Capitol Hill Haunts: Searching for Ghosts in Washington, D.C.

By posted on July 2, 2018 11:55AM
Haunted Sky at the Library of Congress

An unknown author once wrote “During the day I don’t believe in ghosts. At night I’m a little more open-minded.”

Our nation’s capital is rich in history and monumental democratic achievements, but behind its gates and within its corridors, lies quite an eerie past.

Conspiracies, murders, crimes of passion, duels, and even assassinations are widely believed responsible for many strange sightings, loud footsteps, and even a demon cat.  And there’s no better time to visit this haunted city than in the weeks prior to Halloween.

Washington D.C. Ghost Tours

D.C. Ghost Tours utilize professional and engaging tour guides.  Many are actors by trade who take visitors on an intriguing 90-minute, one-mile stroll through history they call “roadmaps to the paranormal.”

Carrying lamps and dressed in period costumes, these theatrical expedition guides regale tourists with compelling stories about the strange occurrences that have taken place throughout the city since its founding a little over two hundred years ago. Our tour, Capitol Hill Haunts was a brand-new addition to the Washington D.C. tour schedule.

Historical authenticity is the priority in that all ghost stories featured on the tour must have a minimum of three confirmed independent sources. As our guide, Jackie said, “it’s such a great way to introduce tourists and locals alike to Washington’s history along with its fascinating ghost stories.”

U.S. Senate and Tour Guide
U.S. Senate and Tour Guide

After ten of us gathered in the prior-arranged meeting place in D.C, Jackie said: “now let’s go see if any of you photographers will capture an orb in any of your photos.”

Folger Shakespeare Library

Folger Shakespeare Library was our first haunted stop.

“To be or not to be. That is the question. Is it not?” asked Jackie with a dramatic tone.

Containing the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare works, the Folger is home to many other rare Renaissance books, manuscripts, and works of art. The Library plays host to a theatre company that of no surprise runs live performances of Shakespeare plays like Antony and Cleopatra and The Winter’s Tale.

Folger Shakespeare Library
Folger Shakespeare Library

Shakespeare, of course, was known to introduce many ghosts in his plays—Julius Caesar who returns to haunt his murderer Brutus and the ghost of Hamlet’s father who appears to spur Hamlet to revenge.

Henry Clay Folger (no relation to the coffee company) and his wife Emily founded the library as a gift to the American public. Folger Library officially opened in 1932 but Folger himself died in 1930, never to see his dream come to fruition. Folger’s ashes are interred beneath the library’s Old Reading Room, the closest human remains to the Capitol.

Security guards have reported numerous incidents of whispers and running feet though no one is there. One guard after falling asleep was suddenly awakened by books flying off the library shelves and numerous light bulbs have spontaneously combusted on theater opening nights. The identity of the ghost is not known but is widely thought to be that of Folger himself who’s come to explore the library he graciously donated but never in this life saw.

Library of Congress

An eerie night sky appeared over the Library of Congress on our arrival. Two experienced photographers in our group had difficulty taking photos here due to their cameras malfunctioning. Our guide, in a dead disquieting voice, claimed this has happened before.

Inside the largest library in the world and the research arm of Congress, bizarre unexplained events have occurred throughout the years. Some have told tales of a ghostly police officer who’s seen helping those who become lost amidst the vast collection of books. Appearing both in uniform and casually clothed, the officer, who often tells people his name, is a deceased sergeant.

Security guards have heard sounds of running feet, then piles of books flying off the shelf and book pages being frantically flipped though no one is present.

Many believe this to be the ghost of a former librarian who was not liked by her co-workers. Mistrusting of the banks, she hid thousands of dollars inside the pages of library books only to have passed away before she could collect the money.

Though the money was eventually returned to her family, there is suspicion a portion of it was stolen by library workers. Perhaps some of the money remains lost within the thousands of volumes of books and is still being searched for by the deceased.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

U.S. Supreme Court Building

Stays of execution have been handed down from the highest court in the land, but in the history of our Capital’s judicial system, there have also been sentences handed down to include hanging and execution.

