Ghosts of Presidents Past

Did you know? Lincoln, who is believed to have attended only two of the séances his wife held in the White House, actually foresaw his own death more than once, including in a dream he had shortly before he was killed.

When Abigail Adams and her husband John, the second president of the United States (1797-1801), moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from the former U.S. capital in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. was still just a town, built mostly on swampy land on the banks of the Potomac River. Because the East Room of the new White House was the warmest and driest, Abigail used it to hang the wash. Her ghost, clad in a cap and lace shawl, has reportedly been seen heading towards the East Room, arms outstretched as if carrying laundry.

A lesser-known early White House personality who has been said to haunt its halls was David Burns, who sold the government most of the land on which the city of Washington, including the presidential residence.  Lillian Rogers Parks, a seamstress who chronicled her 30-year career working at the White House in a 1961 memoir, told the story of a valet to President Franklin D. Roosevelt who reportedly heard a disembodied voice coming from a distance in the Yellow Oval Room, saying “I’m Mr. Burns.” During Harry S. Truman’s administration, a guard heard a similar voice; thinking it was then-Secretary of State James Byrnes, he went looking for him, only to learn that the secretary hadn’t been at the White House that day.

In the early 1860s, First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, who believed strongly in the occult, and reportedly held séances in the White House to commune with the spirits of her dead sons, told friends she had heard Jackson stomping and swearing through the halls of the presidential residence. The Rose Room, Jackson’s bedchamber while he was president, is believed by some to be one of the most haunted rooms in the White House.

For generations, people have have claimed to have seen Abraham Lincolns ghost. One paranormal researcher believes he has photographic proof of Lincoln’s spirit. Joshua Warren says a 1950 photo taken in the White House basement shows a strange ghost like figure that he believes is America’s 16th president.

By far the most frequently reported sighting in the White House over the years has been the ghost, or at least the presence of, the celebrated 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, whose life was cut tragically short by an assassin’s bullet in April 1865. Grace Coolidge, wife of President Calvin Coolidge (1923-29), was the first person to say she had actually seen Lincoln’s ghost. According to her, the lanky former president was standing looking out a window of the Oval Office, across the Potomac to the former Civil War battlefields beyond. Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Johnson (1963-69), reportedly felt Lincoln’s presence one night while watching a television program about his death.

History.com Editors

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