top of page

Self-Guided Ghost Walking Tour: Washington DC

Whenever I travel (and have the time for it), I go on some sort of a quest -- to research a local magical object, go on a ghost tour, whatever. A few years back, I found myself alone in Washington DC, and since it was winter and none of the ghost tours were operating, I made up my own.

In honor of Independence Day, here it is:

Ghost Walking Tour: China Town to the White House

Time: 90 – 120 minutes.

Terrain: Flat as a pancake.

1) Mary Surratt’s Boarding House

604 H Street NW

Mary Surrat's Boarding House

Metro: Chinatown Station

Story: John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators used this boarding house as a base to plot President Lincoln’s assassination. The owner of the home, Mary Surratt, was executed for her role in the conspiracy, though she maintained her innocence until the end. She was the first woman executed by the federal government.

Manifestation: Sobs, creaking floorboards, whispers, footsteps, and mumbling. Mary Surratt’s apparition has also been sighted at the house.

Next: Proceed west down H Street. At 13th Avenue, continue straight – the street will dead end on New York Avenue. Veer left on New York, which dead ends on Pennsylvania Avenue, a pedestrian street. Proceed down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.

2) The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Story: This historic building is believed to be haunted by numerous famous people. “There are, from time to time, reports that the White House is haunted by mysterious appearances of figures from history, and I believe them,” said President Clinton’s press secretary, Mike McCurry. “There have been serious people who have serious tales to tell about these encounters, and there are many people who seriously believe that there is a haunting quality to the White House.”


Front entrance: On July 7, the ghost of Anne Surratt has been seen pounding on the White House doors, begging for the release of her mother, Mary Surratt (see above). July 7 is the anniversary of Mary’s trip to the gallows. A British soldier carrying a torch is also said to walk the grounds here at night – part of the British troops who burned down the White House down in 1814.

Rose Garden: During the Wilson administration, then first lady Ellen Louise Wilson ordered the rose garden, which had been planted by Dolley Madison nearly a hundred years earlier, dug up. The workmen reported Dolley Madison’s ghost appeared to them, preventing them from doing the work. The garden was left as it was.


The attic is believed haunted by the ghost of William Henry Harrison, who’s been heard rummaging about.

A demon cat, believed to be an omen of doom, has been spotted in the basement, though another version of the story puts the demon cat in the Crypt of the US Capitol. The cat was seen before JFK was assassinated, and shortly before the great stock market crash of 1929.

Abigail Adams has been spotted hanging laundry to dry in the East Room, where the body of Abraham Lincoln would later lie in state – just as Lincoln reported dreaming.

Abraham Lincoln’s ghost has been seen in his bedroom by many people, including Winston Churchill. Churchill reported that he left his bath tub, naked and smoking a cigar, and walked into the bedroom, where he found Lincoln leaning against the fireplace. The two statesmen started in mutual surprise and embarrassment, and then the apparition faded away. Lincoln’s ghost has also been known to pace the second floor hallway, knock on doors (he once caused the Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands to faint when she answered the knock), and stand looking out over certain windows.

  • Grace Coolidge reported seeing Lincoln’s ghost in the Yellow Oval Roo

  • The ghost of Andrew Jackson is believed to haunt his old canopy bed in the Rose Bedroom.

  • The ghost of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie, has been reported in his old second floor bedroom.

  • The ghost of Abigail Adams has been reported walking the hallways on the second floor.

Next: Turn around and enter President’s Park (the park directly in front of the White House).

3) President’s Park/Lafayette Square

Story: President’s Park, once known as Lafayette Square, is DC’s ghost central, with haunted sites surrounding the park. However, the park itself has its own ghostly resident. In 1858, Philip Barton Key II, the son of Francis Scott Key, was carrying on an affair with the wife of his friend, Daniel Sickles. On February 26, 1859, Sickles learned of the affair. The next day, he spotted Key in the park, signaling to his wife. Sickles raced into the park, pistol in hand, and shot the unarmed man three times. Passersby rushed Key to a nearby home, where he died.

Manifestation: The spirit of Philip Barton Key II, son of Francis Scott Key, is claimed to haunt the square, and can sometimes be seen on dark nights.

Next: Walk to the northwest corner of the park (if your back is to the White House, veer right) to the corner of H Street NW and Madison Place, NW. You may not find the Madison Street sign – it’s well hidden, but Madison runs along the park

4) The Cutts-Madison House/Dolley Madison House

1520 H Street, NW

Cutts-Madison House

Manifestation: The shade of Dolley Madison is sometimes seen on the side of the house facing the park, where a porch used to be, rocking in her chair.

