The Ghosts of Lafayette Square: DC’s Haunted House Tour

by Shilpi Paul

The Ghosts of Lafayette Square: DC's Haunted House Tour: Figure 1
The Octagon, the most haunted house in DC.

We first ran article this last year. The highly-recommended tour is offering something special this year for Halloween, so we thought we’d re-run our thoughts on the haunting activity.

With Halloween just around the corner, UrbanTurf decided to get in the mood a little early, the only way a real estate website should: by taking a haunted house tour around DC.

Organized by Washington Walks, the tour concentrates on Lafayette Square and the storied homes nearby, which were filled with duel-fighters, jilted, murderous husbands and assassinated Presidents. Though it was past nightfall, the bustling energy, plentiful streetlights and competing tour groups — one with a guide dressed up in period garb — kept the tour from feeling too spooky. Renee Calarco, a playwright and teacher, led the walk.

The group gathered first at The Octagon at 18th Street NW and New York Avenue NW, apparently one of the most haunted houses in the area. Originally built for Colonel John Tayloe and his family, The Octagon has been a boarding house, home to James and Dolly Madison, and is now a museum for the American Institute of Architects. For a variety of reasons, including a treacherous spiral staircase with a very low banister that people have fallen off of, the house has maintained its reputation as a ghost-filled house for many decades. People report that they hear the thuds of ghosts falling off the staircase, witness doors opening and closing on their own, hear bells that no one could be ringing, and smell the aroma of Dolly Madison’s lilac perfume.

The Ghosts of Lafayette Square: DC's Haunted House Tour: Figure 2
The tour.

In 1888, Calarco said, a dozen men decided to brave the spooks and spend the night in the house to find out what was going on. They split up and covered all the rooms. At some point, three female shrieks were heard coming from the center of one of the rooms. The group ran to the room but didn’t see any women; in a little while, the shrieks started again.

Another good story involved the Decatur House. The neoclassical brick building sits at the Northwest corner of Lafayette Park, and was built by naval hero Stephen Decatur in 1818. A grudge with an old friend resulted in a duel, which ended badly for Decatur. Now, the story goes, Decatur haunts the house. Sometimes just his pants and shoes can be seen walking around, sometimes the whole man. Calacro had been encouraging the participants to take photographs throughout the tour; at the end, she shared a photo that a previous attendee took that revealed a lone shoe standing with the crowd.

The tour lasted for about an hour and a half, was packed full of ghost stories and ended at the White House, which is apparently haunted by the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. The guides will be making their final tours next week and expect a big crowd for Halloween. A special Halloween tour will include an interior tour of the Octagon House.

See other articles related to: lafayette square, haunted house

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/the_ghosts_of_lafayette_square_dcs_haunted_house_tour/6215

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