Halcyon House is the historic home of Benjamin Stoddert, the first secretary of the U.S. Navy, said to be haunted, perhaps as a result of its strange history. The house is located in the Georgetown district of Washington, D.C.
After the Revolutionary War and the establishment of Washington as the capital of the United States, Stoddert built Halcyon House on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River. He named it after a mythical bird that calms the sea. The original structure was small and elegant. Stoddert commissioned the renowned planner Pierre Charles L’Enfant to design his terrace.
Stoddert ran his own shipping business, which fell on hard times. By the time his tenure as Secretary of the Navy in 1801 ended, the last year of the John Adams administration, Stoddert was nearly destitute. He died virtually penniless in 1813.
The house then passed to a series of owners. During the Civil War, its basement was connected to a tunnel from the Potomac that was part of the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves. According to legend, some slaves died in the basement, and began haunting it with ghostly moans and cries. The entrance to the tunnel was walled up around the turn of the 20th century, but the moans and cries continue to be heard. In addition, mysterious shapes and a ghostly woman reportedly were seen floating about the house at night.
In the 1930s, Halcyon House was acquired by a peculiar man named Albert Adsit Clemons, who believed that as long as he added on to the house, he would not die. He added apartments and facades, and made haphazard alterations, including a staircase that went nowhere, doors that opened to walls and rooms without walls. He also refused to wire the house for electricity, which discouraged prospective tenants.
Clemons’s fervor failed to stave off death, and he died in 1938. Oddly, he left a will, and it instructed that upon his death his attending doctor should pierce or puncture his heart—just to make sure he was dead.
After Clemons’s death, haunting phenomena in the house increased. Residents and guests reported finding that closed windows had been opened, an engraving hung on a wall was repeatedly found on the floor, and odd sounds were heard, especially coming from the attic when no one was there. On two separate occasions a male tenant and a female guest awoke at night to find themselves floating above their beds. A phantom of an old, balding, fat and short man was repeatedly seen; the description matched a portrait of Stoddert. A phantom woman also continued to be seen until the mid-1970s. In 1972, a couple who were housesitting were reportedly reversed in their bed the first night they slept in the master bedroom.
Hubert Humphrey, vice president during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration in the 1960s, considered living in Halcyon House, but restoration work was deemed to be too extensive. The house is privately owned and is a historical landmark.
- Alexander, John. Ghosts: Washington’s Most Famous Ghost Stories. Arlington, Va.: Washington Book Trading Co., 1988.
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