Haunted House — and Senate

The last ghost Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) saw was in Arkansas, where he was born and raised.

“I was getting up in age and it was time to go home one night from church, but I had decided that I wanted to date,” Davis said. “So I wanted to walk this young lady home.”

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After seeing her to her door, Davis began walking home and passed by a house where a relative had lived but had recently passed away.

“And there he was standing by his gate and he just kind of spoke,” Davis said. “He said, ‘How you doing, cousin?’ Immediately I ran and tried to get away from him. But I got about two miles down the road, where another fellow had died. A big tree stood in front of his house, and sure enough he was standing there with his jumper on and his pipe and his cap and he says, ‘How you doing, young man?’ ”

Davis ran all the way home, up his front stairs, and burst through his front door.

“That was my initiation to dating,” he said.

From the “Demon Cat” that allegedly roams the Capitol’s halls before a major national catastrophe strikes to reports of the statues coming to life and dancing in Statuary Hall, ghosts are no strangers to Capitol Hill.

“A lot of Capitol Police swear they see and hear things,” said Anthony Wallis, a research analyst with the House historian’s office. “And it doesn’t surprise me. The Capitol is a really old building. There’s been people who have been shot in the building and it’s been a pretty violent place over history.”

Built by slaves and with a nucleus of strife and bloodshed over its more than 200-year history, it is no wonder the Capitol has such a rich history of ghosts and mystical folklore. But while some lawmakers embrace, and almost relish, this eerie presence, others deny the existence of ghosts — or, at the very least, have serious doubts of the stories people tell.

The Demon Cat is one of the building’s more enduring legends. It’s said to be the size of an average housecat and black in color. It allegedly lurks and roams the hallways, ducking around corners when late-night U.S. Capitol Police officers turn around for a second glance, after disbelieving they saw it the first time.

The fiendish feline is said to be spotted right before a national catastrophe occurs (like the stock market plunging or a national figure being shot) and before presidential power shifts hands. The story finds its origins in the days when rats used to run rampant in the basement tunnels of the Capitol and officials brought in cats to hunt them down. The Demon Cat was one that never left.

Many of Capitol Hill’s veteran lawmakers, such as nearly 40-year veteran Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.); Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a lawmaker for almost 30 years; and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), here for 35 years, said they hadn’t ever seen a ghost on Capitol Hill or anywhere.

“Oh, God, no,” said Obey, as to whether he had ever seen a ghost.

“I’ve seen a lot around here, but never any ghosts,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), a 15-year veteran of Capitol Hill.

Still, after more than 30 years on Capitol Hill, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is a firm believer.

“In my old hideaway we had ghosts,” Leahy said. “We had a 300-pound table that we’d come in and find in different parts of the room that we hadn’t left it in — it had moved around by itself about every two or three months.”

Some lawmakers haven’t actually seen or experienced ghosts on Capitol Hill, but they’re convinced that there is something otherworldly about the place.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she hadn’t seen any ghosts in her more than 20 years in Congress, but added that “sometimes it feels haunted.”

Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) agreed, saying that when he presides over the House floor, he sometimes feels another presence in the room.

“When I sit in the [House] chair at times, I know that there are members around me that are not just not in the chamber to vote on something,” he said.

Every year around Halloween, Wallis leads a group of fellow staffers on a ghost tour throughout the Capitol. One story he tells is particularly chilling, recounting the time during the Civil War when the Capitol was used to treat wounded Union troops.

“One soldier is known to have undergone excruciating pain one night during surgery and he died on the operating table,” said Wallis. “So Capitol Police swear that they hear moaning and see figures walking across the Capitol Rotunda, because it was used as a makeshift hospital during the Civil War.”

Ghosts are no strangers to the legislative side of things on Capitol Hill, either. In the 103rd Congress, a bill was proposed to prohibit proxy voting and criminalize the practice commonly called “ghost voting,” whereby a member gives another member his or her card to cast a vote for him/her.

Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), a physicist by profession, takes a slightly different approach to ghosts.

“I am a scientist first of all, so I understand what ‘natural’ means and what ‘supernatural’ means,” he said. “And there are no such things as ghosts. I do believe in the supernatural, but I believe it’s all driven by our Lord and all of his assistants.”

Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) hasn’t had any experiences with ghosts in the strict sense of the word. But with a more liberal definition, he pointed to his days trying to garner votes for legislation on the House floor.

“In my days as a whip, [Rep.] Lloyd Doggett [D-Texas] was a ghost to me,” he said. “I’d be looking for him on the floor, and then — boom — he’d come in and vote out of nowhere and disappear.”

Admitting to otherworldly experiences isn’t likely the most politically savvy move to make.

Skeptical glances were cast at presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) after he admitted to seeing an unidentified flying object (UFO) more than 20 years ago.

“It was an unidentified flying object, OK? It’s unidentified — I saw something,” he said during a presidential debate on MSNBC in 2007.

“Also you have to keep in mind that Jimmy Carter saw a UFO and also that more people in this country have seen UFOs than approve of George Bush’s presidency.” Both Presidents Carter and Reagan have admitted to seeing UFOs. Carter was in Georgia, prior to his presidency, when he claimed to see his UFO, which he said changed color from white to blue to red.

Reagan was reportedly flying to California when he saw “a bright white light” that “went straight up into the heavens.” And Reagan’s wife had her dealings with the mystical after her husband was shot, taking to consulting an astrologer before approving the president’s schedule.

A skeptical voice on the existence of ghosts in the Capitol is House Chaplain Daniel Coughlin, who has worked in the Capitol for the past eight years. He said he has never seen any ghosts.

Not one to want to conjure anything up, upon final examination he is a fence-sitter, and says he’s not sure whether he believes in them or not.