The Ghosts That Haunt the White House

They say that the house is haunted. Ridiculous, you say? No educated person believes in ghosts! Before you utterly dismiss the claims, however, you would do well to consider the credentials of those who insist they have seen the spirits wandering the halls.

Photo by Pedro Figueras on

The house is old. That seems to be one prerequisite for most haunted houses. As is usually the case with alleged haunted houses, it has seen more than its fair share of tragedies, as well. It has been home to a lot of families over the years. Most of them have been fairly well-to-do, so there have been quite a few servants and houseguests who have slept under its roof.

That’s not to say that it was always easy to find servants willing to share their workspace with disembodied spirits. There was the time, for example, when the ghostly apparition of a teenage boy had been sighted. Those who claimed to see him first reported the sensation of a slight pressure on the shoulder — as if someone was leaning over you to see what you were doing. That’s when they would see a boy of about 14 or 15 years of age. One moment he was there. The next, he was gone.

Enough servants saw The Thing, as it came to be known, that a feeling of panic began to fill the house. As one servant after another resigned, it created a real problem. William was the master of the house at that time. He gave strict instructions that no one was to talk about The Thing again. He warned that anyone who was caught spreading that ghost story would be immediately fired.

One of the worst offenders was Jeremiah Jerry Smith. He worked at the house for most of his life and had witnessed a lot. He could always be counted on to share stories of the various ghosts that wandered the halls. He claimed to have seen the spirits of several prior occupants who seemed to want to return, even after leaving their mortal coil.

Abraham Lincoln

The ghostly sightings caused quite a stir among the houseguests, as well. Perhaps it is for that reason that we can’t entirely dismiss these sightings as wild figments of imagination. The guests who claimed to have seen spirits wandering the halls have some pretty impressive credentials and are not known for their flights of fancy.

The claims of two of the guests, in particular, are noteworthy because they each reported seeing the same ghost. They described the spirit as a tall, thin man whose expression suggested that he was carrying the weight of the world. He was seen in the room that he used as a study when he lived at the house. Although that room had been converted into a bedroom, the guests who saw him preferred to sleep elsewhere — perhaps for that very reason. After all, who would want to run the risk of waking up in the middle of the night and seeing Abraham Lincoln towering over your bed?

That’s right. One of the ghosts is reported to be the spirit of the sixteenth President of the United States. Preposterous? Well, consider the sources for the sightings. One of them was a houseguest from the Netherlands. Her name was Wilhelmina, and she happened to be the queen of that nation. The other guest who insists he saw Lincoln was also visiting from another country. His name was Winston Churchill.

Yes, the haunted house in question is more popularly known as the White House. Sightings of Lincoln’s uneasy spirit have been reported by others, including First Lady Grace Coolidge. Ronald Reagan’s dog, Rex, found the Lincoln Bedroom so unnerving that he refused to enter it. If he saw anything, he never told anyone.

Lincoln’s son Willie has been reported wandering the halls, as well. He first started visiting during the administration of Ulysses S. Grant. The teenage boy known as The Thing was seen repeatedly while William Howard Taft was in office.

As for Jeremiah Jerry Smith, he regaled listeners with countless stories about his 35 years of working at the White House. He insisted that he saw the ghosts of Lincoln, Grant, William McKinley, and several first ladies.

Among the former occupants of the Executive Mansion who seem to insist upon returning is Andrew Jackson. Visitors to the Queen’s Bedroom have reported the startling experience of entering the room and seeing Jackson laying on the bed. The former president has been known to boom with a guttural laugh that reverberates throughout the building. Mary Todd Lincoln’s serenity was shattered by the sound of Jackson stomping and swearing through the residence.

Over the years, there have been many sightings — too many to be easily dismissed. Some of these include:

  • Thomas Jefferson playing his violin in the Yellow Oval Room.
  • Dolley Madison standing guard over the Rose Garden.
  • John Tyler continually proposing to his second wife, Julia Gardner, in the Blue Room.
  • William Henry Harrison, the first President to die in the White House, seems to favor the attic.
  • Abigail Adams used the massive East Room to hang laundry. To this day, the staff insists there are times when the smell of wet laundry and lavender inexplicably fills the room.
  • Anna Surratt, the daughter of Mary Surratt, bangs on the doors of the White House, pleading to see Andrew Johnson. She continues to seek a pardon for her mother who was executed as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Lincoln.
  • David Burnes, the owner of the land that was acquired to build the White House, likes to show up in the Yellow Oval Room.
  • An unnamed British Soldier who was killed during the War of 1812 roams the White House grounds holding a torch, seeking an opportunity to again set fire to the mansion.

Urban legends? Figments of overactive imaginations? Wild rumors used to draw attention away from other activities that have taken place within the building’s walls? We leave it to you to decide for yourself.

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