The Curse Of The Octagon

At about the time the White House was built in Washington, D.C. in the 1790s, John Tayloe, a wealthy Virginia planter had a mansion built in the city.  The house was called the Octagon though no one seems to know why.  An octagon has 8 sides but this house has only six.  It is one of the most historic houses in Washington, and there are many stories of hauntings within its walls.

Shortly after the house was built, one of the Tayloe girls fell in love with a British army officer.  At the time, relations between the United States and Britain were still very tense because of the American Revolution fought between them ten years earlier.  John Tayloe would not even allow the officer to enter the house.  One evening after an argument with her father on a staircase the daugher fell to her death. A second daughter eloped and returned to the house to ask Tayloe’s forgiveness. She also fell to her death from the staircase. Where these just accidents or something else?  Another time a gambler was allegedly killed in the house when he was caught cheating.  It has been said that his ghost has been seen reaching for a gun!

The ghosts of Tayloe’s daughters are said to haunt the staircase from which they fell. People have seen a candle’s flame flicker, ascending the staircase, heard a shriek and the sound of something thud at the bottom of the stairwell.  There are legends about a British soldier killing his female slave-lover and interring her body in a wall.

Some years later, during the War of 1812 Washington was invaded by the British and the White House was burned.  The Octagon became the temporary home of President James Madison.  His wife Dolly Madison was a celebrated hostess, and when the war ended she held some of her best parties in the Octagon.  For years afterward people said that they could hear the rumble of ghostly coaches coming up the gravel driveway, and the murmuring voices of unseen guests.

Other supernatural phenomena include moans, thumps inside walls, screams, swords clanking, smells of food cooking, sighs and human footprints in otherwise undisturbed dust.  A doctor saw a man dressed in an 1800-style military uniform.  The phenomena happen during daylight and in darkness.  The house acquired such a bad reputation that no one would live in it.  By the 1900s the place was falling apart.  It was taken over by a group dedicated to preserving Washington’s historic buildings, and the Octagon was restored.

The Octagon House became the home of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) on January 1, 1899, and complete ownership of the property was acquired in 1902. Today, the American Architectural Foundation owns the Octagon and has turned it into the oldest museum in the United States dedicated to architecture and design.  It  is located at 1799 New York Ave. in Washington, DC. Hours are Tuesday to Sunday 10AM-4PM.  There is a $2 admission fee.