Ghosts at the White House

Most people know that the White House is the principal residence and workplace of the sitting president of the United States and his family. What most people don't know, however, is that many of the past residents of the famous address are allegedly still around, in a non-corporeal sort of way, wandering the building and its grounds and interacting with the living.

Ghostly apparitions have apparently been seen or heard, at the White House, supposedly right up to the present:

Michele Obama reported to a tour group of children that she and her husband, having heard strange noises in the hallway, have gone so far as to climb out of bed and investigate only to find nothing. The hallway was - dare we say “dead empty.” [1]

After taking up residence in 1945, former president Harry Truman made reference to spooky goings on in a letter to his wife: "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]."

So who, or what, is creating a ruckus roving the White House and its grounds? Here's a rundown:          

The most common alleged apparition is Abraham Lincoln, said to have haunted the White House since his assassination.

Eleanor Roosevelt though never claiming to have seen Lincoln's specter, did say she had felt his presence, her dog Fala often barking at nothing.

Eleanor Roosevelt's secretary, Mary Eben, claimed to have seen Lincoln putting on his boots in the Lincoln bedroom. (She apparently ran screaming from the room following the incident.)

Wilhelmina, Queen of the Netherlands, after hearing a knock on her bedroom door apparently opened it saw Lincoln in full regalia and promptly fainted.

It's claimed, Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, after taking a bath, emerged from the bathroom sans clothing with a scotch and cigar to see Lincoln standing by the bedroom fireplace. Apparently nonplussed the British bulldog is alleged to have taken the cigar from his mouth, tapped the ash off the end and said “Good evening, Mr President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.” Lincoln by reply purportedly laughed before disappearing.

The last sighting of Lincoln's ghost is said to have taken place in the late 1980s, when White House operations foreman Tony Savoy is alleged to have seen the former president sitting in a chair at the top of a flight of stairs. [2]

John and Abigail Adams were the first to reside in the White House, the building, still under construction a constant challenge. One story goes that with a finished drying area not available Abigail would hang her wash in the East Room the warmest and driest space at hand (a second version calls it a little differently, the clothes hanging part of a wedding shower, the laundry a prop forewarning the bride-to-be of things to come). Either way later residents (Lou Hoover wife of Herbert Hoover for one) claimed to have seen a nebulous Abigail, wandering about her arms outstretched as though carrying laundry, a scent of soap lingering in the air.

The legend that First Lady Edith Wilson's plan to revamp part of the South Lawn was halted by Dolley Madison's ghost protesting changes to her rose garden is a great story but definitely untrue. It was Ellen Axson, the first wife of President Woodrow Wilson, who created the White House Rose Garden not Dolley.

Not as famous but ghostly nonetheless: a British soldier is alleged to walk the grounds in front of the White House at night. Carrying a fiery torch he is said to be one of those that set ablaze the White House in 1814. Others purportedly seen are a long dead usher still turning off lights and a long deceased doorman who acts like he is still on the job.

[1] The dead of night, active imaginations and clanking copper pipes are a scary trio.

[2] The Lincolns themselves allegedly ran into the ghost of a former president. In 1865 Mary Todd Lincoln supposedly encountered a cantankerous Andrew Jackson in the Rose Room, stomping about and cussing. By the 1950s the Rose Room had acquired the dubious reputation of being the most haunted area in the White House, supposed cold spots contributing to a sense of overall creepiness.

* Are White House ghosts real? They are to those that see them.

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