Halloween is coming up, and you know what that means – diabetes-inducing candy binges (I ate two pounds of Reese’s Pieces in 24 hours last year) and experiencing hypothermic shock because you just had to wear a “sexy” costume to show off your Crossfit body one last time before the long winter swaddling. Oh, and ghost stories.
There are some truly bone-chilling ghost stories about places in DC; there are also some truly ridiculous and eyeroll-inducing ones. Let’s check out a few of each. If you get scared, just keep in mind that ghosts aren’t real. (Or are they?)
The Decatur House, on Jackson Place just north of the White House, is where Commodore Stephen Decatur died after dueling with his former friend over a woman. Legend has it that for years afterwards, Decatur’s ghost would appear at a second-story window and just stand there. The thing is, half the second-story windows on one side of the house are all bricked up, suggesting that the ghost appeared so regularly (and was so disturbing) that someone decided to just do away with the windows entirely. I mean, this is a beautiful historic house a block from the White House. Why would the windows be bricked up? We have to stop talking about this or I’m going to have to go around my apartment and turn all the lights on.
THE FAA HEADQUARTERS
This stretch of Independence Avenue was formerly the site of the city’s slave pens, including the one that Solomon Northrup, the man who wrote the book Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” was based on, was taken to after he was initially abducted. Some people have reported hearing the clink of chains walking around this area at night. I heard this story before I moved to DC and I can say that it caused me to avoid the area completely. If I was ever walking around here, even in broad daylight, and heard ghostly chain-clinking, I think I would run and never stop running.
THE MARINE BARRACKS
These barracks, at 8th and I Streets SE, are supposedly home to a pair of ghost Marines who were ordered to guard the payroll chest during the War of 1812, died in battle, and returned as spirits to guard the still-buried treasure. Not that scary, really. But there’s also the matter of a mysterious child’s death at these barracks; supposedly the child can still be heard crying late at night (moderately scary) and, in the parking garage, people have reported seeing a child’s red rubber ball rolling down the ramp (quite honestly the scariest thing I’ve ever heard). Like the sound of chains clinking or the sight of a bricked-up window, the red rubber ghost ball isn’t that scary in and of itself, but produces unease because it engages your imagination. Okay, now I’m going to go turn all my lights on.
The ghost that supposedly haunts the Library of Congress is described as a security officer who appears sometimes in uniform, sometimes in casual clothes, helps people when they get lost in the stacks, and even talks to patrons and tells them his name. Guess what – this is isn’t a ghost. It’s a security guard who probably lives in a basement apartment and doesn’t get much sun. What ghost has different outfits?! “Ooh, when the ghost appears on Fridays he’s usually wearing sensible dad jeans and a t-shirt from a charity 5K instead of his uniform. Terrifying!”
There’s another supposed ghost there that opens and closes doors and allegedly once moved a heavy bookcase to make way for two workers pushing a huge cart of books. I don’t see what’s so scary about this ghost. I need this ghost around next time I have to carry 15 bags of groceries in from the car.
The National Building Museum was formerly where Civil War veterans went to get their pensions processed, and some people have reported seeing a ghostly man on horseback on the top floor, which is sort of eerie I guess, but really just raises a lot of metaphysical questions. (Is it one ghost – a man-on-horseback ghost – or two, i.e. a ghostly man riding a ghostly horse, and if it’s the latter, how can the completely non-substantial man-ghost sit on an equally insubstantial horse-ghost without just falling through? Or are they, like, ghost-flying in unison? Lots of questions.)
There’s another ghost here though – a court stenographer who once typed an account of Lincoln’s assassination. Ooh, scary! The fact that the ghost is consistently described as a court stenographer implies that the ghost is seen carrying the tools of its trade, i.e. one of those little court typewriters, reading glasses, and maybe a nice upmarket ergonomic stool. I literally can’t think of a less scary ghost.
Supposedly, the ghost that haunts the Treasury Annex is a woman in a “flowing white dress” who can be heard walking the halls late at night. Oh, and flushing the toilet. (Clearly this is just a female employee who works late sometimes and shops at Eileen Fisher.) What would a ghost even use a toilet for? What a bummer that would be, to wake up in the afterlife as an all-seeing spectral being that could move freely throughout space and time – oh, but you also still have the bladder of a hummingbird. Travel to the fifth dimension if you want, but don’t forget your wallet, because the coffee shops there make you buy a drink before they’ll let you use the bathroom. What does a ghost even “deposit” in a toilet? Clouds? That really would be the ultimate Shyamalan ending, if we found out that clouds were just raw ghost sewage.