1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is known for many things. It has the Oval Office. The President of the United States lives there. It has a movie theater inside somewhere. Some of the greatest human minds have spent a night, or multiple nights, under the roof of the White House. Some even claim it is haunted as hell.
Sadly, no paranormal investigators have ever been able to conduct an investigation into the goings on of one of the most famous haunted houses in the world (but what a great episode of GHOST ADVENTURERS that would make!), so we only have eyewitness accounts, some told by second or even third parties, to go off of. Still, if ghosts do exist, would it be so hard to believe that some of them would hang around the home of the leader of the free world?
The earliest ghost to show up at the White House is also one of the first residents of the White House. When John and Abigail Adams moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they were the first people to live there. At the time, Washington DC was more swamp than city, and Abigail spent most of her time there in the East Room, which was the warmest and driest. She used the room to hang laundry, and apparently still does today. There have been multiple reports of the spirit of Abigail Adams walking into the East Room, arms out as if she is carrying a basket of wet clothes to be hung up.
Personally, I’d love to see the ghost of Abigail Adams. She is, in my book, the bee’s knees.
Mary Todd Lincoln is famous for, besides being Abe’s wife, holding seances in the White House. Mary Todd held the seances in the hopes of contacting Willie, her son who died in the White House after multiple members of the staff claimed to see the ghost of the boy in the halls. As far as we know, Mary Todd never made contact with her child.
Mary Todd Lincoln did claim to know of at least one spirit in the house – she told friends stories about hearing the ghost of Andrew Jackson stomping around the halls of the White House, cursing up a storm. Decades later, Harry Truman would write to his wife about his feelings on the ghosts of the White House, though he seems to be speaking more in jest:
“I sit here in this old house and work on foreign affairs, read reports, and work on speeches–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 and Teddy having an argument over Franklin.”
I imagine that if Andrew Jackson is indeed haunting the White House, he’d be plenty pissed these days, and probably looking for a way to get his incorporeal hands on Lin-Manuel Miranda for saving Hamilton’s visage on the $10, forcing Jackson’s own face to be replaced on the $20.
The most reported of the ghosts of the White House is that of the sixteenth president himself, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, it seems, has no interest in giving up governance, appearing to world dignitaries on the regular. First Lady Grace Coolidge has the honor of being the first to report seeing Honest Abe. According to the report, Grace entered the Oval Office to see the spirit of Lincoln looking out the window towards the Potomac River. Elenore Roosevelt was the next person to have a run-in with Lincoln. The longest-running First Lady used the Lincoln Bedroom as her study, and she claimed to sense his presence in the room on multiple occasions.
When Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was staying at the White House, she heard a loud knock on her door. When she opened the door, standing there was the ghost of Lincoln in full form – stovepipe hat and all! Queen Wilhelmina fainted at the sight of the spirit. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, never one to be taken by surprise, claimed to have had his own encounter with Lincoln as well. According to Churchill, who had the unfortunate nickname of Copperknob, he had just taken a bath and was enjoying a cigar in the nude, as one is prone to do, when he exited the bathroom of his White House accommodations to see the ghost of Lincoln sitting by the fireplace. As Churchill told it, he was taken aback by the presence of the dead POTUS, but not so much so that he couldn’t muster up some dry British humor. Churchill coolly nodded to the former president and said “Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.” Lincoln’s ghost, according to Churchill, then laughed and faded away.
Lady Bird Johnson claimed to have an encounter with the Great Emancipator while she was watching a documentary on his death. I wonder if Lincoln was trying to tell the First Lady to change the channel.
Some believe that Lincoln’s ghost appears during times of national or global crisis, as if he is looking to help those who now lead the nation find a path back to prosperity.
Maureen Reagan, Ronald’s first child, also claimed to see Lincoln in the Lincoln bedroom. According to Maureen (as told by Regan to Joan Gage) one night while she was visiting her father, Maureen’s husband woke to see a shadowy figure standing in the room. After the figure vanished, he woke his wife, who laughed at him. A few months later, Maureen herself woke up to see the shadowy figure. According to Maureen, the figure was standing at the window, and she could clearly see the trees through it.
President Reagan also believed that his dog Rex, who refused to enter the Lincoln Bedroom, could also see Lincoln’s ghost.
The spookiest of the White House paranormal stories is the demon cat. As the story goes, this cat isn’t relegated to the White House itself, but has been spotted at multiple government buildings. Supposedly, it’s main home is the basement crypt in the Capitol that was planned to be the final resting place of George Washington, and the legend says that this demon cat is seen before times of national tragedy. There are reports of sightings of the cat just days before both Lincoln and Kennedy were assassinated, but I guess the cat didn’t bother showing up for the assassination of President Garfield (ironic, really).
The demon cat is a black cat that starts off no bigger than your average house kitty. When spotted, it begins to balloon in size, until it is as big as a large tiger. At that point, the cat will either explode, or lunge at the person who saw it. If the beast does lunge at you, worry not! It vanishes before making contact. In the 1890s, Capitol Hill guards claimed to have not just seen the demon cat, but fired at it. One guard, the story goes, had a heart attack when he saw the monster.
The last reported ghost sighting in the White House was in 2002, when a staffer claimed to see the first White House ghost, Abigail Adams, entering the East Room, the smell of laundry detergent following close behind. Maybe, in a few years, we’ll get some juicy ghost stories from the Obamas. I’d love to hear of President Obama having a conversation with Lincoln.