It is hard to ignore all the ghost stories in October that appear each year, both in magazines and on television.  I remember ghost stories told around the campfire at summer camp.  It was never easy to tell which stories were real and which were totally made up. (What – Ghosts Aren’t Real???)   Did you ever notice how many stories dealt with limbs? The story of the man coming back asking for his golden arm – or the story of the couple parking in a deserted area and finding the hook in the top of their car the next morning are just a few that I remember!   

This is a blog post about the ghost stories at the Capitol Building but they don’t involve any missing limbs!  I don’t know whether there are any real ghosts, either at the White House or the Capitol, but the stories behind these ghost sightings certainly are interesting – and real.  Let me know your favorite ghost story!

The Capitol Cat Looking for Kittens

The ghost cat or ‘Demon Cat’ is a popular story about a feline who haunts the basement of the Capitol building at night and frequently appears before historic or tragic national events.  The cat is seen near 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 – although the Architect of the Capitol thinks that those paw prints were left by cats kept at the Capitol to get rid of vermin. If you want the ghost story version it is 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.

Blood on the Stairs

In 1887, Charles Kincaid, a reporter for the Louisville Times wrote an article with the headline, “Kentucky’s Silver-Tongued Taulbee Caught in Flagrante, or Thereabouts, with Brown-Haired Miss Dodge.”  The article described a liaison between Representative Preston Taulbee (D-KY) and a young female clerk and their frequent “trips” to the model room at the Patent Office, known as “Lovers’ Retreat.”  Taulbee did not seek reelection following publication of the article, instead becoming a lobbyist and relations between the former Congressman and the journalist were contentious. On 28 February 1890, Taulbee saw Kincaid standing near the southeastern stairway in front of the House Restaurant and lunged at him and pulled his ear as he had done on several occasions in the past. In retaliation, Kincaid pulled a pistol from his coat and shot the Congressman.   Taulbee died from the wound eleven days later at Providence Hospital, Washington, D.C. on 11 March 1890. Kincaid claimed self-defense during the trial 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.

John Quincy Adams

It seems appropriate that John Quincy Adams is haunting the Capitol rather than the White House since he was a member of the Congress for 8 terms after his presidency!  Before the Statuary Hall became the display location for Lifesize statues of famous statemen from American history, it was the chamber for the House of Representative.  There is a brass tablet set in the floor to mark where John Quincy Adams’ desk was located.  It was here that Adams suffered a stroke in 1848 while voting against honoring the generals who had won the Mexican American War.  He was carried to the Speakers Lobby (which is now the Lindy Boggs Reading Room) where he died but he lives on as a ghost in the Statuary Hall, where he is seen giving speeches or voting No!   Just to add to the creepiness, the sofa in the Lindy Boggs reading room is supposed to be the same sofa on which John Quincy Adams died! 

Statuary Hall Soldier

In 1862 the Capitol was used to store supplies and to provide medical treatment administered was done was the Capitol Building. More than 1000 cots were placed in the Rotunda for wounded soldiers.   At least one soldier underwent surgery to remove a bullet buried deep within his chest and died on the operating table beneath the Capitol Rotunda.  Congressional staffers say  that the wailing of the soldier can still be heard late at night in Statuary Hall, and some have even claimed to have seen him wandering the hall in the front of the Rotunda, still clothed in his army uniform. One staffer in the 1970’s claimed to hear 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.  Other staffers claim to see the soldier walking among the shadows of the statutes in Statuary Hall!

The Capitol Curse

John Lenthall was the Clerk of the Works during the construction of the Capitol and an assistant to Henry Latrobe, Capitol Architect. 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.  Lenthall  was working on the vaulted ceiling in the Supreme Court chamber.  On September 1808, he began to remove the ceiling supports in the room.  Moments after the supports were removed, 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. Interesting…..

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