White House, Washington, DC, USA | Addresses – 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW – MAP
In the 1790s James Hoban was tasked with designing a house. Most were simple, symmetrical structured. Easy, right?
But this was different. This was to stand as a symbol for the new nation. It became known as, The White House.
Washington’s President House —
The revolution is finished. Brits pushed out. General George Washington inaugurated as its first President of the United States. A proud time for all Americans.
Then a contest was held looking for the best architect. Many designs submitted, only one chosen. This drawing by an Irishman named James Hoban. A powerful design based on the Leinster House in Dublin.
A cornerstone laid in 1792 and many men put to work. An important task given to enslaved and free African Americans, as well as immigrants. They were the ones who built it in only 8 years.
Perfect timing as the year is 1800. The first century of America.
Sad Fact :: Washington missed out
Sadly, at this time George Washington was out of office. He never saw the White House completed.
Only one year before its completion, in 1799, he felt sick. After doing chores at his home in Mount Vernon. Being a former General and President, a little sickness wouldn’t stop such a man.
Then it got worse. Three doctors rushed to his side. They called it “inflammation of the throat”.
George Washington died at 10pm, on Saturday December 14th 1799 at the age of 67. His final words, “Tis well”.
The last moments of this man truly represent his greatness. Never losing calm or putting his family out. As recorded by Washington’s secretary, Tobias Lear.
The President refused extra care, even stopping his wife from running out into the cold to retrieve help. Had the presence of mind to make sure those around him were comfortable. To look over his will, then give instructions on how to handle his body.
Those last words embody his peace with death, and a life well lived. One year later John Adams was the first President to move into a newly built White House.
The British Strike again – –
Confusion of facts is common after 200 years. Many reasons are thought for why the British marched on Washington in 1814. The War of 1812 was done in Canada. American forces pushed out after battles in Stoney Creek and Niagara.
Many historians say the attack on Washington D.C. was revenge for the attack on York (now called Toronto). But some disagree, including us.
As told on the Ghost Walks of Niagara-on-the-Lake, it was revenge for Newark (now called Niagara-on-the-Lake). This small historic town was once the first capitol of Upper Canada (now Ontario).
Just before Christmas in 1813, it was burned, by American soldiers and traitors to the British crown. Not out of anger. Not planning for violence. Simply to deny the marching British shelter during a very cold Winter.
There were casualties. Inadvertently the soldiers chased women and children from their homes. Some went into the woods where they froze to death. Records are spotty. No official accounts, but revenge was swift.
Then began a campaign of terror. From Youngstown to Buffalo, New York. Everything was burned by marching British regiments. Until a gentleman’s agreement to stop the attacks.
The British agreed, however one American regiment missed the communication. A town just outside of Niagara on the Lake was burned. Did this bring on the new campaign into the United States? Everyone does know that the British marched on Washington in 1814. Buildings lit on fire including the Capitol Building and White House.
Then Washington was saved. Not by battle or force, but an act of God. Rains and winds swept down on the burning town. Eyewitness accounts tell of a hurricane sweeping Constitution Avenue. So powerful the winds, they lifted two canons and threw them about as soldiers from both sides ran for cover.
After the war, North America settled. Current President James Madison commissioned original architect James Hoban to return and restore the White House. He also ordered some fire charred walls be left. To act as reminders of what happened here in 1814.
Such History makes interesting Ghosts
142 rooms, 6 floors all inside 55,000 square feet… and 5 known ghosts in the White House!
Harrison in the Attic – –
Like William Henry Harrison. President in March 1841, dead in April 1841. Shortest presidency in United States history.
Pneumonia took him. Said to be caused by poor weather during his inauguration. Not war, not assassination, but a cold. The fragility of humanity affects the highest of us… and a sad end for the determined man who finally succeeded to office after two attempts. All because he wanted to look tough, failing to wear a coat and hat.
The first president to die in the White House. This and that famous determination may be why remains. Harrison is experienced in the attic.
Staff go up there to retrieve documents from archives. From distant aisles they may hear papers shuffling. Some, knowing the stories, hopefully run to greet other staff. Most realize they are alone.
