The Petticoat Affair
Written by John William Tuohy
Margaret O'Neill (Her maiden name is also recorded as O'Neale and O'Neil.) is better known as a footnote of history as Peggy Eaton, although She preferred to be called Margaret and claimed until the day she died that only her enemies referred to her as Peggy.
Peggy, noted for her beauty, wit, and vivacity, was born and raised in the District, the oldest of six O'Neale children, probably living at 19th and K Streets Northwest for most of her early life. Her father was William O'Neale, an Irish immigrant and the owner of Franklin House, a popular high-end social center, tavern/ hotel for politicians. (It was actually more like a huge boardinghouse) located on 2007 I Street NW. (Others place the hotel at the northeast corner of Penn and 21st)
Away from home and family, the politicians who lived at the hotel (Lafayette was a guest there once) spoiled Peggy with attention. "I was always a pet," she later remarked.
She was educated one of the best schools in the District, studied French, English, grammar, needlework, and music and was a noted pianist. Andrew Jackson once wrote to his wife, Rachel, "Every Sunday evening [Peggy] entertains her pious mother with sacred music to which we are invited." She had such a talent for dance by the age of 12 she performed for First Lady Dolley Madison.
In 1816, when she was only 17, the blue-eyed and dark-haired O’Neale married John Bowie Timberlake, a 39-year-old purser in the United States Navy. Her parents gave them a house across from the hotel.
By then, stories of Peggy’s romances were DC legend, most of it was pure rumors and gossip, which included tales of how one suitor-swallowed poison after she refused him, another was that she had been involved with the son of President Jefferson's treasury secretary; and that she had almost eloped with a young aide to General Winfield Scott. In that story, Peggy was said to be claiming out of her bedroom window to run off with the young man when she kicked over a flowerpot during her climb, awakening her father, who dragged her back inside.
Most of these stories weren’t true but Peggy was a forward young girl and openly flirtatiousness, who worked in the family tavern, was known to tell an off-color joke and quick to offer her political opinions. The result was, by many who didn’t know her, that Peggy was a wanton woman.
In 1818, they met and befriended John Henry Eaton, (1790-1856) the handsome, wealthy 28-year-old widower and newly elected senator from Tennessee who was a guest at the Franklin House. He had become a confidant of John Timberlake, so much so that upon learning that Timberlake was heavily in debt, Eaton tried to get the Senate to pass a petition to pay debts accrued while Timberlake was in the Navy, but was unsuccessful. Eaton also, foolishly, escorted Peggy around town when Timberlake was away at sea.
Eaton’s close friend, Andrew Jackson, had met Peggy in December 1823, when he arrived in Washington as the new junior senator from Tennessee and boarded at the Franklin House. Like most elected representatives, Jackson had not intended to relocate to the capital which was a muddy, scattered sleepy southern town still reeling from the British invasion of 1814.
The Franklin had been recommended to Jackson by John Henry Eaton, Tennessee's senior senator and the author of a biography on Jackson that highlighted Jackson’s heroism as the general who defeated the British army at New Orleans in 1815.
Jackson, the son of Irish immigrants, took a liking to the Celtic William O'Neale and his "agreeable and worthy family." and was said to have a special fondness for Peggy, then 23-years-old and married to John Bowie Timberlake, with who she bore three children (one of them dying in infancy). Peggy was, Jackson said often, "the smartest little woman in America." and his wife Rachel Jackson was equally impressed when she traveled to Washington in 1824.
Timberlake died in 1828 while at sea in the Mediterranean, in service on a four-year voyage aboard the USS Constitution. The cause of death was pulmonary disease. Peggy married Senator Eaton shortly afterward in a candle-lit ceremony held at the O'Neale residence on January 1, 1829.
According to the social mores of the day, they probably should have waited longer and the rumors about them started immediately, the Maryland politician and later secretary of the treasury and state in Jackson's second cabinet, Louis McLane, sniped that the 39-year-old Eaton had "just married his mistress--and the mistress of 11-doz. others" and Margaret Bayard Smith, a Washington society maven whose husband was president of the local branch of the Bank of the United States, declared that Eaton’s reputation "totally destroyed" by the marriage.
The cruelest rumor was that Timberlake had committed suicide because of despair at an alleged affair between his wife Peggy and Eaton and this rumor was probably started with Lieutenant Robert Beverly Randolph was a naval officer from Fredericksburg, Virginia, who had been dismissed in disgrace under direct orders from President Jackson.
In 1828, Randolph was appointed purser aboard the U.S.S. Constitution, assigned to take John B. Timberlake’s place. An auditor's report and subsequent investigation found that Randolph's accounts did not balance and that he was in debt to the government, but that there was no evidence of intentional wrongdoing. Regardless, and based on the investigation, President Jackson dismissed Randolph from the navy. Randolph argued that he had done nothing wrong and that it was Timberlake who actually embezzled the money and had funneled some of that money to John H. Eaton, then secretary of war.
In 1833 Randolph, now a disgraced former naval officer was back in Fredericksburg where Andrew Jackson was visiting to lay the cornerstone at a monument to George Washington's mother. Jackson would make the trip by boat. When the boat made a stopover in Alexandria, Randolph boarded and made his way into Jackson’s cabin where Jackson was seated, surrounded by several members of his party. According to one version of what happened next, Randolph approached the aged Jackson with "timidity" and "humility." and "thrust one hand violently into the President's face" or that Randolph “struck him (Jackson) in the face.” and that “ Jackson immediately thrust the dastardly assailant from him" and stood up.
As a group of men rushed in to restrain Randolph, the sixty-six-year-old Jackson grabbed his cane, demanded that everyone move away, and leave him free to wreak vengeance on his attacker. "Let no man stand between me and the villain" and later chastised the men who "interposed, closed the passage of the door, and held me until I was oblige [d] to tell them if they did not open a passage I would open it with my cane."" In fact, when someone offered to kill Randolph immediately, the president rejected the offer: "I want no man to stand between me and my assailants, and none to take revenge on my account." Jackson later wrote Martin Van Buren that if he had been prepared for the assault he would have killed Randolph.
Several years later, after Jackson had left office and Randolph was finally apprehended for the assault, Jackson also rejected the interference of the courts in what he regarded as an affair of honor. He asked President Van Buren to pardon Randolph.
Eaton was a close friend of President Andrew Jackson, who knew and liked the couple, encouraged their marriage (The then President-elect told Eaton "If you love the woman, and she will have you, marry her at once and shut their mouths.. . . and restore Peggy's good name.”) and in 1829 appointed him Secretary of War, which elevated Peggy into the closed world of Cabinet social circle. However, the rumors about her and Eaton followed (mostly the rumor was that Peggy was promiscuousness and that she miscarried pregnancy by Eaton prior to their marriage) and the wives of the cabinet officials, led by Floride Calhoun, the wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun, led the other Cabinet wives to shut Peggy out. It seems that Floride Calhoun accepted a social call from the Eaton’s after their wedding but she steadfastly refused to pay a return visit, which the tiny universe of Washington’s polite society interpreted as a calculated snub.
Jackson was angered by the snubbing but tried, unsuccessfully, to coerce the women into accepting Peggy into their rarefied world. According to Jackson biographer Robert V. Remini, at a grand ball on inauguration night, "the other ladies in the official family tried not to notice as Peggy Eaton swept into the room and startled everyone with her presence and beauty."
Jackson believed that rumors were the cause of her heart attack and death December 22, 1828, several weeks after his election, of his wife Rachel because her first marriage had not yet been legally ended at the time of her wedding to Jackson. Even Rachel's niece Emily Donelson, whom Jackson called on as his "First Lady", sided with the Calhoun faction and turned a chilly shoulder to Peggy, claiming that Mrs. Eaton's elevation to the cabinet had given his wife airs that made her "society too disagreeable to be endured."
Jackson's advisors, worried about the political fallout caused by the Peggy rumors, tried to dissuade him from naming Eaton to his cabinet but Jackson reportedly said, "Do you suppose that I have been sent here by the people to consult the ladies of Washington as to the proper persons to compose my cabinet?”
Jackson appointed Eaton as his Secretary of War, hoping to limit the rumors, but the scandal intensified mostly because Jackson many political opponents, especially those around Calhoun, were feeding the controversy.
"Eaton Malaria." (A term Secretary of State Martin Van Buren coined) had taken a grip of the Jackson administration, putting off Jackson’s plan to replace corrupt bureaucrats in the government. Jackson decided to delay his formal post-inaugural cabinet dinner because tensions between Peggy Eaton and the rest of the political wives was so prevalent.
