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Some Famous Ghosts Of The National Capitol

Scary Books: The Best Ghost Stories

(Philadelphia _Press_, Oct. 2, 1898)

The Capitol at Washington is probably the most thoroughly haunted

building in the world.

Not less than fifteen well-authenticated ghosts infest it, and some of

them are of a more than ordinarily alarming character.

What particularly inspires this last remark is the fact that the Demon

Cat is said to have made its appearance again, after many
years of

absence. This is a truly horrific apparition, and no viewless specter

such as the invisible grimalkin that even now trips people up on the

stairs of the old mansion which President Madison and his wife, Dolly,

occupied, at the corner of Eighteenth Street and New York Avenue, after

the White House was burned by the British. That, indeed, is altogether

another story; but the feline spook of the Capitol possesses attributes

much more remarkable, inasmuch as it has the appearance of an ordinary

pussy when first seen, and presently swells up to the size of an

elephant before the eyes of the terrified observer.

The Demon Cat, in whose regard testimony of the utmost seeming

authenticity was put on record thirty-five years ago, has been missing

since 1862. One of the watchmen on duty in the building shot at it then,

and it disappeared. Since then, until now, nothing more has been heard

of it, though one or two of the older policemen of the Capitol force

still speak of the spectral animal in awed whispers.

Their work, when performed in the night, requires more than ordinary

nerve, inasmuch as the interior of the great structure is literally

alive with echoes and other suggestions of the supernatural. In the

daytime, when the place is full of people and the noises of busy life,

the professional guides make a point of showing persons how a whisper

uttered when standing on a certain marble block is distinctly audible at

another point quite a distance away, though unheard in the space


A good many phenomena of this kind are observable in various parts of

the Capitol, and the extent to which they become augmented in

strangeness during the silence of the night may well be conceived. The

silence of any ordinary house is oppressive sometimes to the least

superstitious individual. There are unaccountable noises, and a weird

and eerie sort of feeling comes over him, distracting him perhaps from

the perusal of his book. He finds himself indulging in a vague sense of

alarm, though he cannot imagine any cause for it.

Such suggestions of the supernatural are magnified a thousand fold in

the Capitol, when the watchman pursues his lonely beat through the great

corridors whose immense spaces impress him with a sense of solitariness,

while the shadows thrown by his lantern gather into strange and menacing


One of the most curious and alarming of the audible phenomena observable

in the Capitol, so all the watchmen say, is a ghostly footstep that

seems to follow anybody who crosses Statuary Hall at night. It was in

this hall, then the chamber of the House of Representatives, that John

Quincy Adams died--at a spot indicated now by a brass tablet set in a

stone slab, where stood his desk. Whether or not it is his ghost that

pursues is a question open to dispute, though it is to be hoped that the

venerable ex-President rests more quietly in his grave. At all events,

the performance is unpleasant, and even gruesome for him who walks

across that historic floor, while the white marble statues of dead

statesmen placed around the walls seem to point at him with outstretched

arms derisively. Like the man in Coleridge's famous lines he

"--walks in fear and dread,

Because he knows a frightful fiend doth close behind him tread."

At all events he is uncertain lest such may be the case. And, of course,

the duties of the watchman oblige him, when so assigned, to patrol the

basement of the building, where all sorts of hobgoblins lie in wait.

One of the Capitol policemen was almost frightened out of his wits one

night when a pair of flaming eyes looked out at him from the vaults

under the chamber of the House of Representatives where the wood is

stored for the fires. It was subsequently ascertained that the eyes in

question were those of a fox, which, being chevied through the town, had

sought refuge in the cellar of the edifice occupied by the national

Legislature. The animal was killed for the reason which obliges a white

man to slay any innocent beast that comes under his power.

But, speaking of the steps which follow a person at night across the

floor of Statuary Hall, a bold watchman attempted not long ago to

investigate them on scientific principles. He suspected a trick, and so

bought a pair of rubber shoes, with the aid of which he proceeded to

examine into the question. In the stillness of the night he made a

business of patrolling that portion of the principal Government edifice,

and, sure enough, the footsteps followed along behind him. He cornered

them; it was surely some trickster! There was no possibility for the

joker to get away. But, a moment later, the steps were heard in another

part of the hall; they had evaded him successfully. Similar experiments

were tried on other nights, but they all ended in the same way.

