Washington, District of Columbia is home to one of the most haunted places in the country, The White House. Come explore its mystery with Haunted Journeys.
Our first president, George Washington, selected the site for the White House in 1791. The cornerstone was laid in 1792 and a competition design submitted by Irish-born architect James Hoban was chosen. After eight years of construction, President John Adams and his wife, Abigail, moved into the unfinished house in 1800.
During the War of 1812, the British set fire to the President’s House in 1814. James Hoban was appointed to rebuild the house, and President James Monroe moved into the building in 1817. During Monroe’s administration, the South Portico was constructed in 1824, and Andrew Jackson oversaw the addition of the North Portico in 1829.
During the late 19th century, various proposals were made to significantly expand the President’s House or to build an entirely new house for the president, but these plans were never realized.
There have been several stories about the ghosts of former Presidents of the United States revisiting the White House, with perhaps the most common and popular one being that of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's Ghost, otherwise known as The White House Ghost, is said to have haunted the White House since his death in 1865. It has been reported that the former president's footsteps are said to be heard in the hall outside the Lincoln Bedroom. In addition, many notable claims have surfaced of seeing Lincoln's apparition. His presence has been felt by multitudes as well.
Many notables have actually seen Lincoln's phantom in the White House. The first person reported having actually seen Lincoln's spirit was First Lady Grace Coolidge, who said she saw the ghost of Lincoln standing at a window in the Yellow Oval Room staring out at the Potomac. Theodore Roosevelt, a number of staff members of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, and Maureen Reagan and her husband have all claimed to have seen a spectral Lincoln in the White House. On one occasion Roosevelt's personal chauffeur ran screaming from the White House claiming he had seen Lincoln's ghost.
In 1942, the most famous incident was when Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands allegedly heard footsteps outside her White House bedroom. Upon answering a knock on her door, she saw Lincoln in a frock coat and top hat standing in front of her. She immediately followed with a faint! Another notable encounter with Lincoln's spirit was with President Lyndon Johnson during a period of great worries. President Johnson reportedly spoke to Lincoln, asking him how he handled the unpopular Civil War. Johnson was dealing with massive backlash over the Vietnam War). Lincoln reportedly replied, "don't go to the theater."
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill loved to retire late, take a long, hot bath while drinking a Scotch, and smoke a cigar and relax. There is an account that on this occasion, he climbed out of the bath and naked, but for his cigar, walked into the adjoining bedroom. He was startled to see Lincoln standing by the fireplace in the room, leaning on the mantle. Churchill, always quick on the uptake, simply took his cigar out of his mouth, tapped the ash off the end of his cigar, and said "Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage." Lincoln smiled softly as if laughing and disappeared. Churchill smiled in embarrassment.
Eleanor Roosevelt never admitted to having seen Lincoln's ghost but did say that she felt his presence repeatedly throughout the White House. She also said that the Roosevelt family dog, Fala, would sometimes bark for no reason at what she felt was Lincoln's ghost. Other claims came from President Dwight Eisenhower's press secretary, James Hagerty, and Liz Carpenter, press secretary to First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, both said they felt Lincoln's presence many times. Margaret Truman, daughter of President Harry S. Truman, said she heard a specter rapping at the door of the Lincoln Bedroom when she stayed there and believed it was Lincoln.
Of interest, one of the most famous photographs apparently shows Mary Todd Lincoln with the spirit of her husband, Abraham Lincoln. As imagined, this image was of much controversial discussion. Psychics and parapsychologists have claimed this is authentic, captured by Spirit Photographer, William H. Mumler. Others have dismissed it as being an accidental double exposure. (See image below in our Gallery #2.)
Another point of interest with about Lincoln's Supernatural presence is that Lincoln is believed to have attended two seances his wife held in the White House. He actually foresaw his own death more than once, including in a dream he had shortly before he was killed.
Abraham Lincoln is not the only Lincoln ghost witnesses claim to have seen in the White House. Willie Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's 11-year-old son, died in the White House of typhoid on February 20, 1862. Willie Lincoln's ghost was first reported to have been seen in the White House by staff members of the Grant administration in the 1870s, but reports have been made as recently as the 1960s. President Lyndon B. Johnson's college-age daughter, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, claims to have seen the ghost and talked to him.
Mary Todd Lincoln, who was a strong believer of the Occult, said she witnessed Andrew Jackson stomping and swearing through the halls of the presidential residence. The Rose Room, Jackson’s bedroom while he was president, is believed by some to be one of the most haunted rooms in the White House. She chronicled that she saw the ghosts of Thomas Jefferson and John Tyler in the Yellow Oval Room.
A lesser-known early White House personality who has been said to haunt its halls was David Burns. History tells us that Burns sold the government most of the land on which the city of Washington is located, including the White House. It's been chronicled in a staffer's autobiography that President Franklin D. Roosevelt heard a disembodied voice coming from a distance in the Yellow Oval Room. It said, “I’m Mr. Burns.” During Harry S. Truman’s administration, a guard heard a similar voice. He thought it was past Secretary of State James Byrnes. When he went looking for him, he discovered the secretary hadn’t been at the White House that day.
Another spirit that lurks the White House, specifically in its attic, is the ghost of William Henry Harrison. He can be heard rummaging about up there. In the East Room, White House staffers have reported seeing the ghost of Abigail Adams hanging laundry in this (once) breezy space. Her apparition has also been seen passing through closed doors with her arms outstretched. Many say this is her laundry because a faint aroma of damp clothes and soap is detected.
The story of Anne Surratt is another interesting to the collection of haunts at the White House. Her apparition has been seen in the North Portico, pounding on the doors of the White House. She is said to be pleading for the release of her mother, Mary Surratt. She was executed in 1865 for her part in the conspiracy to the assassination of President Lincoln. She is said to also appear on the steps of the White House on July 7th, the anniversary of her mother's execution in the scaffolds.
The ghost of Dolley Madison has also appeared in the Rose Garden during the Wilson administration. Dolley had plated the garden a hundred years prior, but Mrs. Wilson gave orders to have it dug up. Workmen reported that Dolley's phantom appeared in the garden, keeping them from completing the job. Sure to be said, the garden was classified as off-limits to all that wanted to unearth Dolley's work.
Mrs. Grover Cleveland was the first First Lady to have given birth at the White House. Many say this explains the cries they here from the second floor. In another bedroom, the ghost of a British soldier appeared to a visiting couple in 1953. He was identified as carrying a torch, attempting to burn their bed. He has actually been seen by other at the White House and thought to be the spirit of the soldier involved in setting fire to the property in 1814.
In summary, a letter that Harry Truman (America's 33rd president) verified the tremendous haunted congregation that the White House regularly hosts. In June 1945, only two months into his first term, Truman wrote to his wife Bess about his experiences in the White House. He wrote, “I sit here in this old house and work on foreign affairs, read reports, and work on speeches–all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway and even right in here in the study. The floors pop and the drapes move back and forth–I can just imagine old Andy [Jackson] and Teddy [Roosevelt] having an argument over Franklin [Roosevelt].”
The history of the White House haunts has been featured on various cable shows, including Travel Channel's "Haunted History".
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