Originally created 04/12/98

Famous ghosts roam the White House



This column ran in 1995. Randolph Floyd will return next week.

Late one night in the 1930s, Queen Wilhelmina of Holland lay sleeping in the White House state room when she was awakened by a soft knocking at her bedroom door.

Thinking it was probably a staff officer, she hastened from bed and opened the door.

It was no aide. The queen found herself facing the ephemeral figure of a tall, bearded stranger in black frock coat and stovepipe hat.

She had seen enough pictures of Abraham Lincoln to know it was the long-dead American president whose ghost stood before her.

The queen fainted.

Since then, visitors, staff officers and even presidents claim to have seen the spectral-like image of the murdered chief executive pacing the lonely corridors, bedrooms and grounds of the White House.

The first official sighting was made in the 1920s by Grace Coolidge, wife of Calvin Coolidge, who observed a standing Lincoln's silhouette by an Oval Office window, looking across the Potomac. Poet Carl Sandburg also saw the ghost in a similar pose.

The haunting re-creates a scene observed one night during Lincoln's presidency by Army Chaplain E.C. Bolles. After arriving at the Oval Office for a meeting with the president, the chaplain found Lincoln gazing mournfully out the window.

"I think I never saw so sad a face in my life," he wrote, "and I have looked into many a mourner's face."

Eleanor Roosevelt often sensed Lincoln's presence, usually late at night while she was writing. Sometimes the Roosevelts' dog, Fala, would bark excitedly for no apparent reason.

Harry Truman went on national television to confess that Lincoln's ghost had come to him several times during the Korean War. Mr. Truman said he often heard what he knew were Lincoln's footsteps walking about the second floor.

After Mr. Truman's presidency, the ghost seemed to disappear, only to return with the arrival of Ronald Reagan. The president's daughter Maureen reported seeing Lincoln's ghost in the bedroom.

At least one other guest saw the dead president sitting on the bed, putting on his boots.

Lincoln's ghost has also been reported near his grave at Springfield, Ill. Legend has it the grave is empty.

In life, Lincoln was a man surrounded by death -- first his son, Willie, then the hundreds of thousands of men in blue and gray who fell during the Civil War.

Long before his assassination, Old Abe had experienced startling premonitions of his own death. Ten days before he was shot by John Wilkes Booth, he dreamed of a president killed by an assassin.

The night before he was killed, Lincoln told a member of his Cabinet that he had dreamed he would be assassinated. And, on the day of his assassination, Lincoln confided to his bodyguard, W.H. Crook, that he had dreamed for three nights straight that he would be assassinated.

Crook beseeched him not to go that night to Ford's Theater, but Lincoln demurred, saying he had promised his wife they would go. His last words to Crook were: "Goodbye," instead of "Good night," -- an indication, say some, that he knew he would be shot that night.

Attempts to photograph the dead were a fad at that time, and a few days after Lincoln's death, Mary Todd Lincoln sat for William Mumler under an assumed name. The resulting photograph shows a misty likeness of the dead president as well as the portrait of his widow.

E. Randall Floyd of Augusta is a syndicated writer.