The Octagon House, Washington D.C.
The Octagon House, built between 1798 and 1800, was designed by Dr. William Thornton, the architect of the U.S. Capitol, and completed by the year 1800. Colonel John Tayloe, for whom the house was built, owned Mt. Airy plantation, located approximately 100 miles south of Washington in Richmond County, Virginia.
Tayloe was reputed to be the richest Virginian plantation owner of his time, and built the house in Washington at the suggestion of George Washington.
In 1814, Colonel Tayloe offered the use of his home to President and Mrs. Madison for a temporary "Executive Mansion" after the burning of the White House by the British.
Colonel Tayloe and his wife Ann Ogle had fifteen children and two would die on these stairs. These two daughters both apparently were in love with inappropriate men (one was even a British officer!) and after quarrelling with their father, both fell from the stairs to their death.
Their deaths were years apart but the similarities in their accidents could lead one to believe that Tayloe went to an early grave not out of grief, but from guilt.
Dolly Madison, is a very popular ghost in Washington D.C.; she has the most hauntings attributed to her in the whole District! How Mrs. Madison came to the Octagon is just another example of the significance of the Octagon in its early days. After the burning of Washington and the Madison’s flight from the city, the presidential couple needed a place to stay while the White House was being rebuilt.
Colonel Tayloe offered them the Octagon and the Madison’s graciously accepted. In was in the second floor circular room that Dolly Madison held many of her famous soirees and balls in the residence. Her lingering presence is detected in the smell of lavender in the house, Dolly Madison’s favorite perfume.
After the Madisons vacated the Octagon and the Tayloes passed on, the house was used as a boarding house and for government offices. It was during this period that the Octagon gained its fourth ghost, the ghost of a gambler who had rooms on the third floor. The man was a notorious cheat and was shot and killed in a card game. The story goes that as he fell to the floor, he tried to keep himself upright by grapping onto a bell rope. It didn’t work. That final bell can still be heard occasionally.
The oldest of the Octagon’s ghost legends is that of the mysterious ringing of the servant’s call bells, just one of the legends linked to the African American slaves who once lived there. When the house held bells to summon servants, the spirits of the dead slaves would announce their presence by ringing these bells loudly. The ghostly bell ringing is believed to have first occurred in the mid-1800s.
Virginia Tayloe Lewis, a granddaughter of John Tayloe III, grew up in the house and recorded this family memory in an unpublished manuscript: "The bells rang for a long time after my Grandfather Tayloe’s death, and every one said that the house was haunted; the wires were cut and still they rang… Our dining room servant would come upstairs to ask if anyone rang the bell, and no one had.