Washington D.C. is one of the greatest principal sources in our nation for harboring haunted mansions, famous ghosts and for having a historically colorful past. One of the greatest reasons for this myriad of distinguished ghosts, places and events is due to the broad range of circumstances and major occurrences that have taken place in such a well documented and historical area that has been the capital of the United States since the late seventeen hundreds. Presidents, dignitaries, and historical legends have at one time or another called Washington D.C. their home, and many of them still remain there if only in spirit. A few of these spirits can be found living at the brick mansion at the corner of 18th Street and New York Avenue, known as the Octagon House. The historical mansion and museum was once the home of the wealthy Virginia planter, Colonel John Tayloe III, and is today considered one of the most haunted buildings in Washington.
President James Madison and his wife Dolly once stayed at the Octagon House in 1814, during the period of time that the White House was being rebuilt after the British set fire to the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, making it completely uninhabitable. George Washington, being a close friend to the Colonel and his family was a frequent welcomed visitor to the mansion, and was the reason that Colonel Tayloe purchased the land to which he built his stately mansion. The unique shape of the building was the grand idea of Dr. William Thornton. His architectural strategy was to build the home in perfect spec to accommodate a corner lot. The three-story home was equipped to sustain and house a large family that included fifteen children.
In 1812, the oldest Tayloe daughter fell to her death from the second story to the landing below during a heated argument with her strict father over a love interest that he did not approve of. Today her spirit has been seen in the form of a dark figure walking along the staircase and the shadow of a flickering candle can be seen on the wall located by the stairs. A loud thud near the landing is often noted by guests visiting the Octagon House, even though there is no physical reason for the gruesome sound other then the horrible event that took place over two-hundred years ago, making it one of the most famous residual hauntings in the history of Washington D.C. A second daughter of the Colonels is believed to have met with the same terrible fate as the Colonel refused to allow his lovely daughter to be touched by a British soldier. Today, the young Tayloe sisters walk the grounds of the mansion, perhaps looking for their lost loves or worse, reliving the fate of their untimely deaths.
African American slaves and servants are a large part of the paranormal activity that takes place at the Octagon House still today. Ringing bells were used as the indication that the servants were present in the room after being summoned by the family, and in 1870, long after a slave had set foot in the mansion several bells started ringing during a dinner party that Army General George D. Ramsay had attended. To the General’s shock and dismay, the bells refused to be quieted despite the fact that he grasped the ropes that should have immediately stopped them from ringing.
Distinguished First Lady, Dolly Madison, wife of President James Madison is perhaps the most notable ghost that can be found walking around the ballroom, warming herself by the fire or heading to the doorway that leads out to gardens. The smell of lilacs is often a reminder as to which ghost has just graced your presence. Lilacs were the flower of choice for Dolly and the sweet aroma is often found wafting through the area that she has just visited. The grand chandelier located above the stairwell has been known to sway as if invisible hands give it a gentle nudge. The smell of cooking food permeates the kitchen even though it is completely empty. Caretakers and other staff members are often jolted by the sight of shifting furniture, and the faint distressing scream that can sometimes be heard from the first floor landing where an African American slave was thrown to her death by a British soldier from the third floor is at the very least unsettling to hear as nothing today can be done to save her.
Since 1899 the American Institute of Architects have called The Octagon House home and in 1960 the building was declared a National Landmark. Today visitors can enjoy the mansion and the grounds as The Octagon Museum is open to the public. Visitors are welcome to come in and explore political and cultural history, and see first hand the paranormal activity that comes with bygone days that are marked and colored with historical events and people that have lived and called this their home.
The Octagon Museum Hours of Operation: Self-guided tours are held Thursday thru Friday from 1:00 to 4:00 pm. Private Tours: After hours group or private tours can be arranged by calling: 202-626-7439
Teacher Workshop: This educational opportunity is offered by The Octagon Museum and the White House Visitor Center. The week long workshop covers the war of 1812. Area teachers will be versed on field trips, skill building and scholarships. Teachers that actively participate in the workshop will receive educational materials necessary for the classroom and a $300.00 stipend. Workshop Date: July 7-11 Time: 8:00 am to 3:30 pm. For more information and registration, call: 202-639-7616.
Location: 1799 New York Avenue NW, Washington D.C. 20006