On September 10, 1829, Jackson decided to kill the issue once and for all. With Vice President Calhoun at home in South Carolina and John Eaton not invited, Jackson summoned his cabinet, plus Reverends John N. Campbell and Ezra Stiles Ely who had recently criticized Margaret's morals, to a meeting at the White House. Ill with dropsy, chest pains, and recurring headaches, the 62-year-old Jackson proceeded to make a case for Peggy Eaton, including affidavits from people who had known her and absolved her of misconduct. When someone in the room argued the case, Jackson bellowed that Peggy (The twice-married mother of two) was “...as chaste as a virgin!"
Assuming the issue was resolved; Jackson held his overdue cabinet dinner in November 1829. However, as Van Buren recalled the affair had "no very marked exhibitions of bad feeling in any quarter" but the entire evening was tense and awkward and the guests “rushed through their meals in order to avoid discussion of or with the Eaton’s, who had found places of honor near Jackson.”
The next state party, hosted by Van Buren was attended to by every member of the cabinet but not their wives who found various reasons not to show.
For two years, the press and pundits savaged the administration over Jackson's support for the Eaton’s. The rumors about the couple spread grew worse. One declared as a fact that Eaton had fathered a child with a "colored female servant." The president had even sent his nephew and private secretary, Andrew Jackson Donelson, and his wife, Emily, back to Tennessee when they refused to associate with the Eaton’s. Andrew Donelson expressed his sadness in parting from his uncle, "to whom I have stood from my infancy in the relation of son to father."
In the spring of 1831, Jackson almost completely reorganized his cabinet, an event referred to as the Petticoat affair. Postmaster William T. Barry would be the lone member to stay. The worst effect of the incident fell on the political fortunes of the vice-president, John C. Calhoun because Jackson transferred his favor to the widower Martin Van Buren, the Secretary of State and the only unmarried member of the Cabinet. Van Buren had taken the Eaton’s' side in the quarrel and his elevation to the vice-presidency and presidency through Jackson's favor as related to this incident.
The situation almost came to gunplay when Samuel Delucenna Ingham, a Quaker, paper manufacturer and Secretary of the Treasury (1829-1831) called Peggy “impudent and insolent.” After his resignations, Ingham and Eaton exchanged tempestuous notes and Eaton challenged Ingham to a duel. Ingham declined. When President Jackson heard about it he advised Eaton “If he won’t fight, you must kill him.” Stalked through the streets of Washington by Eaton and his three companions Ingham gathered an armed escort and fled Washington in the dead of night. Ingham, Van Buren, Berrien, Branch, Calhoun and Jackson county Counties Michigan were all named for members of Jackson’s cabinet. Neither Ingham nor Eaton ever saw the counties named in their honor.
Elected to a second term, Jackson was eager to end the Peggy O’Neil fever that had threatened to bring down his first administration. He sent John Eaton and his wife off to the Florida Territory as governor. Two years later Jackson appointed Eaton minister to Spain in 1836, and she was a court and social favorite in London and Paris.
Amazingly, Eaton eventually turned on Jackson. In 1840, when President Van Buren recalled Eaton from Spain for failing to fulfill his diplomatic duties, Eaton announced his support for Van Buren's presidential rival, William Henry Harrison. Jackson was infuriated by Eaton's political disloyalty, claiming, "He comes out against all the political principles he ever professed and against those on which he was supported and elected senator." The two men didn't reconcile until a year before Jackson's death in 1845.
John Eaton died in eleven years later, in 1856, leaving Peggy a small fortune. Peggy continued to live in DC and her two daughters married into society. On June 7, 1859, Peggy, then 59, married an Italian music teacher and dancing master, Antonio Gabriele Buchignani, who was 19. In 1866, after seven years of marriage, Buchignani ran off to Europe with the bulk Peggy’s money as well as her 17-year-old granddaughter Emily E. Randolph, whom he married after he divorced Peggy in 1869. She was unable to recover her financial standing.
She died in poverty in Washington, D.C. on November 9, 1879, at Lochiel House, a home for destitute women. She is buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery next to John Eaton. A newspaper commenting on her death and on the irony of the situation editorialized: "Doubtless among the dead populating the terraces [of the cemetery] are some of her assailants [from the cabinet days] and cordially as they may have hated her, they are now her neighbors."
THE HAUNTED WHITE HOUSE
By John William Tuohy
A skeptic is someone who hasn't had an experience yet. Jason Hawes
According to the Gallup Poll News Service, about 32 percent of Americans believe in ghosts, haunted houses, ghosts, communication with the dead and evil witches. So it comes almost as no surprise that the national house of the people, the White House, and our capital, would be seeped in ghost tales.
Indeed, Washington DC and the surrounding area are the sites of a vast number of reportedly haunted locations ranging from battlefields to dueling ground and assassinations.
Of all these places, the White House is said to be the most haunted location of them all. In fact, the White House is on the list of Time Magazine’s Top Ten Haunted Places, and on the New York Daily News List of the Most Haunted Places on Earth.
Yet the White House has never been investigated by a paranormal group and it’s highly unlikely that it ever will be. (Originally, the White House was known as The Presidential Palace. President Theodore Roosevelt would officially call it the White House in 1901, although the name had been informally used before.)
But still, the lists of important and reliable people who have reported unexplainable footsteps, knocks, slamming doors, barking dogs, and cold chills in the White House is impressive.
President Harry Truman once wrote to his wife: ‘I sit here in this old house, all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway. At 4 o’clock I was awakened by three distinct knocks on my bedroom door. No one there. Damned place is haunted, sure as shootin’’
President Eisenhower’s no-nonsense press secretary James Hagerty said that he always sensed the presence of Lincoln’s Ghost walking the White House halls and Bill Clinton’s press secretary, Mike McCurry believed the house is haunted overall.
Former first lady Hilary Clinton said ‘There is something about the house at night that you just feel like you are summoning up the spirits of all the people who have lived there and worked there and walked through the halls there…..It’s neat, it can be a little creepy. You know, they think there’s a ghost there. It is a big old house and when the lights are out it is dark and quiet and any movement at all catches your attention.’
Most recently, First Lady Michelle Obama said that her husband was awakened from a sound sleep in the middle of the night after hearing what she called strange sounds in the hall. She also said that family members and friends had reported the unusual sensation of someone or something gnawing or chewing on their feet.
Here’s a few more to add to that………….
But, soft; behold! Lo, where it comes again!
I'll cross it, though it blast me.—Stay, illusion!
If thou hast any sound, or use of voice,
Speak to me...
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Abigail Adams (November 22 1744 – October 28, 1818) was the wife of John Adams, (They were third cousins and had known each other since childhood) the second President of the United States and the first to live in the White House (George Washington selected the site, oversaw construction of the executive mansion but never lived in there.)
Mrs. Adams, the second First Lady of America (Thomas Jefferson never married) was also the mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States.
Abigail Adams died on October 28, 1818, of typhoid fever at age 73. (Two weeks shy of her 74th birthday.) Her last words were, "Do not grieve, my friend, my dearest friend. I am ready to go. And John, it will not be long." She was buried beside her husband in a crypt in the United First Parish Church (AKA “The Church of the Presidents”) in Quincy, Massachusetts, a very long way from the White House. However, her spirit is still seen there.
She was reported to have been seen by White House staffers shortly after her death, as an aberration, her arms extended as if she were still carrying laundry into the cavernous East Room. (There was no furniture in the East Room at the time) where water was brought in by jugs (The White House would not have running water until 1834) to be used for washing and bathing.
The ghost was said to be accompanied by the smell of soap or damp clothing. (Reportedly Abigail hung the family's laundry up to dry in the East Room during inclement weather) In more recent times, the Household staff in the Taft administration reported that they observed Abigail walking through walls.
THE BLACK CAT
The legend of the Black Cat (AKA the Demon Cat) is shared by the White House and Capitol Building, a few blocks away.
At the White House, the Black Cat is seen in the basement before various tragic events. But up in the Capitol, it apparently roams the halls at will. It should be noted that back in the 19th century, both buildings employed cats to check the rat population, which is numerous in Washington.
Supposedly (No actual report exists) a Capital Building Policeman (The Capital has its own police force, as does the US Supreme Court and the local DC federally managed park system) said he saw the cat in the very early 19th century and another was said to have shot at it in 1862. “It seemed to grow” he said “as I looked at it. When I shot at the critter, it jumped right over my head”
The cat sightings in both the White House and Capitol Building tend to follow a national tragedy. A White House guard claimed to have seen just before the Lincoln assassination, a week before the stock market crash of 1929 and also reportedly seen days before the assassination of JFK. The last semi-official sighting of the Demon Cat was in 1940.
