Ghosts of Presidents Past In The Oval Office

Ghosts of Presidents Past In The Oval Office

Ghost stories abound about American presidents haunting the Oval Office. Wandering spirits returning from the dead to haunt the places they lived and worked in have been central components in folklore, myths and fireside tales for thousands of years in most ancient cultures around the world. The entire concept of a ghost, or specter, is based on the ancient belief that a person’s spirit exists independently from the body, and that it continues to exist after the body’s demise. Thus, many prehistoric societies performed complex funeral and death rituals to ensure dead people’s spirits would not return to haunt the living after they were buried. However, if historical records are explored it quickly becomes apparent that this did not always go according to plan. A profusion of ghostly forms populate human history, who are believed to be associated with an event, occurrence or emotion in the ghost’s past, most often at the former home or the place where the person departed this life.

The Greek Stoic Philosopher Athenodorus Rents a Haunted House by Henry Justice Ford (c. 1900) ( Public Domain)

Apparently the first century AD Roman author, Pliny the Younger, was the first person to record the classic ghost story. He told the chilling story about the specter of an old man with a long beard and rattling chains haunting his servant in his Athenian home, and such a story always comes across as somewhat more valid sounding when it is recorded by such a giant of thought. The first written record of a spirit disturbing a house, known today as a poltergeist, occurred in 856 AD at a farmhouse in Germany where the malevolent spirit was reported to have thrown stones at the family while curtains swayed. Despite cold breezes chilling the rooms, the spirit started fires through the night and terrified the family into fleeing.

Illustration by James McBryde for M. R. James's story "Oh, Whistle, And I'll Come To You, My Lad" (1904).

In more modern historical times, some of the most notable figures of America's past also returned to haunt their old worlds. At the apex of that list are George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln. It is with these three trailblazers of history that some of the most bizarre, perplexing and sometimes disturbing, apparently supernatural events ever recorded, are associated.


The Ghost of the Oval Office

Washington - ON the surface, it sounds implausible: why would former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, the world's best-known proponent of balance-of-power diplomacy, give advice to the Bush administration, whose professed strategy and ideals run contrary to his philosophy?

And, conversely, why would the president and his aides consult Mr. Kissinger? After all, their National Security Strategy of 2006 dropped the idea that America should even pursue a balance of power. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared last year that the United States has abandoned 60 years of trying to "buy stability at the expense of democracy" in the Middle East. What could possibly be more un-Kissingerian? Mr. Kissinger has warned for decades against placing too much emphasis on democracy, human rights or moral values in foreign policy.

Yet Bob Woodward's new book, "State of Denial," describes how Vice President Dick Cheney has met with Mr. Kissinger at least once a month, and President Bush has talked to Mr. Kissinger frequently. The book portrays the 83-year-old Mr. Kissinger as the single most frequent outside adviser to Mr. Bush on foreign policy. The meetings are not some recent innovation previous news reports have indicated Mr. Kissinger advised the administration back in Mr. Bush's first term, too.

One might at first be tempted to attribute this curious relationship to the simple notion of elitism -- the idea that there are only a handful of officials who have actually run American foreign policy and therefore only a few people for Messrs. Bush and Cheney to consult.

But this explanation doesn't hold up. Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as national security advisers for Mr. Bush's father and for Jimmy Carter, respectively, are among the same foreign-policy elite (and Mr. Scowcroft, in particular, has long shared Mr. Kissinger's philosophical commitment to realism in foreign policy). Yet the Bush administration has consulted with neither of these men to the same extent as it has Mr. Kissinger, perhaps because both have openly challenged current foreign policy more than he has.

So Mr. Kissinger's role seems to be unique. Yet it is not all that surprising, when you look at his own history and that of previous administrations. Since Mr. Kissinger left government in 1977, he and several presidents have subtly made use of each other in similar fashion.

Differences in ideology have rarely been obstacles to the mutual seductions of the Kissinger Schmooze. Mr. Kissinger maintains his access to the White House and insider status, while administrations obtain a sense of validation for their policies.

It also helps for a president to know that he is keeping Mr. Kissinger on board -- that even if Mr. Kissinger were to conclude that an administration's policies were dead wrong, or stupid, or directly contrary to his own philosophy, he wouldn't say so in public. (In 2002, Mr. Kissinger was reported in newspaper articles to have broken ranks with the Bush administration on Iraq but Mr. Kissinger, quickly made plain that his views had been misinterpreted.)

Ronald Reagan campaigned against Mr. Kissinger in 1976 when he challenged President Gerald Ford in the Republican primaries, not only condemning Mr. Kissinger's policies but promising that if elected, he would replace him as secretary of state. But once Mr. Reagan won the Republican nomination in 1980 and went on to the White House, Mr. Kissinger's relationship to the Reagan administration was not an adversarial one.

When President Reagan branded the Soviet Union an "evil empire," thus seeming to contradict both Mr. Kissinger's past policies and his views of foreign policy, Mr. Kissinger minimized the significance of the speech he wrote that it was up to Soviet officials to choose when to be insulted. Mr. Reagan appointed Mr. Kissinger to head a bipartisan commission on Central America in an effort to build a consensus for his administration's policy.

Mr. Kissinger's advisory role has not been not confined to Republican administrations. When Bill Clinton, campaigning for the presidency in 1992, denounced the deadly 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in Beijing, he took aim at the underpinnings of the China policy that Mr. Kissinger had established. Yet two years later, when President Clinton announced he was abandoning efforts to link China's trade benefits to improvements in human rights, aides reported that Mr. Kissinger had been one of Mr. Clinton's leading outside advisers.