Others hear furniture and items being dragged across the wooden floors. Those witnesses are sooner to finish up and leave, keeping there head down as not to greet the long past President.
The Thing – –
Inside the White House, saying “The Thing” has a separate meaning away from the famous John Carpenter movie.
This is not a movie monster. It’s said to be the ghost of a 15-year-old boy. Seen inside the White House mostly during the Taft administration.
It’s in the early 1900’s when a military aid named Archibald Butt saw the ghost. Proven history as he mentioned it in a letter to his sister.
He said the ghost watches over his shoulder while writing at his desk. Then feeling a pressure pushing down on that shoulder. “Just like a small hand”, as if the boy is leaning over, curious of what Archibald is writing.
Butt’s life took an interesting turn in 1865. When returning from a vacation, he boarded a ship in Southampton, England. The ship was called, The Titanic. He didn’t made it back to Washington.
INTERESTING FACT :: Taft was a skeptic
Interesting side note… President Taft was a very serious man. When hearing about the supposed “Thing”, he was quick to call it fake. Told Butt to tell all staff, if any them were caught spreading such nonsense they’d be fired.
Jackson’s Angry – –
Then there’s Andrew Jackson. The founder of the Democratic Party, and celebrated hero General of the War of 1812. He was the commander that turned away sweeping British forces at the Battle of New Orleans. Would become America 7th President in 1829.
Mary Todd Lincoln heard him. She said he stomped and swore while pacing up and down the residence area hallway.
Harry Truman may have experienced his ghost. Also confirming Mary Lincoln’s story. All depends how you read the 33rd President’s letter to his wife Bess, where he said,
“I sit here while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway. I can picture Andy arguing with Teddy”
He was talking about Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt. Maybe wishful imagery or actual experience. I personally hope for the latter.
They all think Jackson’s ghost is an ill-tempered sort.
In life known he was known for holding grudges. Felt he was owed the presidency in 1824. Then ousted by John Quincy Adams. Finally winning in 1828, the very next election.
It’s said Jackson brought anger into the White House, as shown by how he treated those considered supporters of his rival Adams.
Only made more extreme by the death of his wife. Dying of a heart attack just 3 weeks after his election. Jackson blamed the stress of a dirty campaign, and the attacks of Adams and his people.
As proven at Rachel Jackson’s funeral, he said of the supporters “May God Almighty forgive her murderers. I never can.”
Speaking of Adams – –
And speaking of Adams. Abigail was the mother of John Quincy, and wife to John Adams the 2nd President mentioned before. Living in the White House for only 5 months before Thomas Jefferson defeated her husband.
Funny how a woman who was happy to leave Washington is said to remain. Because Mrs. Adams did her own laundry. In life, constantly trudging wet clothes into the East Room to hang for drying. Seen by staff with arms outstretched, dressed in cap and lace.
It was the same ghost enthusiasts of the Taft administration. The ones who experienced “the Thing”. They saw Abigail. Saying she’d wander that same hallway into the East Room. Still wearing her cap and lace, wet clothes draped over her arms.
Any talk about ghosts in the White House and everyone thinks of the same man… I’m talking about honest Abe Lincoln himself.
The stout commander led the United States through a massive Civil War. Known for being ahead of his time, Lincoln freed the slaves. Wanting a country truly built on rights for all.
His amazing run as President ending early on the night of Friday April 14th 1865. While attending a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington. An actor named John Wilkes Booth snuck up behind the President. Up in the box, while relaxing during the play.
Booth put a bullet into the back of Lincoln’s head. He was later shot and killed while trying to escape authorities.
Abraham Lincoln died one day later inside the White House. His wife Mary comforted the President as his passed.
And today Honest Abe stands as the most known ghost inside the White House, in North America and maybe, the world.
Dream of Death – –
Lincoln and his wife were spiritualists. His wife later known for this, but he also believed.
Such as in prophetic dreams. As mentioned in a letter he wrote to a former law partner in 1865. Just days before going to Ford’s Theatre.
He wrote about a vivid dream. How in it, he walked into the East Room passed guards standing on opposite sides. Saw a large crowd sitting still in chairs. Their heads all bowed down.
