The photo above, featuring an east view along the south wall of the White House, was taken during the remodeling of the White House on May 25, 1950, by National Parks Service photographer Abbie Rowe and shows a transparent human-shaped figure towards the rear of the room. Various explanations have been offered including long exposure and reflected light, but none explain why the ghostly figure in question is transparent while other people in the photograph are so clear. The consensus is that the photograph is authentic and unaltered. The ghostly figure that appears in the photo, however, is still unknown.
Reports of ghostly apparitions at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are nothing new. The White house maintains a haunted legacy that dates back well over two hundred years. Even modern-day First Families report eerie occurrences inside the White House. In 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama told a Los Angeles classroom that her and the President had heard strange sounds in the hallway which prompted the couple to get out of bed to investigate only to find nothing and nobody in the hallway. A half a dozen presidents, at least as many first ladies, and dozens of notable dignitaries have reported ghostly happenings inside the White House. Here are a few of their stories.
The ghost of Dolley Madison
During Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, workers were ordered to dig up Dolley Madison’s rose garden, the original White House rose garden, to make way for a new garden. As they approached the garden to begin work, the ghost of Dolley Madison appeared, looking angry, and blocking their path. The workers were so frightened by her appearance that they ran from the scene, refusing to return. Suffice it to say, the garden remained untouched.
The ghost of Mr. Burns
Several accounts of a mysterious, and invisible, “Mr. Burns” have surfaced throughout the years. FDR’s valet once heard a disembodied voice calling him from a distance. When he turned to see who was calling, nobody was in sight but the voice, which sounded as if it were standing right next to him, stated quite clearly, “I’m Mr. Burns”.
The exact same scenario occurred over a decade later, during Truman’s administration, when a guard reported hearing the same voice identify himself as “Mr. Burns”. The guard, thinking the voice was the voice of then-Secretary of State James Byrnes, went to investigate only to find that the secretary had not been at the White House at all that day.
David Burns, or Mr. Burns, as he was known to the city of Washington, was forced to give up his land in 1790 to allow for construction of the White House (and most of the city of Washington).
The ghosts on the 2nd floor
The second floor of the White House, where the First Family resides, is the site of hundreds of stories of ghostly sightings. Harry Truman who once wrote:
“I sit here in this old house, all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway. At 4 o’clock I was awakened by three distinct knocks on my bedroom door. No one was there. Damned place is haunted, sure as shootin’!”
Truman also once wrote a similar account to his wife Bess:
“I sit here in this old house and work on foreign affairs, read reports, and work on speeches–all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway and even right in here in the study. The floors pop and the drapes move back and forth.”
Residents of the second floor have claimed to have seen the ghosts of Abigail Adams, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and several as-of-yet unidentified specters.
The ghost of Abigail Adams
In addition to the second-floor residential areas, the ghost of Abigail Adams has been seen in the East Room (the room in which she used to dry her laundry) and was a common sight during the Taft presidency. Even today, visitors to the White House East Room often report the smell of wet clothes and soap emanating from the room.
The ghost of President Lincoln appears frequently in the White House
The ghost of President Lincoln, who died a violent death just a few of blocks away from the White House, has been frequently sighted at the White House. It’s well known that Abraham Lincoln and his wife held séances in the White House, attempting to contact the spirit of their son Willie, who died in the White House and who has also been seen walking the halls. Some say they have conjured spirits that remain inside the White House today.
It is said that the ever-watchful ghost of Lincoln often appears the night before a national tragedy. Among others, the following noteworthy personalities have publicly acknowledged witnessing the ghost of Abraham Lincoln in the White House: Winston Churchill, Carl Sandburg, Grace Coolidge, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, Teddy Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Nancy Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Jackie Kennedy.
Calvin Coolidge’s wife, Grace, is believed to be the first person to see Lincoln’s ghost in the residence. Grace reported seeing the apparition standing in a window in the Oval Office looking across the Potomac to the former Civil War battlefields beyond. She said that during her years at the White House, the ghost of Lincoln appeared to her several times.
FDR’s valet was so spooked by the ghost of Honest Abe that he ran from the White House screaming and one of President Harrison’s bodyguards was so frightened by the spirit of Lincoln that he took matters into his own hands and attended a séance to plead with Lincoln to leave him alone. Ladybird Johnson, wife of Lyndon, claimed to have seen Lincoln while she was watching television. Eleanor Roosevelt, who used the Lincoln Bedroom as her study, often reported feeling the presence of the late president as she worked there late at night.
Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands gave a detailed report of her ghostly encounter with the late president. Hearing footsteps in the hallway during the middle of the night, the Queen awoke and listened carefully whilst lying in bed. When she heard a knock at her door, she arose and answered it. Standing there was the spirit of Abraham Lincoln staring back at her. She promptly fainted on the spot.
