The White House is the best-known residence in the nation, and a few of its famous residents are rumored to be long-term tenants.
Ghost stories have been part of the executive mansion’s heritage for over a century, and as we approach Halloween, let’s take a look at the top stories passed down from people who claimed to have bumped into some departed presidents and others.
1. Lincoln’s ghost
There may have been more sightings of Abraham Lincoln’s spirit than presidents who inhabited the White House, and some reports seem to be in jest.
But there are a lot of reports from workers at the White House and even Winston Churchill that they bumped into Lincoln wandering the building years after his death.
Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater in 1865 and died at a nearby boarding house. But it is his spirit that is reportedly stuck at the White House, where he planned the Civil War and had started planning reconciliation when he was killed just days after Robert E. Lee’s surrender.
The most famous Lincoln story is from Churchill, who was staying at the residence after World War II, the British leader had just emerged from a bath, wearing nothing and smoking a cigar. He reportedly met the late president.
“Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage,” Churchill allegedly said. He also refused to stay in the room after the encounter.
2. Jackson’s ghost
Another famous president who still could be seeking a longer term in the White House is Andrew Jackson.
The reported encounters with Old Hickory are not sightings but hearings. And what people reportedly hear from Jackson is a lot cursing from the 19th-century president.
One person who believed Jackson’s spirit remained in the White House was Mary Todd Lincoln, who held regular séances there after her son, Willie, died.
There was also a reported Jackson encounter during the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower.
3. Abigail Adams
John Adams’ wife only stayed at the White House for a few months as its first occupant, along with her husband. Thomas Jefferson was the first president to spend a full term at the residence.
But some people believe Abigail Adams returns for an occasional visit to supervise the laundry.
Mrs. Adams used the East Room to hang out her laundry in 1800. A sighting of her was reported there during the Taft administration about 112 years later, when an apparition was seen carrying clothes in its arms.
4. Dolley Madison
The irrepressible Dolley Madison is best known today for rescuing the Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington from the White House before the British burned it down during the War of 1812.
But in ghost lore, she’s best known for reportedly encountering two gardeners during the Wilson administration a century later.
First Lady Edith Wilson asked the two to move the fabled Rose Garden, which Madison had created and nurtured.
The gardeners were reportedly met by an angry Dolley.
Today, the Rose Garden remains where Dolley Madison wanted it.
5. The British fire starter
The most traumatic incident in White House history was its destruction by British troops in 1814. A royal soldier apparently died in the attack after he helped set fire to the White House, and there are reports he occasionally returns to finish the job.
One incident was reported a few years after the Truman-era restoration, where the spirit was seen trying to set a bed on fire.
Also, there was a major fire in the West Wing during the Hoover administration on Christmas Eve in 1929.
Officially, it was a clogged fireplace flue that stared the blaze.
Even today, recent White House staffers reported hearing strange noises late at night in the White House. But there’s one president who probably hasn’t come back for a guest appearance.
James Buchanan openly tired of being president as the Civil War grew near.
“If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed,” Buchanan said just before leaving office in 1861.
Recent Historical Stories