Some might hypothesize that Mr. Kissinger's perpetual re-emergence as éminence grise reflects the tendency of presidents to change their views after taking office and gradually move in Mr. Kissinger's direction. That explanation would apply to Mr. Clinton's turnabout on China policy, for example. But the theory doesn't work so well for Mr. Reagan, who even late in his administration was out of tune with Mr. Kissinger. In 1987, Mr. Kissinger complained that the Reagan administration was moving unwisely towards an arms-control agreement with Mikhail Gorbachev it was one of the few instances where Mr. Kissinger has taken on a president in public, and in that instance Mr. Kissinger did so in the role of a hawk.

The current Bush administration does not appear to have gone through any evolution towards Kissingerian realism, at least not if you look at the president's public remarks. Although Mr. Bush gave one speech invoking democratic ideals on the eve of the Iraq war, it was not until his second inaugural address, in January 2005, that he really made democratic freedom the centerpiece of his foreign policy. He has done so ever since. So rhetorically, at least, Mr. Bush has been moving further and further away from a Kissingerian foreign policy.

There remains the possibility that Mr. Bush's actual views may differ from his pro-democracy rhetoric. Perhaps he talks about democracy in public but not in private. If so, that would help explain why he has been so quiet about the regular meetings with Mr. Kissinger.

More likely, however, the president and Mr. Kissinger do not see any need to try to reconcile the chasm between the administration's avowed commitment to spreading democracy and Mr. Kissinger's career-long admonitions against any such efforts. Mr. Kissinger is like the Oval Office furniture for presidents, he is always in the background. Advising the White House is what he does. And presidents usually seem to think that a part of conducting foreign policy is to talk to Mr. Kissinger, even if it goes nowhere.

Op-Ed Contributor James Mann, the author of "Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet," is an author in residence at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.


All the President’s Historians

In a White House meeting in early March, Joe Biden spent more than two hours in private with a group of historians—in keeping with a recent tradition in which presidents have chatted about their predecessors with historians. But Biden had already been consulting with a historian, Jon Meacham, who has even helped write some of his major speeches. Given Meacham’s role as a wordsmith for and adviser to the president, it is worth looking back at how presidential historians have not only helped Americans view their presidential past, but also helped presidents understand their potential place in history.

It is chiefly through the work of historians that we remember our presidents—their strengths and successes, their flaws and failures. This is obviously true of long-gone presidents, whom no one alive remembers. But even for recent presidents, the writers of history and biography play an important role in assessing and reassessing their lives and careers.

This occurs in more or less predictable stages. When a president is in office, journalists write the “first rough draft of history” and admirers and opponents offer slanted accounts. Once a president is out of office, insiders—and sometimes ex-presidents themselves—who want to influence the historical record (and make some money) come out with memoirs. Soon thereafter, biographers and historians, both academic and popular, start to put out their own books, often drawing on interviews with former administration staffers. As the decades go by, each former administration has fewer living alumni whose memories can be plumbed—but there are still discoveries to be made, especially in diaries, letters, memos, declassified documents, and other sources dug up in presidential libraries and other archives. And later historians continue to reexamine the record, with perspective that earlier historians didn’t have: with the knowledge of how things turned out, and with changing moral sensibilities.

The revision and reassessment never stops. Andrew Jackson was long celebrated as an avatar of American democracy and the Hero of New Orleans, but in recent years, largely because of his administration’s treatment of Native Americans and his enslavement of black Americans, the esteem in which he is held by historians and the general public has fallen precipitously. Other presidents, though, have recently seen their political careers redeemed and rehabilitated. The presidencies of John Quincy Adams, Ulysses S. Grant, and Jimmy Carter were long considered failures, but new biographies by (respectively) William J. Cooper, Ron Chernow, and Jonathan Alter have argued that their subjects have been often misunderstood and underappreciated. In a similar vein, authors with political views that clash with those of their presidential subjects sometimes surprisingly find themselves enthralled, as lifelong Democrat Bob Spitz did in producing his sympathetic account of Ronald Reagan’s life.

Three presidents have written biographies of other presidents. George W. Bush’s biography of his father was published in 2014, four years before George H.W. Bush died. Herbert Hoover, after leaving office, wrote a biography of his late predecessor Woodrow Wilson. And Wilson himself, while still an academic, wrote a biography of George Washington. (Wilson’s nemesis Henry Cabot Lodge, who had produced his own biography of President Washington, liked to say that Wilson’s scholarship might have been good enough for Princeton but would never have passed muster at Lodge’s Harvard.) Only one other president had serious ambitions to not just live history but write a lot about it: Theodore Roosevelt, a preposterously prolific author.

Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office on July 26, 1962. (Photo by Cecil Stoughton, courtesy of the JFK Presidential Library and Museum.)

Other presidents have cultivated historians to their side. George Washington’s friend David Humphreys, who had served as his aide de camp during the Revolution and as a diplomat during his presidential administration, wrote the only authorized biography of Washington—although it was only partly published during Washington’s lifetime. A devout Jacksonian Democrat, historian George Bancroft served James Polk as secretary of the Navy and acting secretary of war. The historian Henry Adams, the great-grandson of John Adams, when he was a young man assisted his father in Abraham Lincoln’s administration as the ambassador to the United Kingdom. Irving Newton Brant, a newspaperman who became a speechwriter for and adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt, left FDR’s administration to write a six-volume biography of James Madison, of whom he had become enamored Brant would eventually also write his own account of FDR’s environmental legacy.

No academic historian has rubbed shoulders with presidential power as much as Harvard’s Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., a special adviser to John F. Kennedy. By the time of the 1960 election, Schlesinger had not only completed a Pulitzer Prize-winning and paradigm-shifting work about the Jacksonian era, but he had finished a huge, three-volume history of FDR and the New Deal. During his time working for JFK, Schlesinger was not merely watching events unfold but was, as Richard Aldous showed in his 2017 biography of Schlesinger, deeply involved in some policy decisions, including the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban missile crisis.

