05 Oct 2009

Chill on the Hill

Ghostly Shadow

Under a full moon casting shifting shadows, a man with a cane and a dusty bowler hat beckoned. Then came his friend cradling a white (plastic) skull, while luminous faces bobbed and wove below the shimmer of the glass Eastern Market Metro-plex.

Welcome to the Capitol Hill Ghost Tour, hosted by Tim Krepp, tour guide, history hound, and operator of the blog DC Like a Local, and his sidekick, THIH’s own Robert Pohl. Both mere mortals lead us on a route of ghosts of wars, elections, executions,  and assassinations past, this not being Peoria. After all, there are enough curses on the Capitol to keep in business for another 250 years, based on Krepp’s references.

The ghost of a Marine Commandant speaks—with a thud–from the grave while the eerie bouncing of a red rubber ball, last seen with a boy tragically killed by a motorist, in an underground garage spooks the Marine Barracks, and the devil knows what the Navy Yard is hosting.

Mary Surratt, convicted of being a conspirator in the Lincoln assassination, loomed large on the tour. I tried to keep track of all the places she is said to linger—just assume she is around every corner, while the head judge her convicted her is said to pace First Street, Northeast, where the prison that housed her once stood, going mad in perpetuity from a guilty conscience perhaps.

Meanwhile, a curmudgeonly Marine ghost by the name of “Old Howard,” seems designed to drive others mad himself, in haunting a home near the old Barracks at 9th and G SE, and exposing a 1920s couple in flagrante delicto through a series of pranks. (I think they do that, in Peoria, too.)

Don’t go to Congressional Cemetery this time of year–scared, aren’t you, Krepp?–unless you are eager to hear a few strains from the Sousaphone piped by the ghost of “The March King,” or feel the destructive forces (at least to marble and granite) of the curse of the Choctaw tribal chief from Florida interred there. John Philip Sousa’s old, fine house, near Christchurch, whose dark alley we traversed and whose ghostly fortunes we heard tell of, is on the tour.

Naughty children don’t have to go far to get a reprimand on the Hill, it seems. I am not talking about the après-school social scene at Lincoln Park, but of the ghost of Dorothy Walker, a benefactor to Ebenezer Church on 5th and D Streets SE, who Krepp says appears in a 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.

Krepp finishes up at Friendship House, where Olivia Briggs, the first woman to be given press credentials by the White House, told tales—backed by anonymous ghost sources, no doubt—of days and nights haunted by the sobs and music of a previous resident, a young woman who committed suicide there after she discovered her husband was unfaithful. The ghost apparently exorcised her demons after Briggs had gotten used to her and  left  behind a pearl in an unmade upstairs bed. Note to new owners: that was the last she was ever seen.

The walking tour also swings by spots that should be haunted, and are awaiting as-yet-untold ghost sightings. My favorite is The Old Naval Hospital, which opened in 1866 after the Civil War was over, but which was still the site of many a grisly death, Krepp notes. But no hauntings have been reported… and at that, out walked a man from the dark shadows of the brick building ringed in wrought iron, and responded, “That’s because no one sleeps there.” Quite right. It was unclear if he was planning on doing so, at least outside, and then tried to join the tour.

You don’t have to lurk in the shadows to join Krepp and his ghastly crew—just sign up at DC Like a Local. The Capitol Hill Ghost Tour is $15, runs Friday and Saturdays until Halloween, and includes a bonus drink special at Tunnicliffs, where the Full Moon crew repaired later for libations and then disappeared before the witching hour. Sister ghost tours take place in Dupont Circle.

Until then, tell us your sightings here. We promise, if requested, to send Robert over to investigate, with his cane (conjurer’s stick?) and black bowler hat, or even Krepp, but after the full moon sets.

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  • That a challenge, Liz? Let’s take poor Yorick down to Congressional and see what we can find.

    Actually, the vast majority of Congressional’s ghosts haunt other places, not the Cemetery. I think the ones there just sleep. Except for J. Edgar, and we really don’t want to know what he’s up to…

  • Heather Schoell

    This is funny, Liz. I love the part about the guy who tried to join the tour!

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