Posts Tagged ‘President John Quincy Adams’

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The Octagon House

I may sound like I’m getting old by what I’m about to write, but Halloween isn’t what it used to be when I was growing up.  Some of the most popular costumes in recent years have been a twerking former Disney child star, a female prison inmate in an orange jumpsuit, and a fired high school chemistry teacher turned homicidal meth dealer.  I miss the more generic and traditional costumes, like ghosts.  So as I celebrated Halloween on today’s bike ride, I went on a ghost hunt. There are a number of reportedly haunted locations throughout D.C., and today I rode by a few of those places where ghosts and spirits are reported to have been encountered.

The first stop on my self-guided bike tour of D.C.’s haunted locations was The Octagon House, which is reported to be the most haunted residence in the city. It was built in 1801 by Colonel John Tayloe, III, and some members of the Tayloe family are reported to still be residing there today.  Two of Colonel Tayloe’s daughters are said to haunt their former home. The first allegedly died just before the War of 1812.  Colonel Tayloe and his daughter quarreled on the second floor landing over the girl’s relationship with a British officer stationed in the city.  And when the daughter turned in anger to go down the stairs, she “fell” down the stairs.  Or possibly over the railing.  Stories differ.  Either way, she died.  Her apparition has allegedly been seen crumpled at the bottom of the steps, or on the stairs near the second floor landing, and sometimes exhibits itself as the light of a candle moving up the staircase.

The death of the other Tayloe daughter, stories claim, occurred in 1817 or shortly thereafter.   She had eloped with a young man, thus incurring her father’s wrath.  When she returned home to reconcile with her father, they argued on the third-floor landing.  This daughter, too, “fell” to her death.  Her spirit is alleged to haunt the third floor landing and stairs between the second and third floors.

After the burning of The White House in the War of 1812, President James and Dolley Madison briefly lived at The Octagon House as well. Dolley Madison’s spirit is said to have been seen near the fireplace in the main ballroom as well as heading through a closed door to the garden.  Her ghost’s presence is reported to be accompanied by the smell of lilacs, which was her favorite flower.

Other spirits are also said to remain at The Octagon House as well. A slave girl in the house was allegedly killed by being thrown from the third floor landing to the first floor below by a British soldier during the War of 1812.  During the years since eyewitnesses have reported hearing her scream. The specter of a British soldier in a War of 1812 dress uniform was seen by a caretaker named James Cypress in the 1950s.  Perhaps it was the soldier who killed the slave girl.

A gambler shot to death in the home’s third-floor bedroom in the late 19th century has sometimes been seen still in the bed where he died. And ghostly footmen have been seen at the front door waiting to receive guests. Various witnesses have also reported hearing assorted moans, screams, and footsteps in The Octagon House.

The next stop on my ghost ride was the Dolly Madison House, also referred to as the Cutts-Madison House, located at 1520 H Street (MAP), near the northwest corner of Lafayette Square Park.  One of the most reported spirits in all of D.C. is that of former First Lady Dolley Madison. In addition to being seen at The Octagon House, her ghost has been encountered at additional locations, including the White House Rose Garden, and at her home on Lafayette Square. It is in this home that Dolley Madison spent her last years, and where she died in 1849. Since the mid-19th century, it is on the porch sitting in a rocking chair that her ghost has most often been encountered.

I then made a stop at the nearby statue of President Andrew Jackson, located in middle of Lafayette Square Park (MAP) across the street from the White House.  There are a variety of haunted accounts involving the boisterous President Jackson within the nearby White House. Most of the stories center around the canopy bed in the Rose bedroom on the second floor.  Mary Todd Lincoln and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands are but a couple of the notable witnesses to President Jackson’s apparition.

My next stop on this haunted bike ride was the location where Congressman Daniel Sickles’ House used to be.  Located at 717 Madison Place (MAP), it is now the downtown site of the U.S. Court of Claims.

In 1859, Sickles shot and killed Philip Barton Key, who at that time was the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, and was the son of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the national anthem.  After learning of Key’s affair with his wife, Teresa, who was only 15 years old when she married the 33-year old Sickles, Sickles approached Teresa’s lover in front of his home and allegedly said, “Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my house. You must die.” He then shot Key. As he lay dying, Key gazed at the window where Teresa would signal him when the coast was clear for their trists. A jury acquitted Sickles after a sensational trial that featured the first use of the temporary insanity defense in U.S. legal history. Since that time Key’s visage has been reported to occasionally appear in the location where Sickles shot him.