A lthough it seems unlikely that anyone in the future will ever again serve in the Schlesinger-like role of “insider historian,” presidents and would-be presidents have continued to call on historians for their perspective and advice.

For example, cultural historian Christopher Lasch’s theories concerning America’s “culture of narcissism” attracted the attention of Jimmy Carter. Bernard Lewis, the historian of the Middle East, gave counsel to the George W. Bush administration concerning the region and supported the war with Iraq. Princeton University’s Sean Wilentz has long been associated with the Clintons, from defending Bill Clinton during the impeachment proceedings in the 1990s to being dubbed “Hillary’s Historian” during the run-up to the 2016 Democratic primaries. Many other academic historians have offered endorsements of various presidential contenders and contributed to their campaigns, all while offering historical commentary on why their preferred candidate would make for a historic president and attacking their rivals for their uses (or abuses) of history.

Although Donald Trump will likely be remembered as one of the worst presidents in history, he was not entirely bereft of admirers among historians, and it is not impossible that future contrarian historians might offer revisionist accounts sympathetic to his presidency.

And what are we to make of Joe Biden’s pick of Jon Meacham as his historian of choice?

Meacham is what some academics have dubbed a “Dad historian,” a dismissive term to describe the type of authors who appeal to middle-aged (typically white) men. Think Ron Chernow, David McCullough, and H.W. Brands (or, if you must, their inferior imitators, like Brian Kilmeade, Don Yaeger, and Bill O’Reilly). While university-educated, the majority of these writers have journalistic backgrounds and are based outside university history departments (Brands being a notable exception). Their work tends to focus on influential political figures (mostly presidents or Founding-era individuals) or pivotal military moments (mostly from the Civil War or World War II).

All this applies to Meacham: Although he now has a named chair at Vanderbilt, he is not an academic by training but a journalist and editor. He cut his teeth as a writer for the Chattanooga Times before establishing himself as a leading voice for the Washington Monthly and Newsweek. Meacham’s first book, Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship, became a New York Times bestseller and his profile of Andrew Jackson, American Lion, earned a Pulitzer. He has also written biographies of Thomas Jefferson, George H.W. Bush, and John Lewis. In general, Meacham seems drawn to contradictory figures who triumphed in moments of crisis: Jackson, the symbolic champion of democracy who held the Union together in the face of the nullification crisis, yet who enslaved black Americans and removed indigenous peoples from their native land. Jefferson, the leading revolutionary figure and author of the Declaration of Independence who enslaved six hundred human beings—one of whom, Sally Hemings, he fathered at least six children with.

Given the heated climate in which the nation’s past is discussed these days—with radical statue-topplers squaring off against conservative ignoramuses—it is little wonder that someone like Jon Meacham and the stories he tells about America can be so appealing.

Jon Meacham in 2016. (Photo by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 2.0]) In the early years of the Trump presidency, Meacham released The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, a text that resonates with Biden’s call to “restore the soul of America” and his “battle for the soul of America” slogan. As Kara Voght highlighted for Mother Jones, Meacham’s appeal to Biden and Biden voters is obvious, as he evokes a politics “above partisan conflict, championing a civic Christianity and orienting American history around certain core national values.” Voght scoffs at this, particularly Meacham’s interest in Jefferson, and argues that Meacham’s American “mythmaking” ought to be supplanted in favor of a different American story: “Biden’s presidency will be measured by the extent to which he can supplant the lessons of his muse [Meacham] with a new old story about the soul of America.”

There are two problems with this argument, though. First, while Voght’s point about “supplant[ing]” old stories about America is well taken—again, the process of historical revisionism is never-ending and largely healthy—this is not a process that can be expedited. It takes time. The historical work, the teaching, the sentiments and attachments—the mystic chords of memory—can be very slow to change. Put simply, the American people like the American story and are not quick to reject parts of it.

On Meacham’s appeal to Biden voters, historian Michael D. Hattem, who has studied the way memory of the Revolution came to shape American identity, commented by email:

Meacham has, in recent years, sought to reclaim the liberalism embedded in our revolutionary legacy, which puts him distinctly at odds with many academic historians who increasingly reject that legacy. For Biden to become a Reagan-esque figure who can glean the moderates of the opposition party, he needs to lay claim to the legacy of the Revolution, because even if studies show that many Americans don’t know many specifics about our history, they still nevertheless feel an emotional connection to the Revolution that conservative politicians and media, along with our national institutions, have long cultivated in them.

Which brings us to the second problem with Voght’s argument. If, as she recommends, at least the center-left were to walk away from Jefferson and the other Founders, the dark reality is that there are other people ready and eager to claim them for their own. On the eve of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, participants rallied around a statue of Jefferson, proclaiming, “Jews will not replace us.” The logo on the leaked memo planning the aborted America First caucus to promote “Anglo-Saxon values” featured the visage of George Washington. Donald Trump responded to statues being defaced and torn down by giving a major speech in front of Mount Rushmore. Are we supposed to leave the Founders to a select and depraved few?

Far better to do as Meacham does—and as Biden, through his embrace of Meacham, does—and accept that the American past, all of it, in all its terror and beauty, its enlightenment and its evil, belongs to us all.


Here's How Joe Biden Redecorated The Oval Office

The Resolute Desk is still there. Gone is the red button upon it that summoned one of 12 daily Diet Cokes.

The curtains remain golden. Oh, and it’s still shaped like an oval.

Beyond that, the Oval Office has seen a fairly dramatic transformation in the last 24 hours, as President Joe Biden moved in and Donald Trump moved out.