Interestingly enough, a few blocks away from the White House sits the Octagon House, which is said to be both cursed and haunted. Legend says that Betty Taylor, the married niece of the first owner of the house, tripped and fell to her death by a black cat as she raced down the houses circular stairs. She was running in the dark to greet her lover who entered the property by a secret passage that opened on the bank of the Potomac (The River has since been pushed back, but at one time it did run close to the house)
THE BRITISH SOLDIER
It seems that the White House is haunted. This was a most interesting piece of news to me, for it seemed to me to be the only thing wanting to make the White House the most interesting spot in the United States. . . . The ghost, it seems, is a young boy¾ from its description, I should think about fourteen or fifteen years old. The housekeeper, a spooky little person herself, informs me that he has been felt more often than he has been seen, but when I remonstrated with her that ghosts have not the sense of touch, at least those self-respecting ghosts of which I have heard, she insisted that it was this manifestation of the Thing which caused such fright among the servants. Archibald Butt to Clara Butt, July 26, 1911, Taft and Roosevelt: The Intimate Letters of Archie Butt, Military Aide, Vol. 2
On August 19, 1814, during the War of 1812, over 4,500 British soldiers landed at Benedict, Maryland, on the shores of the Patuxent River and marched towards Washington. Their mission was to capture our capital city and take revenge for the burning of the English run capitol in Canada a year earlier by American forces.
It what remains one of the worst pieces of advice ever given to a President, Secretary of War John Armstrong said that Washington was safe and didn’t need military protection because the British were focused on Baltimore. In fact, as British ships sailed up the Chesapeake Bay toward Washington, Armstrong scoffed at his generals' concerns "What the devil will they do here?" Armstrong said. "No! No! Baltimore is the place, sir. That is of so much more consequence."
Assured the city was safe, Madison wrote to his wife: "My dearest, I have passed among the troops who are in high spirits ... the last and probably best information is that [the enemy] are not very strong ... they are not in a condition to strike at Washington."
After the destruction of Washington, Madison forced Armstrong to resign in September 1814. The administration had had enough of him. He had already locked horns with George Washington when Washington was the commander in chief and he had angered his generals when he insisted that it was the duty of the Secretary of War to direct soldiers in the field, a belief that pushed Maj. Gen. William Henry Harrison to resign due to Armstrong's disregard for chain-of-command procedure. Oddly enough, Armstrong replaced Harrison with militia general Andrew Jackson which was a stroke of genius but he did so without asking for presidential approval, angering Madison and earning himself a formal reprimand.
Arriving in the city, the British sent a party of men under a white flag of truce to Capitol Hill to come to terms, but they were attacked by snipers hiding in a house at the corners of Maryland, Constitution, and Second Street NE. It was the only resistance the soldiers met within the city. The English responded by setting the house afire, tossing the white flag and marching into the city proper under the British flag.
Arriving at the top of Capitol Hill, the troops set fire to the partially completed the Senate and House of Representatives building there and set fire to what was the miniscule Library of Congress inside the Senate building. However, the library was replaced through Thomas Jefferson who, in 1815, sold his personal library of more than 6,487 volumes to the government to restock the Library of Congress for $23,950, a staggering amount of money for the time. (Prior to the fire the library held about 3,000 volumes). But the collection was incredible. It had taken Jefferson 50 years to accumulate a wide variety of books that included volumes in foreign languages, philosophy, science, literature and cookbooks.
"I do not know” Said Jefferson “that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer." Oddly enough, a second fire on Christmas Eve of 1851 destroyed nearly two-thirds of the 6,487 volumes Congress had purchased from Jefferson.
The English intended to capture the supplies of hundreds of magazines of cannon and gunpowder stored at the vast Washington Navy Yard but the Americans had already set it afire rather than have the English capture it.
The English sent two hundred men to secure a fort on Greenleaf's Point. (Now Fort McNair, a military post in Southwest Washington, which is said to be haunted by the ghosts of the Lincoln conspirators who were hung there) but the fort had already been destroyed by the Americans, however, for some reason, they had left behind 150 barrels of gunpowder.
The British arrived, found the powder and tried to destroy it by dropping the barrels into a well, the powder ignited killing about thirty men and maiming many others in the explosion that followed.
The US Patent Office was saved from destruction by the Superintendent of Patents, Dr. William Thornton, who convinced the British of the importance of its preservation.
(Dr. William Thornton
Then the troops marched down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House where a gallant First Lady, Dolley Madison remained behind, alone. President James Madison had left the White House on August 22 to meet with his generals on the battlefield and his cabinet had already fled the city and saved the nation’s valuables from the British. (Silverware, books, clocks, curtains) However, it is not true that she removed Gilbert Stuart's full-length portrait of George Washington. (The portrait was actually a copy of Gilbert Stuart's original)
James Madison's personal servant, the slave Paul Jennings, was an eyewitness (He was 15 years old at the time) to the event and wrote later “It has often been stated in print, that when Mrs. Madison escaped from the White House, she cut out from the frame the large portrait of Washington and carried it off. She had no time for doing it. It would have required a ladder to get it down. All she carried off was the silver in her reticule, as the British were thought to be but a few squares off and were expected any moment.”
The heroes of the White House burning were John Susé, Frenchman and doorkeeper, and a man named Magraw [McGraw], the President's gardener. They saved Washington’s portrait (The portrait was screwed to the wall) along with large silver urns, packed it aboard a wagon and sent if off to Virginia. Senior clerk Stephen Pleasonton saved the Declaration of Independence by hiding it in a gristmill near Georgetown.
After the White House occupants had gone, Admiral Cockburn made his way to the White House after his officers arrived and began taking souvenirs including the first couple’s personal belongings and the admiral was able to take one of President Madison's hats, and a cushion from Dolley Madison's chair. He then issued an order for his troops to drink Madison's wine and helped themselves to food.
British soldier George Gleig wrote “[H]aving satisfied their appetites … and partaken pretty freely of the wines, they finished by setting fire to the house which had so liberally entertained them. … Of the Senate house, the President's palace, the barracks, the dockyard, etc., nothing could be seen except heaps of smoking ruins.”
They set fire to the White House (Then called the Presidents House) by tossing torches through the windows and adding fuel to the fire to ensure that it would keep burning and reports had it that the thick black smoke could be seen as far away as Baltimore (Which is very doubtful) and the Patuxent River (Which is likely). They also set fire to the adjacent Treasury Department building.
Washington lay in ruins. American soldiers, government officials, and residents fled the city. The White House, the Capitol, and many other public buildings and residences were burning and the next day, August 25, Washington was still burning.
Suddenly, in the early afternoon, the sky darkened, lightning flashed, loud thunder could be heard and the winds swept up into what one resident called “a frightening roar.”
It was a tornado. On the one hand, the city, which was made mostly of wood, was saved from a rapidly expanding fire by the storm but on the other hand, the tornado probably did more damage to the city than it stopped. Buildings were lifted into the air and tossed a block away. Flying debris killed several English soldiers and one gust made off with several cannons. Hundreds of English soldiers laid face down in the streets as the storm passed over them and one account describes how a British officer on horseback did not dismount and the winds slammed both horse and rider violently to the ground.
It ended after two hours and the heavy rain that followed put out most of the flames and prevented Washington from burning to the ground. The British regrouped on Capitol Hill and marched out of the city that night.
As the English left the city, Admiral Cockburn asked a local woman, “Great God, Madam! Is this the kind of storm to which you are accustomed in this infernal country?”
The lady answered, “No, Sir, this is a special interposition of Providence to drive our enemies from our city.”
“Not so Madam.” The Admiral answered, “It is rather to aid your enemies in the destruction of your city.”
Hours later, the British forces left Washington and returned to their ships on the Patuxent River but the journey back to their ships was a difficult one. Downed trees on the roadway slowed their return and the war ships they arrived on had been badly damaged in the storm. Still, the English stopped their ships in Old Town Alexandria long enough to loot it. (A separate British force had already captured Alexandria. The mayor of Alexandria made a deal and the British refrained from burning the town.)
President Madison and Dolly returned to Washington three days later, but the White House was made unlivable by the fire. President Madison served the rest of his term residing at the Octagon House. It was not until 1817 that newly elected president James Monroe moved back into the reconstructed building.
After the attack, Congress was determined to relocate the nation's capital north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Fearful that the capital would be moved to Philadelphia, local Washington businessmen financed the construction of the Old Brick Capitol, (Mayor Thomas Corcoran offered Georgetown College as a temporary home for Congress.) where Congress met while the Capitol was reconstructed from 1815 to 1819.
For many decades the White House has had reports that the ghost of a British soldier dressed in a uniform from the War of 1812 and carrying a torch haunts the executive mansion. (He has also been seen on the front lawn) Some think the soldier is one of those who burned the White House, or accidentally killed while burning down the White House or who lost his life the following tornado. He is the only malicious spirit who haunts the White House. In 1953, one couple staying in a second-floor bedroom said the ghost tried to set fire to their bed with a flaming torch.
