by Arun James Dahya
The Octagon is one of Washington's most historic houses. And one of it's most haunted. The name Octagon means "Eight sided".
Actually the house has only six sides. Nobody seems to know why it was called the Octagon, but the name has stuck.
The house was built at about the same time as the White House. It was designed by the man who designed the Capitol building. It's owner was John Tayloe, a wealthy virginia planter.
The first of the many Octagon ghosts was one of Tayloe's two daughters. early in the 1800s, one of the Tayloe girls was supposed to have fallen in love with a British officer.
At that time relations between the new United States and Britain were very bad. Tayloe himself hated the British. He would not allow an Englishman to enter his house. There were frequent fights between Tayloe and
his daughter. One evening after a particularly biteer quarrel, the girl took her candle and rushed up the huge oval staircase that rises from the main hall. She had nearly reached the top when suddenly there was a scream.
Her body plunged down the stairwell and landed in the hall.
Did she accidentally trip and fall over the railing? Or did she commit suicide? Nobody knows. But on certain stormy nights what appears to be a candle is seen flickering on the stairs.
Then there is a scream, and a sickening thud.
Years later, the second Tayloe daughter suffered a similar fate. She had quarrelled with her father over the man she married. One evening father and daughter met on the stairs. She tried to step out of the way,
lost her balance, and tumbled down the stairs, breaking her neck.
Visitors to the house automatically avoid the spot at the foot of the stairs where the girl's body lay. Even people who have never heard the story, when questioned, have said that the particular spot makes them feel uncomfortable.
Tayloe himself was shattered by the loss of a second daughter, and died a few years later.
Tayloe owned the Ocatagon during the war of 1812. during that war, the British invaded Washington and burned the White House. While the President's home was being repaired, Tayloe offered the
Octagon as a temporary home to President James Madison. The President's wife, Dolley Madison, was famous for the parties she gave. Some of her best were given at the Octagon to celebrate the end of the War of 1812.
Many years after the Madison era, guests at the Octagon said they heard coaches stopping in the gravel driveway. There was the slamming of coach doors, and the murmur of voices as unseen guests arrived.
Many reported seeing the semi-transparent figure of a woman wearing a turban with a huge feather standing in front of the mantelpiece in the ballroom. That could only have been Dolley Madison herself.
She had been known to wear the turban to make herself seem taller, as she was very short.
One part of the Octagon was continually disturbed by thumping sounds. when workmen broke through the wall, they found the skeleton of a young woman. It was said that she was a servant who had been killed by her lover,
who then selaed her in the wall to conceal his crime. After the skeleton received proper burial, the thumping stopped.
The Tayloe family sold the Octagon in 1855. It went through a long series of different owners. Many dramas of life and death were played out there. It was owned by a gambler, who was shot in a bedroom
by a man he had hustled. His ghost is still seen there. He is reaching for his gun to fight off the attacker, but is always too late. According to some, the house was used as a hideout for runaway
slaves during their bid for freedom. It was indisputedly used as a hospital during the Civil War. The sounds of sobbing and moaning that are often reported are said to come from the ghosts of runaway slaves, and wounded soldiers.
Over the years, the Octagon had acquired a bad reputation. Nobody wanted to live there. In 1891, the building was taken over by the Sisters of Charity, in the hope that the presence of this religious group would quiet the ghosts.
It failed, and the Sisters were driven out. Obviously, the hauntings were very severe, if even Catholic Nuns were unable to remedy the situation.
A group of 12 brave and well armed men determined to stay in the house until they caught whoever was making the noises. Bunch of hard cunts... maybe not. They lasted one night, and caught nobody.
By 1900 the historic house was falling apart. It was finally bought by a group that decided to restore it. It is now open to visitors. since the restorations, there have been fewer reports of ghostly happenings. But there are still unexplained creaks and knocks.
And once in awhile people still reports seeing that little lady with that big turban.