A portrait of Andrew Jackson, the former U.S. president who kept slaves and signed legislation leading to the Trail of Tears, and whose populism reportedly inspired Trump, has disappeared. In its place: a portrait of Benjamin Franklin.

The Founding Father sits near a bookshelf bearing a moon rock, an intentional pairing The Washington Post says represents Biden’s respect for “science and truth” and the formidable achievements of America’s earlier generations.

Opposite the Resolute Desk hangs a large portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt above the office fireplace. Four smaller portraits surround Roosevelt, featuring Presidents Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.

Biden’s office told The Washington Post, which got a first look at the Oval Office prior to the president’s arrival Wednesday, that the pairing of Hamilton and Jefferson, who often disagreed with each other, was deliberate.

The paintings represent “how differences of opinion, expressed within the guardrails of the Republic, are essential to democracy,” Biden’s office said.

Biden has also brought back “Avenue in the Rain,” a highly symbolic oil painting from 1917 depicting a rainy Fifth Avenue in New York City lined with American flags. CNN notes the work occupied the office during the Obama and Clinton administrations, and through part of Trump’s term.

Elsewhere, Biden has removed a bust of Winston Churchill, on loan from the United Kingdom, that Trump favored.

Instead, a prominent bust of Latino civil rights leader and labor organizer Cesar Chavez sits prominently behind the Resolute Desk, alongside pictures of Biden’s family.

“We’re happy that the bust is there,” Paul Chavez, Cesar’s son and the president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, told CNN.

“It represents the hopes and aspirations of an entire community that has been demonized and belittled, and we hope this is the beginning of a new day, a new dawn in which the contributions of all Americans can be cherished and valued.”

The office also features busts of Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., President Harry Truman and Robert F. Kennedy, in addition to a sculpture by Allan Houser of the Chiricahua Apache tribe of a rider on horseback.

One more notable, if kinetic, addition: Biden’s Oval Office will once again feature four-legged companions after Trump broke with a long, weird history of animals in the White House. The president and first lady Jill Biden have two German shepherds, Champ and Major:


The Oval Office Through the Years, in Photos

In honor of Joe Biden's first day in the Oval Office, T&C takes a look back at how the presidential office has changed over time.

The Oval Office desk belonging to President Franklin D. Roosevelt is shown on the day of his death.

President John F. Kennedy smiles as he speaks on the phone in the Oval Office.

John F. Kennedy Jr. plays under the Resolute Desk.

Lyndon B. Johnson sits at the Oval Office desk, posing for one of his first official photographs following the death of his predecessor, John F. Kennedy.

President Richard Nixon used a rug designed by his wife that featured the presidential seal in gold on a flag blue background.

President Gerald Ford, who stepped into the presidency after Richard Nixon's resignation on August 9, 1974, sits in the Oval Office.

President Ronald Reagan takes one last look back at the Oval Office as he leaves for the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush.

President George H.W. Bush switched to a steel blue and cream color palette.

Little Rock, Arkansas-based designer Kaki Hockersmith decorated President Bill Clinton's Oval Office.

President Bill Clinton takes a call in the Oval Office.

President George W. Bush meets with former South African President Nelson Mandela.


How Each Of The Last 7 US Presidents Have Decorated The Oval Office: Illustrated

Amy H
Community member

Working from home can be a challenge for many, what with all the disruptions, how easy it is to lay in for an extra half an hour, and how tempting it can be to "just pop a load of washing in." Now that you have that picture, let's throw in hundreds of staff walking about your home day and night, and not forgetting the billions of people hanging on to your every word, and we have the life of the President of the United States. Sounds awful, doesn't it?

If you had to live like that for the next 4 (possibly 8) years, you'd want to make it as 'homely' as possible, right? Well, that's what the current and past Presidents of the United States have done. Not only do they add their personal touch to the White House, but they also make a few simple décor changes to the Oval Office as well.

After reviewing this fact, Aspire Doors found a few similarities between the Oval Office's appearance during the reign of each President. The wainscoting is never touched, the infamous Oval Office desk is largely the same, and it seems the most recent Presidents quite like a particular chest of drawers, as these aren't changed all that often either.

Aside from the above, the décor is changed each time a new President is elected after all, they're the ones that have to use that room as their new home office. Let's take a look at the Oval Office interior design aspects that have been changed with each of the last 7 Presidencies&mdashfrom Joe Biden to Ronald Reagan. As the Oval Office was built in 1933 and colored photos of it from this time are hard to come by, we've included some honorable mentions dating back to John F. Kennedy's reign.


The White House: The Most Important (Haunted) House in America

The White House is the most recognizable location in the United States for a number of reasons: political, historical, cultural. Every day, current events from the White House are relayed worldwide. Despite all the news that comes from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue daily, one key aspect consistently goes overlooked: the White House is haunted.

The White House of the past

Yes, our nation’s most important house has (or has had) several famous ghostly residents that have never fully moved out, even when their official tenures (and lives) have ended.

The list below is just a taste of some of the many ghost stories associated with the White House. Want to learn even more? Hear all about the White House’s haunted history while seeing the landmark in-person on our DC Ghosts tour experience.

Abigail Adams

The paranormal history of the White House nearly dates back to its inception. As you may know, the nation’s capital wasn’t always Washington, D.C.

The second president of the United States, John Adams and his wife, Abigail Adams, moved to the new capital and White House from the former capital, Philadelphia. During this early period, D.C. hadn’t been developed into what it is now. The nascent capital was a small town built by the banks of the Potomac River. Because of its proximity to water and the damp land D.C. was built on, the capital was humid.

Due to this humidity, Abigail Adams needed to find a place in the White House warm and dry enough to hang up damp laundry. Adams found that place in the East Room of the White House. She used the space as a makeshift laundry room.