The White House is also said to be visited by the spirit of Mr. David Burns who owned the ground on which the White House and all of the federal park surrounding it, stand son today. Burns sold the land to the government in May 1791, but not without a struggle.
The Burns (Actually spelled as Burnes) family owned all of what is today west Washington all the way from Georgetown to Capitol Hill, about 700 acres in all, a small farm holding by standards of his day. (By comparison, the George Washington estate stretched from Arlington to where the old Naval Observatory was in Georgetown)
The other major landowners in the city were Daniel Carroll, of the fabulous Carroll family, Samuel Davidson and Notley Young. (Who was married to a Carroll).
Young owned what is today the neighborhood of Near Northwest, the area bounded by North Capitol Street to the west, Florida Avenue to the north, F Street to the south, and 15th Street to the east. The area was dubbed Youngsborough.
Young gave parts of the land to the Federal government in exchange for a promise that Congress would divide the land into lots and return half of those lots to the original landowners. Young, it should be noted, was a Roman Catholic at a time when it was difficult to be a Roman Catholic in America and his estate, which sat on a high river bank on what is now G Street SE between Ninth and Tenth streets was a refugee for the city’s small Catholic population.
In an odd twist of fate, Young was buried on the grounds of his estate. As the city grew, his land was taken over by the city and a well-meaning Mayor Robert Brent (Below) had Young’s remains reinterred in the Carroll burial ground at St. John's on Rock Creek. However, no one bothered to mark the exact location of the grave and its whereabouts are now lost forever.
Burns was described by those who knew him as “Very bigoted” and “choleric”, a man who willfully disagreed with everyone and who sought out an argument. He was also opposed to selling his lands for the new executive mansion and once during one of several meeting that were held between him, General Washington and Washington’s staff, Burns is said to have remarked to the general “I suppose Mr. Washington that you assume people here are going to take every grist from you as poor grain. But what would you have been if you had not married the widow Custis?” referring to the fact that George Washington came from proud but modest stock and had married the enormously wealthy Mrs. Custis.
Washington, known for his ability not to become riled, lost his temper and stormed out of the house, never to return and refusing to meet with Burns again, calling him “That obstinate Mr. Burns”
Actually, all that Burns wanted was a fair price for his land, which was now in demand by powerful and wealthy people. Those same people who had threatened him with eminent domain if he didn’t sell at a price they wanted for all of his land, not just parts of it as the story is so often told.
Burns lived in a small wood framed, whitewashed cottage on what is today 7th Street NW (Where the Pan American Union Building stands today) the only sign of his wealth being that it was equipped with two chimneys. The rudely-fashioned structure had two rooms on the ground floor and was said to be only slightly better than a slave’s cabin.
Burns only son, John had died as a teenager (1772-1795) and several years later and his wife (Anne Wight Burnes) died shortly afterward. His only family was his daughter, Maria, (Some record the name as having been Marcia, 1782-1832) who was described by many as “lovely”. Burns placed his daughter with a cultivated Baltimore family so she could receive social breeding and literary training. She returned to live with her father in 1801 when she was 19-years-old in 1801.
Maria stood to inherit a fortune from her father’s estate. In 1802 she married a dashing young Congressman named from New York named John Peter Van Ness (for whom Van Ness Street NW, between Wisconsin Avenue and River Road). Van Ness, a lawyer with his own Knickerbocker-Dutch fortune, was a disciple of the popular Arron Burr. He would go on to be a Major in the District Militia, bank owner and Mayor of Washington.
When David Burns died he left his daughter his entire and very substantial estate telling her from his deathbed “Marcia, you have been a good daughter; you'll now be the richest girl in America." She was said to be the richest woman in America at the time of the inheritance. (She signed all of her wealth over to Van Ness as was the custom of the day)
Since his death, Burns ghost has been seen in the Oval Office when a reporter told a security guard during the Truman administration that, while standing in the Yellow Oval Room, he heard a whisper which said, "I'm Mr. Burns."
Around that same time, a White House guard reported that he heard a voice call out from the attic above the Oval Office “I’m Mr. Burns” several times. The guard assumed that he was hearing the voice of Truman’s Secretary of State, James Byrnes but learned that Byrnes was out of the country at the time.
Prior to that, FDR’s valet, Cesar Carrera, heard a voice as he stood in the Yellow Oval Room. When he turned to see who it was, the voice said, “I’m Mr. Burns.” Although Mr. Burns has not been heard of since the 1940s, the old man would take some pride in the fact that his is the oldest ghost to haunt of the White House. After Burns death, Maria and John Van Ness House constructed their own estate between 1813 and 1816.
A behemoth Greek revival home bounded by C Street, Constitution Avenue, 17th Street, and 18th Street and designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who was then the superintendent of government buildings.
Latrobe, one of the architects of the Capitol, spent a small fortune trying to make it the finest private residence in North America. A brick wall enclosed the ground that was an array of trees, flowers, fountains and statuary. The couple had David Burns cottage moved to the property, Marcia would never allow it to be torn down.
Their daughter Ann held her wedding to South Carolinian Arthur Middleton was held there. Middleton was the son of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Ann died a year later giving birth to a stillborn baby and Marcia, who was close friends with Dolly Madison, soon became something of a recluse and retreated into religion.
She commissioned the city orphanage in her daughter’s memory. She spent her years as a philanthropist and was a beloved and influential figure in the city until her death, at age 50 in a cholera epidemic. She was given a massive public funeral, the only woman, up to that time, to be given such an honor.
The sculptor Horatio Greenough wrote this tribute to her;
Mid rank and wealth and worldly pride.
From every snare she turned aside.
She sought the low, the humble shed.
Where gaunt disease and famine tread;
And from that time, in youthful pride.
She stood Van Ness's blooming bride.
No day her blameless head o'er past
But saw her dearer than the last.
The great Van Ness mansion started to crumble as John Van Ness withdrew from the world after his wives and daughter’s deaths and he, like his wife before him, become a recluse. Rumors spread that the house staff quick after run-in with ghosts and that many of the servants who stayed refused to enter certain rooms in the mansion because they were so haunted. There were reports of footsteps coming from empty rooms and laughter that turned to screams of agony, said to be from the spirit of young Ann as she died. Several people claimed that the apparition of Marcia Van Ness materialized in the upstairs hallway and roamed the house at will.
John Van Ness outlived her by 16 years and died on March 7, 1846, at the age of 76. The couple is buried in a private mausoleum at Oak Hill Cemetery. Hundreds of Washingtonians lined the route to see their Mayor off and to watch bier drawn by six white horses that had been so cherished by Van Ness, carry his coffin to the family mausoleum.
Those horses were later sold during the settlement of Van Ness’s estate and there was constant talk of demolishing the now dilapidated Van Ness Mansion and the reports of its haunting increased.
The house became the residence of a man named Thomas Green. Years later Green and his wife were arrested after the Lincoln assassination because it was rumored that they had been involved in Booth’s original plot to kidnap Lincoln and hold him captive for a few days in the mansion’s wine cellar before spiriting him into Confederate territory. The Greens were found innocent, released, and then fled the city forever. Over the next fifty years, the property was used as a German beer garden, florist's nursery, headquarters of the city street cleaners, and Columbia Athletic Club.
Columbian College, (Now George Washington University) purchased the property in 1903 for $161,000 and planned to build a new campus on the site but were voted down by alumni who said the property was unhealthy because it was near marsh on what was then B Street and is now Constitution Avenue. The university sold the property in 1907 for $200,000 to the State Department which tore down the estate building in 1908 to build the Pan American Union Building.
Over the years there were reports by several about people who claimed to have seen, six headless white horses galloping around the house. In the 1980s, a man ran his car off the road on Rock Creek Park claiming that as his car passed by Oak Hill Cemetery, he was distracted by the sight of six headless white horses up on the hill by the Van Ness Mausoleum. The legend is that on the anniversary of John Van Ness’s death, that his favorite troop of six white horses make a midnight run around the old mansion.
Gary J. Walters was appointed White House Chief Usher in 1986. According to Walters, “I 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. I have never seen these doors move before without somebody specifically closing them by hand. It was quite remarkable.” Other staff member report that White House doors throughout the building close by themselves.
FRANCIS FOLSOM CLEVELAND
First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland, (1864-1947) married to President Grover Cleveland, a life-long bachelor, in the White House's Blue Room in 1886. She was 21 years old student at Wells College at the time, the youngest First Lady in American history. He was 49 and executor of her father’s estate. (Who died in a carriage accident on July 23, 1875, without having written a Will. The court appointed Cleveland administrator of his estate.) Cleveland had more or less supervised Frances upbringing since she was 11 years old.
