The Most Bone-Chilling Haunted Places in DC
From ghostly wineries to famous haunted monuments.
The nation’s capital is not only known for its many national landmarks, monuments, and museums, but also for its more supernatural attractions. That’s right, DC is one hell of a place to seek out specters, and it’s no wonder given the veritable treasure trove of historical events that have taken place in the city. As such, you aren’t alone if you hear muted yells at Bull Run or encounter apparitions along the Mount Vernon Trail. Hauntings in DC and the surrounding area tend to be some of the most entertaining and, yes, educational in the country, and we’ve rounded up some of the most haunted places in town should you be interested in a little fright this spooky season.
If your idea of a good fright is accompanied by a good drink, head over to Bull Run, where The Winery at Bull Run offers a lantern-led outdoor walking tour of the historic and hallowed grounds of one of the most famous (and haunted) Civil War sites. You may just encounter some ghostly soldiers or hear the remnants of battle cries from centuries past.
This beautiful hotel was initially conceived as the retirement home for General Robert Preston following his successes in the War of 1812. Built in 1832 as a private residence for the general, his wife, and their nine children, the building changed owners several times over the next few decades before finally opening as a hotel in 1935. Perhaps these many exchanges led to its now-famous ghostly hauntings; according to staff members, apparitions appear throughout the elegant inn. The main lore goes that during the Civil War, when the building was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers, a young nursing student named Beth cared for one of the wounded Confederate soldiers. Nearing death, the soldier asked her to play the violin, and as she played, he quietly passed on. Heartbroken, Beth died just a few weeks later, and it is said that the room where the soldier died has harbored her spirit ever since.
That’s right: DC’s favorite karaoke haunt is actually haunted. Before President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Ford’s Theatre, conspirators had begun meeting at Mary Surratt’s boarding home on H Street NE, between 6th and 7th Streets NW, which now hold Chinese restaurant and karaoke joint, Wok and Roll. The group plotted to kill multiple leaders, but, of course, John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Lincoln is the most infamous of the group’s plans. Surratt later became the first woman executed by the federal government—and her ghost now allegedly roams the halls of her former home, where occupants have claimed to hear mumblings, whispers, footsteps, muffled sobs, and creaking floorboards.
First Street NE
U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt famously presided over the trials of many of Lincoln’s conspirators and handed out several death sentences, including one to Surratt. He became a recluse following the trial, and local residents have claimed to see his ghost pacing back and forth on First Street NE, where his house once stood, towards the courthouse on cold, autumn nights.
The White House
Many former presidents have allegedly been seen or heard around the building, including Thomas Jefferson, who has been known to play his violin in the Yellow Room; Andrew Jackson, who can sometimes be heard laughing in the Rose Room; and both John Tyler and Frances Cleveland, First Lady to Grover Cleveland, who have appeared in the Blue Room.
Lincoln’s presence has been felt by former occupants as well, including several first ladies and presidents. Non-residents who have appeared around the White House include: David Burns, who owned the ground that the White House was built on and sold it to the federal government, who can occasionally be observed in the Oval Office; a British soldier, dressed in attire from the War of 1812, who has been observed carrying a torch throughout the building; and the daughter of Surratt, rumored to have pled for her mother’s life, who can be heard banging on the front door.
The spirits of many people haunt the square outside the White House, and for good reason: It was once the site of a slave market, and on dark nights, some say you can hear the clanking of chains and the screams of people. Richard Key, the son of Francis Scott Key, was also shot by Daniel Sickles in the square; he died later that night but can sometimes be seen wandering near the spot where he was shot.
This building has served many functions over the years. It was the home of presidents and vice Presidents (after the White House was burned down, James and Dolley Madison stayed here while the downtown quarter was rebuilt); served as a tenement following the absence of well-to-do owners; and was once a school for young girls after a cloister of nuns took over. It was unattended, but not completely derelict, before it was purchased by the American Institute of Architects in the early 20th century.
Through all that history, it is rumored to still be haunted by its original inhabitants: Colonel John Tayloe, the patriarch of a noted Virginia family that made their money as planters, and two of his daughters. Both of the girls died just before or after eloping with men their father disapproved of by plunging down the house’s remarkable stairwell. Staff and visitors to the house now say they can hear a woman’s shriek toward nightfall, and later residents, as well as some visitors of the Madisons, reported seeing a woman’s body, crumpled at the foot of the stairs.
The Old Post Chapel
This military chapel, adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery, is where the majority of funerals that take place in the cemetery begin. Considering that more than 400,000 soldiers have been buried here, there is a significant presence from families who have experienced loss and buried loved ones, and the space has continuous importance as hallowed ground.
However, with all this history, there’s bound to be a few hauntings. For instance, a lady in red can be seen walking through the cemetery, lost, as though she’s looking for the grave of someone close to her; the clip-clop of horses can occasionally be heard on overcast evenings, despite all burials taking place during the daytime; and an apparition can be seen in one of the anterooms, kneeling in prayer, likely for a fallen soldier.
