The Haunted Octagon House
Of all the haunted houses in Washington, the Octagon House is certainly one of the most unusual. First of all, it’s actually a hexagon shape rather than an octagon, containing 3 round rooms inside. The Capitol architect, Dr. William Thornton, designed it to fit a corner lot that had a peculiar shape. It was built from 1798 to 1800 to serve as a townhouse for Virginia planter Colonel John Tayloe. The Colonel was also a good friend of George Washington.
The Octagon House carries quite a history. Colonel Tayloe actually saved it from being destroyed by British troops during the War of 1812 by allowing the French ambassador to use it as his official Washington residence. When the White House was burned during August of 1814, the colonel invited then President James Madison and his wife Dolly to live in the Octagon House while the White House was rebuilt. The house had various owners after 1855 and now serves as the headquarters of the American Architectural Foundation.
Of all the haunted houses, the Octagon House has the most interesting ghosts. Most of them date back to events that happened in the house during its early years. Something that makes it one of the most haunted places in Washington is the serpentine staircase that goes up 3 stories reaching the top of the house.
The Octagon House is Among the Most Haunted Houses in Washington
One such ghost is the oldest daughter of Colonel Tayloe’s 15 children. It’s said that around the War of 1812, this daughter was in love with a British army officer. Even though the Colonel forbade this romance, his daughter kept seeing the man. When the Colonel found out, he and his daughter fought. During the quarrel, the girl fell from the second story landing to her death below. Many people have reported seeing the shadow of a flickering candle moving slowly up the wall by the staircase. Next, there’s a shriek followed by hearing something heavy hit the bottom of the stairs where an area rug is seen moving in the same spot.
Another of the Colonel’s daughters also fell in love with an unsuitable man with whom she eloped, only to learn that he was unsuitable. Returning to the house to patch things up with her father, she encountered him on the stairs and tried to speak to him. The Colonel brushed her off and sent her careening down the stairs, also to her death. Both sisters have been heard to scream at times, but this sister is responsible mostly for a cold spot at the foot of the stairs.
Then, there’s the Quadroon slave girl that spurned the advances of a British soldier. There are a couple of versions of this story. One claims the British officer killed the girl and hid her body in a closet. Overcome with remorse, the British officer then threw himself down the staircase. Another version claims that following her murder, her body was hidden behind the wall and one of the Colonel’s sons retaliated by killing the officer. Whichever way it happened, the slave girl’s ghost as well as the British soldier are spotted on this staircase.
Dolly Madison is perhaps the most famous ghost that appears in the haunted Octagon House. She was known for her great parties and she threw several while occupying the house. She’s seen dressed in her party attire as she walks in the downstairs reception room. Following her is the scent of lilacs, which was her favorite perfume and flower. She may also be responsible for caretakers coming to the house to find lights blazing and the doors wide open.
The ringing of bells certainly cannot be overlooked in these Octagon House haunted events. These are bells that were once used to summon servants and they would begin to ring continuously. The bell wires were actually cut to stop the noise but it didn’t stop the phenomenon from continuing. This is believed to be long dead slaves warning the family to stay away.
With all of its various reports of moans, thumping sounds inside the walls, sighs, screams, sword clanking, odors of food cooking in kitchen when there’s no one in there, footprints in dust, and ghostly footmen attending carriages, the Octagon House is believed to be one of the most haunted houses Washington, D.C. has to offer. It’s currently preserved as the Octagon Museum and is open to the public.