Is the D.C. area haunted? These five ghost tours try to prove it

Sam Bowersox
The National Building Museum’s Great Hall at night is the setting for Spooky Tours, where stories of the old Pension Building’s scary history are told.

The start of October brings all things spooky to the forefront of pop culture, from scary movies to creepy decor. But in Washington, hundreds of years of political enterprise can also make for some chilling tales of murder, scandal and – yes – ghosts. These walking tours posit that apparitions and ghouls haunt the streets you walk to work, the bars you stop at for a drink or the monuments that represent this city on far too many T-shirts. And no, they’re not just for tourists. Even locals (and nonbelievers) are sure to get their fix of Halloween-themed, slightly morbid delight at these locations.

National Building Museum Spooky History Tour

The alleged haunting of the National Building Museum should come as no surprise to those who have entered its grand marble hall – the interior looks so much like a scene from Hogwarts, it would be harder to believe that there aren’t ghosts zipping about undetected. This after-hours tour offered through October features tales collected over decades from spooked security guards and others who have frequented the building at night. Many have claimed to see the ghost of a “lady in white” or apparitions of Civil War soldiers, since the building was used to process pensions for veterans – or soldiers’ widows and orphans. Learn about the museum’s efforts to ward off unsightly spirits by burying shoes beneath floorboards as the tour twists through the moonlit corridors of the museum after hours; it is recommended for ages 13 and up. Tours available Oct. 17, 25 and 29 at 8 p.m. $15 for members, $18 for students, $20 for adult nonmembers.

National Nightmares’ Hill of Haunts

The quippy attitude of National Nightmares’ most popular tour is captured in its motto: “When you die on the Hill, you stay on the Hill.” Led by performers in historical garb, it’s all gimmicks aside with this 90-minute walk by the exteriors of some of D.C.’s most visible landmarks, including the Capitol building and the Library of Congress. Learn about the difference between apparitions, ghosts and poltergeists from tour guides who have collected alleged ghost stories themselves; many of the tales come firsthand from employees of federal agencies tasked with watching the buildings at night. One janitorial crew employee at the Cannon House Office Building reported seeing closed doors open themselves and strange, childlike noises emanating from empty rooms. Other stories, like that of Winston Churchill seeing Abraham Lincoln’s ghost at the White House or John Quincy Adams suffering a stroke on the Senate floor during a speech, have historical origins. Guests are encouraged to dress in costume. While not quite family-friendly (there are mentions of violence against children), it’s one of the few locally owned ghost tours available that also gives back to its community: The company donates to Central Union Mission and hosts a free tour for the local branch of Best Buddies. Evenings Thursdays through Sundays. $19.

Boos and Booze Haunted Pub Crawl

To enjoy an alcohol-soaked adventure that takes guests to the paranormal hot spots of the nation’s capital as well as its nightlife, turn to Boos and Booze. This fantastical tour covers D.C.’s own cryptid demon cat and some more outlandish stories of downtown D.C.’s bars – the sites of backroom deals, famous frequenters and sinful stories. Armed with allegedly ghost-detecting EMF meters and – yes – ghost plushies available for purchase, tour guides walk patrons down the former sites of “Rum Row” and “Murder Bay,” located at current-day E Street NW between 13th and 14th streets. The pub crawl lasts about an hour and a half to two hours; it can be a more intimate event during the week, with around four to 10 guests, but includes upward of 30 on some Saturdays. On smaller tours, the guide can mold the evening to accommodate guests, whether that be extra stops and stories or additional time to enjoy a drink. Bars include the Old Ebbitt Grill, one of Washington’s oldest saloons, and the Willard hotel lobby, where 19th-century visitors would spot President Ulysses S. Grant smoking a cigar and nursing a whiskey. Historical accuracy may be missing from this tour, but the scares are not. Tours available daily, with some cancellations; check website for details. $35, with drinks sold separately. Guests must be 21 and up.

Washington Post photo by Olivia McCormack
John Waldron leads a Boos and Booze tour.

Ghosts of Georgetown

Washington Post photo by Matt McClain
The “Exorcist” steps in Georgetown.

Neither Halloween nor a workout in Georgetown is complete without a trip to the infamous “Exorcist” stairs. These steep steps were featured in the 1973 horror film and have become a hot spot for movie and ghoul lovers alike. While the steps may be the draw, the Ghosts of Georgetown walking tour has other sites to show during its approximately two-hour experience. Your journey begins at the Old Stone House, the oldest unchanged structure in D.C., where you will hear about the spirits that supposedly haunt this relic of the past. The unexplained phenomena range from an older woman in a rocking chair to young children playing. Wear sneakers, as this is a walking-heavy walking tour that tries to pack in history as well as steps. Daily tours at 8 p.m. $50.

Alexandria Ghost and Graveyard Tour

Spanning one hour and six blocks, this packed tour guides you through the streets of Old Town Alexandria, Va. Knowledgeable tour guides wielding lanterns tell ghostly tales and explain the morbid history of the area, such as the bride who was consumed by flames on her wedding day. This tour mixes in facts about the architecture and prominent local figures with fables of the supernatural. It won’t keep you up at night as much as it will have you sharing fun facts with your co-workers (did you know that President George Washington’s bloodletting doctor, James Craik, lived in Alexandria?). At the end of the hour, you will be deposited in a graveyard to hear your final story. The endpoint is a short walk from Dolci Gelati, where you can enjoy a delicious scoop of gelato, or you can continue your spooky adventure at Gadsby’s Tavern. This tour is deemed appropriate for ghost hunters 9 and up, though all ages are welcome with parental permission. Tour times vary, with daily tours until Halloween. Free for children 6 and under, $10 for kids 7-17, $15 for adults, $14 for seniors.