There’s no question that Washington DC has been, for many, a recent source of fear. But beyond the worrisome threats to the Affordable Care Act and an explosive investigation into possible collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia, it turns out that the White House is no stranger to a more Halloween-y kind of scary: literal haunting. In fact, there’s been a long history of paranormal activity recorded in the White House.
We’re not just talking about kooky conspiracy theorists, either. Presidents, first ladies, and visiting politicians have all reportedly seen plenty of spooky stuff at the legendary presidential residence. Here’s a timeline of some of the most significant spooky occurrences to go down at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Franklin Pierce, who was president from 1832 to 1857, wasn’t much of a ghost hunter himself, but his wife, Jane, certainly was. The Pierces lost two of their three sons before Franklin became president, and soon before his inauguration, their 11-year-old boy Bennie was killed in a horrific train accident. Mrs. Pierce hired several clairvoyants after Bennie’s death, even bringing them to the White House to conduct a seance. Afterwards, Mrs. Pierce wrote a letter to her sister explaining that Bennie visited her two nights in a row in her dreams.
According to his own account, President Lincoln was repeatedly visited by a spirit when he was in office. And because his nickname is Honest Abe, we can probably take him at his word. In fact, according to some later presidents, Abe Lincoln didn’t necessarily leave the White House after he was assassinated, either… but more on that later.
The ghost Lincoln is said to have seen on a number of occasions was his son, Willie Lincoln, who died at the age of 11 in 1862 from typhoid fever. The Lincolns were so devastated by the loss of their young son that, like Jane Pierce before her, first lady Mary Todd Lincoln performed seances in the White House in hopes of convening with her departed son. President Lincoln himself was present for at least one of these seances.
In a letter to her sister, Mrs. Lincoln wrote that she often saw the apparition of Willie, and sometimes he was even accompanied by Eddie Lincoln, the Lincolns’ second son who died at just three years of age in 1850: “He comes to me every night and stands at the foot of my bed with the same, sweet adorable smile he has always had; he does not always come alone. Little Eddie is sometimes with him.” Mary Todd Lincoln is also said to have heard the ghost of President Andrew Jackson swearing away in his old sleeping quarters, the Rose Bedroom.
WILLIAM Howard TAFT
William Howard Taft, who was the 27th president and served from 1909 to 1913, saw the ghost of one of the White House’s very first occupants during his time as president. Taft supposedly saw the ghost of Abigail Adams (wife of president John Adams) running around the second floor of the White House with her arms stretched out.
The Adamses were the first presidential couple to live in the White House. Back in those days, the first lady did her own wash, and Abigail was known to hang her wet clothes in the East Room of the White House where they could dry better than they would in the humid DC air outside. Reports of Taft’s sighting have noted that the former first lady’s outstretched arms almost made it seem as if she were planning to hang her wet clothes. (Think about that next time you do your laundry!)
Taft also told his wife he often heard ghostly footsteps as he was working away in the White House. He had a hunch that the sounds might be coming from the spirits of former presidents Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt.
If all of that isn’t enough, White House staff also saw something extremely creepy during this presidency. Some of the White House workers claimed that they saw a 15-year-old boy that they (rather unaffectionately) referred to as “the Thing.” According to the tales, the Thing would make his presence known by lightly touching a person on the shoulder.
FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT
There were a couple otherworldly sightings in the White House while FDR was in office from 1933 until 1945. And this is where Lincoln comes back into play: Apparently, dear Abe never really wanted to leave the White House, and would make his presence known on at least a few occasions during the Great Depression and World War II.
Winston Churchill, who was then prime minister of Britain, was paying a visit to the White House when he reportedly received a rather rude visit from Abe after he took a nighttime bath. Churchill, who was sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom during his stay, said he got out of the bath and walked into his bedroom (still naked, naturally), only to find the room’s namesake himself standing near the fireplace. But the PM took the visit from the presidential ghost in stride, and spoke to him: “Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.” Lincoln’s spirit then smiled at the nude Churchill, and then disappeared from sight. Apparently, Churchill refused to stay in that room ever again, and frankly, who could blame him?
Beloved first lady Eleanor Roosevelt also stated that she felt the presence of spirits while she was in the White House. And in fact, a woman who worked for her at the time, Mary Eban, supposedly saw the ghost of Lincoln removing his boots, and she screamed so frightfully that Secret Service agents came running to make sure she was alright. At least this time nobody was naked.
You’ve heard of bumps in the night? Well, during Harry Truman’s time in office between 1945 and 1953, there were lots of knocks in the night. When Truman took over the White House after FDR, it appears that he also took over Abraham Lincoln ghost-sighting duty, as well. (Who knew that dealing with Abe Lincoln would be such an integral part of the job of 20th-century presidencies?)
Truman’s daughter, Margaret, and first lady Bess Truman were apparently skeptical about the existence of ghosts and spirits in general, but the president was pretty sure they were around.
“I’m sure they’re [ghosts] here, and I’m not so much alarmed at meeting up with any of them,” Truman wrote to his daughter after she expressed her doubts to him.
Eventually, Margaret came around: When Truman would report that he heard knocks on the door of the Lincoln Bedroom, Margaret admitted that she heard them too. Furthermore, Margaret admitted to her dad that she was certain that the knocks were coming from Lincoln (a courtesy that wasn’t provided to Churchill).
In case anyone was thinking it was merely White House families from way back in the day who saw ghosts roaming the property, don’t worry: Ghosts were around during the time of Reagan too. The Gipper and his wife Nancy lived in the White House from 1981 to 1989, and in that time, the couple’s daughter Maureen claimed to have seen, you guessed it: Abraham Lincoln.
Maureen Reagan and her husband, Dennis Revell, are said to have seen the ghost of Lincoln standing at the window of the Lincoln Bedroom, looking outside. The couple saw Honest Abe on separate occasions, but both times in the exact same spot. Is it a coincidence? Well, yes. Probably.
Do you have thoughts on all the creepy bumps in the night at the White House? Tell us on Twitter @BritandCo.
(Photos via Wikimedia Commons, Prayitno/ Flickr, Getty)