Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Who Ya Gonna Call?

By Kara Cerise

"There are, from time to time, reports that the White House is haunted by mysterious appearances of figures from history, and I believe them."
~ Mike McCurry, President Bill Clinton's press secretary

Being President of the United States is a difficult and lonely job. Commanders-in-chief carry the weight of the nation on their shoulders during their time in office. Sometimes even into the afterlife. Occasionally ghosts of past presidents and their families pop into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue unannounced just to make sure things are running smoothly.

In the spirit of Halloween and the recent presidential debates, I read Charles A. Stansfield Jr.'s book, Haunted Presidents.

Stansfield Jr. relates a ghostly sighting that happened during World War II while Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a guest at the White House. One night Churchill leisurely soaked in a bathtub while sipping a glass of scotch and smoking a cigar. When he finally stood up and stepped out of the bathtub he saw Abraham Lincoln standing next to the bed. With typical English wit the nude prime minister said, "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Mr. President." Lincoln's ghost smiled and faded away.

Apparently Abraham Lincoln has been a frequent visitor over the years.

~ Calvin Coolidge's wife, Grace, saw Lincoln’s ghost in the Yellow Oval Room, which he had used as a library.

~ Theodore Roosevelt glimpsed Lincoln in the White House, but did not go public with his sighting. However, he confided in his cousin Franklin Roosevelt about the encounter.

~ Queen Wilhelmina from the Netherlands heard a knock on her door one night when she was staying at the White House. She opened the door, saw Lincoln wearing his top hat, and immediately fainted. Her hosts, President Franklin and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt were sympathetic about the encounter but not surprised.

~ Lincoln's son Willie, who died from typhoid while in the White House, appeared to staff during Ulysses S. Grant's presidency.

Some ghosts don’t like change in or around the White House. First Lady Edith Wilson, President Woodrow Wilson's wife, decided to move the rose garden and ordered workmen to dig up the bushes. When they arrived to do the job they were greeted by a short woman wearing frilly old-fashioned clothes with a turban on her head. She refused to move out of the way and let the work begin. After looking at a painting that Edith Wilson showed them, the workmen believed they had seen the ghost of Dolley Madison who originally planted the roses. Nobody has attempted to move the garden since that occurrence.

I searched and found that strange events have occurred more recently at the White House. Ronald Reagan thought it was haunted. His daughter and her husband saw a ghostly figure in the Lincoln bedroom. Jenna Bush Hagar told Jay Leno that she heard 1920s music in her bedroom coming out of the fireplace when she lived there. At first her sister thought she was crazy but then she heard it too. First Lady Michelle Obama said that she and President Obama were awakened by strange sounds in the hall and got up to investigate. Other Obama family members reportedly felt the sensation of something chewing or gnawing on their feet. (Creepy!)

Many years ago when visitors didn't need to navigate layers of security to tour the White House, I met two friends in the evening for a self-guided tour. We presented our drivers' licenses to the guard sitting behind the kiosk and added our names  to the sign-in sheet. Then we made our way into the historic house.

It was quiet and rather dark in the halls. We spoke in hushed, reverent tones as we peeked inside rooms. I didn't see any ghosts that night, but I felt the presence of people who had lived and worked there.

When a new president moves into the White House and needs advice, perhaps s/he could call on the spirits who used to live there Maybe one question that should be asked of presidential candidates is, “How would you deal with the ghosts of the past presidents looking over your shoulder?”

Have you toured the White House?
Have you ever seen a ghost?


Kait said...

Perfect topic for Halloween week.

As a child I read a book on this subject. It was so long ago that I don't recall if it was supposed to be fiction or fact. Whatever it was, I took it to heart and when I toured the White House I peeked in all the corners they would let me near looking for Fala, FDR's dog. Never saw him, darn it.

How wonderful that you were able to tour unescorted. Could you hear the whisper of history in the walls? What a great experience.