A woman hysterically crying, voices moaning and chains being dragged along the floor have been heard in the wee hours of the morning in this historic building. Some believe this to be the ghost of Mary Surratt, an alleged member of the Abraham Lincoln assassination conspiracy and the first woman ever executed by the U.S. government.

After Lincoln’s assassination, the nation’s desire for retribution was so intense; a kangaroo military tribunal led by Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt sent Surratt to her death on July 7, 1865, despite circumstantial evidence, here-say and the refusal of the conspirators’ rights to testify on their own behalf.

Historical documents confirm Judge Holt changed dramatically after the trial, becoming increasingly reclusive spending his remaining years in solitude behind the doors of his decrepit decaying home.

Some claim to have seen him after the trial pouring over transcripts from the hearing. And it’s been told that the figure of a man is sometimes seen in the late hours of night clad in a midnight blue Union uniform, with cape pulled tightly about him, walking down Washington’s 1st Street. According to the legend, he is headed to the Old Brick Capitol to try to learn the truth from the prisoner Mary Surratt herself.

United States Capitol Building

Capitol at Night
Capitol at Night

Known as one of the most thoroughly haunted buildings in the world, at least 15 well-authenticated ghosts have been seen here by Capitol guards who patrol the massive building’s many empty rooms and corridors on the nightshift.

Numerous incidences of eerie footsteps following closely behind the guards as they cross Statuary Hall have been reported. Pounding and scratching have been heard from within a wall said to have accidentally encased a construction worker who’d fallen asleep behind a partially constructed foundation.  As he slumbered in silence, walls were built up around him forever encasing him in a tomb of stone.

Staffers working late into the night have disclosed incidents of murmurings, heated arguments, strange sweaty smells and the sound of a pounding gavel within the House of Representatives chamber.

U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. House of Representatives

Ghostly sightings of former presidents, vice presidents, presidential assassins, congressmen, and architects have all been reported in the capitol building. Apparitions of a Civil War soldier and the ghost of a builder who died during the Capitol’s construction have been seen in the Rotunda.

Statues have been observed off their pedestals moving about the room in Statutory Hall and on numerous occasions the glowing eyes of a “demon cat” have been seen in the basement of the capitol. These are not isolated incidences.

U.S. Senate
U.S. Senate

Ford’s Theater

Though not on the ghost tour, a visit to the historic theater where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865 was a must-do add-on to our quest to explore Washington D.C. haunts.

Presidential Box at Ford's Theater
Presidential Box at Ford’s Theater

On many occasions, witnesses there have reported footsteps running up the back stairs to the Presidential Box where Lincoln was shot. Some have heard a single gunshot and the screaming of the word “murder.” Theater workers have claimed they’ve even seen a nervous and fretful Mary Todd Lincoln sitting in the Presidential Box alone.

Even more so, many actors in live performances have felt chilling sensations and intense cold spots while on stage.

Last Known Photo of Lincoln before Assassination
Last Known Photo of Lincoln before Assassination

Whether each and every one of these incidents have actually occurred or has been the result of one’s overactive imagination, the fact remains that mysterious happenings have indeed been a part of our nation’s history for years.

Believers or non-believers alike enjoy hearing the fascinating stories—good or bad that have been played an integral part of who we are as a nation today. And these stories seem even better as it gets closer to Halloween.

Capitol and White House
Capitol and White House

Noreen L. Kompanik is a registered nurse and freelance writer and photographer based in San Diego, California. Fortunate to have lived overseas as a Naval Officer’s wife, she has traveled extensively and her many Italian and other European adventures have sparked her passion for cooking and wine tasting. A member of the International Travel Writers and Photographers Association, Noreen is a frequent contributor to several online and print publications. She shares her latest adventures, photos, and published stories on her What’s In Your Suitcase? Facebook page. Her stories reflect her love for travel, history, adventure and family.

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