A Haunted History
D.C. Uncovered

Kennedy Headshot_SketchThere are much scarier things than the 5 p.m. traffic in D.C. Many claim that in this city there are many, many ghosts.

The supernatural lurks all over Washington, from the Decatur house, where windows were forced to be boarded up after so many passersby spotted its deceased former owner staring back at them, to Lafayette Park, where the ghost of Phillip Barton Key stalks the place he was shot by his friend over an affair, to the Old Stone House, where a spirit named George is known to touch and push visitors.

These sites are a forceful reminder of the romances, the tragedies, the drama and the tangled relationships of the past. In key places, the sightings of specters and spirits reveal a terrible personal history of the capitol city.

The Octagon House, at 1799 New York Ave. NW, is deemed by many as one of the most haunted places in D.C. A key feature of this stately house is the large spiral staircase with a low bannister, which was the site of two tragedies. Both daughters of Colonel Tayloe, the original owner, died on this treacherous staircase at different times after taking a fatal misstep while arguing with their father about their forbidden relationships. The house teems with reports of moans, thumping sounds from inside the walls, screams and ringing bells rung by no living human. The sounds are attributed to the many former occupants of the house, including officers, gamblers, slaves, servants and even Dolly Madison. The house is now the museum for the American Institute of Architects and can be visited by the public just as long as people walk carefully up and down the stairs.

The luxurious Hay-Adams hotel at 800 16th St. NW is said to haunted by an unlucky Clover. Clover, known better as Marian Adams, was the wife of the hotel’s original owner, Henry Adams, and committed suicide after being severely depressed over her father’s death. Although she died before hotel’s construction, many dubiously claim that she is a permanent resident in the hotel. Housekeepers have held her responsible when a whole floor of doors opened at the same time and continue to blame her when doors refuse to lock and when her signature scent of almonds and the sounds of sobbing fill the eighth floor.

The gleaming white Capitol is filled with more than just politicians; it is rife with reports of ghosts.

The most famous apparition is the “Demon Cat,” who is a spectral cat said to appear at times of national crisis. However, most of the Capitol’s spectral sightings are not supernatural animals but frustrated historical figures.

One of the earliest incidents occurred in 1808. John Lenthall, the Capitol’s construction superintendent, was crushed by a falling ceiling, and allegedly with his dying breath Lenthall cursed the building. This curse might be one of the reason the Capitol seems to be a spectral playground of historical figures.

In these halls, it is said the ghosts of representatives resume old debates after the toll of midnight, President John Quincy Adams, who had a stroke on the House of Representatives’ floor, is still trying to give his final speech and Vice President Henry Wilson can be heard splashing in his killer bathtub where he had a fatal stroke after falling asleep there.

The ghosts reportedly even try to intervene with current inhabitants. In 1890, William Taulbee assaulted Charles E. Kincaid, a journalist, after the reporter ruined his career.  When Kincaid ran encountered Taulbee again on a marble staircase leading from the House chambers, he shot him. The steps where Taulbee was shot allegedly contain the bloodstains, and many claim whenever a reporter slips on these steps, Taulbee’s ghost briefly appears.

These sites just help prove D.C. is truly haunted more by the memories of its history than by ghostly apparitions.


Blair Kennedy is a rising junior in the College. D.C. Uncovered appears every other Monday.

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