I then proceeded to the Walsh Mansion, which currently serves as the Indonesian Embassy and is located at 2020 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Embassy Row neighborhood.  The most expensive residence in the city at the time it was completed in 1903, the mansion was built by Thomas J. Walsh, a famous gold miner and industrialist. He was also known for giving the famed Hope Diamond to his daughter Evalyn Walsh McLean as a wedding present. However, along with the diamond came its curse.  According to the legend, a curse befell the large, blue diamond when it was stolen from an idol in India – a curse that foretold bad luck and death not only for the owner of the diamond but for all who touched it. Anyway, Evalyn continued to live in the house after her father’s passing until her death in 1947. However, by the time she died she had lost the family fortune and more, and to cover her significant debts, the Walsh Mansion was sold to the government of Indonesia. According to embassy staff, however, Evalyn never vacated the home. Rather, her spirit has been seen several times gliding down the mansion’s grand central staircase.

The Mary Surratt Boarding House was the next destination on my haunted tour of D.C.  Located at 604 H Street (MAP) in the heart of the city’s Chinatown neighborhood, the three-story Federal-style townhouse has been substantially renovated through the years.  But in the mid-1800’s it was a boarding house owned by Mary Surratt, who was convicted and hanged as one of the conspirators in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The building currently houses a Chinese restaurant, named Wok and Roll, on the ground floor. But it may also house Mary Surratt’s ghost as well. From the 1870s onward, occupants of the building have claimed that Surratt’s spirit is responsible for the incomprehensible mumbling and whispers, footsteps, muffled sobs, and creaking floorboards which have unnerved them.

I also rode to the Capitol Hill neighborhood today, where the ghost of Joseph Holt is said to haunt the street near where he lived.  Holt was Judge Advocate General of the Army, and presided over the trials of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. During the trials, accused conspirators Dr. Samuel Mudd (who treated assassin John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg) and Mary Surratt (at whose downtown boarding house the conspirators met) were held at the Old Capitol Prison opposite the U.S. Capitol Building. The modern day U.S. Supreme Court Building stands on the site today. After Holt retired, he allegedly became a recluse in his Capitol Hill home. Local residents have told stories of Holt’s ghost walking down First Street in a blue suit and cape, pondering the guilt of Mudd and Surrat as he heads for the site of the Old Capitol Prison.

Lastly, before heading back to my office, I concluded my self-guided haunted bike tour by stopping by the U.S. Capitol Building. Many people would contend that the Capitol is soulless, but it is no stranger to departed souls. The Capitol Building is reputedly haunted by a former President, many past members of the House of Representatives, other government officials, officers who served during the American Revolutionary War, workers who died during its construction, and perhaps most famously, or infamously, a “demon black cat.”

One of the most illustrious ghosts said to haunt the Capitol Building is John Quincy Adams, the nation’s sixth President, who after serving as President went on to serve nine terms as a Massachusetts Congressman. In 1848, at age 81, Adams fell unconscious on the House floor while in the middle of a speech. Lawmakers carried him into the speaker’s office, where he died two days later. Ghost followers contend that his spirit subsequently made its way back to the chamber, now known as Statuary Hall. A plaque there marks the spot where Adams’ desk once stood. It is from that spot, believers attest, that his ghost sporadically redelivers his unfinished speech.

The infamous “demon black cat” is alleged to prowl the halls of Congress, and make appearances just before a national tragedy or change in Presidential administration. It was first seen in the early part of the 19th century, and a night watchman shot at it in 1862. It has also been seen by other night watchmen and members of the Capitol Police. It appeared before the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the October 1929 stock market crash, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The cat has not only been seen in the halls, but has repeatedly appeared in Washington’s Tomb. The Tomb, located two levels below the crypt beneath the Capitol Rotunda, was an original feature of the building, planned as a resting place for George Washington and members of his family. But the Washington family politely declined the offer, and the Tomb now stands empty. Or does it?

The specters of at least two soldiers are also said to haunt the Capitol Building.  A few eyewitnesses have claimed that whenever an individual lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda, a World War I doughboy momentarily appears, salutes, then disappears. A second apparition, which eyewitnesses say is the ghost of an American Revolutionary War soldier, has also appeared at the Washington Tomb. According to several stories, the soldier appears, moves around the unused Washington family catafalque, and then passes through the door into the hallway before disappearing.