Cleveland remains the only President to be married in the White House and the second President to be married while serving in office. The couple were wildly popular with the American people and by all reports, Francis was said to be a warm and interesting person of great beauty. The couple eventually had five children.
After her husband's death in 1908, Frances Cleveland remarried in 1913 to Thomas J. Preston, Jr., a professor of archeology at Wells College. She was the first presidential widow to remarry. Francis died in Baltimore on October 29, 1947, and was buried in Princeton with her first husband, President Grover Cleveland.
That same year, 1947, her ghost was reported to have appeared in the Blue Room (Above, in about 1910) where she married sixty-one years before. She is still reported to haunt the room and visitors tell of sensing “an overpowering presence” when in the room alone.
The night bodyguard to President Benjamin Harrison reported hearing near constant footsteps in the hall where he was posted and assumed it was the spirit of Abe Lincoln pacing the floor, back and forth. He was said to have grown so weary of the sound that he attended a séance to ask President Lincoln to stop. The noises were heard by many others over the year but they are said to have stopped after the extensive repairs were done to the second floor of the White House in 1952.
President Benjamin Harrison grandfather, William Henry Harrison, is said to haunt the White House attic. (Although I can’t imagine why he chose the attic) Harrison was the last president born before the United States Declaration of Independence was signed and served the shortest term, 30 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes.
Harrison died only three weeks after his inauguration when he caught a common cold which developed into Pneumonia and then pleurisy. His last words, spoken to his Vice President, John Tyler were, “Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.”
Harrison’s death started the legend of the “curse of the Shawnee Prophet”. The curse (Which is also called The Curse of Tippecanoe) derives from the battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 while Harrison was governor of the Indiana Territory. Apparently, during the negotiation of the 1809 Treaty of Fort Wayne with Native Americans, Harrison used some underhanded tactics to cede enormous tracks of land from the Indian nations to the U.S. government.
The terms brought about the battle of Tippecanoe in which the Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his brother rose up against the westward expansion of the United States. It was Harrison’s leadership of the US troops during the battle that brought him national fame as a war hero. However, Tecumseh's brother Tenskwatawa, known as the Prophet, set a curse against Harrison and all others who were elected president during years with the same end number as Harrison. (He was elected in 1840)
For the next 120 years, presidents elected during years ending in a zero (occurring every 20 years) died while serving in office, from Harrison to John F. Kennedy and including Ronald Reagan, (elected in 1980) who was shot but survived and George W. Bush (2000) who survived an attempt on his life unharmed. However, the only president who died in office without being elected in a "cursed" year was Zachary Taylor, who was elected in 1848 and died in 1850.
Harrison is said to haunt the White House attic where his ghost has been seen tossing about papers and boxes as if he was looking for something very specific.
Harrison’s guard brush with the afterworld was not the only a séance was related to the White House. President Lincoln, no doubt in a move to appease his somewhat erratic wife, attended several séances in the White House and in his book The Choice, Bob Woodward describes a 1995 séance was held by psychic Jean Houston in the White House solarium for the benefit of Hillary Clinton.
According to the book, Hillary, while in a deep trance, channeled the spirits of Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi. Before that, First Lady Nancy Reagan asked her astrologer, Joan Quigley, to arrange an attempt to communicate with the otherworld through the so-called White House portal.
Nancy Reagan called Quigley in 1981 after John Hinckley's attempted assassination of the president and asked Quigley if she could have foreseen the assassination attempt. Quigley said she could have and Nancy then had her stay on as the White House astrologer in secret until that secret was released in 1988 by former chief of staff Donald Regan.
Explaining why she kept Quigley on, the First Lady wrote “Very few people can understand what it's like to have your husband shot at and almost die, and then have him exposed all the time to enormous crowds, tens of thousands of people, any one of whom might be a lunatic with a gun... I was doing everything I could think of to protect my husband and keep him alive."
Quigley later wrote, "Not since the days of the Roman emperors—and never in the history of the United States Presidency—has an astrologer played such a significant role in the nation's affairs of State."
" … all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway and even right in here in the study. The floors pop and the drapes move back and forth—I can just imagine old Andy [Jackson] and Teddy [Roosevelt] having an argument over Franklin [Roosevelt]." President Harry Truman in a 1945 letter to his wife,
Lillian Rogers Parks was a one-time society hairdresser who had used her client connections to get the White House job as a seamstress and Executive maid from the beginning of the Hoover Administration in 1929 to the end of the Eisenhower years. She had been a familiar figure at the White House since she was a little girl. Her mother, Maggie Rogers, was part of the White House staff at the start of the Taft Administration and often took her daughter to work with her.
Parks, who lived to age 100, wrote ''My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House.'' created an immediate sensation when it was published in 1961 and was on The New York Times best-seller list for 26 weeks. The book also became the basis of a nine-part NBC miniseries in 1979. But its success so alarmed the incoming First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, that she ordered all White House domestic employees to sign a pledge not to write about their White House experiences. (Mrs. Kennedy's secretary, Mary Gallagher, was assigned to the task of collecting the signatures but neglected to sign one, herself, and eventually wrote her own tell-all, ''My Boss,'' in 1969.)
In her book, Park told of working in the Rose Bedroom (the modern Queen's Suite) to prepare it for a visit from Queen Elizabeth, when she gradually became aware of a cold presence standing behind her. Frightened, she rushed out of the room not looking once behind her. It was three years before she could bring herself to enter the room again.
In that same room, President Andrew Jackson is said to be seen lying on the Queens' Bedroom and his would rough laugh has been heard in the White House since the beginning of the 1860s.
First Lady press secretary Liz Carpenter heard the laugh and swore it was Jackson's, and Mary Todd Lincoln (Who had some mental health issues) claimed to have heard the stomping and swearing of an invisible presence which she claimed was the uncouth Jackson.
Mary Todd Lincoln was certain that President Jackson was caring for her young son Willie in the afterlife. In the 1940s, Katurah Brooks, a maid, said that she often heard laughter coming from the Queen's Suite.
Mary also once remarked that she heard President Thomas Jefferson playing his violin in the Yellow Oval Room and remarked “My, my, how that Mr. Jefferson does play that violin.” However, she was the only person who heard the sounds.
LINCOLNS PREMONITION OF HIS OWN DEATH
Lincoln’s former law partner, Ward Hill Lamon wrote that he was among the "two or three persons present" when the president told them about a disturbing dream he had "only a few days before his assassination."
Prodded by Mrs. Lincoln to continue, Lincoln said “about ten days ago" he had gone to bed late after he had stayed up "waiting for important dispatches from the front." As he began to dream, he experienced "a death-like stillness about me."
Hearing the sounds of subdued sobs, Lincoln walked downstairs in search of the "mournful sounds of distress," but encountered no living person until he entered the East Room, where he found "a sickening surprise": a covered corpse resting on a catafalque, surrounded by soldiers, with mourners gazing at the body and weeping. "'Who is dead in the White House?' I demanded of one of the soldiers,"
"'The President,' was his answer; 'he was killed by an assassin!'" Lincoln then stated that he awoke soon after in response to a "loud burst of grief from the crowd," did not sleep again that night due to the dream, and "have been strangely annoyed by it since."
ABE LINCOLN’S GHOST
President Abe Lincoln is by far the most seen and heard ghost to haunt the White House. The president’s ghost is most often seen, befittingly, in the Lincoln bedroom, but Lincoln never slept in that room. Rather, he used it as a Cabinet room and signed the Emancipation Proclamation there.
One of the first reports of “Sensing” Lincoln’s ghost roaming the White House halls came from the very practical Theodore Roosevelt, who lived in the White House from 1901 to 1909. First Lady Grace Coolidge, the wife of President Calvin Coolidge, was the first to claim to have seen Lincoln's ghost. She insisted that she saw Lincoln looking towards the Potomac River from the Oval Office. (During Lincoln’s administration the Potomac ran much closer to the White House than it does today)
The no-nonsense Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands visited the United States for about two weeks in June of 1942 as a guest of the U.S. government. While in Washington, she addressed the U.S. Congress (The first queen to do so) and spent a night at the White House, staying in the Lincoln bedroom. After she had retired for the evening and was soundly asleep, the Queen awoke after hearing a persistent knocking on her door. Thinking that there might be news of her war-torn homeland, she stepped from the bed, opened the door, saw before her President Abe Lincoln, and promptly fainted.
Around that same time, longtime White House employee Lillian Rogers Parks said that while working in a small room near the Lincoln bedroom when she heard footsteps coming from the Lincoln room and that she kept turning expecting to see someone come near her, but no one ever did.
