The Unexplained: Ghosts in the White House

A view of the North Portico of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

You may be surprised to learn that the White House is haunted by such notable spirits from Dolly Madison to Abraham Lincoln.

Have you ever heard rumors that The White House is haunted?  The Yellow Oval Room is quite a hot spot.  The melodious sawing of Thomas Jefferson playing his violin has been heard there by several reliable people. 

Abraham Lincoln has been seen in The Yellow Oval Room—also in the Lincoln Bedroom.  Lincoln has actually been seen in one or the other of these places by Grace Coolidge, Winston Churchill, and Queen Wilhelmina. 

They admitted it.

The original owner of the land on which The White House was erected was David Burnes.  He has been seen and heard in The Yellow Oval Room.  

There is an apparition known as The Thing.  The Thing is a boy, about fourteen or fifteen years of age, that has made himself known repeatedly to the White House staff.  The first sign he is near is a pressure on the shoulder like he is resting his hand there. 

The Thing caused such a stir in the back rooms of The White House that President Taft’s military aide, Major Archibald Butt, first leaked mention of The Thing to his sister, Clara, in a letter.  He emphasized how frightened some of the staff were becoming. 

In a possible veiled threat to Major Butt, President Taft announced that he wanted Butt to relay to the staff that the first employee to repeat stories about The Thing would be fired.  Serious business.

As mentioned, Abe Lincoln has been seen about quite a bit, but his little son, Willie, has also been seen.  Willie, who died in The White House was seen in the 1870s by the staff of U. S. Grant.  

Mary Todd Lincoln, filled with grief, had introduced séance activities in The Red Room, in hopes of contacting her dear departed Willie’s spirit.  She sought comfort from the wave of spiritualism that was sweeping the land—those who had lost loved ones during The Civil War had fed this craze in a desperate attempt to contact their spirits.

There was a Jack-of-all-trades employed in The White House during the Grant administration.  He had been everything from a footman and official duster to a butler and a cook.  He claimed that during his 35 years of employment there that he had seen many ghosts:  Lincoln, Grant, McKinley, and quite a few first ladies.  If anxious reporters were having a slow day, waiting for a news flash, they could count on Jeremiah Jerry Smith to relay some choice accounts of roaming spirits.

Andrew Jackson has been heard laughing loudly from the bed in The Queen’s Bedroom (Rose Room).  He has been heard in quite a few places, sometimes stomping and cussing.  One who admitted hearing the cussing was Mary Todd Lincoln.

Dolly Madison staked The Rose Garden as her haunting grounds.

The laundry of Abigail Adams can be detected hanging and drying invisibly near The East Room.  The aroma of damp linen and lavender is sometimes heavy enough to cause physical reactions in those nearby.

The first president to die in The White House, William Henry Harrison has claimed the attic to haunt.

John Tyler was heard on more than one occasion proposing to Julia Gardner who became his second wife.

Anna Surratt, Mary Surratt’s daughter has pounded on the door begging Andrew Johnson to pardon the woman who was hanged for her part in The Lincoln Conspiracy.  Hearing this would be quite unsettling, but several have heard it.

One of the most common spirit sightings is that of a soldier from The War of 1812.  This British soldier who died on American soil has been seen roaming the grounds with a lit torch.

In case this all sounds bogus or far-fetched, I retrieved the information from the horse’s mouth, kind of—The White House Historical Association.


Sara Marie Hogg is the author of Quite Curious, a collection of true stories about the bizarre and unexplained. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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