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.
One of the Capitol policemen was
almost frightened out of his wits one night when a pair of flaming eyes
looked out at him from the vaults under the chamber of the House of
Representatives where the wood is stored for the fires. It was
subsequently ascertained that the eyes in question were those of a fox,
which, being chivied through the town, had sought refuge in the cellar of
the edifice occupied by the national Legislature. The animal was killed
for the reason which obliges a white man to slay any innocent beast that
comes under his power.
But, speaking of the steps which
follow a person at night across the floor of Statuary Hall, a bold
watchman attempted not long ago to investigate them on scientific
principles. He suspected a trick, and so bought a pair of rubber shoes,
with the aid of which he proceeded to examine into the question. In the
stillness of the night he made a business of patrolling that portion of
the principal Government edifice, and, sure enough, the footsteps followed
along behind him. He cornered them; it was surely some trickster! There
was no possibility for the joker to get away. But, a moment later, the
steps were heard in another part of the hall; they had evaded him
successfully. Similar experiments were tried on other nights, but they all
ended in the same way.
Four years ago there died in
Washington an old gentleman who had been employed for thirty-five years in
the Library of Congress. The quarters of that great book collection, while
housed in the Capitol, were distressingly restricted, and much of the
cataloguing was done by the veteran mentioned in a sort of vault in the
sub-cellar. This vault was crammed with musty tomes from floor to ceiling,
and practically no air was admitted. It was a wonder that he lived so
long, but, when he came to die, he did it rather suddenly. Anyhow, he
became paralyzed and unable to speak, though up to the time of his actual
demise he was able to indicate his wants by gestures. Among other things,
he showed plainly by signs that he wished to be conveyed to the old
This wish of his was not obeyed, for
reasons which seemed sufficient to his family, and, finally, he
relinquished it by giving up the ghost. It was afterward learned that he
had hidden, almost undoubtedly, $6000 worth of registered United States
bonds among the books in his sub-cellar den -- presumably, concealed
between the leaves of some of the moth-eaten volumes of which he was the
Certainly, there could be
no better or less-suspected hiding-place, but this was just where the
trouble came in for the heirs, in whose interest the books were vainly
searched and shaken, when the transfer of the library from the old to its
new quarters was accomplished. The heirs cannot secure a renewal of the
bonds by the Government without furnishing proof of the loss of the
originals, which is lacking, and, meanwhile, it is said that the ghost of
the old gentleman haunts the vault in the sub-basement which he used to
inhabit, looking vainly for the missing securities.
The old gentleman referred to had some
curious traits, though he was by no means a miser--such as the keeping of
every burnt match that he came across. He would put them away in the
drawer of his private desk, together with expired street-car
transfers--the latter done up in neat bundles, with India-rubber bands.
Quite an intimate friend he had, named
Twine, who lost his grip on the perch, so to speak, about six years back.
Mr. Twine dwelt during the working hours of the day in a sort of cage of
iron, like that of Dreyfus, in the basement of the Capitol. As a matter of
fact, Dreyfus does not occupy a cage at all; the notion that he does so
arises from misunderstanding of the French word "case," which signifies a
However, Twine's cage was a real one
of iron wire, and inside of it he made a business of stamping the books of
the library with a mixture made of alcohol and lampblack. If the
observation of casual employees about the Capitol is to be trusted, Mr.
Twine's ghost is still engaged at intervals in the business of stamping
books at the old stand, though his industry must be very unprofitable
since the Government's literary collection has been moved out of the
Ghosts are supposed to appertain most
appropriately to the lower regions, inasmuch as the ancients who described
them first consigned the blessed as well as the damned to a nether world.
Consequently, it is not surprising to find that phantoms of the Capitol
are mostly relegated to the basement.
Exceptions are made in the case of
Vice-President Wilson, who, as will be remembered, died in his room at the
Senate end of the building, and also with respect to John Quincy Adams,
whose nocturnal perambulations are so annoying to the watchmen. Mr. Wilson
is only an occasional visitor on the premises, it is understood, finding
his way thither, probably, when nothing else of importance is "up," so to
speak, in the spiritual realm which now claims him for its own. It is
related that on one occasion he nearly frightened to death a watchman who
was guarding the coffin of a Tennessee Senator who was lying in state in
the Senate Chamber. The startle was doubtless uncontemplated, inasmuch as
the Senator was too well bred a man to take anybody unpleasantly by
There was a watchman, employed quite a
while ago as a member of the Capitol police, who was discharged finally
for drunkenness. No faith, therefore, is to be placed in his sworn
statement, which was actually made, to the effect that on a certain
occasion he passed through the old Hall of Representatives--now Statuary
Hall--and saw in session the Congress of 1848, with John Quincy Adams and
many other men whose names have long ago passed into history. It was, if
the word of the witness is to be believed, a phantom legislative crew,
resembling in kind if not in character the goblins which Rip Van Winkle
encountered on his trip to the summits of the storied Catskills.
But--to come down to things that are well
authenticated and sure, comparatively speaking--the basement of the
Capitol, as has been said, is the part of the building chiefly haunted.
Beneath the hall of the
House of Representatives strolls by night a melancholy specter, with erect
figure, a great mustache, and his hands clasped behind him Who he is
nobody has ever surmised; he might be, judging from his aspect, a
foreigner in the diplomatic service, but that is merely guess. Watchmen at
night have approached him in the belief that he was an intruder, but he
has faded from sight instantly, like a picture on a magic lantern slide.
At precisely 12.30 of the clock every
night, so it is said, the door of the room occupied by the Committee on
Military and Militia of the Senate opens silently, and there steps forth
the figure of General Logan, recognizable by his long black hair, military
carriage, and the hat he was accustomed to wear in life. Logan was the
chairman of this committee, and, if report be credited, he is still
supervising its duties.
Published in the
Philadelphia Press, October 2, 1898
of America, updated March, 2017.