Cloture Club wants to wish you a HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Below are some of the ghoulish stories that have been catalogued throughout the history of the US Capitol. We hope you enjoy them and remember to keep your eyes open as you walk around the Capitol grounds to see if you have any ghostly sightings of your own.
10 Ghost Stories of the US Capitol
The Deadly Clash of Press and Politics
On 10 December 1887, Charles Kincaid, a reporter for the Louisville Times wrote an article describing the shameful actions Representative Preston Taulbee (D-KY) engaged in with a young female clerk and their frequent “trips” to the Patent Office. Congressman Taulbee grew frustrated as Kincaid exaggerated the story over the years, resulting in Taulbee’s character in constant question. On 28 February 1890, Taulbee spotted Kincaid standing near the southeastern stairway in front of the House Restaurant and lunged at him and pulled his ear. In retaliation, Kincaid pulled a pistol from his coat and shot the Congressman, wounding him severely. Taulbee died from the wound eleven days later at Providence Hospital, Washington, D.C. on 11 March 1890. During Kincaid’s trial, he claimed self-defense and was acquitted. Dark stains remain on the steps of the southeastern stairway where Taulbee’s blood dripped from the fatal wound. Staffers and guards have reported sightings of Taulbee ascending and descending the staircase where he was shot, searching for Kincaid in order to enact his revenge.
Very few people know that the Capitol was built mostly out of slave labor. Construction took place under rigorous and overwhelming conditions such as heat and snow. It has been rumored that, when the foundation was being constructed from 1794-1800, a slave or regular construction worker had taken shelter within the partially constructed foundation to take a quick nap. Unbeknownst to him, the foundations of the Capitol were laid around him as he slept, encasing him in a tomb of stone. His poor soul has been sealed up within the walls of the Capitol Building. At times staffers and visitors can hear pounding and scratching from within walls as the poor worker’s spirit frantically struggles to break free.
The Demon Cat/Ghost Cat of the Crypt
The ghost cat or ‘Demon Cat’ is a popular story. This creature haunts the basement of the Capitol building at night, usually spotted around the hall between the Crypt of the Capitol and the Old Supreme Court Chamber. Tourists can even see little paw prints on the floors of this hallway if they look close enough. The story goes that Capitol Hill, then Jenkins Hill, was once the home of a den of black cats, but once construction of the Capitol began (in 1794) the cat’s den was destroyed along with the family of cats. The mother cat now roams the halls of the basement of the Capitol building where presumably the den was located, searching for her young. Even though there are no unattended pets allowed in the Capitol, late night staffers and visitors have noticed an animal making quick dashes around this area of the building.
Sightings of the creature have mysteriously been followed by tragic occurrences throughout the United States. One such account tells of a Capitol Police officer who noticed a quick black dash across the floor. As he moved closer to catch a glimpse of the animal, its shadow grew bigger and more menacing. Then, quickly, it disappeared. The next day, 1 November 1918, a story in the newspaper described the worst rapid transit system accident in New York City with over 90 deaths.
An Assistant’s Curse upon the Capitol
One of Henry Latrobe’s closest associates was a man named John Lenthall who served as Clerk of the Works during the construction of the Capitol under President Thomas Jefferson. During 1808, the Senate chamber, which originally was on the ground floor, was being moved to the second floor and a chamber was being constructed on the floor below for the Supreme Court—now the Old Supreme Court Chamber. While Latrobe was in Philadelphia on business, Lenthall continued work on the vaulted ceiling in the Supreme Court chamber, hoping to complete the project before the return of his employer. On Friday, 16 September 1808, he began to remove supports on the dome. Moments after the supports were removed, workers heard a frightening sound as the ceiling began to collapse. Workers dove through doorways and windows to avoid the falling debris. All escaped, save Lenthall. Rumor has it that, with his dying breath Lenthall cursed the Capitol building.
