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The White House of Horrors: 4 Ghosts Haunting 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

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Wikimedia Commons

Sure, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue isn't exactly the Amityville house, but that big, drafty mansion is one of the most haunted of houses in America. Over the decades, and particularly in the early ones, the presidents and families who have called the White House home suffered the turmoils of war, illness, depression, and even death. So it's no wonder that some tortured souls might want to return for unfinished business.

After moving into the White House in 1945, Harry Truman wrote to his wife Bess about their spooky new abode: "I sit here in this old house … 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]."

Who, exactly, is wandering the White House's cavernous halls? Here, a rumored rundown of the ghosts lurking at the country's most famous address.

1. Abigail Adams


John and Abigail Adams were the first residents of the White House, which was still under construction when they moved in at the turn of the 18th century. While they didn't live there long (Adams wasn't re-elected), Abigail—or at least her ghost—made a lasting impression on the house. With most rooms still being built, the First Lady preferred to hang her wash in the East Room as it was the warmest and driest available. In later years, this room would be used for receptions, and members of the Taft administration reported seeing a ghostly Mrs. Adams, clad in a cap and lace shawl with arms outstretched as if carrying laundry, saunter through. Others noted a light soapy fragrance drift through the room.

2. Andrew Jackson

It was actually during Lincoln's presidency that the ghost of Andrew Jackson, the country's seventh president, returned to the White House. Mary Todd Lincoln said in 1865 that she actually confronted his "cantankerous" ghost in his former bedroom, the Rose Room. Argumentative and fiery in life, Jackson's ghost was just as boisterous in the hereafter. Mrs. Lincoln reportedly heard Jackson "stomping about" and even "cussing" in his old room. His hauntings persisted, and by the 1950s the Rose Room earned the reputation as the most possessed location in the White House. Visitors have reported the sound of loud laughing and unexplained cold spots in the creepy space.

3. Dolley Madison


Wikimedia Commons

Dolley Madison, the wife of our country's fourth president, James Madison, had her eyes set on the White House garden from the get-go. It was Dolley who planted the original, now famous White House roses, and it is believed that her spirit continues to return to check on her beloved flowers. Nearly a century later, when First Lady Edith Wilson attempted to remove the garden, workers reported seeing a "very angry" Dolley apparition and quit the job immediately.

4. Abraham Lincoln

Honest Abe is considered the most common White House ghost, but the Lincolns' connection to the spiritual world began while they were still alive. In 1862, after losing a second son, Mary Todd Lincoln was so distraught that she turned to spiritualists in an attempt to communicate with her beloved Willie. She held seances and "sittings" in the White House, which Abe reportedly joined, despite an outward show of skepticism.

For his part, Lincoln is considered our most "otherworldly" president. In an 1842 letter to his friend Joshua Speed, Lincoln wrote, "I always did have a strong tendency to mysticism." Later, he foresaw his death in a dream. And it is that abbreviated second term that draws Lincoln back to the White House. A number of White House residents who came after reportedly saw his lanky figure or felt his presence. Calvin Coolidge's wife Grace saw him standing, looking out a window of the Oval Office across the Potomac to the former Civil War battlefields. Other First Ladies, including Eleanor Roosevelt—who used Lincoln's bedroom as her study—and Lady Bird Johnson, reportedly "felt his presence." When Winston Churchill visited the White House during World War II, the British Prime Minister reportedly came out of the bath to find a ghostly Lincoln sitting by the fireplace in his room. Later, Ronald Reagan told the story of how his grown-up daughter, Maureen, and her husband, Dennis, had both witnessed, at different times, a transparent figure wearing a stove-pipe hat standing by the window of the Lincoln bedroom where they stayed. But fear not, visitors. It's believed Lincoln's spirit is a good one and sticks around only to be of help during times of crisis.

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0
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Get Your GIFs Ready for This International Public Domain GIF-Making Competition
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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0

Excellent GIF-making skills can serve you beyond material for your clever tweets. Each year, a group of four digital libraries from across the world hosts GIF IT UP, a competition to find the best animated image sourced from public domain images from their archives.

The competition is sponsored by Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), New Zealand’s DigitalNZ, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove, all of which host millions of public domain works. The requirements are that the source material must be in the public domain, have a 'no known copyright restrictions' statement, or have a Creative Commons license that allows its reuse. The material must also come from one of the sponsored sources. Oh, and judging by the past winners, it helps if it’s a little whimsical.

The image above won the grand prize in 2015. And this was a runner-up in 2016:

via GIPHY

This year’s prizes haven’t been announced yet (although Europeana says there will be a new one for first-time GIF makers), but last year’s grand prize winner got their own Giphoscope, and runners-up got $20 gift cards. (Turns out, there’s not a lot of money in public domain art.)

Not an expert GIFer yet? You can always revisit the audio version of DPLA’s advanced GIF-making tutorial from last year.

The fourth-annual GIF IT UP contest opens to submissions October 1.

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