The Capitol at Washington is probably the most thoroughly
haunted building in the world.
Not less than fifteen
well-authenticated ghosts infest it, and some of them are of a more than
ordinarily alarming character.
particularly inspires this last remark is the fact that the Demon Cat is
said to have made its appearance again, after many years of absence. This
is a truly horrific apparition, and no viewless specter such as the
invisible grimalkin that even now trips people up on the stairs of the old
mansion which President Madison and his wife, Dolly, occupied, at the
corner of Eighteenth Street and New York Avenue, after the White House was
burned by the British. That, indeed, is altogether another story; but the
feline spook of the Capitol possesses attributes much more remarkable,
inasmuch as it has the appearance of an ordinary pussy when first seen,
and presently swells up to the size of an elephant before the eyes of the
The Demon Cat, in whose regard
testimony of the utmost seeming authenticity was put on record
thirty-five years ago, has been missing since 1862. One of the
watchmen on duty in the building shot at it then, and it disappeared.
Since then, until now, nothing more has been heard of it, though one
or two of the older policemen of the Capitol force still speak of the
spectral animal in awed whispers.
Their work, when performed in the
night, requires more than ordinary nerve, inasmuch as the interior of
the great structure is literally alive with echoes and other
suggestions of the supernatural. In the daytime, when the place is
full of people and the noises of busy life, the professional guides
make a point of showing persons how a whisper uttered when standing on
a certain marble block is distinctly audible at another point quite a
distance away, though unheard in the space between.
A good many phenomena of this kind
are observable in various parts of the Capitol, and the extent to
which they become augmented in strangeness during the silence of the
night may well be conceived. The silence of any ordinary house is
oppressive sometimes to the least superstitious individual. There are
unaccountable noises, and a weird and eerie sort of feeling comes over
him, distracting him perhaps from the perusal of his book. He finds
himself indulging in a vague sense of alarm, though he cannot imagine
any cause for it.
Such suggestions of the
supernatural are magnified a thousand fold in the Capitol, when the
watchman pursues his lonely beat through the great corridors whose
immense spaces impress him with a sense of solitariness, while the
shadows thrown by his lantern gather into strange and menacing forms.
One of the most curious and alarming of the audible
phenomena observable in the Capitol, so all the watchmen say, is a
ghostly footstep that seems to follow anybody who crosses Statuary
Hall at night. It was in this hall, then the chamber of the House of
Representatives, that John Quincy Adams died--at a spot indicated now
by a brass tablet set in a stone slab, where his desk stood. Whether
or not it is his ghost that pursues is a question open to dispute,
though it is to be hoped that the venerable ex-President rests more
quietly in his grave. At all events, the performance is unpleasant,
and even gruesome for him who walks across that historic floor, while
the white marble statues of dead statesmen placed around the walls
seem to point at him with outstretched arms derisively. Like the man
in Coleridge's famous lines he "walks in fear and dread Because
he knows a frightful fiend doth close behind him tread."
At all events he is uncertain lest
such may be the case. And, of course, the duties of the watchman oblige
him, when so assigned, to patrol the basement of the building, where all
sorts of hobgoblins lie in wait.