"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?