A lot of people have died working in the U.S. Capitol Building, including representatives like Joseph Cannon, Wilbur Mills, and Champ Clark; government officials like Vice President Wilson, John Quincy Adams, and James Garfield; and officers who served in the armed forces, like General John Logan and Pierre L’Enfant. Many workers also died during the Capitol’s strenuous and complicated construction process, too. If any of these folks have a right to haunt the place, it’s the latter group—and who’s to say they’re not?
The most sympathetic U.S. Capitol apparition is said to appear on the ceiling, then reappear almost immediately below at ground level, mimicking how he fell during construction of the rotunda. Some say another worker, a stonemason who was crushed to death between collapsed walls, can be seen passing through these same walls while roaming the area.
However, the Capitol Building is perhaps more famously haunted by the representative ghost of a clowder of black cats that lived on Capitol Hill. Prior to the construction of the U.S. Capitol Building, the area was cleared out by hired hands, who were hired in part to kill the cats. Many of them were allegedly wiped out with shovels and pickaxes to allow for easier construction. After this, a single cat apparition, now dubbed the Demon Cat of Capitol Hill, can be seen by those walking the streets of the neighborhood late at night. The Demon Cat has been said to often appear to security guards, and legend has it that if you don’t run from it immediately, the cat will pounce at you, transforming into a panther, then vanish right before it lands.
This church’s bell, weighing a remarkable half-ton, was purchased from the Revere Company of Boston, founded by the son of Paul Revere. It was installed on November 30, 1822, and supposedly, when a notable person dies and the bell tolls, six ghostly men in white robes appear in the president's pew at midnight, then promptly vanish. It’s unclear who they may be, but they always pay their respects at the location also known as Tragedy Square.
Following Mr. Madison’s death, Dolley Madison moved into this home, built in 1822 by her brother-in-law, to cut back on expenses and was visited by every president from James Monroe to John Tyler, and other members of the Washington elite. After her death, her son, John Todd, inherited the home, and over time, it has passed through several hands. Most of these residents —from the mid-19th century on—claim to have seen Madison’s ghost, rocking in a chair, hanging in the space where the porch once was.
The Embassy of Indonesia
Once the most expensive home in the city, The Walsh Mansion was home to Thomas J. Walsh and later, his daughter, Evalyn, and Ned McLean, the heir to the Washington Post fortune. The couple lived in the home until Evalyn’s death in 1947 when it was sold to the Government of Indonesia. Now as the site of the country’s embassy, some say you can see Evalyn gliding throughout the home, especially around the central, grand staircase.
Standing since 1765, The Old Stone House is the oldest unchanged home in the District. It has changed hands many times and served as the housing for tailors, haberdashers, and Andersen car dealers. The federal government purchased the building in the 1950s and has preserved it, but hasn’t managed to keep it free from wandering spirits. A number of strange incidents have been observed at the home, including the sudden sound of children laughing, and apparitions of women cooking in the kitchen. Certain points in the home leave visitors feeling an intense chill throughout their body, even during the height of summer, and most terrifyingly, a malevolent spirit, nicknamed "George," assaults visitors, usually choking or pushing them, and leaves everyone he meets with an intense feeling of dread. Pass by this old M Street house, and you may notice that strange things start to happen as the sun sets.
Now a museum, historic space, and venue for weddings, this house was once known as the boyhood home of General Robert E. Lee. The home saw its most tumultuous time during the Civil War, when it was initially leased to a northern banker and ultimately seized by the Union army for use as an adjoining building for the Grosvenor hospital, where hundreds of soliders met their untimely death. Visitors have reported seeing a female apparition in period dress, and another woman who appears on the back steps with her child. The sound of an antique telephone has also been heard ringing.
John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson are among those who frequented this tavern, that now houses a museum. It also was one of the first places a crew docking at the Potomac Canal could stop for food, drink, and a room for the night. This tavern is notably haunted by “The Female Stranger,” a woman who, along with her husband, arrived from abroad and rented a room in the hotel. She fell deathly ill and local physicians couldn’t save her. Her identity was never revealed, and the inscription on her gravestone, located in nearby St. Paul’s Cemetery, simply reads, “In memory of the female stranger, died October 14, 1816, age 23 years 8 months.” Following her burial, her husband left Alexandria—and his debts for the room, medical care, and burial cost. Now when visitors are near the tavern, some say a woman can be seen holding a candle, and when one stays in the tavern late at night, her footsteps can be heard throughout the building.
The house and property at this winery are rich with history and folklore. Many visitors recount the piano in the parlor playing on its own, the ghost of a young girl who inhabits a room upstairs, as well as the spirit of Benoni Harrison who guided the home’s restoration project in the 1800s. Rumor has it that Benoni still haunts the manor house to this day. A glass of red wine sits on the mantel in the Tasting Room and is replenished each day to ensure the staff doesn’t encounter any mysterious phenomena courtesy of Benoni’s ghost while open to the public.