The First Lady must’ve practiced this behavior frequently, as, even after her death, she is said to still try and dry clothes in the room. Sporting a cap and lace cloak, the ghost of Abigail Adams has been seen at times drifting toward the East Room, the largest room in the White House. In these sightings, her ghost’s arms are held out, as if bringing invisible laundry to the room to dry.

To this day, White House staff sometimes inexplicably smell lavender and wet laundry by or in the East Room.

Andrew Jackson

In 1824, John Quincy Adams defeated Andrew Jackson after an intense presidential election process. Even though Jackson made it to the Oval Office in 1828, he never forgot about those who supported Adams over him.

According to First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, Jackson’s ghost carried this unhappy resentment from his life into his death.

Like many of her contemporaries during the Civil War, First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln was a firm believer in ghosts and spiritualism. From 1862-1863, she practiced seances in the White House to try to speak with her deceased son, Willie, to help cope with her grief. Willie passed on in the White House in 1862, at age 11, most likely from typhoid fever. President Lincoln himself also reported being visited continually by the ghost of his late son.

Given her sensitivity to the paranormal, Mary Todd Lincoln was able to hear Jackson stomping and swearing throughout the property, especially from the Rose Room, Jackson’s former bedroom. Clearly, Jackson’s ghost was still expressing anger from having lost that key election in his life.

The Rose Room, also known as the Queens Bedroom, is considered to be one of the most haunted rooms in the White House. Per the White House Historical Association, since the 1860s, Jackson’s ghost has reportedly been seen and heard lounging in bed in his old bedroom, laughing loudly.

Even President Harry S. Truman wrote about Jackson’s ghost. In June 1945, shortly after the beginning of his first term, Truman wrote to his wife, Bess:

“I sit here in this old house and work on foreign affairs, read reports, and work on speeches–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].”

The following year, in 1946, Truman woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of someone knocking at his door. About this incident, Truman wrote to his wife:

“I jumped up and put on my bathrobe, opened the door, and no one was there. I Went out and looked up and down the hall, looked in your room and Margie’s. Still no one. Went back to bed after locking the doors and there were footsteps in your room whose door I’d left open. Jumped and looked and no one there! The damned place is haunted sure as shootin’. Secret Service said not even a watchman was up here at that hour. You and Margie had better come back and protect me before some of these ghosts carry me off.”

For figures as respected and rational as First Ladies and Presidents to have reported seeing Andrew Jackson’s ghost, there must be something to these otherwise outlandish accounts.

“The Thing”

In 1911, the Thing, a spectral presence, terrified President Taft’s staff. The Thing was described as being a teenaged boy, per President Taft’s military aide, Major Archibald Butt:

“The ghost, it seems, is a young boy about fourteen or fifteen years old, with rumpled blondish hair and sad blue eyes . . . They say that the first knowledge one has of the presence of the Thing is a slight pressure on the shoulder, as if someone were leaning over you to see what you might be doing.”

President Taft wasn’t a fan of the Thing. In fact, Taft was so aggravated by the frenzied stories in his office about the ghoul that he threatened to fire the first White House Staff member to tell stories about the Thing elsewhere.

Abraham Lincoln

Likely due in no small part to his tragic death, the most commonly reported ghost sighting in the White House has been the presence of Abraham Lincoln. As is widely known, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln in April 1865 while he was watching a play at Ford’s Theatre. Since his death, Lincoln’s ghost has been seen by a variety of figures from American political history.

The first to admit seeing Lincoln’s Ghost was Grace Coolidge, First Lady to President Calvin Coolidge, who served as President from 1923-1929. Coolidge described Lincoln’s ghost standing in the Lincoln Bedroom, which used to be his office. The ghost stared out of a window. Remarkably, that window faced Virginia, in the distance, where Civil War battlefields once were. The ghost then vanished. Perhaps Lincoln was still concerned by the war he didn’t know was over.

Reports of Lincoln’s ghosts skyrocketed under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, which ran from 1933-1945. Of course, President Roosevelt’s terms were during a period of societal change and unrest, making Lincoln’s increased ghostly presence seem more than coincidental.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt saw Lincoln’s ghost on virtually a nightly basis. The First Lady worked in the Lincoln Bedroom late at night, and said she felt his presence there regularly.

Sightings of Lincoln’s ghost weren’t limited to the White House’s residents. Visiting guests have had their share of accounts regarding the former President’s Ghost.

In 1940, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a recurrent White House guest during the second World War, was startled by President Lincoln’s ghost.

One night, Churchill took a bath. After finishing his bath, Churchill, still nude, left the bathroom. He walked into the bedroom, allegedly to retrieve a cigar. Lincoln’s ghost sat by the room’s fireplace. Churchill, in his characteristic wit remarked “Why Mr. President, you have me at a disadvantage”.

Two years later, in the middle of the night, and in the same guest suite where Churchill had stayed, Queen Wilhemina of Holland heard a knock on her bedroom door. She opened it.

In the doorway, Lincoln’s ghost stood in front of her, top hat and all. The Queen fainted.

Later, in 1961, in an interview with Life magazine, Jacqueline Kennedy discussed her habit of going to the Lincoln Bedroom. There, she’d sit alone and reflect silently among Lincoln’s presence. This practice was a kind of meditation for her, helping her escape from the hectic stress of her life at the time.

Further into the 1960s, another First Lady encountered Lincoln’s ghost. One night, while watching a television special about Lincoln’s death, Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson, felt Lincoln’s presence in the hallway. Incidentally, that hallway ran from the west end of the quarters to the east end, where Lincoln’s office used to be.

Another time, a noted White House seamstress, Lillian Rogers Parks, investigated what sounded like pacing on the upper story of the White House. She found seemingly no one there. A fellow White House staff member informed her that the sound was merely “old Abe pacing the floor.”

