“My dear Clara, it seems that the White House is haunted.” These words were written by Major Archie Butt to his sister-in-law in the summer of 1911. He was talking about “the Thing,” a ghost believed to be the spirit of an unidentified 15-year-old boy. Butt was a military aide to President Howard Taft and had been receiving reports from frightened staff about strange encounters.
Servants told stories of feeling the Thing touching them on the shoulder, as if a curious boy leaning over to see what they were doing. Taft’s housekeeper, whom Butt referred to as “a spooky little thing herself,” was the only one who claimed to have actually seen the apparition. She described it as a young boy around 14 or 15 with sad, blue eyes and light, unkempt hair.
Taft was very angry at the upheaval caused by panic and nervousness of his staff in his presidential home. He ordered Butt to get it under control. They were determined to find out who the mysterious “Thing” was. Unfortunately, Butt perished one year later, when the Titanic sank, and the mystery is still unsolved.
The Thing, however, has not been the only ghostly visitor reported at White House. Between 1862 – 1863, Mary Todd Lincoln participated in seances in the Red Room after her son, Willie, died. Willie’s spirit has been a sight many say they’ve seen, and President Lincoln’s ghost is the most common that folks claim to have seen. Grace Coolidge, the wife of President Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929), was first to admit to report seeing him.
Mary Lincoln told her friends she’d heard President Andrew Jackson stomping and swearing through the halls. The Rose Room, Jackson’s bedroom while he had been president, is supposedly the most haunted room in the White House.
America’s 33rd president, Harry Truman, wrote to his wife Bess in June 1945 to talk about the spookiness going on in his new residence. “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 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].”
Other Ghostly Residents
- Abigail Adams, wife to John Adams (1797-1801), the second president of the U.S., used to hang laundry in the East Room of the new White House because it was the warmest and driest place. Some say they have seen her ghost, wearing a lace shawl and cap, heading towards the East Room with outstretched arms, as if she were carrying laundry, the scent of lavender filling the air.
- President Thomas Jefferson supposedly plays his violin in the Yellow Oval Room.
- Anna Surratt reportedly bangs on the doors of the White House, begging to see President Andrew Johnson to plead for a pardon for her mother, Mary Surratt, a conspirator of the Lincoln assassination.