By Troy Petenbrink
With more than 200 years of history since its founding in 1790, Washington, D.C., has no shortage of scary places. And we’re not just talking about the IRS headquarters. The nation’s capital is filled with haunted locations ranging from a historic hotel with some spirited permanent guests to a graveyard that’s home to 65,000 souls (that are not all resting in peace).
3600 Prospect St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20007
While not actually haunted, the set of stairs located at the intersection of Prospect St., N.W. and 36th St., N.W. in DC’s historic Georgetown neighborhood were prominently featured in the 1973 horror film The Exorcist. and in the 1971 novel on which the film is based; In both the movie and the book the stairs are the setting for the death of a priest who exorcises a demon from a possessed young girl. The stairway was such a memorial (and frightening) part of the story that it was officially designated as a District landmark.
Lafayette Square is a seven-acre park located directly north of the White House (which, by the way has plenty of its own tales of hauntings). It is said to be inhabited by at least two ghosts, Philip Barton Key II and Stephen Decatur, Son of Francis Scott Key (creator of the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”), Key died in Lafayette Square after being shot multiple times by the husband of one of his many adulterous lovers. As for Decatur, he was a prominent U.S. naval office who was also killed during a duel with a rival officer held in the square. In addition to the White House, many other buildings surround Lafayette Square including the Decatur House and the Octagon Building are also reportedly home to even more haunting spirits. .
Most guests only stay a night or two at the Omni Shoreham Hotel but it is said that in at least one of the guestrooms there are a couple people who have never checked out. As the story goes, Henry L. Doherty, a wealthy businessman and an investor in the Shoreham Hotel, lived with his family in Room 863. During the many years the family lived at the hotel, one of the family’s maids, Juliette Brown, died from a sudden illness, and Doherty’s step-daughter, Helen Lee, died under mysterious circumstances– possibly a suicide.. Following many renovations Room 863 officially became Suite 870, which is now commonly referred to as the Ghost Suite, and is available for reservations, At your own risk, of course.
Mystery writer Margaret Truman was so intrigued by tales of ghosts at the National Building Museum that she including reference to a few of them in her book “Murder on the Potomac.” Originally completed and construction in 1887 as the Pension Building, National Building Museum employees and visitors have reported ghosts on multiple occasions throughout the building’s more than 100-year history. The apparitions have included a man riding a horse on the upper floors of the building; James Tanner, a stenographer who took down testimony of eyewitnesses to Lincoln’s assassination; and a limping man with a face so disturbing that a security guard who saw hi had to be committed to a psychiatric hospital.
With 65,000 graves it is no surprise that reports of ghosts and spooky happenings are common at Congressional Cemetery. Among the supposed restless souls is John Philip Sousa. The famed composer of the patriotic “Stars and Stripes Forever” appears to still be leading a band from the great beyond with some visitors claiming to hear music playing at his grave-site. More tales of the cemetery’s supernatural activities are told during the special Soul Strolls tours that take place annually over the two weekends prior to Halloween.