In 1989, President Ronald Reagan candidly said the only room in the White House his dog wouldn’t enter was the Lincoln Bedroom.

The general consensus regarding Lincoln’s repeated appearances in the White House is that his spirit only appears in times of stress or national crisis. It seems, even after his death, Lincoln strives to help guide the country through great periods of strife, the same way he did in his life.


Is the White House haunted? A history of spooked presidents, prime ministers and pets.

On a lonely night in 1946, President Harry S. Truman went to bed at 9 p.m. About six hours later, he heard it.

The sound against his bedroom door awakened him, he wrote to his wife in a letter that is archived in his presidential library and museum.

“I jumped up and put on my bathrobe, opened the door, and no one there,” he wrote. “Went out and looked up and down the hall, looked in your room and Margie’s. Still no one. Went back to bed after locking the doors and there were footsteps in your room whose door I’d left open. Jumped and looked and no one there! The damned place is haunted sure as shootin’. Secret Service said not even a watchman was up here at that hour.”

“You and Margie had better come back and protect me before some of these ghosts carry me off.”

In addition to its political ghosts, the White House has long housed unsettling specters of a different, more bump-in-the-night kind, if numerous former leaders and their staff members are to be believed.

Whether one embraces or mocks the paranormal, the many accounts that have spilled out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue over two centuries give ghosts an undeniable place in the country’s history. They also make that address arguably the nation’s most famous haunted house.

The sightings, which have been documented in eerie detail by scholars and newspapers, involve a former president who appears when the nation needs a leader most, a daughter who pleads in vain to help her doomed mother and a first lady who is, sadly, perpetually stuck doing laundry.

Jared Broach is the founder of the company Nightly Spirits, which offers tours of haunted areas in several cities across the country. But when Broach started the tours in 2012, he offered only one: The White House.

“The White House has the best ghost stories, and I’d call them the most verified,” Broach said. “Honestly, we could do a 10-hour tour if we really wanted to.”

One of his favorite stories is about David Burnes, who sold the land where the White House sits and whose voice has been reportedly heard in the Oval Office. “I’m Mr. Buuuuurnes,” Broach would always say during tours when he got to that part of the story.

Asked if he believes in ghosts, Broach said “for sure” and then pointed to more prestigious authorities.

“If I said no, I’d be calling about eight different presidents liars,” he said.

One of them would be Abraham Lincoln. He reportedly received regular visits from his son Willie, who died in the White House in 1862 at age 11 of what was probably typhoid fever. Mary Todd Lincoln, who was so grief-stricken by the loss that she remained in her room for weeks, spoke of seeing her son’s ghost once at the foot of her bed. There are also reports of her hearing Thomas Jefferson playing the violin and Andrew Jackson swearing.

After his assassination in 1865, Lincoln apparently joined his son in his phantasmal roaming. First lady Grace Coolidge spoke in magazine accounts of seeing him look out a window in what had been in his office.

Many more sightings would come in the decades and presidential administrations that followed. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom in 1942 when she reportedly heard a knock on her bedroom door, opened it to see the bearded president and fainted.

Two years earlier, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, according to accounts, had just stepped out of a hot bath in that same room and was wearing nothing but a cigar when he encountered Lincoln by the fireplace.

“Good evening, Mr. President,” Churchill reportedly said. “You seem to have me at a disadvantage.”

In his research, Broach said he found that Lincoln seems to be the most common visitor among the White House’s ghosts and also the one who carries the greatest burden.

“They say Lincoln always comes back whenever he feels the country is in need or in peril,” Broach said. “They say he just strides up and down the second-floor hallways and raps on doors and stands by windows.”

In a 1989 Washington Post article, White House curator Rex Scouten said that President Ronald Reagan had commented that his dog would go into any room except the Lincoln bedroom.

“He’d just stand outside the door and bark,” Scouten said.

Among other spirited stories are those about Annie Surratt. Some have sworn her ghost knocks on the front doors, pleading for the release of her mother, Mary Surratt, who was convicted of playing a role in Lincoln’s assassination and later hanged.

Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold and George Atzerodt are hanged inside Fort McNair in Washington on July 7, 1865. (Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress)

There are also haunting accounts involving two presidents’ wives. Abigail Adams was the first first lady to live in the White House and used the East Room to dry sheets. Since her death, there have been reported sightings of her likeness in that area. She walks, according to the accounts, with her arms outstretched as if holding clean linens.

Dolley Madison, if the stories about her are to be believed, seems to have chosen a better eternal pastime: taking care of the garden. During the Woodrow Wilson administration, staff members reported seeing her ghost as they were about to move the Rose Garden. They apparently decided afterward to leave it where she wanted it.

The first lady is also connected to another storied Washington location. When the British burned down their home during the War of 1812, she and President James Madison moved to the Octagon House on the corner of 18th Street and New York Avenue NW, making it the temporary White House. Unexplained occurrences there have been linked to the deaths of three women, including two daughters of the wealthy man who built the house. In both incidents, according to newspaper accounts, the women had argued with their father about who they wanted to marry and then fell from the same staircase.


Top 10 haunted Areas of the Whitehouse

Few buildings are as iconic as the White House, the residence and office of the President of the United States. Indeed, the White House has been the site of many historical events and has played host to a great deal of important historical figures. What few people may realize, though, is that the White House is perhaps one of the most haunted places in the United States. Numerous public officials and staff members have recounted stories of bizarre occurrences or eerie sightings. President Harry Truman once wrote to his wife that &lsquo[t]he damned place is haunted sure as shootin&rsquo.&rsquo This list details the specific areas that supposedly see the greatest amount of ghostly activity at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

William Henry Harrison holds the dubious distinction of being the shortest-serving president and the first to die in office, succumbing to pneumonia a mere month after his inauguration. However, subsequent residents have believed that Harrison&rsquos ghost still haunts the White House attic, rummaging around for something unknown. Several presidents have reportedly heard the unexplained noises coming from the attic above the Oval Office.

