By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky
"Yesterday, upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today, I wish, I wish he’d go away.
When I came home last night at three,
The Man was waiting there for me.
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn’t see him there at all.” ~ Hughes Mearns, ‘Antigonish’ (1899)
All Hallow's Eve begins each year at midnight on October 31st. According to legend, it is the one day of the year when spirits of the dead return to walk among the living. So, what better time than HALLOWEEN to address the continuing mystery that has confounded and intrigued people for centuries?
Namely, Do spirits haunt people and places? If so, why? And is it just on Halloween? Or, do spirits visit us every day?
The White House is perhaps the most historic home in the United States of America, and has long been rumored to be haunted. Imagine if those walls could talk. As the residence for every President of the United States since 1800, it is cloaked not only in the dramatic history of this nation, but served also as the private home for each First Family. Surely this great house resonates with the echoes of the past; imprints of those who once resided there and who perhaps never left. [Pictured: First Lady Lucy Hayes with two of her children and a family friend in the White House conservatory, 1879.]
Although most are familiar with the stories about Abraham Lincoln's ghost wandering about The White House, there have been other ghost sightings as well. As someone curious about the paranormal and haunted sites, more often than not the location is haunted by someone who lived or died there. Upon deciding to investigate rumored paranormal activity at The White House, I began my research by learning what United States Presidents died during their tenure. More importantly, did any Presidents actually die in The White House? In addition, what about members of the First Family? This blog will address my findings.
PRESIDENTS WHO DIED IN OFFICE
In total, eight (8) Presidents of the United States died while in office. They include: William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy.
Among these men, William Henry Harrison was the first United States President to die in office. He also had the shortest term as a President, from 04 March 1841 to 04 April 1841. The cause of his death was Pneumonia, believed to have resulted from a severe cold he contracted after giving an almost 2-hour Inaugural Address in rain and snow. In addition, Harrison was the first United States President to actually die in The White House.
On 09 July 1850, Zachary Taylor became the second President to die in office, and the second President to die in The White House. The cause of his death was contaminated fruit consumed at a Fourth of July celebration at The Washington Monument.
Next came Abraham Lincoln. Shot while attending a play at The Ford Theatre, he did not die in The White House. However, his body was brought there for embalming and lay in state in the East Room of The White House for public viewing. A two-week funeral procession by train to various states would culminate in his burial in Illinois.
President John A. Garfield died on 19 September 1881, from an infection caused by physicians probing his body with their bare fingers and non-sterilized equipment to find and remove a bullet received during an Assassination attempt on 02 July 1881. Although shot in Washington, D.C., and first tended at The White House, Garfield died in a cottage on the Jersey shore where he had been attempting to recuperate.
The fifth President to die in office was William McKinley. While attending the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, McKinley was shot by an assassin on 06 September 1901. Tended in Buffalo, he died on 14 September 1901 from Gangrene. A funeral train transported his body back to Washington, D.C., where he lay in state in the East Room of The White House. His body would then be taken by train to Canton, Ohio, for burial.
On 02 August 1923, Warren G. Harding died in San Francisco at The Palace Hotel. Harding had been traveling cross-country by train on a goodwill tour. The cause of his death was attributed to Pneumonia, Heart Attack, and/or Stroke. Although rumors suggested Harding might have been poisoned, his wife refused to consent to an autopsy so the exact cause of death was never determined.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only United States President elected for four (4) consecutive terms, died on 12 April 1945 in Warm Springs, Georgia. A victim of polio since 1921, Roosevelt had a vacation home in Warm Springs where he believed the warm, mineral waters helped his legs. He died from a massive Cerebral Hemorrhage after complaining of a severe headache while reading official papers. Roosevelt's body was transported by funeral train back to Washington, D.C. Roosevelt did not want a pubic viewing; therefore, a closed casket service was held in the East Room of The White House. His remains were afterwards transported by train for burial in Hyde Park, New York.
On 22 November 1963, John F. Kennedy became the eighth President to die in office. After his assassination in Dallas, Texas, Kennedy's body was flown back to Washington, D.C. His closed, flag-draped coffin lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda until 25 November, whereupon a funeral procession followed a route passed The White House to St. Matthew's Cathedral. Kennedy was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
On 25 October 1892, First Lady Caroline Scott Harrison died from Tuberculosis in The White House. In addition to helping establish the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Caroline Harrison supervised four generations of the Harrison family living in The White House and also supervised the total refurbishing of the Presidential residence. A private service for her was held in the East Room of The White House. Her remains were then taken to Indiana for a church funeral service and burial.
The third First Lady to die in The White House was Ellen Axson Wilson [pictured above]. Although diagnosed with the incurable Bright's Disease on 01 March 1914, she realized in August 1914 how rapidly and badly her condition had deteriorated. She told her husband she would go away peacefully to die if her "Alley Bill" would pass in Congress. The "Alley Bill" sought better housing, especially for black laborers in D.C. The Senate passed the bill the same day and promised the House would pass it the next day. She died in The White House less than an hour after learning of the actions taken by the Senate and promise by the House. A private service was held for her in the East Room of The White House. Her remains were later transported to Rome, Georgia for burial.
Willie and his younger brother Tad had contracted Typhoid Fever; both boys were being tended in separate rooms. What isn't known by many is that Willie died in what is now known as the Lincoln Bed. He was the third son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, born the same year the couple's second son had died.
A sweet, kind child, Willie had only weeks before his death told their pastor that he wanted to be a preacher when he grew up. To say Willie's death hit Lincoln and his wife hard would be an understatement. They were devastated. And although Lincoln openly wept for the boy and grieved mightily for him, the death of Willie proved an emotional breaking point for Mary Todd Lincoln.
