Played more for laughs than chills, the annual Ghost Story Tour is a fun way to see the old city in a new light and to get some beautiful nighttime views of the White House.
The owner of Historic Strolls, Natalie Zanin, leads the tour in costume and with good-natured, gossipy humor. (The audience can win a cheesy prize – not cheese, by the wayâ€”for guessing the character that she is playing. Hint: there will be hints.)
An Our Kids team of ghost busters took a recent tour on a moonlit night. Two adults and three boys, aged 13, 11 and 7 1/2, gathered at McPherson Square with a group of young ladies in town for a sorority convention, two other boys, and a handful of additional adults. The destination was Lafayette Square, “the most haunted square in haunted Washington, DC!”
The content and tone are less “Creepshow” than “Real Housewives of the Capitol City.” Untimely deaths have a way of arising after an unmarried man and woman “played cards without a chaperone.” After she tells such a story and reports the subsequent sightings of ghostly faces behind curtains or the clatter of rattling keys, Zanin often gives a giggle and a flutter of the hand, letting the crowd decide what to believe.
Not all the stories are sordid. The tour includes plenty of political figures whose spirits continue to lurk within and around the White House. Abraham Lincoln is a probably the most commonly seen figure. Dolley Madison is said to have saved her rose garden by haunting the workers tasked with tearing it out.
As a bonus, the walkers meet “ghosts,” two actors who portray unfortunate Washingtonians who are said to haunt city locations. Some, such as the ailing Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, converse with the guests. Others seem a bit crazed, such as Philip Barton Key, son of “Star Spangled Banner” poet Francis Scott Key, who met his end at the hands of a friend whose wife he “entertained.”
The 13-year-old enjoyed imagining historic Washington as a small town where everyone knew everyone else’s business.
The ghost tales provide an entertaining way to explore both historic buildings surviving along the square and historic locations where new structures now stand. Zanin adds an authoritative tone to some of the stories by recounting reports that witnesses of strange occurrences have given her themselves.
A Note on the Younger Set
The tour’s recommended minimum age is 8. More mature children will both find the stories less frightening and will get more out of the juicy take on the city’s history. The 7-year-old on our tour got bored about halfway through the 80-minute tour. Worse, he was quite frightened by the idea of spirits rattling around in buildings, and he expressed fears for several days after the tour. The 8 p.m. start time should be enough to keep most small children at home.
- The Ghost Story Tour is offered Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. throughout October, and on Monday, October 31. No reservations are needed.
- Tickets are available at the start of the tour for $12 for adults, $6 for children under age 16. Please bring cash and, if possible, exact change.
- Tickets also can be purchased online until 5 p.m. the day of the tour.
- Please arrive 10 minutes before the start time. Meet the costumed guide standing with a lantern at Vermont and I (Eye) St., NW, next to the McPherson Square Metro exit. (White House exit) The address of the corner is 1400 I St., NW.
- At the time of the tour, street parking is generally available.
- Tours are offered rain or shine, though not when the weather is dangerous.
- Historic Strolls also offers other tours, including a Christmas Carol-themed tour.
- A special ghost tour inside the Octagon House Museum and through the surrounding neighborhood is available on Wednesdays in October, but reservations must be made in advance through the historic strolls website due to limited capacity. The “Tale of the Tayloes and other Scary Things” tour is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on October 12, 19 and 26. All tickets are $16.