Haunted House: White House

1846 daguerrotype of the White House (courtesy Wikimedia Commons and the Library of Congress)

1846 daguerrotype of the White House (courtesy Wikimedia Commons and the Library of Congress)

Current White House Fun Facts:

  • There are 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, and 6 levels to accommodate all the people who live in, work in, and visit the White House. There are also 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, and 3 elevators.
  • The White House has six floors—two basements, two public floors, and two floors for the First Family.
  • At various times in history, the White House has been known as the “President’s Palace,” the “President’s House,” and the “Executive Mansion.” President Theodore Roosevelt officially gave the White House its current name in 1901.
  • The White House receives approximately 6,000 visitors a day.
  • The White House requires 570 gallons of paint to cover its outside surface.
  • The White House was the biggest house in the United States until the Civil War.
  • The rounded portico that we are all familiar with (and seen in the photo above) is actually the rear of the house.
  • The White House has 5 ghosts.

Surprised?

Well, it might be difficult to believe the White House is haunted if you believe that ghosts tend to haunt the place the living person died, but if you believe that a ghost haunts a place well-loved during the lifetime of the individual, then it makes perfect sense.

The oldest of the ghosts is that of Abigail Adams, wife of second President John Adams. The Adamses resided in the House for the shortest period of time, while it was being constructed. Mrs Adams is most frequently found in the East Room of the White House, a place that despite it’s current grandeur, was used as a laundry room by Abigail. Various sources have stated she is seen carrying a laundry basket or simply an armload of clothing to or from the room. Her ghost was seen as early as 1913 as documented in The Washington Herald on March 2, 1913:

President-elect Wilson when he comes to Washington will take up his residence in a haunted dwelling. The White House has long been famous for its ghosts.

The most interesting of these spectres is that of a woman with a cap of antique pattern, a garment resembling a lace shawl, and widely distended hoop-skirts.She is not seen at midnight, as is customary with most well-regulated ghosts, but just before daybreak, gliding slowly along the hallway, which extends lengthwise through the middle of the White House. It is always from the west end to the east that she moves, and when she reaches the closed double doors, which give entrance to the East Room, she passes through them, as if they offered no obstacle, and vanishes.

Nobody can tell with positiveness, of course, but the supposition is that the phantom is that of Abigail Adams, the first mistress of the White House. She took up her residence in the mansion in the autumn of 1800, when it was as yet by no means finished, and history relates that she used the East Room (originally intended for a banqueting hall) as a laundry, drying the family wash there.

The next ghost in line of succession is that of Dolley Madison, wife of fourth President James Madison. Best known today for her heroic rescue of the Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington before the British set fire to the White House during the War of 1812, Mrs Madison’s ghost is actually an outdoor haunting.

The beautiful rose garden which is so well-known and often seen at the White House is there courtesy of Mrs Madison. Dolley loved her garden so much that 100 years later, when First Lady Edith Wilson (wife of President Woodrow Wilson) wanted to have the garden dug up, garden workers reported that Dolley’s ghost prevented them from complying with her request. Any inexplicable scent of roses in the White House is attributed to Mrs Madison’s lingering presence.

Ghost No. 3 is not a president nor a president’s wife, but actually that of a man who in life was bent on destroying the White House. In 1814, the War of 1812 was well under way and on August 24th of that year, 4,000 battle hardened British troops moved toward Washington, bent on destruction. Though the more valuable port at Baltimore lay not far away, the British leaders felt that a sharper blow would be to burn down the country’s capital.

One of the men sent to set the President’s Palace (as the White House was then known) also became an unfortunate victim of his own work. No name is associated with this ghost, but it appears that he returns on occasion in an attempt to finish the job. After the Truman-era renovations, it is believed the spirit was seen attempting to set fire to a bed. (No indication of a real fire or just a ghostly fire that he laid on the bed.) He has also been standing at the front door, torch in hand, ready to complete his part of the plot.

Water color and ink rendering of the burnt White House after the 1814 fire. (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Water color and ink rendering of the burnt White House after the 1814 fire. (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The fourth ghost which is believed to roam the halls and rooms of the White House is that of the seventh president of the United States: Andrew Jackson. Evidence of President Jackson’s ghost is generally found in the Rose Room where he can be heard either laughing heartily or swearing violently. Mrs Mary Todd Lincoln was the first to “discover” Jackson’s lingering spirit as she often had regular seances after the death of her son Willie. White House seamstress Lilian Parker also reported to have felt his presence over her while she worked.

The fifth ghost is also the most well-known of them all. The country’s 16th president: Abraham Lincoln. The most famous story surrounding that of President Lincoln was when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was visiting the White House.

…the British leader had just emerged from a bath, wearing nothing and smoking a cigar. He reportedly met the late president.

“Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage,” Churchill allegedly said. He also refused to stay in the room after the encounter.

Another notable visitor also had an encounter with President Lincoln. In 1945, while on an official state visit, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was staying in the Rose Room. One night as she lay in bed sleeping, she was awakened by a soft tapping at her bedroom door. Upon answering the tapping, she discovered Lincoln’s ghost on the other side of the threshold. She fainted dead away.

Many others have seen Lincoln’s ghost as well: Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, and Dwight Eisenhower; First Ladies Jackie Kennedy and Ladybird Johnson; and presidential children Susan Ford and Maureen Reagan.

Unusually, there is one ghost which makes an annual appearance on July 7th, in connection with President Lincoln: Anne Surrat. Ms Surrat was the daughter of Mary Surrat, allegedly one of the co-conspirators in the assassination of President Lincoln and the first woman to be hanged for her crime. Anne is occasionally spotted banging on the front doors, begging for her mother’s release while on her annual July 7th appearance, she is seen sitting on the steps. July 7th is the anniversary of her mother’s execution.

Sources:

The Washington Herald, March 02, 1913

The British Burn Washington

Ghost stories part of the White House’s legacy

Top 10 haunted areas of the White House

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands

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