Thus having concluded my haunted tour, I headed back to my office.  It was a great bike ride, despite the fact that I did not see, hear, or otherwise sense the presence of any ghosts in a city that seems to be full of them.

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Statue of Albert Gallatin

Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin was born in Geneva on January 29, 1761, to an aristocratic Swiss family. He immigrated to America when he was 19 years old, where he became a politician, diplomat, ethnologist and linguist. He served as a Representative, Senator, Ambassador, and he became the fourth and longest-serving Secretary of the Treasury in United States history.  And on this bike ride, I went to see a statue dedicated to him, which is in front of The United States Department of the Treasury Building, located at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), next door to The White House in northwest D.C.

Gallatin was originally elected to the United States Senate in 1793. However, his political career got off to a bumpy start, and he was removed from office by a 14–12 party-line vote after a protest raised by his opponents suggested he did not meet the required years of citizenship. The dispute that resulted in his removal had important ramifications though. At that time, the Senate always held closed sessions. However, the Senators in the newly established nation were leery of anything which might hint that they intended to establish an aristocracy. So they opened up their chamber for the first time for the debate over whether to unseat Gallatin. Soon after, open sessions for the Senate and a more transparent government became standard procedure.

Gallatin’s brief initial time in the Senate before being removed also had important ramifications for him. Not only did the election controversy add to his fame, but he also proved himself to be an effective opponent of America’s first Secretary of the Treasury’s, Alexander Hamilton’s, financial policies.

Returning home to Pennsylvania, Gallatin found himself embroiled in the Whiskey Rebellion, which involved a whiskey tax imposed in 1791 by Congress at the demand of Alexander Hamilton to raise money to pay the national debt.  Gallatin helped bring about a non-violent end to the conflict just before President George Washington, who had denounced the tax protesters and called out the militia, lead the army into western Pennsylvania to end the rebellion.  As a result of the  popularity he gained in advocating their cause, he was again elected two years later, this time to the House of Representatives, were he served until 1801. There he inaugurated the House Committee on Finance, which later grew into the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Gallatin’s mastery of public finance during his three terms in Congress lead to President Thomas Jefferson appointing “the foreigner with a French accent”, as he was described by his critics, as Secretary of the Treasury in 1801.  He would go on to serve until 1814, under both Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, holding the longest tenure in this office in American history.

Gallatin went on to achieve other accomplishments after leaving the Treasury Department.  But the remainder of his career after serving as Secretary of the Treasury began with just as bumpy a start as his career in government began.  He was nominated to run for vice president, but was forced to withdraw from the race because he lacked popular support.  Gallatin was again offered the position of Secretary of the Treasury by President John Quincy Adams, but turned it down.  After that, however, he went on to become the American ambassador to France, was one of the founders of New York University, and became president of the National Bank of New York City, which was temporarily renamed Gallatin Bank.  His last great endeavor was founding the American Ethnological Society.  And based on his studies of Native American languages, he has been called the father of American ethnology.

But it was his time as Secretary of the Treasury that earned Gallatin the honor of the statue outside of the Department of the Treasury Headquarters.  And it is located on the northern patio of the building, which is the opposite side of the building from the statue of his rival, Alexander Hamilton.

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Mathew Brady's Gravesite

Mathew Brady’s Gravesite

On this bike ride I stopped by the final resting place of Matthew Brady.  His gravesite is among those of the many historic and public figures buried in Historic Congressional Cemetery, located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood at 1801 E Street (MAP) in southeast D.C.

Mathew Brady was one of the most celebrated American photographers of the 19th century, and was well known for his portraits, particularly of public figures.  His first portrait studio in New York City was highly publicized, and in it Brady began to photograph as many famous people of his time as he could, which included Daniel Webster, James Fenimore Cooper, and Edgar Allan Poe.

A few years later he opened a second studio in D.C., where he continued his portraiture of public figures and prominent politicians, such as Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and 18 of the 19 American Presidents from John Quincy Adams to William McKinley.  The exception was William Henry Harrison, who died in office only a month after his inauguration, and three years before Brady started his photographic collection.  Among his presidential photographs, Brady famously photographed President Abraham Lincoln on several occasions, and it is his portraits of Lincoln that are on the five dollar bill and the Lincoln penny.

