Mysterious America

Scary DC Tours Shows an Eerie Side to Capitol Hill

It promised to be “the Spookiest Ghost Tour in Washington DC.” I don’t know whether it was the spookiest, but it certainly was informative. Scary DC Tours doesn’t cover a lot of ground, physically speaking, but you will get your money’s worth on this 90-minute tour around Capitol Hill. 

My wife and I signed up on a chilly Friday night and ended up with a small group of three other couples. Our tour guide dressed in colonial attire as the ghost of Samuel Chase (1741-1811), a signer of the Declaration of Independence and early Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (subsequently impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate). He was personable but visibly upset by the death of Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg earlier that evening, so his performance was a little off.

We met outside the Starbucks at 237 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, walked north past the Library of Congress, around the Supreme Court Building, and ended at the Capitol Building. Our first stop was at the intersection of 2nd Street SE and Independence Avenue, where an unfortunate accident involving a young boy named Thomas and a tumbling cable spool is replayed. From there, our tour guide asked us whether we wanted to hear historical stories or more recent ones. We all enthusiastically agreed hearing new stories would be most interesting.

Stories at the Supreme Court centered around the Old Capitol Prison, which was in use during the Civil War and was torn down in 1929 to make way for the new Supreme Court Building. Notorious Confederate spies, including Rose O’Neal Greenhow and Belle Boyd, and convicted Lincoln assassination conspirator Mary Surratt, featured prominently, although Rose O’Neal Greenhow died near Wilmington, North Carolina and is buried there.

The area behind the Supreme Court Building where the ghost of Mary Surratt is said to haunt…

Our tour happened to coincide with the vigil for Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Supreme Court Building, so the commotion from the vigil interrupted what I imagined was usually a quiet walk through that historic neighborhood. It was difficult to pay attention to our tour guide with historic events happening a few yards away. 

The ghost of Samuel Chase ended our tour at the Capitol Building courtyard, which was eerily deserted because of the vigil, with a personal tale of his encounter with the capitol’s fabled “demon cat”. The demon cat, one of many brought in to rid the capitol of rats in the early nineteenth century, is said to foretell tragedies or prominent deaths. Perhaps someone will come forward with a mid-September sighting.

The best ghost tours strike a balance between distance and content. Overall, Scary DC Tours is heavily weighted toward storytelling at a limited number of locations. You will spend much more time listening to stories than walking from place to place, and our tour guide had encyclopedic knowledge of the paranormal events and encounters. It’s a unique side to Capitol Hill you won’t experience on any of the regular daytime tours.

Scary DC Tours are offered every Friday and Saturday night at 8:30pm until the end of the year. Tickets cost $20 for adults and $15  Call (202) 780-7169 or check the website for availability.

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