Spooky Sights

It’s Halloween – the time of year when ghosts wake from their slumber, witches encircle bubbling cauldrons to cast spells, and people adorn black and orange (two of the most uncomplementary hues). If spirits, hexes or ugly colors don’t satiate your desire for Halloween celebration, D.C. offers a bunch of festive things to do.

The Halloween activities began Tuesday with the annual drag queen race in Dupont Circle. If you missed it, make sure to catch it next year, but don’t be too bummed – the race just begins the ghoulish fun.

Many clubs offer Halloween parties Saturday. At most, costumes are welcomed but not required. Wardrobe creativity always adds to the evening. For frightening and bizarre sights, simply stroll through the streets of Georgetown on Halloween.

The tradition of trick-or-treating on Embassy Row must be mentioned. While getting a fleeting glimpse inside the embassies can be fun, rumors abound that embassies have become stingy in the past few years. Instead of handing out candies native to their countries, the embassies give out generic Halloween sweets.

If none of these ideas tickles your spooky bone, take a midnight tour of D.C.’s haunted spots. It takes some guts, especially on Halloween, but you never know who you might walk into – or through, for that matter. But, grabbing a bag of candy corn (preferably Brach’s) and hitting the sites creates an exciting – and tasty – Halloween adventure. But where do you go? Here are a few local myths.

Three Sisters

First, head into Georgetown. Up the Potomac River from the Key Bridge, three large granite rocks stick up through the water. It was at this point on the shore that three daughters of a medicine man of the Susquehannock tribe died during their attempt to cross the river. Before dying, the trio shouted a curse to prevent anyone from crossing the river at that spot. Spooky evidence of the sisters’ spirits exists. Each year, the Metro Police Department adds about six new names to the list of people who vanish near the rocks.

St. John’s Church

For more than 150 years, many people, including most American presidents, have worshipped in the church at 1525 H St. When the large church bell tolls the death of an important individual, the white-robed spirits of “six great Washingtonians” (time has obscured their names) appear at midnight. They sit on the front pew, where presidents sit, with their heads bowed to pay respect.

Dolley Madison’s House

The famous wife of President James Madison, Dolley remains an active D.C. citizen – at least her spirit does. During the last years of her life, Dolley lived in the house on the corner of Madison and H streets. Her spirit remains in her beloved home. It can be seen rocking in a chair in the shadows of her front porch.

Stephen Decatur’s House

A famous naval hero from the Barbary Wars and War of 1812, Decatur built a home on the corner of H Street and Lafayette Place. In 1820, he was fatally wounded and carried back to his home where he died. The night before his death, Decatur hosted a party where he spent most of the night staring out of one of his first-floor windows on H Street. Years later, people claimed to see Decatur’s specter peering out of the same window. The window was walled up, but Decatur’s apparition remains. It now can be seen slipping out of the back door of the home – as the courageous naval hero did when he left for his final battle.

The Octagon

Dolley Madison’s spirit gets around – it resides here too. Dolley and her husband lived in The Octagon after the British burned the White House in 1814. However, she is not alone in her haunting.

John Tayloe constructed the building on the corner of New York Avenue and 18th Street with six sides to fit the peculiar shape of the land. The building does have six sides. The geometric shape of the building creates rooms positioned at angles, resulting in odd corners and closets that lead to other closets. Tunnels at the rear of the building supposedly lead to the White House and the Potomac River. With all of the intricate workings, ghouls have plenty of space in which to lurk. Tayloe’s daughter haunts the stairway. After a heated argument with her father, she flung herself down the stairs, killing herself. Her spirit has dwelled in the building since her suicide. At least Dolley keeps her company. If you can’t see Dolley, take a whiff – the fragrance of lilacs always surrounds her.

Organization of American States

The Van Ness mansion, constructed in 1816, originally stood on the corner of Constitution Avenue and 17th Street, where the OAS now stands. The OAS houses many spirits – some are heard and others seen. The laughter of a daughter who died during childbirth echoes through the building. Don’t be fooled and think she is a friendly ghost – her laughter eventually changes to bloodcurdling screams. Footsteps also can be heard scampering up and down the staircase. The phantoms of the OAS prove not all ghosts are humans. The six white horses that belonged to the Van Ness family can be seen galloping through the OAS building in a vain search for their long-departed owner.

White House

Everyone knows some strange, twisted things happen in the White House. But, Clinton is not alone – in the house, that is. He lives among many spooks.

Abigail Adams’ specter can be seen carrying a load of laundry to hang in the East Room. The apparition of a British soldier killed on White House grounds during the War of 1812 roams the premises. Usually he is spotted carrying a torch and trying to burn down the White House.

The bed in the Rose Room originally belonged to Andrew Jackson. His laughter, sighing and cursing has been heard by visitors to the room. Abraham Lincoln’s ghost showed itself to Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands several decades ago in this same room.

The Lincoln Bedroom, the site of many of the assassinated president’s foreboding dreams and visions, continues to be inhabited by Lincoln. Winston Churchill refused to sleep in the room even though it was the traditional room for visiting male heads of state.

Thomas Jefferson also remains in the White House. In the Yellow Oval Room, he can be heard playing his violin and sighing softly.

While some of the homes might be closed on Halloween and it’s difficult to get into the White House, spirits don’t always stay in their rooms. Many like to wander or float outside for fresh air. Walk by these haunted spots on Halloween and you may need to share your candy corn with more than your friends.

Source: Ghosts: Washington’s Most Famous Ghost Stories (The Washington Book Trading Company) by John Alexander

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