The President of the United States lives in a very historic and very haunted home. Construction on the “President’s palace” began in 1792 and was overseen by George Washington—though Washington never lived long enough to spend a single night in the home. On November 1, 1800, President John Adams and his wife, Abigail, would be the first to get the honor of sleeping there.
The history of the White House is a direct reflection of life in the United States. The mansion has always been center stage for celebrations, mourning, controversy, and perseverance. It was completely gutted by fire set by the British during the War of 1812, and some have reported seeing a ghostly Redcoat still wandering the grounds.
Some presidents bore the weight of the nation on their shoulders during times of crisis. But no president has had to deal with the pressures that Abraham Lincoln endured—trying to hold a country together that was at war with itself. Not surprisingly, Lincoln is the most prominent spirit encountered in the White House today.
What is now the Lincoln Bedroom was actually the executive office when Lincoln served as president. The room is a hot spot for paranormal activity—staff have reported the lights turning themselves on and off, and doors opening and closing. But Lincoln is seen in other parts of the building as well.
Tony Savoy, White House operations foreman, discussed his encounter with the ghost of President Lincoln in an interview on the official White House Website:
“It was early one morning, and I was taking care of the plants up on the second floor. I used to come in early in the morning and turn the lights on and walk down the hall in the dark. When I turned the light on one morning, he was sitting there outside his office with his hands over top of each other, legs crossed, and was looking straight ahead.
He had a gray, charcoal [colored] pin-striped suit on, and he had a pair of three-button spats turned over on the side with black shoes on. He was sitting there, and he startled me and I stopped. And when I blinked, he was gone. And I left there and went down the stairs and told assistant usher Nelson Pierce what I had seen. And he said I’m just one of the other ones that had seen him throughout the house over the past years.”
Other notable specters reported at the White House include Dolley Madison’s angry ghost standing by her beloved rose garden when some groundskeepers were coming to remove it, and the ghost of Lincoln’s son, William Wallace, who died in 1862. The young boy was one of the earliest ghost reports at the White House—even making it into Mary Todd Lincoln’s personal correspondence.
Written by — Jeff Belanger Founder, Ghostvillage.com
THE WHITE HOUSE
1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE NW
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20500
TEL: 1 (202) 456-2121
White House The living and working quarters of the president of the United States in Washington, D.C., has numerous Ghosts in residence.
Following the end of the Revolutionary War in 1776, there was much discussion about where the new United States should have its capital. George Washington, the first president, selected a swampy site on the Potomac River that was to become the District of Columbia. An entire city was designed by French architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant.
Work on the White House was begun in 1792. The house was designed by architect James Hoban. Washingtonsupervised construction but never lived in it. The second president, John Adams (1797–1801), moved in while the house was still incomplete. It was not finished during his term.
During the War of 1812, the British burned it. James Madison and his wife, Dolley, were living there; Dolley is credited with saving government documents and a portrait of George Washington from the fire. Rain fell and extinguished the fire, saving enough of the house for rebuilding. The reconstruction took three years. Renovations and additions were made in subsequent years.
The residence was called the President’s Palace, President’s House and Executive Mansion until 1901, when President Theodore Roosevelt officially christened it the White House.
Today the White House has six floors, 132 rooms and 32 bathrooms. Two floors are open to public view. Some of the famous historical rooms are haunted.
Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams, used the East Room for hanging laundry, as it was the driest room in the house. The East Room is the largest room in the White House and has been used for dances, receptions and various events. Teddy Roosevelt even held wrestling and boxing matches in the room. Abigail’s ghost is seen passing through the East Room doors, her arms outstretched as though she is carrying yet another load of presidential laundry. Sometimes she leaves behind faint smells of soap and damp clothing.
The ghost of a British soldier from the War of 1812 has appeared, carrying a torch. Legend has it that he was killed on the White House grounds while trying to set the house afire. In 1954, a distraught couple visiting the White House told a valet that a ghost had tried to set their bed on fire all night long.
President Andrew Jackson (1829–37) haunts the Rose Room, also known as the Queen’s Bedroom, with his raucous laughter. The source of the haunting seems to be the bed, which probably belonged to Jackson. He died in 1845 at his home, the Hermitage, in Nashville, Tennessee, but his ghost seemed fond of returning to the White House. Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of ABRAHAM LINCOLN, said she could hear him stomping about and swearing. In modern times, a cold presence attributed to Jackson has been felt in the Rose Room.
Mary Lincoln also sensed other ghostly presences during her husband’s tenure from 1861 to 1865. In the Yellow Oval Room, she heard a phantom violin playing and told others that it was the ghost of President Thomas Jefferson (1801–9), who liked to play his violin in that room.
During the Harry Truman presidency (1945–52), a guard heard a voice whisper, “I’m Mr. Burns, I’m Mr. Burns.” The voice seemed to come from the attic over the Yellow Oval Room, though no one was up there. The voice was attributed to the ghost of David Burns, the man who had owned the land on which the White House stands—but who did not want to sell it to the government in 1790.
The lanky ghost of Abraham Lincoln has the strongest presence in the White House. Perhaps it is due to the tragedy of his assassination, which sent shock waves through the war-torn country, and to the moody president’s own psychic nature. Lincoln haunts the Oval Office, where presidents conduct their official business, and his former bedroom, now known as the Lincoln Room. The ghost of his son Willie, who died at age four in the White House, also has been experienced.
Mary Surratt was executed as a conspirator in Lincoln’s assassination. The night before her sentence was carried out, her daughter, Anna, forced her way to the front door of the White House, where she pleaded for her mother’s life. Her ghost appears on the anniversary night to reenact the scene.
- Alexander, John. Ghosts: Washington’s Most Famous Ghost Stories. Arlington, Va.: Washington Book Trading Co., 1988.
- “The History of the White House.” Available online. URL: https://www.whitehouse.gov. Downloaded Sept. 9, 1999.
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