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WHITE HOUSE GHOSTS
By Dennis William Hauck
The White House has a reputation for being one of the most haunted homes in America. President Harry Truman said the place was haunted "sure as shooting." Kennedy’s Press Secretary James Haggerty admitted to sensing the presence of Lincoln’s ghost in the White House, and Clinton’s Press Secretary Mike McCurry admitted he was a believer: "There are, from time to time, reports that the White House is haunted by mysterious appearances of figures from history, and I believe them. There have been serious people who have serious tales to tell about these encounters, and there are many people who seriously believe that there is a haunting quality to the White House."
Hillary Rodham Clinton said: "There is something about the house at night that you just feel like you are summoning up the spirits of all the people who have lived there and worked there and walked through the halls there." On the “Rosie O'Donnell Show,” the former first lady noted: "It's neat. It can be a little creepy. You know, they think there's a ghost there. It is a big old house, and when the lights are out it is dark and quiet and any movement at all catches your attention."
There have been many séances in the White House, but the majority occurred during the administration of Abraham Lincoln. While living in the White House, he and his wife held several séances in the Green Room in an attempt to contact the spirit of their son, Willie, who died there. One medium who visited the White House regularly gave Lincoln advice from great leaders of history. At one of those séances, the spirit of Daniel Webster pleaded with Lincoln to follow through with his efforts to free the slaves. Medium J.B. Conklin conveyed a message to Lincoln from his close friend, Edward Baker, who had been killed at the battle of Ball's Bluff. The cryptic message said: "Gone elsewhere. Elsewhere is everywhere." In 1863, medium Charles Shockle visited the White House and performed a levitation. At another levitation, Lincoln allegedly ordered a Maine congressman to sit on top of a piano that was floating in mid-air. Following the assassination of her husband, Mary Todd Lincoln sought contact with his spirit through mediums and séances, and felt that she had succeeded. Members of household of Ulysses S. Grant's are said to have conversed with the ghost of young Willie Lincoln during a séance in his former second floor bedroom. The photo of Mary Todd Lincoln and a ghostly figure at left was taken by photographer William Mumler, but it is believed to have been an accidental double exposure.
In his book The Choice, Bob Woodward of Watergate fame describes how in 1995, a séance was held by psychic Jean Houston in the White House solarium, during which Hillary sank into a trance and channeled the spirits of Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi. There are also rumors that in the late 1970s, Nancy Reagan’s personal astrologer, Joan Quigley, arranged another attempt to communicate with spirits through the “White House portal.”
Longtime White House Chief Usher Gary Walters described his encounter in a 2003 article about ghosts in the White House published on the official White House website (www.whitehouse.gov): “Several staff members have had eerie experiences. Once, three police officers and I were standing at the state floor of the White House. We all felt a cool rush of air pass between us, and then two doors that stand open closed by themselves. I have never seen these doors move before without somebody specifically closing them by hand. It was quite remarkable."
(The White House is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20500. White House tours can be arranged by contacting the White House Visitor Center, 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004. Phone: 202-208-1631. For a 24-hour recording of tour information, call 202-456-7041. For general information on the White House, write the National Capitol Region, 1100 Ohio Drive SW, Washington, DC 20242.)
North Portico The ghost of Anne Surratt has been seen pounding on the doors of the White House, pleading for the release of her mother. Mary Surratt was executed in 1865 for her part in the conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln. Her daughter is said to appear on the steps of the White House on July 7, the anniversary of her mother's trip to the scaffolds. The tenants of the H Street apartment house where Mary lived reported eerie moaning and sobbing sounds for many years.
The ghost of a British soldier from the War of 1812 is said to walk the grounds in front of the White House at night. He is said to be a remnant of the 1814 attempt by the British to burn the White House. The menacing apparitions is always seen with a blazing torch in his hand. Other ghosts seen in the front of the White House are a long-deceased White House usher still turning off lights and a former White House doorman who acts like he is still be on the job. (The North Portico is the front entrance to the White House.)
