush and Michelle Obama have seemed to resist the urge to dabble with the supernatural, though the current First Lady still has lots of time to break out the ouija board.

Even a no-nonsense, show-me Missourian like Harry S. Truman was a believer. It's said that he wrote to his wife Bess: "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'!"

We'll take his word for it.

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