Folklorist Debra Lattanzi Shutika, who knows a thing or two about ghost stories, thinks the specter of a long-dead White House pet might be responsible for the nipping at people’s feet, and she wouldn’t be surprised if the Obamas heard from the White House’s most popular ghost, President Abraham Lincoln.
“I imagine that President Lincoln was really proud to have an African American family in the White House after the sacrifices he made,” says Lattanzi Shutika, an associate professor at George Mason University. “But as far as the unexplained sounds and feelings, I would chalk that up to there just being spiritual energy in the house from people who’ve been there before.”
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The Obamas aren’t the sole White House occupants to report strange happenings at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Jenna Bush Hager, the daughter of President George W. Bush, who served from 2001 to 2009, said she and her twin sister Barbara once heard 1920s piano music coming from the fireplace in their bedroom.
And Ronald Reagan, president from 1981 until 1989, told the story of how his dog barked frantically at the entrance of the Lincoln Bedroom and refused to go inside. Reagan’s daughter and son-in-law also reported seeing an apparition in the room. Famed British leader Winston Churchill also claimed to see Lincoln’s ghost when he stayed in the Lincoln Bedroom. Lincoln, who was assassinated in 1865, never slept in the chamber but he did use it as an office.
“It has this really well-known bed called the Lincoln bed that was purchased by Mary Todd Lincoln during their time in White House and it’s unlikely that he actually slept in the bed, but other presidents have slept in the bed,” says White House Historical Association historian Lina Mann. “And, of course, since that was a space where he had an office, it is like the Lincoln room.”