Politics and Poltergeists: Hauntings on the Hill

Though Martha Washington was the nation's first lady, Abigail Adams was the first to reside in the White House at a time in American history when congressional appropriations to furnish the White House were not overflowing.

On her tour, Calarco describes an "incredibly remote" and underdeveloped District of Columbia during the time the nation's second president and his wife moved into the White House.

It was "so remote, in fact, that the Adams got lost trying to find it," she said.

Calarco describes an unfinished and "drafty" East Room where Abigail Adams hung wet laundry.

In her book, Apkarian-Russell details that the nation's second first lady "was forced to do without many necessities and luxuries were heavily curtailed. Abigail accepted her lot almost stoically."

"People to this day say they have seen the spirit of Abigail Adams walking through the closed doors to the East Room holding her arms out like she's holding laundry." Calarco said. "You know it's her because as soon as she passes through the doors you can smell the scent of soap and wet laundry."

Twice a First Lady, Forever a Ghost

The iconic Dolley Madison — who took on first lady duties for the widowed Thomas Jefferson and then again for her own husband, James Madison — is also known to make her presence known at the White House and the surrounding neighborhood in form, smell and sound.

Regaled in social circles, Dolley Madison was credited with saving Washington's portrait in the burning of the White House during the War of 1812. More than 100 years later, she reappeared to save the future Rose Garden as well.

Calarco recounted that first lady Edith Wilson, wife of President Wilson, had grown tired of a garden Madison had planted on the White House lawns. When the grounds keepers moved to dig it up "they said out of nowhere the spirit of Dolley Madison swooped out of the sky, chased them away and saved the garden from destruction."

Unexplainable sounds of music and scents of floral perfumes often manifest themselves in the White House corridor, to Calarco a sign of Madison's continued presence.

She alludes that Madison could be connected to first daughter Jenna Bush's recent comments in Texas Monthly magazine where the younger Bush twin describes her room at the White House as "filled with millions of ghosts. I get scared there sometimes. I'm not kidding. I have heard ghosts, I really have — ghosts singing opera. One night, opera noises came out of my fireplace. When I told my sister, she didn't believe me, but the next week we were up late in that bedroom and we heard 1950s piano music."

Ghosts of Washington's Future

Though D.C.'s haunts deserve a seasonally appropriate mention, they occur year-round.

For the politicos of Washington yet to come, Iowa and New Hampshire could be a walk in the park compared to canvassing the landscape beyond the grave.

Apkarian-Russell offers some advice -- beyond the standard "confront the ghost" -- when dealing with a capital city haunted by politics past. "We have not spent much time trying to learn from those who passed on," she said.

She suggests "common sense and common courtesy" as two qualities to keep in mind when dealing with political predecessors.

Said Apkarian-Russell, "If you meet with a ghost, you have to react with [it] one on one, it's no different than meeting a person."

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