After his death, Willie's body was taken to the Green Room for embalming. The funeral was held in the East Room. Two white horses then pulled the hearse to Georgetown for burial. So overwhelmed with grief was the boy's mother, and terrified the same fate would come to her youngest child, Mary could not bear to attend the funeral. Afterwards, she would never cross the threshold into the Green Room or the bedroom where Willie died.
What comfort can be found to one so lost in grief? What remedy that even her faith could not soothe?
The country was still divided and at War. Commander-In-Chief, Abraham Lincoln tried to focus his attention on the dire responsibilities of his Presidency, but he was also dealing with his own grief over Willie's death. In addition, he sees his fragile wife cannot come to terms with the death of their son. Lost in an enveloping darkness of her sadness, Mary somehow grasped onto the practice of spiritualism, and the possibility she might find a way to communicate with her deceased loved ones.
As a pragmatic man, Lincoln likely attended the first séance out of concern for his wife's welfare and/or skepticism whether the medium was honest or a charlatan. The fact he allowed his wife to continue with the séances at The White House could be attributed to Lincoln's belief in whatever happened at that first séance, or by seeing that his wife was comforted by the experience...perhaps both.
Ten days before his Assassination, Lincoln experienced a prophetic dream about his death. Three days before he was killed, he told his friend and biographer, Ward Hill Lamon, about the vivid, disturbing, recurring dream. Each night of the three nights leading up to the day of his assassination, Lincoln had the same dream. Ultimately, on the fateful day, Lincoln told William H. Crook (a bodyguard) about the dreams. Although Crook advised Lincoln not to attend the play that evening, the President replied that he'd promised his wife. Yet, as he departed The White House, Lincoln said 'goodbye' to Crook -- the first and only time he'd said that to the man. Before then, Lincoln always bid Crook 'goodnight'.
After the assassination of her husband, Mary Todd Lincoln's interest in spiritualism increased. She continued to attend and participate in séances. Whether or not the mediums whose services she sought were truly gifted we will never know. One can only hope they did not prey upon such a fragile lady who had lost so much and suffered such heartbreaking losses.
Yet another question comes to mind about these seances. It is often believed that seances open a door to the spirit world. What if that door was never closed? What if Mary Todd Lincoln's grief created a portal through which the ghosts of those who lived or died at The White House could return from time-to-time?
GHOST SIGHTINGS AT THE WHITE HOUSE
Without question, it is the ghost of President Lincoln that has been most seen by White House staff and several Presidential family members, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady Grace Coolidge, First Lady Claudia 'Lady Bird' Johnson, and both Maureen Reagan (daughter of President Ronald Reagan) and her husband. Others who have professed to have seen the full body apparition of Abraham Lincoln are British Prime Minister Winston Churchill,and Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands.
A very intriguing photo taken in 1950 appears to show the full body ghostly apparition of a man believed to be Abraham Lincoln. From 1949-1952, President Harry S. Truman authorized necessary structural renovations of The White House.
Judging by the stance of this figure, he appears to have been watching the man in the earth-moving machine, then turned his head toward the high windows as if something else caught his attention. His face appears (at least to me) to be in profile -- and he has a beard. If nothing else, it is fascinating to speculate.
Joshua P. Warren discusses his extensive research on the photograph in a short video on his website. If you would like to see the video, or learn more about this photograph and the research conducted by paranormal investigator and author, Joshua P. Warren, visit:
“Ghosts, like ladies, never speak till spoke to.” ~ Thomas Ingoldsby, ‘The Ghost’ (1837)
It should be noted, however, that Lincoln's ghost is not the only spirit that has been seen at The White House. According to The White House Historical Association, numerous ghost sightings have been seen. In fact, there have been rumors of paranormal activity and spectral visitations at The White House dating back to the time of its first Presidential occupant, John Adams.
Among the ghosts that many have seen or heard are:
1) Willie Lincoln has often been seen walking the halls. He was first seen during the 1870s by members of the Grant Administration. Was he perhaps looking for his family?
2) The ghost of First Lady Dolley Madison has appeared in the Rose Garden, which she planted.
3) First Lady Abigail Adams has been seen hanging laundry in the East Room (which during her tenure as First Lady was the warmest room and where she did laundry). Her ghost was reported numerous times during the Taft Administration, and seen as recently as 2002 -- always accompanied by the scent of wet laundry and lavender soap.
4) The ghosts of Presidents Grant, Lincoln, and McKinley were seen by Jeremiah Jerry Smith, who worked at The White House for 35-years, beginning with the Grant Administration. He also reported seeing several First Ladies.
5) The ghost of Andrew Jackson has been seen in his bed in the Queen's Bedroom aka 'Rose Room', and Mary Todd Lincoln claimed to have seen him stomping and swearing. Incidentally, the Rose Room is reportedly one of the most haunted rooms in The White House.
6) Thomas Jefferson plays his violin in the Yellow Oval Room.
7) John Tyler haunts the Blue Room.
8) William Henry Harrison reportedly haunts the Attic.
Although one can reasonably assume The White House does not conduct Ghost Tours, it is interesting to note how many people have seen or heard paranormal activity at The White House. Are these spectral appearance merely imprinted images from another time? Or, do ghosts visit The White House, curious to see the changes that have been made and the State of the Union? Whatever the reason, it is a nice thought to think they may be still looking out for the country they loved and served.
Thank you for stopping by today. I hope you enjoyed learning about the reported Hauntings of The White House.
HAPPY HALLOWEEN! ~ AKB