The Octagon was built by Colonel John Tayloe III in the early 1800s. President Madison and wife Dolley temporarily lived there after the White House was destroyed by British fire during the War of 1812. It was the scene of tragedies. One of the daughters wanted to marry an Englishman which enraged Tayloe. They argued on a staircase. She fell to her death. A second daughter eloped and returned to the house to ask Tayloe’s forgiveness. She fell to her death from a staircase. The Tayloes sold the Octagon in 1855, after Mrs. Tayloe’s death.
The building was put to many uses, though tenants never stayed long. During the Civil War the place was used as a hospital. People still hear the sobbing and moans of the dead. The house was also rented out as apartments. A gambler lived on one of the floors. One night he was shot by a man whom he had cheated at cards. The gambler’s ghost is often seen as he was at the moment of his death, reaching for his gun.
In 1902 the American Institute of Architects purchased the property. During their renovation they found the skeleton of a young girl behind a wall, her fists tightly clenched. This explained the thumping noises that had been coming from behind the wall for almost 100 years. The thumping sounds stopped when the skeleton was properly buried. The young girl is believed to have been a servant of the house during the time the French Embassy occupied the house. She fell in love with a British soldier. She either commited suicide or was killed and her body hid in the wall.
People have heard bells ringing. One account, written by Tayloe’s granddaughter, states that this started after the man died and continued after their wires were cut. Another is that the gambler, while he was being killed, pulled the bell chain to steady himself. A legend is that dead slaves who were whipped or starved by a former owner visit the Octagon and ring bell as announcing their presence.
According to Hans Holzer, a professional medium who visited the Octagon several times, the haunting involves Colonel John Tayloe. After Tayloe rejected his daughter’s much loved beau, this daughter killed herself by jumping to her death from the second floor landing to the ground floor, at the same spot where the flinging carpet lies. The heavy footsteps are thought to be of the broken-hearted Colonel Tayloe who blamed himself for indirectly causing his daughter’s suicide while the light footsteps have been linked to this daughter.
The Octagon is now the museum of the American Architectural Foundation.
It is located at 1799 New York Ave. in Washington, DC.
Hours are Tuesday to Sunday 10AM-4PM.
There is a $2 admission fee.
Official Web Site: Octagon Museum