Legend holds the figures in Statuary Hall dance on New Year's Eve
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Stay away from National Statuary Hall in the Capitol at midnight on New Year’s Eve — that is unless you want to see the statues come to life and dance to celebrate another year of the republic.

The legend, which comes from a report by an old Capitol guard in the 1890s, has been shared throughout Washington and continues to be told to tourists today, says John Alexander, author of “Ghosts: Washington Revisited,” who writes extensively on the story.

“It seems that the guard began to develop considerable apprehension as various statues were added to the hall,” Alexander writes. “The life-like figures seemed too lifelike. He confided to colleagues that he was uncomfortable around them. He didn’t like working nights.”


Statuary Hall is also known as the Old Hall of the House and was the meeting place for the House of Representatives from 1807 to 1857. It then fell into disuse until it was repurposed as an art gallery, where each state would donate a bust of a prominent citizen to be featured.

The legend continues that the guard was scheduled to work a night shift on New Year’s Eve.

“As he approached the hall, he stopped dead in his tracks,” Alexander writes. “In the distance, a clock was striking 12, and down the corridor in the room washed with soft flickering light, he clearly saw silhouettes float down off pedestals.”

The guard opened his mouth but could not scream. He rubbed his eyes, but the vision was still there.

“There in Statuary Hall, in the stillness of a New Year’s midnight, the guard looked upon a scene like none he had ever witnessed before,” Alexander writes. “The statues had come to life and were dancing.

"Quivering with fright, the guard fled the Capitol.”

The guard later told a reporter that he saw former President and Union Army Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee shake hands.

“Others inside the Capitol have reported similar experiences,” Alexander writes. “It is said that even today, as guards make their rounds on New Year’s Eve, they avoid Statuary Hall at midnight.”

Capt. Kimberly Schneider of the Capitol Police tells The Hill the department’s public information office has received several requests over the years to see if the legend was true.

“We have never been able to find an officer who has seen that happen,” she says.

Steve Livengood, public programs director and chief guide for the Capitol Historical Society, suggests that the statue story could have been a result of police drunkenness.

“Capitol police at the time were not professional,” he says. “They were patronage employees, some failed family member of a congressman.”

The force was created in 1828 to “be watchmen and try to keep order of the members of Congress.”

“Because they were patronage, the position was not taken very seriously and they would have a lot of drinking problems,” Livengood says. “They would often have one watchman in the building at night. So having some liquid refreshment and sitting alone in a creepy building at night, one might come up with some interesting stories.”

Livengood admits there could be some truth to the legend. He points out that the real-life Daniel WebsterDaniel Alan WebsterCongress can't even study gun violence unless it changes the law Judd Gregg: Pelosi's olive branch...sort of Lawmakers propose banning shark fin trade MORE of New Hampshire was “definitely a dancer,” though it’s unclear if the same could be said of his marble facsimile. However, John Winthrop of Massachusetts and Roger Williams of Rhode Island would “not have taken part in the dancing, certainly.”

But he sats it was conceivable that Grant and Lee could shake hands each New Year’s Eve.

“Historically, they did shake hands when Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Court House,” he says. “The shaking of hands became a great ritual in the years after the Civil War.”

Any dancing would have stopped after the turn of the century, Livengood says, with the installation of a statue of suffragist Frances Willard, whom he called “the most powerful woman before former Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms Lawmakers push back at Trump's Pentagon funding grab for wall Malaysia says it will choose 5G partners based on own standards, not US recommendations MORE.”

Willard was instrumental in the passage of the 18th and 19th Amendments on prohibition and women’s suffrage. The Collection of Illinois gave her bust to Statuary Hall in 1905.

“Her statue has her blouse buttoned up to her chin. She never would have allowed dancing,” Livengood says. “They could have danced up until that point, but since it had invariably been the result of drinking, she would have stopped it.”

That could explain why no members of Congress or staffers report anything unusual as they pass through Statuary Hall.

That, or because Capitol Police officers are no longer allowed to drink on the job.