As famous as he is for his portrait photography, Brady is even more widely known for innovative use of photography to document the Civil War.  Initially, at the outbreak of the war, Brady’s photography business sold portrait images to transient soldiers.  Brady also marketed to parents, encouraging them to capture images of their soldier sons before going to war and possibly being killed.  He even ran an advertisement in The New York Daily Tribune that read, “You cannot tell how soon it may be too late.”  However, he was soon taken with the idea of documenting the war itself. Eventually it was this photography that earned him the moniker of “The Father of Photojournalism.”

Seeking to create a comprehensive photo-documentation of the war, Brady organized a group of photographers and staff at his own considerable expense to follow the troops as the world’s first embedded field photographers.  Brady even bought photographs and negatives from private photographers in order to make the collection as complete as possible.

Almost as skilled at self-promotion as he was at photography, Brady held an exhibition during the middle of the war in his New York studio entitled “The Dead of Antietam,” in which he graphically displayed the carnage of the war with photographs of the battlefield before the dead had been removed.  A New York Times article in October of 1862 captures the impact of the exhibition, stating, “Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.”

Following the war Brady continued to work in D.C., but the Civil War project ruined him financially.  He had spent over $100,000, much of it on credit, with the expectation that the U.S. government would want to buy his photographs when the war ended.  But when the government refused to do so, he was forced to declare bankruptcy and sell his New York City studio.  Unable to even pay the storage bill for his negatives, they were sold at public auction.  Ironically, they were bought by the U.S. War Department for $2,840.  Through lobbying by friends, Brady was eventually granted by Congress an additional payment of $25,000, but it was only a fraction of what he had spent on the project, and he remained financially destitute for the remainder of his life.

In addition to his financial problems, Brady also became depressed over the deterioration of his eyesight, which had begun years earlier.  He also became very lonely after the passing of his wife.  Then in 1895 Brady suffered two broken legs as a result of a traffic accident.  He never fully recovered, and died penniless and alone in the charity ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York City on January 15, 1896.  Without enough money left to bury him, his funeral, and burial next to his wife at Congressional Cemetery, was financed by the New York 7th Regiment Veteran’s Association.

During my visit to the cemetery, as I took photographs of his grave with my cell phone, I couldn’t help but wonder what Brady would have thought of the current technology used in photography, and how widely accessible and relatively affordable that technology has made photography.  I also wondered what he would have thought of the number of photographs that people take these days. It’s estimated only a few million pictures were taken in the 80 years before the first commercial camera was introduced.  Photography then became more widespread when the Kodak Brownie was released in 1900, four years after Brady’s death.  Brady and his staff took approximately 10,000 photos during the Civil War, an enormous number at that time.  Today, we take more than 380 billion photos a year.  I imagine Brady would be absolutely astounded.

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The Lincoln Hitching Post

There is a small post protruding from the sidewalk in front of D.C.’s New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, and most people walking by are more likely to trip over it than know what it is.  In fact, if you didn’t stop to read the brass plaque attached to it you might not ever realize that the inconspicuous little post actually has historical significance.  Located at 1313 New York Avenue near its intersection with H Street in northwest D.C. (MAP), the post was used by President Abraham Lincoln to hitch his horses to while attending services at the church.

President and Mrs. Lincoln first visited the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church shortly after he took office in March of 1861.  The building was new when the Lincolns first visited, with the church having just formed as the result of a merger between the Second Presbyterian Church and the F Street Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.  The Second Presbyterian Church owned a small building at the 14th Street site where the new church building was constructed.  The F Street Church met a few blocks away, and sold their building to The Willard Hotel where, coincidentally, the Lincolns had just recently run up a large tab, having stayed there prior to moving into The White House.

The Second Presbyterian Church included many prominent political and public figures, such as Presidents John Quincy Adams, James Buchanan and Andrew Jackson.  During the time Lincoln attended the New York Avenue church, members and regular attendees included: Edward Bates and Simon Cameron of Lincoln’s cabinet; Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; Senator Orville Browning of Illinois, and; famous Civil War photographer Mathew Brady.

Located just three blocks east of The White House, curious or admiring spectators would often gather and greet the first family as they arrived, whether it was by their small horse-drawn carriage or, occasionally, on foot.  Although the Lincolns did not join the church, the family attended services there regularly until the President’s death on April 15, 1865.  Almost a century and a half later, the hitching post still remains.

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