By Kae Warnock
The chill of fall is descending and as we near the 31st of October, our minds naturally drift to the shadows of the night, hauntings and ghost stories.
Have you walked the halls of your state capitol in the quiet of the night and wondered if any spirits lurk nearby? Do you catch a glimpse of movement, yet turn to find nothing there? In a recent query of those tasked with watching over the capitols, many report footsteps when no one is there, strange music that stills when they enter the room, doors that open by themselves, and the eerie feeling of being watched.
Almost everyone loves a good ghost story and this year four states have pulled out the stops to create tours of their “haunted” capitols.
Minnesota’s Shadows & Spirits of the Capitol, Oct. 26-28, views the newly restored building using only the historic lighting from 1905. Visitors for these evening tours are greeted by four “spirits”: a night watchman, a suffragette, an Army general and a building foreman. These spirits guide guests through the history of the capitol, legislative debate and the fight for women’s right to vote.
Minnesota does charge for these tours and they are already sold out.
The New York Capitol Hauntings Tour runs Monday-Saturday through the month of October. Tour guides regale visitors with shocking stories about the 1870s structure that mix history with the macabre. One of this Capitol’s most dedicated public servants still performs his nightly rounds 107 years after his death! The catastrophic fire of 1911 destroyed 270,000 early American documents and took the life of Samuel Abbott, the Capitol’s night watchman. But Samuel has not let that event keep him from his rounds. People hear his keys jingling as he checks the rooms late at night.
Another long-term tenant of the Capitol seems to be William Morris Hunt who painted two 40-foot murals, “The Flight of Night” and “The Discoverer,” on the upper walls of the Assembly chamber. Just 10 years after his completion of these paintings, structural issues led the state to lower the ceiling, covering up his work. It is said that cold spots and flickering lights late at night are caused by this artist’s displeasure at the loss of these lovely 40-foot murals. This exciting tour is free, but tours for 2017 are already filled.
The Ohio Haunted Statehouse Tour combines history with a few scary stories during four evenings in October. The stories change from year to year to keep the tours fresh. Tour conductors carry lanterns as they lead visitors through the darkened State House. Visitors may catch a glimpse of President Abraham Lincoln dancing with Kate Chase (it is rumored that Mary Todd Lincoln may have forbidden the president from dancing with Kate in life) or they may hear from others from the spirit world.
This year, visitors will hear about Charley, a ghost befriended by former Executive Director William Carleton. According to Capitol Hauntings tour guides, Carleton “would go to a specific hearing room after 6 p.m. when the building is relatively empty and quiet, sit for five minutes, then knock three times. Charley would always comply by knocking back.”
During the 2017 tour, visitors will hear an EVP or electronic voice phenomenon purportedly recorded in the capitol one night and watch a video that guides say “captured what appears to be a figure moving about the Museum Shop and the Map Room.”
Since 1994, this tour has sold out weeks in advance. Tours run twice a day on weekdays and once each Saturday in October. But, you’ll have to wait until next year as the tours are all sold out again in 2017.
The Rest in Peace: Texas Capitol Halloween Tour runs seven days a week through the month of October. This tour focuses on history mixed with a few urban myths about the Texas State Capitol.
Guides explain that the first recorded death at the Capitol complex occurred in 1873 when Representative Louis Frankie “was found on the pavement near the front steps by his friends, with his head cut and his leg broken.” He had been robbed and thrown down the Capitol steps. Frankie died later that evening.
The second death occurred in October 1907, when a man collapsed in the south foyer and later died in the office of the Capitol police. What was strange about this man was that he was first identified as Frank E. Jones who was “in town to see the circus.” But, according to the tour guides, a month later “Mr. Frank E. Jones was re-identified by his son, as one A. A. Christie,” who had disappeared from his home in Iowa five days before his death. It remains a mystery as to why Christie went to Austin.
Guides regale visitors with stories of several other untimely deaths over the years as well as a mysterious woman lingering in the hallway outside the Lieutenant Governor's Reception Room who vanished through a wall.
One of the final stops on the tour is to talk about a reported ghost who haunted the third floor for a few days in 1915 when employees and passersby reported strange wails emanating from the Capitol. According to one newspaper account, the state health officer, Dr. W. E. Collins, took it upon himself to find the specter and “During his continued progress upward, constant weird and marrow chilling howls rent the air.” The ghost however, turned out to be a dog who was due to be inoculated with hookworms for state tests. Apparently, the dog was lonely and howled at night.
The Rest in Peace: Texas Capitol Halloween Tour is almost sold out for 2017. See the poster
Is your capitol haunted too? Please share your stories!
Kae Warnock is a policy specialist in NCSL's Legislative Staff Services program.