Rose Garden The ghost of Dorothea Paine "Dolley" Madison, wife of President James Madison, appeared in the Rose Garden most frequently during the administration of Woodrow Wilson. Dolley had planted the garden a hundred years earlier, but First Lady Ellen Louise Wilson gave orders to have it dug up. Workmen reported Dolley's ghost appeared in the garden and kept them from carrying out their job. After that, no one dared harm the famous White House Rose Garden, and Dolley's original rose garden continues to bloom to this day. (The Rose Garden is on the White House grounds.)
Attic The ghost of William Henry Harrison can sometimes be heard rummaging about in the White House attic. What he is looking for has never been determined. During the Truman administration, a guard heard the voice of David Burns, who was forced to give up his land for the White House property in 1790, coming from the attic area above the Oval Room.
Basement Some versions of the story of Washington's Demon Cat (“D.C.”), place the phantom cat in the White House basement. Another version puts the supernatural black cat in the basement of the U.S. Capitol Building, possibly in the room known as the Crypt. According to the legend, years go by without a sighting of the Demon Cat, but when it does appear a national disaster is likely to occur within a short period of time. A creepy detail, of some versions of the story, warns that while the Demon Cat may first appear as a helpless looking kitten, it grows in size and menace the closer one moves toward it. A guard claimed to have seen it a week before the great stock market crash of the 1920s; it was also seen right before JFK died.
East Room White House staffers have reported the ghost of Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams, hanging laundry in this airy room. She is the "oldest" ghost still to be encountered in the White House today. During her time in the White House, there was a problem with where to hang the laundry to dry, since the White House was not yet fully complete, and it was not adequately heated. The warmest and driest place in the White House was the East Room, and that is where Mrs. Adams hung her clothes line. There were dozens of sightings of her ghost during the Taft administration, and to this day, Abigail Adams can sometimes be seen hurrying towards the East Room with her arms outstretched as if she is carrying a load of laundry. Sometimes the faint smell of damp clothes and soap is detected. In 2002, tourists reported a ghostly figure moving around in the second floor balcony of the East Wing. The East Room is also part of the legend of Abraham Lincoln. His body lay in state in this room, just as he dreamed it would. (The East Room is on the first floor of the White House and is part of the White House tours.)
Lincoln Bedroom President Lincoln was perhaps the nation's most mystical leader, and he generated tremendous psychic energy. In November 1860, Lincoln told his wife he knew he would be elected for a second term but would die in office, and he saw his own assassination in a series of dreams three days before that fateful day of April 14, 1865. Afterwards, many people reported seeing his ghost in the White House. Grace Coolidge, wife of Calvin Coolidge, was the first person to report having seen Lincoln's apparition in the White House. She said that he stood at a window of the Oval Office, hands clasped behind his back, gazing out over the Potomac. She saw his ghost repeatedly after that.
Cesar Carrera, Franklin D. Roosevelt's personal valet, ran screaming from the White House one day, after seeing Lincoln's ghost. Eleanor Roosevelt's assistant, Mary Eben, saw the ghost sitting on his bed pulling off his boots. Even the Roosevelt's dog, Fala, was said to have sensed Lincoln’s presence. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was a guest of the White House when she heard a knock on her bedroom door in the middle of the night. When she answered it, Lincoln stood before her with his famous top hat and all. The Queen fainted, and when she came too, he was gone.
Britain's Winston Churchill refused to sleep there after sighting President Abraham Lincoln's ghost lurking about, and there is an interesting story in that regard. During one of Winston Churchill's visits to the United States during World War II, he spent the night in the Lincoln Bedroom. Churchill retired late after relaxing in a long, hot bath while drinking a Scotch and smoking a cigar. He climbed out of the bath naked, except for his cigar, and walked into the adjoining bedroom. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Abraham Lincoln standing by the fireplace in the room, leaning on the mantle. The two men looked each other in the face, in seeming embarrassment, as Lincoln’s apparition slowly faded away.
Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Margaret Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, Ladybird Johnson, Susan Ford, and Maureen Reagan have all admitted sensing the presence of the Civil War president in the White House. Ladybird, wife of Lyndon Johnson, witnessed Lincoln's mysterious presence while she watched a television program about his assassination. She felt compelled to read a plaque above the fireplace, which explained the dead president's connection to the room. Gerald Ford's daughter, Susan, saw Lincoln's ghost in the room in the 1980s. In 1987, Ronald Reagan's daughter, Maureen, and her husband, Dennis Revell, both saw Lincoln's transparent form next to the bedroom's fireplace.
Lincoln’s ghost is known to walk up and down the second floor hallway, rap at doors, and stand by certain windows with his hands clasped behind his back. A bodyguard to President Harrison was kept awake many nights trying to protect the president from mysterious footsteps he heard in the hall. He grew so tired and worried; he finally attended a séance to beg President Lincoln to stop so he could get enough sleep to properly protect the living president. One White House staff member reported that after turning off the lights of the chandelier in the Lincoln bedroom, they came back on for no apparent reason. He rushed into the Lincoln Bedroom, hoping to see the famous ghost. While he did not see a spirit, he did feel an icy cold spot in the room, which he attributed to the ghost of Lincoln. Another staff member arrived at the White House very early in the morning and was shocked to see a very clear ghostly image of Lincoln outside of his former office. The staff member blinked and the apparition was gone. He reported the event to his superior and learned that several other staff members had reported similar encounters. Recently, an Operations Manager at the White House encountered Lincoln’s ghost in the second floor hall. (Lincoln’s Bedroom was actually Lincoln's Cabinet Room. He signed the Emancipation Proclamation here. It was named the Lincoln Bedroom when his 9-foot-long bed was moved here. The room is on the second floor, between the Treaty Room and the Yellow Oval Room.)
Rose Bedroom The ghost of Andrew Jackson is said to haunt his old canopy bed here. White House personnel have reported an inexplicable cold spot and the sound of hearty laughter coming from the empty bed. In 1865, Mary Todd Lincoln reported encountering Jackson's ghost “swearing up a storm,” and in the 1930's Jackson's ghost was heard laughing in his former bedroom by many staff members. In the 1950s, White House seamstress Lilian Parks felt Jackson's presence lean over her, while she sat hemming a bedspread in a chair next to his bed. An aide to Lyndon Johnson heard the cussing, hollering ghost of Jackson in this room in 1964.
The Rose Room is also known as the Queen's Suite, because visiting Queens have often stayed there. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was sleeping in this room, when she answered a knock at the door. Standing in the hallway was the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, whose bedroom was right across the hall. (The Rose Bedroom is on the second floor of the White House.)
Other Second Floor Bedrooms President Johnson's daughter, Lynda Johnson Robb, sensed Willie Lincoln’s spirit in his former bedroom on this floor. The cries of Mrs. Grover Cleveland have also been reported coming from this area of the White House. She was the first president's wife to have a baby in the building. In another bedroom, in 1953, the ghost of a British soldier appeared carrying a torch. The husband and wife who stayed there said the ghost tried to burn their bed. The same ghost has been seen on other occasions in the White House and is thought to be the spirit of a soldier involved in setting fire to the structure on August 24, 1814. In 1952, extensive repairs were done to the second floor of the White House. Since then, the ghosts have not walked so actively. (The bedrooms on the second floor are used by the presidential family and are not open to the general public.)
Second Floor Halls During William Taft's presidency, the ghost of John Adam's wife, Abigail, was first reported passing through doors on the second floor of the White House. More recently, she has been reported roaming through the second floor hall and balcony. The footsteps of Abraham Lincoln have also been reported in this corridor by several White House residents, including Eleanor Roosevelt. Harry Truman once wrote to his wife: "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'!" (The entire second floor of the White House is the private residence of the presidential family.)
Yellow Oval Room Grace Coolidge first saw Lincoln’s ghost in this room. When Lincoln was alive, he used the room as a library and spent a lot of time meditating here, while gazing out the windows. White House employees have seen his figure standing in front of those same windows. Army Chaplain E.C. Bowles remembers Lincoln's sad look as his ghost stared out a window here. The 16th President's biographer, Carl Sandburg, said he felt Lincoln come stand beside him at that window. Mary Todd Lincoln encountered the ghosts of Thomas Jefferson and John Tyler in this room. Cesar Carrera, valet to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, said he once heard someone calling his name in the Yellow Oval Room. The voice seemed to come from a distance, saying, "I'm Mr. Burns." A similar story arose during the Truman years when a guard heard a soft voice saying, "I'm Mr. Burns." Could it be David Burns, the former owner of the land where the White House now sits? (The Yellow Oval Room is next to the Lincoln Bedroom on the second floor. The window is above the front entrance to the White House.)
