It’s been a few years since I’ve conceived a blog article on a subject that’s genuinely spooky, but it’s more due to lack of expertise than lack of interest. I’m interested in folk history of the paranormal as well as efforts to instill semi-scientific legitimacy to the practice (which is also, much of the time, rooted in folk history). And, since living in the Washington DC area, it’s become an annual tradition with a certain running group (affiliated with a prominent running supply store in the metro) to engage in a calorie-consuming tour of the various haunts in the Navy Yard and Capitol Hill area, both of which offer more than their share of supernatural lore. Each Halloween, a group of runners, often fully costumed, run from site to site, while the fearless hosts of the running tour offer tales of the haunted history. The total haunted history tour usually amounts to between four and six miles.
This year, for the first time, I present a montage of sites primarily in southeast Washington DC (and a tiny bit in the northeast) reflecting the primary stools along the 2021 Pacers Run Club haunted history tour. It’s a quick survey, but I expect it to lead to bigger and better things in the future.
John Philip Sousa home
This home, on a colorful residential street in Capitol Hill just east of Christ Church Episcopal (Washington Parish) G street between 6th and 7th street, was where the nation’s (and perhaps the world’s) “March King” was born. Sousa came from a musical family; his father was a trombonist in the US Marine Band, and even then, the historic Marine Barracks—one of the oldest surviving structures in the Capitol Hill neighborhood—were just a ten minute walk away. Sousa’s father enlisted his talented sun in the Marine Corps at the tender age of 13 to give him a leg up on military music and keep him from getting recruited to play for a circus band. Despite his close affiliation with the nation’s capital and his childhood home, Sousa spent his final years on Long Island. And the home featured in these photos remains a private residence, with little indicating its fame aside from a plaque to the left of the door.
But, just a few doors down, right next to Christ Church Capitol Hill, is an alley, and the most famous Sousa tunes—including operettas, overtures, orchestral suites, and nearly 200 marches—continue to echo among the walls of this alley.
Ebenezer United Methodist Church
This church has long served as the home to Capitol Hill’s oldest African-American congregation, having planted a church at this exact corner in 1838.
By the 1860s, the Little Ebenezer building housed the first public school for African American children. The church building in the above photo dates from the 1870s, when the congregation outgrew its original structure that was also damaged beyond repair from a major storm. The key apparition known to haunt the building is Dorothy Walker, a benefactor to the church. Ms. Walker is known to appear in the second story window of the nearby building where children nap and play to this day, when children are misbehaving on the playground and field below.
U.S. Supreme Court Building
As prominent of a role as the US Supreme Court Building plays in American civic life (and in at least a few of my blog posts), it is not nearly as old or storied of a building as the US Capitol or the White House. Until the advocacy of William Howard Taft (the only president to serve as a SCOTUS Justice after serving a presidential term), the Supreme Court had always occupied a portion of the US Capitol building, conducting business in the room now known as the Old Senate Chamber. As the Senate grew with more states getting admitting to the union, the building became too cramped to host both legislative and justiciary functions. Chief Justice Taft had long encouraged a discrete structure to house the judiciary, and though the decision was controversial (at least two justices refused to move), the building currently housing the US Supreme Court now stands a block northeast of the US Capitol.
The US government purchased and demolished the National Woman’s Party Headquarters to make room for this SCOTUS building. But before then, the aging structure had served as a temporary US Capitol (after the British sacked and burned the main US Capitol Building. The “Old Brick Capitol” at the site of the current Supreme Court served as a Union-run prison to house captured Confederates during the Civil War, conspirators after Lincoln’s assassination, as well as the site for the execution of at least one Confederate commandant. Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt is said to have remained here, long after the trials for Lincoln Assassination Conspirators. He’s seen on First street NE in a blue suit and cape.
The US Capitol building, seen here from its lower-profile eastern entrance, hosts a number of politically notorious haunts. Among the most prominent is the ghost of Former Congressman William Preston Taulbee, who was shot in the face by a reporter, after “tweaking his nose.” The reporter was found not guilty. Another includes former US President John Quincy Adams, screaming “No!” in his last act as a member of the House, died in the speaker’s chambers, having suffered a stroke after uttering his famous objection.
Meanwhile, Pierre l’Enfant receives much credit for the layout and design of the capitol city; the busy but austere l’Enfant Plaza honors his name. But he was a difficult and and intractable urban planner, frustrating President Washington so much that Washington ultimately fired him. (Despite being relieved of his duties, l’Enfant’s plan was almost entirely preserved when Washington and his Cabinet realized it couldn’t be surpassed for design sensitivity.) L’Enfant would later be seen coming to the U.S. Capitol for more work, arguments of payments, and so forth. While he would be paid for his work designing the federal city, he would die a pauper’s grave. Is he responsible one of the weirdest metro station layouts? No. Perhaps, though, he gave up some anger when in 1909 he was re-interred at the top of the ridge in Arlington National Cemetery, looking out over the city he designed, as a way for a grateful nation to commemorate his contributions. Pierre L’Enfant is known to be seen roaming the halls of the Senate and its chambers.
Washington Union Station
First constructed in 1908, the Washington Union Station has long hosted stories of ghost trains, lost passengers, is that howling wind or the screams from the other world. President James Garfield was shot four months into his term and would ultimately die two months later. While this ghost doesn’t exist here, he’s said to roam the old train station now sense demolished at the corner of 6th and B Street NW. He has always allegedly haunted his home in Ohio and his tomb, while purportedly fleeing back to DC to haunt the nearest hallowed grounds where an assassin ensured that his presidential term would be brief and ignominious.
The haunted history tour doubles back into the Capitol Hill neighborhood, turning to some of the oldest continuously operating structures: the Marine Barracks off of 8th Street Southeast. Here are the northern end of the Barracks haunts the ghost of Samuel Nicholas, the first Commandant of the Marine Corps. He’s seen rustling papers, which could also be the sound of a man pacing, while windows in the home intermittently feature the appearance of the ghostly image of former Commandant Nicholas.
9th Street between G & I
More haunted history lurks along the street immediately behind (to the east) of the Marine Barracks.
Here along 9th Street lurks the ghost of Old Howard, a cantankerous former U.S. Marine who lived in the 1860s in a two-story house between G and I Streets SE who now haunts it, harassing the occupants and acting much like a poltergeist.
The haunted history tour concluded back at the northern wall of the nearby Washington Navy Yard, where, at 8th Street SE and M Street SE, the ghost of Commodore Thomas Tingey (the home’s first resident) is said to stare out of the upper windows of the Tingey House, the traditional residence of the Commander of the Navy Yard, and the only structure partially outside the fortification. Most notoriously, in August 1960, rear Admiral Thomas Robbins reported that his pet dog, Lucky, barked madly at an empty chair in the home’s drawing room, refusing to stop until Robbins recited the incantation, “Good evening, commodore, we’re glad to be living in your house.” At that point, the dog behaved normally.
The Pacers Running Club encourages one and all to join on their runs! This year’s haunted history tour is happening the date of this post, at 6:30pm Eastern Time at the Navy Yard location, at 300 Tingey Street SE. Hope to see you there.
All locations and capsule narratives courtesy of Matt Frendewey.