Roosevelt’s secretary, Mary Eben, said she saw Lincoln laying on his bed (another version says she saw the President pulling on his boots in the bedroom) and White House guest Carl Sandburg claimed to have "sensed" Lincoln do the same as well.
Eleanor Roosevelt said that she sensed Lincoln’s presence repeatedly throughout the White House and remarked that she always had the feeling of being watched when she worked in her very busy office. FDR’s dog, Fala, would sometimes bark at an empty chair.
A naked Winston Churchill was waddling about in the Lincoln bedroom when he saw Lincoln’s ghost. There are two versions of the story. In the first version, there was knock on the the Prime Minister opened the door and purportedly saw the ghost of Abraham Lincoln standing there. Churchill slammed the door shut, demanded to be moved to another room across the hall and vowed to never enter the Lincoln bedroom again.
In the second version of the same sighting, Churchill had just stepped out of a bath and was enjoying a cigar and a glass of scotch when Lincoln appeared, standing by the fireplace. The pair are said to have started at each other for some time before the ghost faded away.
One night at 3 AM, President Harry Trumanwas awakenedn by a series of loud raps on his door. He stepped out of bed, opened the door and found no one but publicly attributed the knock to Abe Lincoln. The President’s daughter, Margaret said she heard also heard a loud knocking on her door in the White House and also believed it was Lincoln.
Gerald Ford's daughter Susan Ford refused to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom and Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Maureen, insisted that she saw Lincoln in the Lincoln Bedroom while staying there during her father’s administration.
I'm not kidding” she said “We've really seen it. When I told my parents what I saw they looked at me a little weirdly."
Maureen said that the spirit appeared to her in the early morning hours as a red and sometimes orange aura. Years later, First Lady Nancy Reagan said that the family dog, Rex, would often stand outside the Lincoln Bedroom door and bark loudly but refused to go in.
The last reported sighting of Lincoln’s ghost came in the early 1980s when the White House operations foreman, Tony Savoy, came into the White House and saw Lincoln sitting in a chair at the top of some stairs.
THE GHOST OF WILLIE LINCOLN
William Wallace "Willie" Lincoln was the third son of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln who died in the White House at the age of 11 on February 20, 1862. The cause of death was more than probably was typhoid fever developed from drinking Washington’s contaminated water sometime in late January of 1862. He fell ill and remained ill for almost two months, his condition fluctuating from day to day. Finally, after much suffering, the child died at 5:00 PM on February 20, with his parents by his side. "My poor boy.”
His father said “He was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!" His death deeply affected the nation and the First Family. It was reported that Willie's younger brother, Tad, cried for nearly for a week. (Who was sick with the same illness at the same time, though he survived.)
Mary Todd Lincoln was so distraught that Lincoln feared for her sanity and Abe Lincoln fell into one of his deep depressions, this one lasting for a week. He and Mary Todd held several séances in the Green Room to contact Willie’s spirit in the afterlife.
Willie Lincoln's ghost was first seen in the White House by staff members of the Grant administration in the 1870s and was seen again in the 1960s by President Lyndon B. Johnson's college-age daughter, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, who said she not only saw the ghost but conversed with it.
THE GHOST OF DOLLY MADISON
During the early years of the Wilson administration, (1913-1921) First lady Ellen Wilson sent workmen to dig up the rose garden to redesign it. A gardener claimed that while digging up the garden the ghost Dolly Madison appeared and reprimanded him for removing the rose bushes she had planted over a hundred years ago. Ellen Wilson died from Bright’s disease, in the White House, on August 6, 1914.
MUSIC FROM NOWHERE
Jenna Bush Hager, the daughter of former President George W. Bush claimed that while she lived in the White House ‘I heard a ghost. I was asleep, there was a fireplace in my room, and all of a sudden, I heard 1920s music coming out. I could feel it; I freaked out and ran into my sister's room. She was like “Please go back to sleep this is ridiculous”.
The next week we were both asleep in my room, the phone had rang and woke us up. ‘We were talking and going back to bed when all of a sudden we heard this opera, coming out of the fireplace. We couldn't believe it; we both jumped in bed and were asking the people that worked there the next morning “Are we crazy?” We tried to rationalize it, but they said they heard it there all the time.’
THE SAD GHOST ANNA SURRATT
Anna Surratt was the loving, innocent, and dedicated daughter of convicted Lincoln assassination co-conspirator Mary Surratt. After the assassination of Abe Lincoln, Mary Surratt was arrested and convicted of being part of the conspiracy to kill the President and was sentenced to be hung by the neck as a result of her part in the plot. Essentially, Surratt had allowed her boardinghouse in downtown Washington (Where it still stands today) to be used as a meeting place for Booth and the others conspirators. How much deeper her involvement went beyond that is still a matter of debate.
After the guilty verdict, Anna Surratt pleaded repeatedly for her mother's life with Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt, but he refused to consider clemency. She then tried to see President Andrew Johnson at the White House to plead for her mother’s life but was pushed off the grounds by Senator James Lane and Preston King.
Later, Mrs. Stephen Douglas, widow of the late senator, arrived by carriage to the White to convince President Andrew Johnson not to execute Mary Surratt, but to no avail. But there was hope until the end. General Winfield Scott Hancock was in command at the Washington Penitentiary, where Mary Hancock was being held. On the day of the execution, he stationed cavalry riders from the jail to the White House in the event President Johnson changed his mind and granted a last-minute reprieve.
After her mother was executed, Anna’s younger brother John was on the run as an accused member of the conspiracy and another brother, Isaac, was in the Confederate army and would not return home for another several months.
Eventually, in 1867, John was put on trial but the government was unable to convict him, and he was released. He became a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Emmetsburg, Maryland and later joined the Baltimore Steam Packet Company. He rose to be treasurer of the Company and married Mary Victorine Hunter a relative of Francis Scott Key. He died of pneumonia at the age of 72.
Mary was ostracized from society in general and for a while lived in poverty. On March 10, 1869, Surratt tavern in Surrattsville (now Clinton Md.) was sold to Robert W. Hunter who purchased the building and 6 acres around it for $3,500. After that, Annie married Professor William P. Tonry in a private ceremony at St. Patrick’s Church, just a short walk from Fords Theater.
Tonry was a chemist working for the surgeon general’s office. Strangely enough, he worked at Ford’s Theatre during the civil war when the theater been converted into government offices shortly after the assassination. Four days after her marriage was made public fired Tonry from his job at the War Department.
The couple eventually moved to Baltimore and Tonry went back to work as a chemist and the couple had four children and overall, became somewhat well off if not rich. But the strain of the Lincoln assassination and her mother execution left mentally unbalanced and she often suffered from bouts of anxiety, depression, and fear. Anna died of kidney disease on Oct. 24, 1904. She was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington, in an unmarked grave next to Mary.
To this day, some members of the White House staff claim that Anna's ghost returns to the White House every July 6, silently banging on the front door to plea for her mother's life. Residents of the H Street NW apartments where she lived for a while report deep moaning and sobbing sounds in the hallways.
President John Tyler allegedly haunts the Blue Oval Room. The stories started when the unstable Mary Todd Lincoln reported hearing his voice coming from the Oval Office. Mary said that she heard Tyler make a proposal of marriage to Julia Gardner, Tyler’s second and much young wife.
LAFAYETTE PARK (PRESIDENTS PARK)
The spirits of the dead hallow a house, for me. Mark Twain
It’s been said that Lafayette Square, the small park that sits across the street from the front of the White House, is ground zero for spirits in Washington DC. , because it is widely considered the most haunted area in the city. Almost all of the homes that adjoin the park, including the White House, have a tragic history as does the actual park itself.
Lafayette Square or Lafayette Park (Outside of the tourist brochures put on by the government, I have never once heard it referred to as The President Park) is named for Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the hero American Revolutionary War.
It seems the Major ’s spirit seemingly wanders the streets and buildings of Washington at large, demanding payment for his work in designing Washington, but oddly enough, had never been spotted in this small but distinguished plot of land that bears his name.
L'Enfant was a French-born architect and civil engineer who laid out the master design for the city of Washington. He was recruited by Pierre by the French (A friend of the American colonies) to join in the American Revolution against the British. He took to the American way of life he dropped the name Pierre for the more Yankee “Peter” but it never really caught on.
Wounded at the Siege of Savannah in 1779, he recovered and served on George Washington's staff as a Captain of Engineers for the remainder of the Revolutionary War. As well he should have since the young L'Enfant (He was 24 years old when he arrived to America) had had training in both art and architecture, something that almost no other American at the time could claim.
After the war, L'Enfant moved to New York City and became a very successful civil engineer and redesigned the City Hall in New York for the First Congress in Federal Hall. In 1791, President George Washington appointed L'Enfant to design the new capital city.