And on a front table lay a figure. Stone still, it was a body draped in thin fabric. Lincoln woke up with a dreadful feeling.
Did this dream foreshadow Lincoln’s death? He would have believed it. As proven in a previous letter. Written to his friend Joshua Speed back home in Springfield, Illinois in 1842. He said,
“I always did have a strong tendency to mysticism”
Written 20 years before his son’s death in 1862. Long before his wife’s public support of spiritualism. And long before his own prophetic dream of death. Proving the Lincoln’s believed in ghosts before and during their time in the White House.
Lincoln’s Ghost – –
And he remains as proven by many distinguished guests. Including Grace Coolidge, who saw him standing in the Oval Office.
The wife of Calvin, America’s 30th president, experienced his lanky figure as a shadow blocking the light. Said it was Abe himself, looking out towards to an old Civil War battlefield across the Potomac.
Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands saw him in the strangest way.
While staying at the White House in 1942. It’s night-time. Wilhelmina wakes to a knock at the bedroom door. She stumbled out of bed, swung open the door to see a tall man with a wide beard.
She said he wore the iconic stovepipe hat. His prominent face stared forward into the room behind her. The experience ending quick as the Queen fainted. Upon waking, the man was gone.
FUN EXPERIENCE :: How Churchill sees a ghost
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill experienced Abe too. While visiting Roosevelt during World War II.
Innocently taking a bath, he walked naked into the Rose Bedroom. Cigar hanging from his mouth.
He noticed a stranger in a chair by the fireplace. He almost yelled at the man before realizing it was Lincoln. The ghost calmly stared out the window. Churchill standing frozen until the ghost was gone.
Speaking of Roosevelt, his wife Eleanor used the Lincoln bedroom as a study. She reported feeling “his presence” all the time.
Even Ronald Reagan believed – –
Ronald Reagan agreed with Eleanor Roosevelt about the Lincoln bedroom.
The Reagan’s beloved dog Rex had an experience. On the first time he went into the Lincoln bedroom. The Spaniel perked up.
Started barking at an empty corner. Like the little dog was showing dominance to empty space. Then going quiet before crying and backing out of the room, tail between his legs. Rex never entered the bedroom again.
Maureen, President Reagan’s daughter, stayed over with her husband on many nights. Because of the history she preferred sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom.
One night her husband Dennis woke to see a man standing by the window. He faced away from the bed, looking outside. Then slowly turned to reveal that prominent and serious face. Staring back, but never actually looking at Dennis, before the man vanished.
He woke Maureen, told her what happened but she didn’t believe a word of it. Instead sharing it with friends, family and staff made it a running joke.
Not long after the joke ended. One morning Maureen woke to see that same man staring out the window. Told others the sun shone around him… and right through his transparent body. Lincoln slowly turned again, looked back towards the bed before vanishing.
Spiritualism in the White House
And then there’s Mary Todd Lincoln. Famously known for her belief in ghosts and spiritualism. Said it strengthened greatly after the tragic death of her son Willie, who died of typhoid fever in 1862.
Abraham handled the boy’s death with fatherly grief, telling all,
“He was too good for this earth … God called him home”
But Mary wanted proof the boy remained. Setting up spirit circles and seances in the Red Room. Non-believers and skeptics say it was from her grief, mixed with a growing insanity.
Helped along on by the Lauries, a family from Georgetown. Cranston Laurie, his wife and daughter Belle were family friends. His wife and daughter were known trance mediums.
They led those séance nights in the White House. Legend states up to 8 times. The focus of them all, to speak with Willie. Mary later told her half-sister,
“Willie lives. He comes to me every night and stands at the foot of my bed…”
Even after Abraham’s death, the Laurie’s remain close friends of Mary. Daughter Belle receiving the gift of a blood-soaked lock of Abe’s hair after the assassination.
The Laurie house was a center of spiritualism for many. It’s said Belle was very gifted, once successfully levitating a grand piano.
Mary Lincoln stopped the practice after social pressures due to politics. However, as far as we know she never stopped believing.
Daniel reads the White House Ghost Article
**Listen to the Ghostly History Podcast