Has the White House ever been haunted?
Just in time for Halloween, author Robert Klara offers some thoughts on the question in a new book, “The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America’s Most Famous Residence.”
In 1945, shortly after assuming the presidency upon the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Truman began to notice strange noises in the White House.
One evening, while his wife, Bess, and daughter Margaret were out of town, Truman sat down in his private study to write a letter to the first lady.
“It was then that he heard them — the ghosts — shuffling up and down the empty corridor outside,” Klara tells readers. “By the time Truman finished writing his first paragraph, he decided to tell Bess about his unexpected visitors: ‘I sit here in this old house and work on foreign affairs, read reports, and work on speeches — all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway and even right here in the study. The floors pop and the drapes move back and forth.’”
The incident that Truman reported was one of many odd noises the Truman family would notice in the executive residence, according to Klara’s book.
One night in 1946, Truman was sound asleep when he was awakened by three loud knocks on his door. The president hopped out of bed and answered the door, only to find an empty hallway.
He later heard what he believed to be footsteps in Margaret’s empty bedroom.
“The … place is haunted as sure as shootin’,” Truman remarked.
Klara suggests, though, that Truman was actually hearing the evidence of a house in startling structural decline. Years of neglect — and some botched renovations — had left the White House in terrible shape.
Klara’s book documents Truman’s audacious plan to gut Washington’s most famous residence and rebuild it for the modern era.
Thanks to Truman’s renovation, the White House ghosts — if, indeed, they do exist — now have a better place to stay.