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A 19th-Century Halloween Prank in the Capitol

October 31, 1885
A 19th-Century Halloween Prank in the Capitol Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
A rich tapestry of ghost stories are set in the House side of the U.S. Capitol.
On this date, a prank played on a new Capitol Police Officer led to the firing of gun shots in Statuary Hall. Patrolling the Capitol late at night, the officer roamed through darkened rooms until he reached Statuary Hall. The unsuspecting officer heard groaning from a corner and proceeded cautiously until he spied a spectral figure. He drew his revolver and began firing, unaware the suspected ghost was his fellow officer in disguise. Fortunately for both men involved, the new officer did not have good aim. Several errant bullets scored the wall in the old House Chamber. This practical joke soon became the stuff of legend, woven into the rich tapestry of strange and haunting stories associated with the House side of the Capitol. One of the oldest yarns, originating in the 1850s, involves reports of a ghostly demon cat wandering House hallways, usually during times of great political change or national upheaval. Those who claim to have encountered the phantom feline, allege that it grows to a monstrous size and leaps in the observer’s direction before disappearing. Another alleged spectral visitor is Representative John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, who in 1848 suffered a fatal stroke in the House Chamber, now present-day Statuary Hall. Through the decades, many night guards have reported seeing the Adams’s ghost re-living the day of his death, sometimes accompanied by a spectral assemblage of Members from the 30th Congress (1847–1849).

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