Others report that Harrison is not alone. A Truman-era security guard once reported hearing &lsquoI am David Burns&rsquo coming from the attic above the Oval Office. In 1790, David Burns was the man forced to surrender his land so that the White House could be built.

The Rose Garden is one of the commonly used sites for presidential announcements. It is also the site of a particularly creepy haunting. The garden was originally planted by First Lady Dolley Madison in the early 1800s. A century later, when First Lady Ellen Wilson requested that the garden be dug up, garden workers reported that Madison&rsquos ghost appeared and prevented them from destroying her garden. Since that time, other White House insiders have reported an occasional and inexplicable smell of roses in the White House. These instances are often credited to Madison&rsquos ghost.

White House lore tells of something particularly dire lurking in the basement. Unlike other areas of the White House that are inhabited by spirits of figures from American history, the basement is said to be the home of a &lsquodemon cat.&rsquo Those who have reportedly seen the cat claim that it first appears as a small kitten, but as you get closer it becomes a larger and larger phantom beast. According to the legend, many years will pass with no one encountering the demon cat, but, when it does appear, it serves as a warning of a great national disaster. The demon cat was supposedly sighted shortly before the great stock market crash of the 1920s and right before President Kennedy&rsquos assassination.

The second floor of the White House is the residence for the First Family, so many of the stories that emerge about this area come from presidents and their families. One of the most frequently reported White House ghosts is President Abraham Lincoln, and the second floor hallways are some of his favorite haunts. Lincoln has been seen or heard by many residents, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. President Truman once claimed to have heard Lincoln pacing the hallway and knocking on his bedroom door. It&rsquos not just Lincoln in the halls &ndash President William Howard Taft became the first person to report seeing the ghost of First Lady Abigail Adams, who he saw floating through doors on the second floor.

Various bedrooms on the second floor are used for the president&rsquos family and other guests. One husband and wife pair reported that the ghost of a British soldier tried to set fire to their bed. It is presumed that this soldier was the man who set fire to the White House during the War of 1812. In addition, President Lyndon B. Johnson&rsquos daughter Lynda once reported seeing the ghost of Lincoln&rsquos son Willie, who had died in the very room in which she was staying. Other reported activity includes the ghostly screams of President Grover Cleveland&rsquos wife, the first woman to give birth in the White House. Following renovations in 1952, activity in the bedrooms has decreased significantly.

During Lincoln&rsquos administration, this room was his personal library and one of his favorite rooms in the White House. Numerous White House employees have reportedly seen Lincoln gazing out the windows of this room. First Lady Grace Coolidge also claimed to have seen him here. In addition to Lincoln, the disembodied voice of David Burns (from #10 on this list) has been heard from this room. First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln also reported seeing the ghosts of both Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Tyler here.

The White House entrance has a number of notable ghost fixtures. A torch-wielding British soldier (likely the same from #6 on this list) is often seen standing outside the front door. People have also reported seeing long-deceased White House ushers and doormen still tending to their duties. Perhaps most bizarre is the ghost of Anne Surratt, whose mother Mary was hanged in 1865 for her role in the Lincoln assassination. Anne&rsquos ghost has been spotted pounding on the White House doors begging for her mother&rsquos release. She is also reported to sit on the front steps every July 7, the anniversary of her mother&rsquos execution.

The East Room is the favorite haunt of Abigail Adams&rsquo ghost. During her tenure in the White House, this was the room in which she would hang her laundry. She is often seen in or en route to the East Room with her arms outstretched, as though carrying a laundry basket. Sightings were particularly abundant during the Taft Administration, but as recently as 2002 a group of tourists reportedly saw Adams. In addition to her sightings, many people report the faint smell of laundry soap around this area. Lincoln has also been spotted here, the room in which his body lay in state.

The Rose Bedroom is frequented by its former occupant, President Andrew Jackson. Numerous White House employees have seen or heard Jackson in the room, often engaged in hearty laughter or swearing violently. According to White House lore, there is an inexplicable cold spot on the canopy bed in the room where Jackson slept. Among the most notable reports, Mary Todd Lincoln claimed to have heard Jackson swearing and White House seamstress Lilian Parks felt his presence over her, which she recounted in her memoirs about her time in the White House. Not to be outdone, Lincoln has also been spotted here. When Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands stayed in this bedroom, she answered a knock on the door one night and saw Lincoln&rsquos ghost standing in the hallway.

Given Lincoln&rsquos frequent appearance at various places on this list, it is no wonder than his bedroom comes in at #1. Winston Churchill famously refused to sleep in the bedroom ever again after seeing the ghost beside the fireplace. (Churchill, it should be noted, had just emerged from a bath and was completely nude during the encounter.) Beyond those already listed as seeing Lincoln in other places, he has been spotted by: Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, and Dwight Eisenhower First Ladies Jacquie Kennedy and Ladybird Johnson and presidential children Susan Ford and Maureen Reagan. Maureen and her husband both saw Lincoln standing beside the fireplace, just as Churchill has seen him. Other guests have reported that lights in the bedroom will turn themselves on and inexplicable cold spots will occur in the room.


Barack Obama's 'discontented ghost' — 4 reasons he'll be a new kind of ex-president

The Constitution as amended in 1951 limits an individual’s length of service as Chief Executive to no more than two terms or ten years if serving out the remaining “two years of a term to which some other person was elected President.”

But it wasn't always this way.

