U.S. Capitol Building

U.S. Capitol building The headquarters of the Congress of the United States in Washington, D.C., is haunted by numerous Ghosts.

The Capitol building has been occupied since 1800, when Congress moved from Philadelphia to the newly completed site. Stories about its ghosts are nearly as old as the building itself.

The morose ghost of Pierre Charles L’Enfant roams the Capitol. L’Enfant, a French engineer and architect, was commissioned by President George Washington to design the city of Washington, D.C. He had many confrontations over the execution of his plans, and eventually Congress fired him. He died a pauper in 1825, unpaid and unappreciated for his work. But in 1889, Congress had a change of heart, took his plans from the archives and pursued their development. L’Enfant’s ghost is a seedy-looking, small man who carries a roll of parchment under one arm and paces about in basement rooms, shaking his head.

In the 1860s, a worker in the building fell off a scaffolding and was killed. His ghost haunts the corridors. Another story, most likely legend, tells of the ghost of a stonemason whose body was supposedly walled into the construction.

John Quincy Adams, the nation’s sixth president, from 1825–29, remains in ghostly form, doing what he loved the most: giving speeches. Adams, known as “Old Man Eloquent,” served nine terms in the House of Representatives following his tenure as president. On February 23, 1848, Adams took the floor to speak out against honoring the generals who had won the Mexican War. Then and there he suffered a stroke and was carried out. He died a few hours later.

Ghostly parties have been going on in Statuary Hall since at least the 1890s. The hall, the old House chamber until 1840, is filled with statues of famous figures in American history. At midnight, they reportedly come down off their pedestals and fl oat about. They are especially fond of celebrating New Year’s Eve.

Henry Wilson, vice president under President Ulysses S. Grant (1869–77), is heard coughing and sneezing in the corridor leading to the vice president’s office. Wilson was fond of “tubbing,” or taking a bath in one of the many marble tubs from Italy imported for congressional pleasure. In November 1875 he caught a fatal respiratory infection after bathing. His ghostly form is seen as though returning from tubbing.

Charles Guiteau, who fatally shot President James Garfield on July 2, 1881, has been seen on a stairway leading to a basement.

Stains on the marble stairs to the House Gallery are said to be blood stains from the fatal shooting of a former congressman in 1890. William Taulbee of Kentucky got into an argument with a newspaper reporter, Charles Kincaid, over some articles Kincaid had written about Taulbee. Kincaid pulled out a gun and shot him dead. Reportedly, no amount of cleaning can remove the stains. Whenever a reporter stumbles on the stairs, it is said to be due to the ghost of Taulbee who lies in wait.

Phantom footsteps of an invisible guard are heard in the corridors late at night. And, whenever a famous American lies in state in the Rotunda, a spectral Unknown Soldier comes to pay its respects, saluting and then vanishing.

Cats were once kept in residence at the Capitol in order to catch mice. For more than a century a Demon black cat has prowled the halls on occasion at night, terrifying anyone who sees it. It chooses its victims with great care, paralyzing them by glaring at them with its piercing eyes. It approaches and seems to grow to the size of a tiger. Just as it pounces, it vanishes. The Demon cat is said to always appear just before a national tragedy or before the changing of administrations.

Further Reading:

  • Alexander, John. Ghosts: Washington’s Most Famous Ghost Stories. Arlington, Va.: Washington Book Trading Co., 1988.
  • The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007