03 Jun 2024


Lost Capitol Hill: Ghosts of the Capitol Crypts

Last week, we looked at an article that purported to tell the full story of the crypts deep under the Capitol. And while these never existed, the stories that were told of the crypts were impressive enough to merit another look:

It is a kindly old legend which holds that the spirits of the illustrious great who have sat as legislators in the Capitol are attracted to the building after death, and through all the years these spirits still sit and legislate and orate as of old. It is related that the House and Senate of the spirits are located in the crypts, and that nightly sessions are held in the ghostly corridors and vaults. Some ancient Capitol employes [sic] even related the details of wondrous sights which they have witnessed in the crypts, and are willing to back their tales by affidavit.

While none of the ‘affidavits’ are provided, the article does tell some stories:

It is said that John Quincy Adams presides over the ghostly sessions of spirit legislators. This honor has conferred, according to those who have “seen things,” because of the fact that John Quincy Adams died in the building while engaged in his labors.

As the article continues, it gets ever more specific:

On almost any night save Sunday, say those who are learned in things pertaining to the mysterious crypts of the Capitol, any mortal who dares descend to the crypts may witness history repeating itself. Here the Senate sits in solemn executive session over the Ghent Treaty. Here Webster replies in immortal language to Hayne. Here the scene between Preston Brooks and Sumner is re-enacted. The civil rights bill is fought out nightly. Blaine and Ben Hill of Georgia make the arched vaults to ring with oratory again. Matt H. Carpenter of Wisconsin makes his fiery and passionate appeals to his colleagues, and above all the tough old Andrew Johnson reigns with a rule of iron.

Detail of pictures showing John Quincy Adams signing the Treaty of Ghent (SAAM)

Here the departed legislators of a century enact or defeat proposed legislation and it is said that they could give their living successors many points. They are not hampered by the fears of defeat at the polls or the terrors of the “Congressional Record,” and they always succeed themselves.

While there are many ghost stories told of the Capitol, and legislators from years past do feature prominently in them, none bear any relationship to the stories told here. John Quincy Adams has been seen multiple times, but invariably he is in the old house chamber, rising to give a speech against the awarding of medals to high-ranking officers in the Mexican-American War, the speech that a stroke prevented him from giving. (see Tim Krepp’s book Capitol Hill Haunts, and in particular, the chapter on the Capitol for more on this)

None of the ghost stories occur deep underground, for the simple reason that there are no “arched vaults” down there for them to meet in. Whether all of this was made up by the reporter desperate to fill a few column inches, or that a number of Capitol ‘employes’ had a competition to see who could get the most ludicrous story published in a reputable newspaper is a question that most likely will never be answered.

Next week: The most ludicrous story

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One response to “Lost Capitol Hill: Ghosts of the Capitol Crypts”

  1. Bobbe Pickford Mundt says:

    I am Thomas Pickford’s ( the second) oldest daughter, my sister Patty and I lived at the Carroll Arms in about 1952.
    I remember having a lot of Shirley Temples at the bar with the Congressmen and Senators. Now my granddaughter Mackenna is an intern with Gray Broadcasting is across the street in Senate offices buildings ! A lot of memories at this hotel.

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