Bathtubs and Vice President’s, a Deadly Combo
In the 1850’s, the Senate ordered bathtubs to be installed in the basement of the Capitol to provide Senators with a means of refreshment from their demanding duties. Vice-President Henry Wilson was among those who frequented these tubs. He would often be seen rushing through the Capitol toward his office to prepare to preside over the Senate. Maintenance crew and police swear they saw Wilson running through the basement of the Capitol wrapped in a towel, rushing to his office. On the evening of 22 November 1875, Vice-President Wilson fell asleep while soaking in one of the basement tubs. After waking, he made his way to the Vice-President’s office (now S-214) where he was stricken with a terrible case of pneumonia. He died that night in his office. Staffers and guards have testified that the Vice-President’s office is haunted by his spirit. They have sworn to have heard sounds of coughing and sneezing in the office and echoing in the halls. Others have sworn that they have smelled a quick, faint aroma of soap like that used in the basement bathtubs.
The Senate chamber was occupied by the Senate from 1810-1859 before relocating to the new Senate wing. While the Senate was in this chamber, Senators Daniel Webster and Henry Clay (former Speaker of the House) gave many famous addresses, particularly surrounding the countries great debate regarding slavery and the future of the Union. These men are known as two of the greatest orators of the time. While neither of these men died in the Old Senate Chamber, there have been reported sightings of the ghosts of these Congressmen standing in front of the now-empty seats, moving and gesturing as if giving a speech.
Not So Quiet Librarians
The current Speaker’s Hall was once the location of the Library of Congress until the space was unable to contain all the books it was required to hold. The first building for the Library of Congress was completed in 1897. During the time that this area of the Capitol served as the Library, it was bustling with librarians carrying out their necessary tasks. While there are not accounts of deaths in this hall, echoes of booking slamming closed and carts wheeling them around have been reported. Ever seen the opening scene of Ghostbusters at the library? Yeah, just like that!
Tortured Soul of a Soldier
During the Civil War, Washington D.C. was heavily fortified and many of the Union wounded were taken care of in the city. One place where supplies were stored and medical treatment administered was done was the Capitol Building. Poor surgical practices were the only medical option for wounded soldiers and infections were common. One soldier is known to have undergone excruciating pain late one night during a surgery to remove a bullet buried deep within the victim’s chest. The soldier died on the operating table in the front of the Capitol Rotunda. If one listens late at night, the wailing of the soldier can still be heard, and some have even claimed to have seen him wandering the hall in the front of the Rotunda, still clothed in his army uniform. On one occasion, an anonymous staffer in the 70’s recalled hearing a soft moaning drifting from Rotunda as his Member was being interviewed in Statuary Hall. The staffer left the interview to investigate and again heard the moaning when, out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a man in a navy blue military uniform walk across the front entrance of the Rotunda and disappear.
It’s no joke that staffers on Capitol Hill have noticed that statue movement is often occurring. What’s even more eerie is the feeling late at night that staffers get from the statues, mostly in National Statuary Hall, watching them as they walk by. In the late 19th Century, stories began to circulate that the statues came off their pedestals and danced on New Year’s Eve. Supposedly, this has become a tradition with one account testifying to have seen Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant shaking hands. Sure, Many midnight security guards have sworn to have seen this occur…… (and Monkeys might fly out of my butt!)
The Ghost of John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams served in the House of Representatives for the 22nd – 30th Congress. On 21 February 1848, Representative Adams rose to give a speech before the House when, in the midst of speaking, he faltered and fell into the hands of his colleagues. Adams was eventually carried into the Speaker’s room (now the Lindy Boggs reading room) where he died two days later. The sofa upon which Adams died still sits in the Lindy Boggs reading room and his bust, also in the room, causes many female members meeting in the suite to feel uneasy because of the blank stare and often changing smirk. Staffers have also reported seeing the ghost of John Quincy Adams walking around the reading room and the Old House Chamber as if going to and from giving a speech to the House of Representatives.