Ghosts of Presidents Past In The Oval Office
Ghost stories abound about American presidents haunting the Oval Office. Wandering spirits returning from the dead to haunt the places they lived and worked in have been central components in folklore, myths and fireside tales for thousands of years in most ancient cultures around the world. The entire concept of a ghost, or specter, is based on the ancient belief that a person’s spirit exists independently from the body, and that it continues to exist after the body’s demise. Thus, many prehistoric societies performed complex funeral and death rituals to ensure dead people’s spirits would not return to haunt the living after they were buried. However, if historical records are explored it quickly becomes apparent that this did not always go according to plan. A profusion of ghostly forms populate human history, who are believed to be associated with an event, occurrence or emotion in the ghost’s past, most often at the former home or the place where the person departed this life.
The Greek Stoic Philosopher Athenodorus Rents a Haunted House by Henry Justice Ford (c. 1900) (Public Domain)
Apparently the first century AD Roman author, Pliny the Younger, was the first person to record the classic ghost story. He told the chilling story about the specter of an old man with a long beard and rattling chains haunting his servant in his Athenian home, and such a story always comes across as somewhat more valid sounding when it is recorded by such a giant of thought. The first written record of a spirit disturbing a house, known today as a poltergeist, occurred in 856 AD at a farmhouse in Germany where the malevolent spirit was reported to have thrown stones at the family while curtains swayed. Despite cold breezes chilling the rooms, the spirit started fires through the night and terrified the family into fleeing.
Illustration by James McBryde for M. R. James's story "Oh, Whistle, And I'll Come To You, My Lad" (1904). (Public Domain)
In more modern historical times, some of the most notable figures of America's past also returned to haunt their old worlds. At the apex of that list are George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln. It is with these three trailblazers of history that some of the most bizarre, perplexing and sometimes disturbing, apparently supernatural events ever recorded, are associated.
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Ashley Cowie is a Scottish historian, author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems, in accessible and exciting ways. His books, articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artifacts, symbols and architecture, myths and legends telling thought-provoking stories which together offer insights into our shared social history. www.ashleycowie.com.
By Ashley Cowie