Four years ago there died in Washington an old gentleman who had been

employed for thirty-five years in the Library of Congress. The quarters

of that great book collection, while housed in the Capitol, were

distressingly restricted, and much of the cataloguing was done by the

veteran mentioned in a sort of vault in the sub-cellar. This vault was

crammed with musty tomes from floor to ceiling, and practically no air

was admitted. It was a wonder that he lived so long, but, when he came

to die, he did it rather suddenly. Anyhow, he became paralyzed and

unable to speak, though up to the time of his actual demise he was able

to indicate his wants by gestures. Among other things, he showed plainly

by signs that he wished to be conveyed to the old library.

This wish of his was not obeyed, for reasons which seemed sufficient to

his family, and, finally, he relinquished it by giving up the ghost. It

was afterward learned that he had hidden, almost undoubtedly, $6000

worth of registered United States bonds among the books in his

sub-cellar den--presumably, concealed between the leaves of some of the

moth-eaten volumes of which he was the appointed guardian. Certainly,

there could be no better or less-suspected hiding-place, but this was

just where the trouble came in for the heirs, in whose interest the

books were vainly searched and shaken, when the transfer of the library

from the old to its new quarters was accomplished. The heirs cannot

secure a renewal of the bonds by the Government without furnishing proof

of the loss of the originals, which is lacking, and, meanwhile, it is

said that the ghost of the old gentleman haunts the vault in the

sub-basement which he used to inhabit, looking vainly for the missing


The old gentleman referred to had some curious traits, though he was by

no means a miser--such as the keeping of every burnt match that he came

across. He would put them away in the drawer of his private desk,

together with expired street-car transfers--the latter done up in neat

bundles, with India-rubber bands.

Quite an intimate friend he had, named Twine, who lost his grip on the

perch, so to speak, about six years back. Mr. Twine dwelt during the

working hours of the day in a sort of cage of iron, like that of

Dreyfus, in the basement of the Capitol. As a matter of fact, Dreyfus

does not occupy a cage at all; the notion that he does so arises from a

misunderstanding of the French word "case," which signifies a hut.

However, Twine's cage was a real one of iron wire, and inside of it he

made a business of stamping the books of the library with a mixture made

of alcohol and lampblack. If the observation of casual employees about

the Capitol is to be trusted, Mr. Twine's ghost is still engaged at

intervals in the business of stamping books at the old stand, though his

industry must be very unprofitable since the Government's literary

collection has been moved out of the Capitol.

Ghosts are supposed to appertain most appropriately to the lower

regions, inasmuch as the ancients who described them first consigned

the blessed as well as the damned to a nether world. Consequently, it is

not surprising to find that phantoms of the Capitol are mostly relegated

to the basement.

Exceptions are made in the case of Vice-President Wilson, who, as will

be remembered, died in his room at the Senate end of the building, and

also with respect to John Quincy Adams, whose nocturnal perambulations

are so annoying to the watchmen. Mr. Wilson is only an occasional

visitor on the premises, it is understood, finding his way thither,

probably, when nothing else of importance is "up," so to speak, in the

spiritual realm which now claims him for its own. It is related that on

one occasion he nearly frightened to death a watchman who was guarding

the coffin of a Tennessee Senator who was lying in state in the Senate

Chamber. The startle was doubtless uncontemplated, inasmuch as the

Senator was too well bred a man to take anybody unpleasantly by


There was a watchman, employed quite a while ago as a member of the

Capitol police, who was discharged finally for drunkenness. No faith,

therefore, is to be placed in his sworn statement, which was actually

made, to the effect that on a certain occasion he passed through the old

Hall of Representatives--now Statuary Hall--and saw in session the

Congress of 1848, with John Quincy Adams and many other men whose names

have long ago passed into history. It was, if the word of the witness is

to be believed, a phantom legislative crew, resembling in kind if not in

character the goblins which Rip Van Winkle encountered on his trip to

the summits of the storied Catskills.

But--to come down to things that are well authenticated and sure,

comparatively speaking--the basement of the Capitol, as has been said,

is the part of the building chiefly haunted. Beneath the hall of the

House of Representatives strolls by night a melancholy specter, with

erect figure, a great mustache, and his hands clasped behind him. Who he

is nobody has ever surmised; he might be, judging from his aspect, a

foreigner in the diplomatic service, but that is merely guess. Watchmen

at night have approached him in the belief that he was an intruder, but

he has faded from sight instantly, like a picture on a magic-lantern


At precisely 12.30 of the clock every night, so it is said, the door of

the room occupied by the Committee on Military and Militia of the Senate

opens silently, and there steps forth the figure of General Logan,

recognizable by his long black hair, military carriage, and the hat he

was accustomed to wear in life.

Logan was the chairman of this committee, and, if report be credited, he

is still supervising its duties.