L'Enfant delivered a bold plan. There would be a "Congress house" (The Capitol and would be located on a longitude designated as 0:0.) built on Jenkins Hill, one of the three major hills within the city but the only one in close proximity to what he called the "President's house" (the White House).
L'Enfant President’s house would have massive public gardens and monumental architecture and the house itself, he envisioned, would be the largest in all of North America.
He called for a city that would be laid out in a grid that travelled a north-south direction. (Diagonal avenues later named after the states of the union crossed the grid.) He also saw a garden-lined "grand avenue" (The National Mall which was designed in “The new American state of mind” meaning any at all could walk on the mall, regardless of class or wealth, unheard of in France at that time) and a center street. (Pennsylvania Avenue) which would connect the Congress house with the President's house. He also dotted the city plan with a plethora of parks and public squares and grand.
What L'Enfant had not planned for was the very vicious backstabbing politics that dominated the new federal government. That, combined with L'Enfant genius temperament, his lack of tact and his inability to take a direct order, caused to fall into bad graces. Eventually he was replaced in favor of Benjamin Ellicott, brother of Andrew Ellicott, who had been conducting the original boundary survey of the future District of Columbia.
His grand plans for a grand capitol city were mostly abandoned. His mall was built, true, but a railroad was built across it, with switching tracks and ugly coal storage yards and a rail passenger station.
L'Enfant was not paid for his work designing the federal city and his firing at the hands of George Washington diminished his reputation and badly harmed his business. Undaunted, L'Enfant walked the hall of Congress for decades, demanding payment for his work since he was virtually bankrupt. Eventually, he was paid, but only a fraction of what he had been promised and all of that was taken by his creditors.
L'Enfant died in 1825 in poverty and was buried at the Green Hill farm in Chillum in Prince George's County, Maryland. His mere earthly possessions included three watches, three compasses, a few books, maps, and his surveying instruments, all of it valued at less than $200, at the time.
In 1909, mostly due to the work of Jean Jules Jusserand, a French ambassador to the United States, L'Enfant's was officially recognized by the United States, a nation he so loved and a people he so admired. L'Enfant remains were laid in state at the Capitol rotunda and he was re-interred in the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, on a hill overlooking the city he designed.
“DEVIL DAN’S” SICKLES OTHER WOMAN
Ye who, passing graves by night,
Glance not to the left nor right,
Lest a spirit should arise,
Cold and white, to freeze your eyes...
James Russell Lowell, "The Ghost-Seer"
The ghost of Philip Barton Key II was the son of Francis Scott Key and the nephew of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, is said to haunt Lafayette Square and can be seen on dark nights near the spot where he was shot.
In the spring of 1858, Key, who was the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, began having an affair with Teresa Bagioli Sickles, the wife of his friend Daniel Sickles.
Maria’s half- brother, a New York University professor, was a teenage friend of Dan Sickles, the son of Manhattan patent lawyer and politician who had learned the printer's trade but wanted more for his career.
The Da Ponte family helped Sickles secure a scholarship to New York University. They also allowed him to move into their home and knew Teresa, his future wife, in her infancy. Sickles, who at age 20 had already been indicted for fraud, was admitted to the bar in 1846, and was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1847 as a Tammany Hall hack.
Fanny White (Born Jane Augusta Blankman in 1823) was a successful New York Prostitute, Madam, brothel owner, and courtesan. She was noted on two contents for her wit, her charm, and her beauty and her ability to coral powerful and wealthy men. White became Sickles kept the woman and kept her in money and jewels. He probably arranged the mortgage on Fanny’s brothel, under the name of his friend Antonio Bagioli and Fanny contributed a portion of the brothel earnings to Sickles’ election campaign. When he was elected to the New York State Assembly later that year, he had the bad sense to take her up to Albany and introduced her to his fellow legislators and gave her a tour of the Assembly Chamber.
Most of the legislators knew who Fanny was and were outraged at Sickles indiscretion and was censured by members of the Whig party. On that same trip, when the couple went out of the town for the evening Fanny dressed as a man, which was illegal at the time, and was subsequently arrested and placed in jail for the night.
In September 1852, when Sickles married sixteen-year old Teresa Bagioli, Fanny was so upset that she followed Sickles to his hotel and beat him with a riding crop. But they made up and in August of 1853, Fanny travelled with Sickles to England, leaving his pregnant wife at home.
Sickles arranged Fanny’s passport, when Sickles was acting as secretary to James Buchanan, the U. S. Minister to the Court of St. James. Once in London, Sickles and Fanny cavorted openly, attending theaters, operas, and diplomatic events, arm in arm.
Remarkably, Fanny was even introduced to Queen Victoria at a reception at Buckingham Palace, as “Miss Bennett of New York.”, the name being a slap at the hot tempered Scot, James Gordon Bennett, founder, editor and publisher of the New York Herald, whom Sickles despised. From that point on, Fanny used the last name Bennett.
When James Gordon Bennett learned that Fanny had used his name in the royal court and was now using it as her business name as well, Bennett was furious and would eventually get his revenge in his newspapers, which, at the time, had the highest circulation in America.
Fanny left London in the spring of 1854 when Teresa Bagioli Sickles arrived in the city to join her husband. Fanny reportedly toured the continent and was said to have been tossed out of the Paris Opera by the police after causing a drunken scene. She eventually returned to New York and open more brothels.
In 1859, she met and married noted criminal defense lawyer Edmond Blankman, seven years her junior. Fanny died suddenly on October 12, 1860, at age 37. A rumor swept the city that she had been poisoned by her husband who wanted her fortune (Estimated to be in the range of two to four million dollars, mostly in real estate) for his own.
The City Coroner performed an autopsy and although he found signs of exposure to tuberculosis, syphilis, symptoms of cardiovascular disease, and extensive bleeding in the brain, no poison was found.
In 1851, Assemblyman Sickles, now thirty-three years old, met the fifteen-year-old Teresa again and, according to him anyway, fell instantly in love with her and proposed marriage.
Although her parents understandably refused to consent to the marriage, the couple wed anyway, in 1852, in a civil ceremony. Seven months Teresa gave birth to their child, Laura Buchanan Sickles. (Sickles later had a falling out with his daughter and they never spoke afterward. She died before her father did, of alcoholism in 1891)
In 1855, Sickles was elected to the New York Senate and served until 1857 when he won a seat in the United States House of Representatives. The couple were deeply involved in Washington society and hosted popular formal dinners every Thursday evening at their rented home on Madison Place. Teresa befriended the difficult Mary Todd Lincoln and was said to have attended séances held by Mary Todd.
Sickles continued to his love affairs with other women in both New York and Washington (at a leased room in a Baltimore hotel) and badly neglected his wife and child. In the meantime, in the spring of 1858, Teresa started an affair with Georgetowner Phillip Barton Key who said to follow Teresa at social gatherings and was often seen leaving her home while her husband was away. The charming and flirtatious Key, said to be the handsomest man in Washington, was a widower and a father to four children.
The affair between Teresa and Key was widely known in Washington’s gossipy social circles and on February 26, 1859, someone sent Dan Sickles a letter telling him about his wife’s affair with young Mister Keyes. Sickles showed the note to a friend, George Wooldridge, and then “put his hands to his head and sobbed in the lobby of the House of Representatives” although the accuracy of that event is highly doubtful.
Sickles probably knew what was happening. Friends of Sickles had warned him about Keys reputation as a lady’s man and in March of 1858, Sickles confronted Keys over the allegations that he was carrying on an affair with Sickles wife. But keys was a silver-tongued lawyer and Sickles walked away from the meeting absolutely sure that Keys could be trusted around his wife. Sickles looked into the matter and found evidence that the claims were true. He learned that the pair often slipped away to a vacant house on 15th Street, then a poor area, that Key rented.
Sickles confronted Teresa on Saturday night, February 26th, in her bedroom (They had separate sleeping arraignments, on different floors) with the facts, she broke down and admitted to the affair and wrote a confession, by force, saying as much.
The letter was later reprinted on the front page of Harper’s Weekly, a national yellow sheet newspaper. In part, the letter read, “I did not think it safe to meet (Phillip) in this house, because there are servants who might suspect something….He then told me he had hired (a) house as a place where he and I could meet. I agreed to it. There was a bed in the second story…. The room is warmed by a wood fire. Mr. Key generally goes first… I went there alone. I did what is usual for a wicked woman to do”.
A coachman later testified that Key and Teresa would take carriage rides to various cemeteries, where, according to him, “They would walk down the grounds out of my sight, and be away an hour or an hour-and-a-half.”
