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Oct 04, 2018 Washington, D.C. —
The White House encapsulates more than 200 years of American history, including Halloween celebrations that began during the Eisenhower administration. This time of year also resurfaces the historic home’s long history of ghost tales and legends.
History of Halloween Celebrations at the White House
- First Lady Mamie Eisenhower decorated the White House for Halloween for the first time in 1958. Decorations included skeletons, jack-o-lanterns, and stalks of dried corn in the State Dining Room. On October 30th, she hosted a lunch for the wives of White House staff members. Black cats, owls, disembodied witch heads and goblins hung from the foyer.
- The Kennedys began the tradition of hosting a trick-or-treat Halloween event along with a private family party for friends and staff. Larger events have been held on the grounds of the White House for Halloween ever since.
- Halloween took on more significance during the Nixon Administration as the first family hosted a series of public events for local children. In 1969, 250 children from the Widening Horizons program came to a White House Halloween party. As visitors walked through the north door entrance – which was converted into the mouth of a 17-foot high pumpkin – they came across two witches stirring cauldrons and handing out masks. In 1971 and 1972, the Nixons hosted similar parties for children from the C, Melvin Sharp Health School, Hospital for Sick Children, and foster grandparents and children.
- In 1977, Amy Carter celebrated her October birthday with a Halloween-themed party. She and 14 friends carved pumpkins and watched the original “Frankenstein” in the White House movie theater.
- After a trip to Camp David, President Roland Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan returned home to Halloween pumpkins that read: “Stay the Course” and “Four more in 84.”
- President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush hosted a Halloween party for 600 schoolchildren on the South Lawn in 1989.
- The Clintons held large annual costume parties for their families and friends to celebrate First Lady Hillary Clinton’s birthday, which falls on October 26. One of the Clintons’ most notable coordinated costumes was their appearance as Dolley and James Madison in 1993.
- President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush took part in Halloween fun by dressing up their cat and two dogs as a wizard, strawberry, and cowboy.
- The Obama Administration welcomed trick-or-treaters from local schools and the children of military families every year except for 2012, when Super Storm Sandy hit the East Coast.
- The Trump family has decorated the South Portico with dozens of cobwebs, massive black spiders, and purple lights. Jack-o-lanterns depicting previous president dotted the grounds, and children from 20 different schools were invited along with military families to celebrate the holiday.
Notorious Ghost Stories and Legends
- Many have heard about the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, who supposedly haunts the Yellow Oval Room and the Lincoln bedroom, but few know where the story originated. A man named Jeremiah “Jerry” Smith, the “official duster” of the White House in the late 1860s, may have been the source of the original story. Read more about Smith and his famed ghost stories here.
- During the height of the Civil War many sought comfort for the loss of their loved ones and turned to spiritualism. Mary Todd Lincoln is known to have participated in spirit circles or séances in both the Red Room at the White House and the presidential cottage at the Soldiers’ Home after the loss of her son Willie in 1862.
- Not all ghosts at the White House have been presidents and first ladies. There are quite a few lesser-known spirits that have been said to haunt the White House and its grounds, such as the “Thing” – an apparition of a young boy that caused quite a stir during the Taft administration; as well as a beautiful maiden in a flowing white dress.
- To learn about other ghost lore and ghoulish sightings at the White House, check out the White House Historical Association Press Room’s White House Ghost Stories Fact Sheet.
To learn more about Halloween traditions and stories at the White House, visit the whitehousehistory.org.
About the white house historical association
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy envisioned a restored White House that conveyed a sense of history through its decorative and fine arts. She sought to inspire Americans, especially children, to explore and engage with American history and its presidents. In 1961, the White House Historical Association was established to support her vision to preserve and share the Executive Mansion’s legacy for generations to come. Supported entirely by private resources, the Association’s mission is to assist in the preservation of the state and public rooms, fund acquisitions for the White House permanent collection, and educate the public on the history of the White House. Since its founding, the Association has given more than $50 million to the White House in fulfillment of its mission.
To learn more about the White House Historical Association, please visit WhiteHouseHistory.org.