One early critique of the 1,023 words that created the presidency in Article II was that none of them prohibited those who held the office from running for an unlimited number of four-year terms. “Wherein does this president, invested with his powers and prerogatives,” one opponent to ratification of the document wrote in 1787, “essentially differ from the king of Great Britain?”

Federalist supporters of continued eligibility argued otherwise. The ability to repeatedly seek office as head of the Executive branch would translate to reoccurring service for well-regarded presidents and retirement — and silence — for the unpopular ones.

What the Framers feared most in a term-limited executive was adored former presidents serving as the ever-present peanut gallery on the current occupant.

“Would it promote the peace of the community, or the stability of the government,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in 1788, “to have half a dozen men who had had credit enough to be raised to the seat of the supreme magistracy, wandering among the people like discontented ghosts?”

Today, our fellow citizens bear witness to a unique circumstance in having the three most recent occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue all having served two terms and each of them elected to the office before the age of 55.

This not only leaves Bill Clinton William (Bill) Jefferson ClintonObama's presidential center may set modern record for length of delay Appeals court affirms North Carolina's 20-week abortion ban is unconstitutional Cleaner US gas can reduce Europe's reliance on Russian energy MORE , George W. Bush and Barack Obama Barack Hussein ObamaAppeals court affirms North Carolina's 20-week abortion ban is unconstitutional GOP senator: I want to make Biden a 'one-half-term president' Obama: Fox News viewers 'perceive a different reality' than other Americans MORE as historically young presidents but, perhaps more important to our contemporary situation, historically young former presidents.

Ex-presidents are a unique breed. When they are not establishing libraries, serving humanitarian causes or flying to the rescue in Saturday Night Live cartoons, they tend to enjoy the perks of post-presidential life by removing themselves from the immediacy of overt political participation while Oval Office occupants can count on the chorus of nearly 319 million other citizens serving as critics for their every move.

Traditionally the former presidents, despite their leverage and status, don't join the choir.

The day after the still-contentious Bush v. Gore decision was announced to a divided nation by a divided Supreme Court in 2000, President Bill Clinton released a statement saying, in part, that “all of us have a responsibility to support President-Elect Bush and to unite our country in the search for common ground.”

In March 2009, former President Bush said that Obama, sworn in just two months prior, “deserves my silence.” As Bush’s tenure was repeatedly trampled by his successor, the Texan held his tongue.

In fact, over the past eight years we have heard few conspicuous political rumblings from either No. 42 and No. 43 — until recently one spent some time during the most recent campaign stumping for his brother while the other campaigned vigorously for his wife.

Although Barack Obama will be vacating the White House grounds at noon on Jan. 20, 2017, don’t count on the future ex-president to fade away into the immediate sunset like his predecessors.

“I’m still fired up and I’m still ready to go,” Obama said in a recent call with Democrats. Many interpreted this as his unorthodox pledge, despite being a defender of Trump’s president-elect status, to become the Democratic counterpunch to The Donald once the New York billionaire gets behind the desk himself.

There are four factors that make it a safe bet to take Barack Obama at his word that he will be a “discontented ghost” in his post-presidential life:

President Obama will be 55 years and 169 days old when he leaves office at noon on Jan. 20. This makes him the third-youngest ex-Commander-in-Chief who served two full terms in United States history.

Ulysses Grant and Bill Clinton each vacated the White House at 54 years old. His youth makes for the possibility of a long and potentially active Oval Office afterlife.

2. His Popularity

Even after a year in which Americans witnessed a sitting commander-in-chief campaigning with unprecedented zeal and vitriol to name his own successor, President Obama’s weekly average popularity according to Gallup is an enviable 55 percent.

The Democratic drubbing in November — as in 2010 and 2014 — tells us that this popularity doesn’t translate to help for his party at the polls, but it does serve as a reminder that as ex-president he will enjoy personal appeal that is most likely to increase as he gets more selective in the issues he will address in the years to come.

3. His Partisanship

President Obama has been a uniquely partisan president. He will no doubt be a uniquely partisan ex-president.

Alternately addressing or failing to address issues that confronted his administration, he was never reluctant to champion those causes that would advance Democratic party interests.

The 44th president was never far from his community-organizer roots and we can expect that he will take the partisanship that was part of his DNA prior to the presidency and apply it to his post-Oval life with as much energy on a larger platform.

4. His Legacy

“All the progress we've made is at stake in this election,” President Obama said often in his speeches supporting his would-be Democratic successor. “My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is.”

Campaigning for Hillary Clinton Hillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton backs Shontel Brown in Ohio congressional race Hillary Clinton: Casting doubt on 2020 election is 'doing Putin's work' Progressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC MORE as a referendum on his presidency and her failure to win the election has added a sense of urgency to his post-presidential endeavors.

With his signature law and many of his executive orders facing significant questions about their future sustainability, Obama will be forced to remain a presence to help self-write the immediate legacy of his tenure.

Whether he ultimately serves one term or two, Americans already know the length of Donald Trump Donald TrumpNorth Carolina Senate passes trio of election measures 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday Border state governors rebel against Biden's immigration chaos MORE ’s former-presidency will be shorter than those of Clinton, Bush and Obama.

Not only will he be the oldest president to take a first-term oath, he will be sworn in an average of 20 years older than his three immediate predecessors.

As much as he will no doubt come to detest Obama lingering on the national scene past his presidency, it’s a safe bet that if Trump leaves office with the amount of vigor with which he came in, his former-presidency will show him also being a “discontented ghost” for his own successor as well.

James Coll is an adjunct professor of American and Constitutional history at Hofstra University and the founder of ChangeNYS.org, a not-for-profit dedicated to the promotion of non-partisan civic education and political reform in our state.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


Watch the video: Cartoon Donald Trump Is Visited By Ghosts Of Presidents Past