Politics and Poltergeists: Hauntings on the Hill

The nation's capital isn't just your average scary place — it's haunted, too.

From a congressional demon cat to the ghost of Abraham Lincoln living out his afterlife at the White House, the 2008 candidate who settles in at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. once the election cycle is over might have more than the unfinished business of the last Congress spooking him or her after the move to Washington.

"The places that tend to be the haunted the most are the places people have the most reason to come back to," said Pamela Apkarian-Russell, author of "Washington's Haunted Past." She continued: "Passion — good passions or bad passions — that's what brings people back to places. If nothing ever happens, there is no reason for anyone to ever come back."

Apkarian-Russell, now a museum curator, says she saw Lincoln's ghost during a 1969 visit to the White House. And she's not alone in her sighting.

Decades of presidents, staffers and White House guests — believers and nonbelievers among them — recount encounters with the nation's 16th president within the White House walls.

In 2003, the White House's chief usher, Gary Walters, said he'd never seen Lincoln's ghost, but recounted an experience he deemed unexplainable.

While he was "standing at the state floor of the White House adjacent to the staircase that comes up from the ground floor . The police officers and I felt a cool rush of air pass between us and then two doors that stand open closed by themselves," Walters said, "I have never seen these doors move before without somebody specifically closing them by hand."

Lincoln Dreams His Assassination

Lincoln was known to have premonitions and believed his dreams could foretell the future, Washington Walks tour guide Renee Calarco explained during a tour of Lafayette Park, which borders the White House.

Calarco, who give a Capital Hauntings tour of the area surrounding the White House, said that early in his presidency Lincoln dreamed he was awakened by the sound of crying and followed the sounds through the White House till he came to a casket in the East Room surrounded by an honor guard of soldiers.

"Lincoln goes up to one of the soldiers and asks, 'Who is dead in the White House?' The soldier says to him, 'The assassinated president.' Lincoln said in the dream he went up, looked in the casket and saw himself," Calarco said.

Apkarian-Russell attributes Lincoln's White House whereabouts to unfinished business in the Oval Office.

"I think that he really feels that he has to help out with the country. There are people who pass on and come back because their job isn't finished. They're overseers and I think Lincoln was an overseer," she said.

Claws Come Out in Congress

If Lincoln is the White House's friendly ghost, the D.C. Demon Cat is Washington's poltergeist.

Local lore suggests that sightings of the D.C. Demon Cat in the halls of Congress are followed by a national tragedy or change in office, though sightings were not reported before Sept. 11 or the last presidential election. The D.C. Demon Cat is described as a cat with glowing eyes, increasing in size as it approaches its victim before it lunges and then vanishes.

Paw prints marking the floor in the Senate rotunda are rumored to belong to the ghost.

Those who see the cat are always alone, often night guards and security watchmen.

Hell Hath No Fury?

Former first ladies haunt the District as well.

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