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Oct. 7, 2010

Local Haunts

by Natalie Rutsch, Page Editor
With Halloween just around the very dark and spooky corner, we're starting to see more and more of our favorite ectoplasm-filled friends: ghosts. But while we know where to find ghosts in the horror movie section of the video store, finding ghosts in our own city is a bit more challenging. As any reporter tasked with a local ghost hunt will agree, oftentimes the paranormal apparitions are less than willing to be found. But while many employees at D.C.'s supposedly haunted hotspots are quick to assure you that the only thing haunting their buildings are tourists searching for a scare, some research digs up lore about the capital's ghoulish history. The one place willing to dish out a ghost story, a Silver Spring auto parts retailer, isn't exactly a tourist destination, but still a good place to point out as a spooky spot when you're driving by. Who knows, maybe with some luck, a little bit of faith and an Electromagnetic Field Detector, you'll have more luck finding a ghost at one of these rumored sites.

The Decatur House

Stephen Decatur, a Revolutionary naval war hero, only lived in his mansion, the Decatur House in Layfayette Square, for a few years after he built it with his naval prize money. His life was cut short when disgruntled naval officer James Barron, who believed Decatur prevented him from getting a promotion, challenged him to a duel. Supposedly, the night before the duel, Decatur contemplated the duel at the window of the upstairs drawing room, but eventually made the decision to go through with it. Early the next morning he was fatally wounded in the duel. Legend has it that Decatur haunts his mansion, and that the window where Decatur stood the night before the duel had to be bricked over because his unsettled spirit disturbed people on the street. A Decatur House employee says that, in fact, the window was always a faux front over a brick wall added for architectural balance. Regardless, the mansion is still called one of the most haunted houses in D.C.

The National Building Museum

The Pension Building, built in 1887 to serve the needs of Union Civil War veterans, now houses the National Building Museum. The building's architect, General Montgomery Meigs, wanted to use onyx columns to support the 15-story building, but due to their high cost he opted for painted Sienna marble. Legend has it that, in the early twentieth century, guards saw configurations in the columns including the figures of a Native American, a skull and a buffalo head. Another strange element of the columns is that, according to Meigs' records, 14 columns are hollow and hold government documents. Supposedly, a man in a white suit with no eyes and a death-like stench, possibly the ghost of the first pension commissioner James Tanner, has been spotted in the Pension Building. The National Building Museum offers ghost tours Oct. 17 and 31 and Nov. 2 and 7.

The Octagon House

Built in the late 1700s, the Octagon House in Foggy Bottom is often described as the most haunted house in D.C. Various legends attempt to explain the supposed occult activity in the house, which reportedly includes phantom footsteps, unexplained ringing bells, flickering lights and strange ghoulish energy at the foot of the stairs. In one of the most popular stories associated with the Octagon House, the house's original owner Colonel Benjamin Tayloe's eldest daughter fell in love with a British officer. But their love was ill-fated in the anti-British climate, and her father forbade her from seeing the officer. After an argument, the daughter died tragically by falling down the stairwell at the Octagon House. Although historians are unable to find any daughters who died at the Octagon during Tayloe's lifetime, the tale is certainly creepy enough to earn the Octagon's title of the most haunted house in the city.

The Woodrow Wilson House

Some people question whether the Woodrow Wilson and his wife ever left their home after their deaths. The Woodrow Wilson House, near Dupont Circle, is the former home of late president Wilson and his second wife Edith Bolling Galt Wilson. The house is maintained as a museum with all the Wilsons' personal effects still intact. The personal belongings include Edith Wilson's Ouija board, a famously eerie tool to connect with spirits. The relic is a little spooky when you consider that Edith Wilson had weekly séances with people who shared her interest in the supernatural (although it is true that Spiritualism was a fad in the twenties, so her interest was not too uncommon). But Edith Wilson's tinkerings in the paranormal aren't the only ominous thing about the home - Wilson died in his sleep in a bedroom in 1924, frustrated because America refused to join the League of Nations he created. John Powell, curator of the Woodrow Wilson House, says visitors have heard whistling and shuffling within the house. "There is definitely a sense the Wilsons are still living here," he says. Apparently, he isn't the only one who thinks so - Powell says that the House hosted a ghost hunting crew last year, but he is unsure of the results.

TNT Auto Parts

TNT Auto Parts stands in an unassuming stretch of auto-related shops in Downtown Silver Spring, but employees report strange occurrences in an office and warehouse of the store. An employee recalls sitting at his desk and seeing a shadow fall across the wall adjacent to the door, as if someone was backing away from right outside of the doorway. He assumed it was another employee and was surprised later when he found two large carts blocking the area right outside the door where the shadow was coming from. TNT reports other ghoulish evidence as well - whistles, shifted objects in the office, glimpses of movement in the back of the warehouse. What or who haunts their auto shop, TNT is unsure. Around six or seven years ago TNT was a bookstore. They say there were a lot of books about black magic in the store when they moved in. While there isn't a solid explanation for the strange occurrences at the store, TNT is sure that if there is anything haunting their shop, it means no harm. The employees jokingly call the ghost Casper because it is friendly.



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