Story: This house was built in 1822 by Dolley Madison’s brother-in-law, Richard Cutts. After her husband, ex-president James Madison, died in 1836, Dolley Madison moved into the house and lived there until her death in 1849. The porch on the west side of the house, facing the park, was removed and turned into a window by the next owner in the 1850s.

Manifestation: Witnesses since the 19th century have reported seeing Dolley Madison’s ghost rocking benignly in her chair, in the area where the porch used to lie.

Next: Turn left on H Street and walk half a block. St. John’s Episcopal Church is across the street from the park.

5) St. John’s Episcopal Church

1525 H Street NW

St. John's Episcopal Church

Story: Built in 1816, the church is the second-oldest building on the President’s Park and due to its proximity to the White House, has a pew reserved for the President of the United States (known, unsurprisingly, as the President’s pew). The famous church bell was produced by the Revere Company, founded by Paul Revere’s son, and was installed in 1822.

Manifestation: When the church bell tolls, marking the death of a notable person, six ghostly figures in white robes appear in the President’s pew at midnight.

Next: Continue down H Street NW

6) Hay-Adams Hotel

16th Street NW and H Street NW

Hay-Adams Hotel

Story: The Hay-Adams Hotel was built on the site of two of the most architecturally important homes in the city – now gone. The Hay-Adams houses were built by Henry Brooks Adams, famous author and the grandson of John Quincy Adams and his friend, John Hay. Henry Adams’ wife, Marian “Clover” Hooper Adams, fell into a deep depression upon the death of her father and committed suicide months before she was to move into her new home. She is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery, and her haunting monument, the Adams Memorial, includes a hooded, robed figure commonly known as Grief. Though Marian Adams never lived in the home, which was razed in 1927 and is now the site of the Hay-Adams Hotel, staff and guests have reported ghostly feminine manifestations, and many believe it is her ghost which haunts the place, due to the occasional scent of mimosa perfume – Marin Adams’ favorite.

Manifestation: Sounds of a woman sobbing, a woman’s voice whispering “what do you want,” locked doors opening and closing, clock radios turning on and off, the scent of mimosa perfume, and reports of being hugged by an invisible presence.

Next: Continue west down H Street to the corner of Jackson Place NW and H Street NW.

7) The Decatur House

1610 H Street, NW

Decatur House

Story: In 1820, Stephen Decatur accepted a challenge to a duel by Commodore James Barron. They dueled on March 20th. Decatur lost, and was rushed home, mortally wounded from a shot to the stomach. He died two days later, at home on the 22nd.

Manifestation: Stephen Decatur’s ghost seen peering out of the second floor window (now boarded up) looking out over H Street and exiting the back door of the house carrying a pair of dueling pistols. The sound of his widow’s weeping has also been reported inside the home.

Next: Walk down Jackson Place NW in the direction of the White House. Turn right on Pennsylvania Avenue, then left on 17th. Cross the street and turn right on New York Avenue NW.

8) The Octagon House

1799 New York Avenue NW

Octagon House

Story: Considered the most haunted house in Washington, the Octagon House was built in 1801 by Colonel John Tayloe III, a close friend of George Washington’s. The rear of the building housed the family’s slaves, and the rear may have been the site of a slave market. The ghosts which are said to haunt the house, however, belong not to the slaves but to two of Colonel Tayloe’s daughters. According to the story, before the war of 1812, father and daughter argued on the second floor landing over the daughter’s relationship with a British officer stationed in DC. In her haste and anger, she either tripped on the stairs or fell over the railing (stories vary) and died. Her spirit has been reported lying at the foot of the stairs, upon the second floor landing, or as a ghostly candle flame moving up the staircase.

Legends claim that the second death occurred around 1817, after another of Tayloe’s daughters eloped, then returned home in an attempt to reconcile with her angry father. They argued on the third floor landing and she too fell to her death. Her ghost has been reported to haunt the stairs between the second and third floors as well as the third floor landing.

Manifestation: A female apparition has been reported throughout the house, including lying at the foot of the spiral staircase, second and third floor landings, the third floor bedroom, and the back garden. A spectral candle flame is sometimes seen moving up the spiral staircase.

End of walk.

About the Author

Kirsten Weiss writes genre-blending cozy mystery, urban fantasy, and steampunk suspense, mixing her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem. If you’d like updates on sales and her latest books, follow her on Bookbub!

292 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page