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Ever been in the Capitol after dark? When every footstep echoes down the corridor and not every space has artificial lighting? Deserted buildings tickle the imagination, stimulate the nerves, and encourage a draft of liquid courage—or perhaps it’s that they bring out the ghosts.

With Halloween here, USCHS Chief Guide Steve Livengood was telling ghost stories recently. Steve is sure he’s seen John Quincy Adams many times. Adams suffered a stroke on the House floor (present-day Statuary Hall) on Feb. 21, 1848. He was brought to the Rotunda and then the Speaker’s Room just off the House floor, where he lingered for two days before dying on Feb. 23. At the moment of Adams’ stroke, the House was debating and voting on a measure to honor Army officers who served in the Mexican War. Adams had never supported the war and objected to the proposed measure. The House journal describes what happened as the Speaker rose to start the next vote, when:

he was interrupted by—

Mr. HUNT, who desired him to stop, and by several gentlemen, who sprang from their seats to the assistance of the venerable JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, who was observed to be sinking from his seat in what appeared to be the agonies of death. Mr. ADAMS was immediately borne to the Rotunda for the benefit of purer air, and afterwards to the Speaker’s room, assiduously attended by many members of the House; and the House hastily adjourned.

The Senate, too, quickly adjourned upon receiving the news:

Mr. BENTON rose, and with great feeling, said: I am called on to make a painful announcement to the Senate. I have just been informed that the House of Representatives has this instant adjourned under the most afflictive circumstances. A calamitous visitation has fallen on one of its oldest and most valuable members—one who has been President of the United States, and whose character has inspired the highest respect and esteem. Mr. ADAMS has just sunk down in his chair, and has been carried into an adjoining room, and may be at this moment passing from the earth, under the roof that covers us, and almost in our presence. In these circumstances the whole Senate will feel alike, and feel wholly unable to attend to any business. I therefore move the immediate adjournment of the Senate.

The motion was unanimously agreed to; and

The Senate adjourned.

This Currier and Ives lithograph depicts the scene at the Capitol after Adams' stroke. (Currier and Ives; Library of Congress)

Legend has it that Adams’ ghost appears to continue making heard those objections to the Mexican War. Steve hasn’t heard him speak as yet. The Speaker’s Room where Adams lingered for several days is now the Congressional Women’s Reading Room. When it was dedicated, former Congresswoman Lindy Boggs famously remarked, “When they finally gave us a room, wouldn’t you know that they’d give us one that was haunted?”

Steve has heard the voice of another Capitol ghost. The House Ways and Means Committee Room on the first floor of the Capitol used to be the Senate barbershop, and “Bishop” Sims used to sing as he worked, both while customers visited and in the evenings as he prepared for the next day. John Sims had been born in slavery and escaped to Iowa during the Civil War. He earned his nickname by preaching and working for his church in Anacostia, and some senators fondly recalled his preaching to them while he worked. Though Sims died at age 93 in 1934, people still hear the old spirituals wafting through the halls near the barbershop.

What about you? Have you seen, heard, or felt a ghost in the Capitol? Run from the famed demon cat? Share your story in the comments!

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