Spooky Encounters at Historic Houses

By Rebecca Downes

It is a chilly and foreboding afternoon.  A host of withered brown leaves scratch and skitter across the pavement and crunch eerily underfoot. You walk slowly up to the looming old house and hesitantly turn the door knob. The front door swings open with a loud, echoing squeeeaaaakkkk. Dim lights flicker as you make your way through the house. The wooden floors creak and groan. Then, from the corner of your eye, you glimpse a shadowy figure on the far side of the room. You turn your head for a closer look—but whatever you saw has vanished. The hairs on the back of your neck raise as you consider the possibilities. Was it simply your imagination? Or did you just witness a ghostly visitor from the spirit world?

Fear not, history and museum buffs—this is not a promotion for the latest horror film; what it could be is your next visit to a historic home. Historic house museums are a fascinating way to experience the past, particularly in the days leading up to Halloween. According to ancient beliefs, October 31st is the one day of the year when the veil between the spirit world and our own is lifted. For a brief period of time, the dead are given free rein to roam the earth and communicate with the living. A centuries-old historic house is the ideal setting for such an encounter.

Often large, creaky and a bit drafty, historic houses are a tangible reminder of the passage of time. These homes have borne witness to sorrows and joy, life and death. If spirits do exist, it seems logical to assume that many would return to the homes in which they resided and, perhaps, even died. For the living, knowledge of what happens to humans after death remains an unsolvable mystery. For those with faith, curiosity, and even hope that there is indeed life after death, historic homes remain the perfect backdrop to investigate and ponder one’s own beliefs.

President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home has played host throughout the years to many individuals who have been curious about the afterlife—the most notable being Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.  Mary hosted a number of séances at the Cottage in hopes of reaching hear dear, deceased sons, Willie and Eddie.

Oral histories, folklore and urban legends document spooky encounters with ghostly apparitions and unexplained bumps in the night. Here you can discover more information about Mary Lincoln’s attempts to communicate with the dead. Have you ever seen a ghost or witnessed something unexplainable while visiting a historic home or Civil War site? We’d love to hear about it. Document your own spooky encounters in the comment box below!

Ms. Downes is a Historical Interpreter at President Lincoln’s Cottage.
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