The next day, in the afternoon, Samuel Butterworth, a friend of Sickles who had arrived to Sickles house to comfort him, spotted Key in Lafayette Square sitting on a bench outside the Sickles home, allegedly signaling to Teresa with a handkerchief. Sickles sent a friend outside to delay Key while Sickles armed himself with several pistols, a revolver and two derringers, placed on an overcoat and left the house, and confronted Key at the corner of Madison Place N.W. and Pennsylvania Avenue, across the street from the White House.
Sickles yelled, “Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my home; you must die.” Pulled out a derringer and shot at the unarmed Key’s groin but missed. (Other accounts say he reached his hand to his breast for his weapon). Keys and Sickles struggled for a few moments while a dozen witnesses watched. Key broke loose and ran across the street, pitching a pair of opera glasses at Sickles and then hid behind a tree.
Sickles slowly walked across the street, pulled out a second derringer and shot Key in the thigh forcing him to drop to the sidewalk and beg, “Don’t shoot me”, and shouting, “Murder.”
Sickles then pulled out his revolver and fired, hitting the tree. He walked up to Key, who was lying prone on the ground, and standing over him fired a shot point-blank into his chest. A fifth shot misfired and bystanders wrestled the gun away from him before he could deliver the ‘coup de grace’ bullet. Key died moments later after being carried into the nearby Benjamin Ogle Tayloe House. Key is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington.
“He deserved it” Sickles said when he was told Key was dead.
Of course, there was no need to shoot Key to get justice. Key and Teresa had committed what the courts then called criminal intercourse, adultery, a crime in the 19th century. Sickles could have had Keys arrested and jailed, especially in light of the evidence he held. Sickles walked to the home of Attorney General Jeremiah Black, a few blocks away on Franklin Square, and confessed to the murder and surrendered his weapons.
He was taken to jail, but as a Tammany Hall politician in Washington, life as a prisoner wasn’t altogether terrible. Sickles was allowed to see as many visitors as he wished, and he saw dozens of them, and was allowed to use the head jailors apartment as a receiving room. He was also allowed to carry a weapon inside the jail. He also kept Teresa’s wedding ring in his cell, having taken it from her after he killed Key.
The government half-heartedly indicted Sickles for murder. Sickles hired a dream team of lawyers, most of them leading politicians including Edwin M. Stanton, (later Secretary of War) and James T. Brady, another Tammany Hall upstart.
Sickles plea was historic. He pled insanity in the first use of a temporary insanity defense in the United States. His argument was that he had been driven insane by his wife's infidelity and was out of his mind when he shot Key.
The graphic written confession that Teresa had written, probably under force, proved to be a pivotal bit of information. When the court ruled it as inadmissible, Sickles legal team leaked the letter to the press who reprinted it in full on an almost daily basis.
Although the jury was told, in detail, that Key was a philanderer and adulterer who sometimes engaged prostitutes and often drank too much, it was never told the truth about Sickles personnel life which was much worse than Key’s. At the same time, Stanton characterized Teresa, as being unable to give consent to the adultery, in other words, she was raped by Keys.
In the end, in one of the most controversial trials of the 19th century, twenty days long, in less than an hour the jury found acquitted Sickles on the basis of temporary insanity, a crime of passion.
The newspapers, which set the tone for public opinion at the time, welcomed the acquittal and declared Sickles a hero who saved the dignity of the ladies of Washington from near-rapist Key. Then Sickles publicly forgave Teresa and when he did the American public turned on him. The common opinion was, that if he was upset enough to murder a man over the affair, why forgive her? Where was his anger towards her?
Teresa died of tuberculosis on February 5, 1867, at the age of thirty-one. She is buried in an unmarked grave in the Sickles family plot in Green-Wood Cemetery in New York.
The outbreak of the civil war may have ripped apart the nation but it saved the politically connected Sickles who raised a brigade of New York regiments, the Excelsior Brigade. Using his Washington connections, Sickles managed to have himself appointed to the rank of Major General.
By in large, he was a competent commander, especially in light of the fact that he had no military training. However, on July 2, 1863 during the Battle of Gettysburg, Sickles was given command of the Union Army’s Third Corps. Against orders, he redeployed the Corps to the west of the Union lines on Cemetery Ridge.
In the brief but vicious battle that followed, most of the Third Corps was killed or wounded and Sickles himself was hit in the leg with a cannon ball. The lower leg was amputated (it is now in National Museum of Health. For years, Sickles visited the leg on the anniversary of the amputation.)
At the close of the war, he served as U.S. Minister to Spain from 1869 to 1874, after the Senate failed to confirm Henry Shelton Sanford (Shelton wanted to be ambassador to Spain but didn’t want to move to Spain)
In Spain, Sickles was less than competent at diplomacy but he was rumored to have had an affair with the deposed Queen Isabella II and in 1871 he married Carmina Creagh, the daughter of Chevalier de Creagh of Madrid, a Spanish Councilor of State.
Creagh, a Maid of Honor to Queen Isabella of Spain was introduced to U.S. Minister to Spain, Daniel E. Sickles at a Court function given by the Queen in 1871. They married soon thereafter and gave all appearances of a happy relationship, until Sickles resigned his position in 1874 and returned to the U.S. Mrs. Sickles declined to travel with him, and remained in Spain.
Despite one brief time when she did live in the United States, and despite having two children, George Stanton and Edna, Mr. and Mrs. Sickles lived most of their 40 year marriage apart.
Returning to the states, he was president of the New York State Board of Civil Service Commissioners, sheriff of New York and once again a representative in the 53rd Congress from 1893 to 1895.
Sickles went on to play an important part in the preservation of the Gettysburg Battlefield as chairman of the charity raising money to build a New York State monument at the battlefield.
In an odd twist of fate he is responsible for buying the original fencing used on East Cemetery Hill to mark the park's borders. The fencing came directly from Lafayette Square where he shot Key.
Almost all of the senior generals who fought at Gettysburg have statues at Gettysburg but there isn’t one of Sickles. When asked why Sickles supposedly said, "The entire battlefield is a memorial to Dan Sickles."
A memorial commissioned to include a bust of Sickles was appropriated but was said to have been embezzled by Sickles himself. An investigation found that $27,000 in cash donations was missing. Some wanted Sickle arrested but the Governor decided that the entire matter was better left alone in the name of the Empire states reputation and Sickles was allowed to resign from the commission.
In March of 1914, a rumor made the news that Sickles had died but a phone call to his fine Fifth Avenue home by a reporter was answered by Sickles himself who said that the rumor of his death was a damn lie and that he was alive and well. Perhaps he wasn’t as well as he thought he was. Two months after that call, he suffered a stroke and died on May 3, 1914, at the age of 94. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
The indomitable Dolley Madison lived here from 1837 until her death 1849.
The house takes part of its name from its builder, Massachusetts congressman Richard Cutts who also served as Comptroller of the Treasury. Cutts was married to Dolley Madison’s younger sister Anna.
Cutts House was one of the first homes to be built on President’s Square, as Lafayette Square was then called. Back then the area was mostly a very large, open field and was used by the local militia for training and practice marches.
Cutts managed to drive himself broke and in 1828 was thrown into debtors’ prison and was forced to sell the house to meet his obligations. The buyer was his brother-in -law former President James Madison, who allowed Cutts and his family to remain living there.
Anna Cutts died in 1832 and Dolly, now a widow, moved in and more or less ran Washington society. During this time, Dolly’s son, John Payne Todd, from her first marriage (Dolley had married a man named John Todd, who died in a cholera epidemic in 1793.) all but drove her to ruin.
By all accounts, John Payne Todd was a pampered and spoiled brat and an alcoholic who burned through his mother’s money by losing it in gambling games or raining it down on women of questionable reputations.
Because of her son's lavish spending, Dolley was eventually forced to sell her beautiful plantation estate in central Virginia, Montpelier, where President Madison had retired after his presidency.
After Dolley's died, Payne sold the Dolley Madison House to Admiral Charles Wilkes who eventually sold the property. It changed hands several times and for a while was owned by the vainglorious General George B. McClellan, head of the Union Army at the outset of the Civil War.
Legend has it that one evening President Lincoln dropped by the house to discuss the war and the difficult General McClellan made the President wait for a half hour before he sent a servant down to tell Mr. Lincoln that General had retired for the evening. McClellan was fired a short time later.
In the early 1880s, the house was leased to the Cosmos Club, a social club founded by scientists and intellectuals. The club made extensive modifications and additions to the property.
The property was purchased by the federal government in 1940 and the house was used as offices for the National Science Foundation, NASA. It was from the house that NASA introduced the Mercury 7 astronauts to American and the world.
Some say that Dolley never left the old house and she can be seen on some night in a rocking chair on the front porch. It’s said that the ghost was seen so often in the 1800s that members of the nearby Washington Club, when returning home for the evening, would tip their hats to the old woman. (The house had no porch when Dolley lived there but anyway…)