White House Ghost Stories: The Lincoln Bedroom Ghost and Other Spirits

Washington, D.C., scenics
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The White House has some of the most famous ghost stories in the world. The American presidential headquarters at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the home to the Lincoln bedroom ghost, Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison, and a host of other spooky stories. The White House has been lived in by every presidential family since its construction in 1800, and employees and residents have consistently reported the sightings of eerie apparitions.

Did You Know?

  • The White House is full of hauntings, many of which involve mysterious sounds, scents, and sightings.
  • The ghost that seems to be the busiest is that of Abraham Lincoln; more people report seeing him than any other White House apparition.
  • White House spiritual residents include former presidents, first ladies, British soldiers, and the man who originally owned the property.

The Ghost in Lincoln's Bedroom

Although he didn't actually die in the White House, Abraham Lincoln's ghost is the apparition people claim to see the most on the premises. Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth during a play at Ford's Theater, on April 14, 1865. Mortally wounded, he was taken across the street to the Peterson House, where he died the next morning. His body then lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda for three days before traveling to his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, via train for burial.

Lincoln Bedroom
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Reports of Lincoln's ghost at the White House have been made since fairly soon after his death in 1865. The Lincoln Bedroom, which was actually a meeting room during Lincoln's administration, seems to be the hub of much of the paranormal activities. Footsteps are heard in the room and outside the door by guests and staff members, and there are mysterious knocks on the door when there is no one visible out in the hall. Eleanor Roosevelt said she often felt a "presence" when she was in the Lincoln Bedroom.

Several notable visitors have claimed to see a physical incarnation of Lincoln. The first such report was made by Grace Coolidge, in the 1920s. Grace was the wife of President Calvin Coolidge, and said that she walked into the Oval Office to find Lincoln standing with his back to her, looking out the windows across the Potomac River.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was taking a bath one night when he was visiting the White House. Afterwards, he wandered naked into his bedroom, a glass of Scotch in hand and a cigar in his mouth, and discovered Abraham Lincoln standing at the fireplace. According to reports, Churchill simply said, "Mr. President, you appear to have me at a disadvantage."

During the Vietnam years, President Lyndon B. Johnson is said to have encountered Lincoln's ghost, and upon doing so, asked him for advice on how to handle an unpopular war. Lincoln's response was, "Don't go to the theater."

In addition to the president himself, some witnesses have encountered the ghost of his son, young Willie Lincoln, who died from typhoid fever in 1862.

Abigail Adams

When John Adams was elected the second President of the United States, he and his wife Abigail moved to Washington to take up residence in the newly built White House; prior to that, the nation's capital had been Philadelphia. When they got to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington was fairly swampy and wet, thanks to its proximity to the ocean, and it was pretty humid in most of the White House. Abigail soon discovered that the East Room was the warmest and driest place in the house, so she began using it to hang her laundry up to dry.

Portrait Of Abigail Adams
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Abigail died in 1818, some 17 years after she and her husband vacated the White House, but there are reports she is seen wandering the East Room and its adjacent hallway, wearing a lace cap and a shawl or cloak, and carrying a basket of laundry. Some staffers have reported smelling the scent of freshly washed sheets and lavender, which Abigail is said to have hung up with her drying linens to add fragrance.

Andrew Jackson

A few years before he became the seventh president of the United States in 1829, Andrew Jackson lost a highly contentious election against John Quincy Adams. Despite the fact that Jackson did eventually get to the White House, he still held a grudge against those who had supported his opponent in 1824, and often launched into profanity-laced tirades.

Andrew Jackson
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Andrew Jackson's ghost has been making an appearance since at least the 1860s. Mary Todd Lincoln was fascinated by the spiritual and paranormal, and often held seances in the White House to speak with her dead son, Willie. Mary was sensitive to such things, and often claimed to have heard a spectral Andrew Jackson stomping around, swearing, in various parts of the White House. Other people since the Lincoln administration, including President Dwight Eisenhower, have heard Jackson shouting and swearing.

Other Ghosts at the White House

There are plenty of other supernatural activities taking place in the halls of the White House. Some of the reported hauntings include:

  • The ghost of David Burns, the man who originally owned the land on which the White House now sits, is reported to speak to visitors, and is heard saying, "I am Mr. Burns." He is typically seen in the Yellow Oval Room or nearby. Rumor has it that Burns was cheated out of his property, and that's why he's still hanging around.
  • The first president to actually die in the White House was William Henry Harrison. He only held office for a month before passing away from pneumonia in 1841, and is said to haunt the attics, where he's heard and seen rummaging around in boxes and trunks, as if looking for something lost.
  • One of the conspirators in the Lincoln assassination plot was Mary Surratt. Her daughter Anne begged for leniency in her trial, and tried to get into the White House to meet with President Andrew Johnson. Mary was convicted and hanged, and Anne Surratt's ghost is sometimes heard and seen banging on the outer doors of the house, trying to get in to plead for a pardon for her mother.
  • The ghosts of several British soldiers have been seen on the White House property. One, whose name is unknown but is believed to have died in the War of 1812, is often spotted roaming the grounds holding a torch. Other soldiers, wearing their red coats and carrying muskets, have been seen wandering the halls.

    In addition to these eerie goings-on, there are regular stories from visitors to the White House about strange sounds and visions. Jenna Bush Hager, daughter of President George W. Bush, said that there were multiple times that she and her twin sister Barbara awakened to hear old-fashioned piano music emanating from the fireplace in their shared bedroom.

    Sources

    • History.com Editors. “Ghosts in the White House.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009, https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/ghosts-in-the-white-house.
    • Vargas, Theresa. “Is the White House Haunted? A History of Spooked Presidents, Prime Ministers and Pets.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 30 Oct. 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2017/10/30/is-the-white-house-haunted-a-history-of-spooked-presidents-prime-ministers-and-pets/?noredirect=on.
    • “White House Ghost Stories.” WHHA (En-US), https://www.whitehousehistory.org/press-room/press-fact-sheets/white-house-ghost-stories.