E. B. Davis said...

I've often evaluated new technology and thought--what would Ben Franklin think about this? So when I hear about Lincoln haunting the White House, I think it's a shame he doesn't stick around more and become a White House adviser. I could understand given the circumstances of his death and the state of the country at the time of his death that he might have felt his mission wasn't finished. He was robbed and so were we.

Why would anyone wanted to disturb the Rose Garden? Dolley was justified in making her opinion known, and we benefited from her actions then and now. In short--I'm rather glad the White House is haunted.

As to the Obamas, they must be doing something to disturb one of the many former White House dogs. Perhaps their Portuguese Water dog has encroached on the territory of another, who went before him. I guess it's apparent that I have no problem believing in spirits.

My White House tale: In third grade, my class visited the White House. We were late getting through our tour. As we left, I looked behind me and saw a nicely dressed pregnant lady ushered passed us. It was Jackie Kennedy. Patrick was born prematurely in August of 1963. He died two days later, three months before his father was assassinated.

Jim Jackson said...

I have not toured the White House (although I would love to), nor have I seen a ghost. I did have a message at a spiritualist church once from a person described to me, but unknown to me. When I repeated the description to my parents, my mother informed me that I had perfectly described her father (who had died when she was 12).

~ Jim

Shari Randall said...

I've never gone on a White House tour. How lucky you were to go unescorted! How times have changed!
The Civil War was such a time of turmoil - I'm not surprised that Lincoln would be still trying to put things right. But if there was one president who truly deserved some peace, it would be Abraham Lincoln.
We stayed in a Civil War cottage years ago, close to Harper's Ferry. My husband loved the historic house but I couldn't stand being in that place. I felt so watched. Very uncomfortable.
But not surprising. When I was a little girl my mom told me that I'd speak of playing with my Nana, who had passed away when I was a baby. I have no memory of this, but it still makes me think….

Kara Cerise said...

Kait, I did enjoy touring the White House unescorted. But times have changed. A few years ago when my family was visiting, I requested a tour and sent in our application to our congressman. It was sent back to me "denied" with no explanation.

E.B., how amazing that you saw Jackie Kennedy on your tour at that important time in history. Although you wouldn't have any way of knowing what was about to happen. You were a witness to history.

Jim, I imagine that your mother was surprised when she realized you were describing her father. You will probably always remember the message relayed to you by the person at the spiritualist church.

Kara Cerise said...

Shari, I can only imagine how uncomfortable it was to feel like you were being watched in the Civil War cottage. That gives me goosebumps.

How fascinating that you talked about playing with your Nana when you were young. It's sweet that your grandmother was looking after you. I think children are more open to these kinds of experiences.

Warren Bull said...

I would love to tour the White House. If Lincoln's ghost is there he should advise us on the problems of today.

Kara Cerise said...

Warren, I'm curious what advice Lincoln would give us today and what he would do differently.

I hope you have a chance to tour the White House. I heard that it's beautifully decorated around the Christmas holidays.

Gloria Alden said...

Kara, a fascinating blog. I've heard the stories of the White House being haunted before, and because I've had experiences that can't be explained as well as family members who have, too, I am more open to believing in these stories. Although, I haven't toured the inside of the White House, I did visit the Lincoln Museum this summer and some of the holograms throughout were quite spooky and very interesting at the same time.

Kara Cerise said...

You probably learned lots of interesting things at the Lincoln Museum, Gloria. I would love to go there one day. I think holograms are spooky because the eyes follow you. But my nieces love to walk back-and-forth in front of the hologram of George Washington at Mount Vernon.

Grace Topping said...

Like Shari, I've had similar feelings. Once while staying in an English cottage 600 years old. I told my husband that if the kids called out in the night that he was going to have to go see to them because I wasn't getting out of my bed. I felt something there. Also, we once went into an old monastery chapel in Greece. As soon as I walked it, I knew immediately that I had to get out of there. It really makes you wonder what accounts for this. Perhaps previous life memories?

Kara Cerise said...

You have had extraordinary experiences, Grace. I'm curious what happened in the Greek monastery chapel, perhaps a few centuries ago, to give you that feeling. My first thought was that a murder had taken place. But a past life is an intriguing theory.