GEORGE WASHINGTON’S PROPHECY
The man for whom the city of Washington was named had a prophetic vision of America's fate during the harsh winter of 1777 in Valley Forge. The prophecy was composed of three perils or dangers facing America. The following are summaries of these three key points as described in George Washington’s own words:
The First Prophecy
“Presently, I heard a voice saying, "Son of the Republic, look and learn," while at the same time my visitor extended an arm eastward. I beheld a dark, shadowy being, like an angel, standing, or rather floating in mid-air between Europe and America. Dipping water out of the ocean in the hollow of each hand, he sprinkled some upon America with his right hand, while with his left he cast some over Europe. Immediately, a cloud arose from these countries and joined in mid-ocean... then it moved slowly westward until it enveloped America in its murky folds. Sharp flashes of lightning gleamed through, and I heard the smothered groans and cries of the American people. [The continuing Revolutionary War?]
The Second Prophecy
“A second time the angel dipped water from the ocean and sprinkled it out as before. I cast my eyes upon America and beheld villages and towns and cities springing up one after another until the whole land from the Atlantic to the Pacific was dotted with them. From Africa I saw an ill-omened specter approach our land. The inhabitants presently set themselves in battle array against each other. I saw a bright angel on whose brow rested a crown of light on which was traced the word "UNION." He was bearing the American flag. He placed the flag between the divided nation and said, "Remember, ye are brethren." [The Civil War?]
The Third Prophecy
“The dark, shadowy angel placed a trumpet to his mouth, and blew three distinct blasts; and taking water from the ocean, he sprinkled it upon Europe, Asia and Africa. Then my eyes beheld a fearful scene. From each of these continents arose thick black clouds that were soon joined into one. And throughout this mass there gleamed a dark red light by which I saw hordes of armed men. These men, moving with the cloud, marched by land and sailed by sea to America, which country was enveloped in the volume of cloud. And I dimly saw these vast armies devastate the whole country and burn the villages, towns and cities which I had seen springing up. As my ears listened to the thundering of the cannon, clashing of the swords, and the shouts and cries of millions in mortal combat, I again heard the mysterious voice saying, "Son of the Republic, look and learn." Where the voice had ceased, the dark shadowy angel placed his trumpet once more to his mouth, and blew a long and fearful blast. Instantly a light as of a thousand suns shone down from above me, and pierced and broke into fragments the dark cloud which enveloped America. At the same moment the angel upon whose head still shown the word UNION, and who bore our national flag in one hand, and a sword in the other, descended from the heavens attended by, legions of white spirits. These immediately joined the inhabitants of America, who I perceived were well-nigh overcome, but who immediately taking courage again, closed up their broken ranks and renewed the battle. Again, amid the fearful noise of the conflict I heard the mysterious voice saying, "Son of the I do not know whether it is owing to the anxiety of my mind, but this afternoon, as I was sitting at this table engaged in preparing a dispatch, something in the apartment seemed to disturb me. Looking up, I beheld standing opposite me a singularly beautiful being. So astonished was I... that it was some moments before I found language to inquire the cause of the visit. A second, third, and even a fourth time did I repeat my question, but received no answer from my mysterious visitor except a slight raising of the eyes.
Gradually, the surrounding atmosphere seemed to fill with sensations and grew luminous. Everything about me seemed to rarify, the mysterious visitor also becoming more airy and yet more distinct to my sight than before. Republic, look and learn. As the voice ceased, the shadowy angel for the last time dipped water from the ocean and sprinkled it upon America. Instantly the dark cloud rolled back, together with the armies it had brought, leaving the inhabitants of the land victorious." [A prophecy unfulfilled?]
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