Winston Churchill’s encounter with the spirit of Abraham Lincoln was a humorous affair to everyone but Churchill himself. Churchill claims to have seen the ghost of Lincoln leaning against the fireplace as the nude prime minister, cigar in hand, walked from the bathroom. Churchill said the apparition quickly faded into nothingness but Churchill’s aversion to the room lasted until the end of his life – thereafter, when he visited the White House, he refused to stay in the room.
President Ronald Reagan recounted an incident that occurred during his presidency in which his daughter and her husband witnessed the ghost of Abraham Lincoln firsthand. In his own words, Reagan told reporters,
“A member of our family [he meant his daughter Maureen] and her husband always stay in the Lincoln Bedroom when they visit the White House. Some time ago the husband woke up and saw a transparent figure standing at the bedroom window looking out. Then it turned and disappeared. His wife teased him mercilessly about it for a month. Then, when they were here recently, she woke up one morning and saw the same figure standing at the window looking out. She could see the trees right through it. Again, it turned and disappeared.”
The ghost of Andrew Jackson curses in the Rose Room
Andrew Jackson’s toughness earned him the nickname “Old Hickory” so it should come as no surprise to most that death alone couldn’t drive him from the White House. Believed to be the ghost of the notoriously abrasive Andrew Jackson, a cursing ghost is often reported in the Rose Room (now known as the Queen’s Bedroom) where Jackson’s original bed remains to this day.
In the Rose Bedroom where Jackson used to sleep, White House staff have heard hearty laughter (a well-known Jackson trait), and many have heard his loud footsteps tromping around the room. Mary Todd Lincoln frequently reported hearing the foul-mouthed ghost between 1861 and 1865 and an LBJ aid reported hearing the cursing ghost in the Rose Bedroom in 1964. While staying in the Rose Room, several overnight visitors have reported having a ghostly manifestation slide into bed with them during the night.
The ghost in the Yellow Oval Room
Mary Todd is believed to be the first to report seeing the ghost of Thomas Jefferson in the Yellow Oval Room (located on the south side of the second floor). In fact, she reported seeing him multiple times in the room. Other visitors have reported hearing phantom violin music (Jefferson’s favorite musical instrument) coming from the room.
The torch-bearing British soldier
Years after the War of 1812 (during which the White House was set on fire by the British), there have been many reported sightings of a torch-toting ghost walking aimlessly around the White House grounds. In 1953, during the Eisenhower administration, a couple visiting the White House on an overnight stay reported having their bed set on fire several times during the night.
The White House attic ghost
Strange bumps and utterances are often heard coming from the White House attic and are believed to originate from the ghost of William Henry Harrison. Harrison was the ninth President of the United States and the first to die in office. Others have seen the ghost of Harrison around the attic area and described him as pale-blue colored with a hacking cough (Harrison died of pneumonia).
The ghost of Anna Surratt
Appearing annually on July 7, the ghost of Anna Surratt, whose mother Mary was implicated and executed for her part in the Lincoln assassination, has been frequently seen (and heard) beating on the back doors of the White House. It is said that as the pounding on the doors echoes throughout the inner chamber, witnesses hear the pleading voice of Anna begging for her mother’s life to be spared.
The demon cat in the basement
Even a “demon cat” has been reported in the White House basement. According to Huffington Post:
“There is reportedly a Demon Cat in the White House basement that is rarely seen. When it does appear, it is foretelling a national disaster. While the Demon Cat may at first look like a harmless kitten, it grows in size and evil the closer one gets. A White House guard saw it a week before the stock market crash of 1929, and it was also reportedly seen before Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.”
In-Article Image CreditsWhite House basement under construction circa 1950 via Twitter by White House Collection with usage type - Public Domain. Circa 1950
White House Third Floor attic construction via Cracker Pilgrim by National Archives with usage type - Public Domain
White House Yellow Oval Room 1886 via Wikimedia Commons by Library of Congress with usage type - Public Domain. 1886
White House Rose Bedroom (the Queen's Bedroom) via Columbia University Libraries with usage type - Public Domain. Circa 1903
Andrew Jackson in 1844 or 1845, within a year of his death via Plodding through the Presidents with usage type - Public Domain
William Mumler 19th-century portraits people and ghosts via Radio West by Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection with usage type - Public Domain
White House Second Floor Central Hall via Columbia University Libraries with usage type - Public Domain. Circa 1903
David Burns cottage on White House property Circa 1890 via Boundary Stones by Library of Congress with usage type - Public Domain
The President’s House, 1846 via Flashback with usage type - Public Domain. 1846
White House ghost via Altered Dimensions with usage type - Public Domain
Featured Image CreditWhite House ghost via Altered Dimensions with usage type - Public Domain