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“It’s sad, isn’t it?” Michael Norman laments. “I’m just not one of those people capable of seeing those things.” By “those things,” he means ghosts: Despite nearly two decades of researching ghost stories, the University of Wisconsin journalism chairman has yet to encounter an actual spirit. Yet he remains fascinated with the supernatural, and he and colleague Beth Scott (who died in early 1994) have generated a spooky series of nonfiction books, the latest of which is Historic Haunted America.
D.C., Norman and Scott write in HHA, has several haunted habitats. Visitors to the Octagon Museum have been startled by late-night screams, mysterious shadows, and flickering lights. Besides the souls of two original tenants (possibly thrown to their deaths by their own father), the Octagon may be home to the spirit of Dolley Madison, who fills its rooms with the scent of her lilac perfume. The former Mrs. Madison is also said to spend time at the White House, where she once scared off gardeners preparing to dig up her rose garden. Other White House specters have been seen in the Rose Room, where Andrew Jackson’s bed is kept, and the second-floor Lincoln Bedroom, where Abe himself appeared to Eleanor Roosevelt’s secretary. Even the Capitol is overrun with restless souls. Norman and Scott list John Quincy Adams, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, and a “Demon Cat” among its guests. While researching D.C., the authors relied on recorded accounts and eyewitness reports—but Norman approaches his findings with skepticism: “When dealing with politicians, you’re always dealing with the possibility of hyperbole.”