The Quick 10: 10 Ghosts Lurking at the White House
We live in an old house, and I occasionally see things out of the corner of my eye that make me wonder. There are many totally logical explanations for this, including paranoia, a mirror in a built-in wall cabinet that catches my reflection, and three dogs who move in and out of my line of vision quite stealthily. But even if we did have a couple of ghosties wandering around our house, it’s nothing compared to the phantom population in the White House. These are just 10 of them.
1. Note to the White House gardener: do not try to dig up Dolley Madison’s rose garden. Woodrow Wilson’s wife, Ellen, wanted to have the rose garden replaced during her tenure as First Lady. When workmen tried to carry out her orders, Dolley reportedly scared them into leaving it alone.
2. A mysterious Mr. Burns shows up once every few administrations, politely introducing himself. It happened to FDR’s valet, Cesar Carrera, who heard a voice calling his name from a distance as he stood in the Yellow Oval Room. When he turned to see who it was, the voice declared, “I’m Mr. Burns.” A guard during the Truman administration heard the exact same thing in the exact same spot. It’s speculated that Mr. Burns may be David Burns, the man who had to give up his land to make room for the construction of the White House in 1790. Apparently he’s still trying to stake his claim 220 years later.
3. There are several people wandering the second floor of the White House, which is where the First Family lives. Abigail Adams, Eleanor Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln have all been spotted. We’re not sure which one it was who scared the crap out of Harry Truman, though – Harry once 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'!"
4. Abigail Adams doesn’t stick to the residential areas – she also shows up in the East Room from time to time. Back in her day, the East Room was the best place for Mrs. Adams to dry the laundry because it was the warmest place in the drafty, incomplete White House. Her ghost was a common sight during the Taft presidency, and sometimes people visiting the East Room smell wet clothes and soap when there’s really no logical reason to smell such things.
5. President Lincoln might as well still be collecting a salary based on how often he seems to be at the White House. Winston Churchill had a famous encounter with Lincoln in the Lincoln bedroom. After a hot bath with a Scotch and a cigar, Churchill climbed out of the bath naked (obviously) and went back into the bedroom to get ready for bed. To his surprise, the room was already occupied by our 16th president. Churchill managed to quip, “"Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage,” before Abe disappeared. Sounds a bit too perfect to me, but it sure makes for a good story. Other people who have seen Lincoln include his biographer, Carl Sandburg; Grace Coolidge; Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands who fainted when she saw him; Teddy Roosevelt; Herbert Hoover; Nancy Reagan; Dwight D. Eisenhower and Jackie Kennedy. It’s rumored that Lincoln’s ghost appears the night before a national tragedy.
6. White House guests who hear a man unabashedly cursing but can’t find a body to accompany the swearing may very well be hearing Andrew Jackson. His old canopy bed is used in the Rose Bedroom, so he must feel at ease occupying the room. Mary Todd Lincoln thought she encountered him in 1865; he was cursing about something. One of LBJ’s aides heard the exact same thing in the Rose Bedroom in 1964. And a White House seamstress once felt Jackson lean over her as she was hemming the bedspread on his bed.
7. Mary Todd also thought she saw Thomas Jefferson in the Yellow Oval Room on multiple occasions. Although we may want to take Mary Todd’s sightings with a grain of salt, other visitors have reported hearing phantom violin music from this room – a sign that Jefferson may still be practicing his favorite instrument even in the great beyond.
8. Despite the fact that the War of 1812 has been over for nearly 200 years, one British soldier is still trying to burn the place down. He has been spotted carrying a torch around the White House grounds, and in 1953, a couple visiting the Eisenhowers had a rather close encounter with him: the soldier had spent the entire night attempting to set fire to the bed in which they slept.
9. It’s said that strange thumps and bumps are often heard from the White House attic, which regulars know is simply William Henry Harrison rummaging around for something. Why they know it’s Harrison and what he’s eternally looking for is unknown.
10. I wonder if the ghost of Lincoln has ever run across the ghost of Anna Surratt. Anna’s mother, Mary, was executed for playing a part in Lincoln’s assassination, the only woman in the group. Anna is still seen beating on the doors of the White House, pleading for her mother’s life. She’s seen on July 7, the day Mary was hanged.