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Thursday
Oct292009

Ghosts in Navy Blue

After some time collecting stories of ghosts and hauntings in Washington, DC, a few themes start to jump out. Abandoned buildings will inevitably become haunted, often to the point where it becomes difficult to ascertain what happed first, the ghost or the owners moving out. For every good, solid, meaty story where the ghost does something tangible, there's at least a dozen "mysterious thumps in the night". Either ghosts were more active in the late 1800's and early 1900's, or newspapers were simply more amenable to reporting them, often as fact.

But I'm starting to notice that the tale of Washington ghosts overlaps quite heavily with the tales of Naval ghosts. It's entirely possible that as a former Naval Officer myself, I simply take not of them disproportionly. I mean, I love a good sea story as much as a good ghost story, so it's entirely possible that combining the two catches my eye.

Even considering this, I was surprised at how many ghosts in DC have a Navy or Marine Corps connection. In fact, we joked while developing the Capitol Hill loop of our tour that the problem was not finding stories, but finding stories where it wasn't a Marine doing the haunting. Which really shouldn't have caught us by surprise. Until relatively recently, the Navy Yard and it's associated Marine Barracks were the largest employers in town and Capitol Hill, especially the portion south of Pennsylvania Ave, was very much a Navy Town.

But even throughout the city, we stumble across ghosts associated with the sea services with astonishing regularity. The much haunted Halcyon House in Georgetown was built by the first Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Stoddert. In yesterday's Vampire Story, the Brentwood Mansion was owned by a succession of Naval Officers, presumably when the vampire stalked the grounds. And in 1890, then Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Tracy refused to take head of warnings of a ghost in the house he purchased on Farragut Square not far from the White House. Sadly, the house caught fire and his wife, daughter, and maid were killed in the conflagration, which local lore says liberated the restless ghost.

Being a fan of the limited but fascinating Washington, DC Naval ghost genre, the natural place to search for ghosts is, of course, the Washington Navy Yard in southeast DC. Searchers need not be disappointed, either; it is well haunted. I particularly enjoy the tale of Capt. Thomas Tingey, the first Superintendent of the Navy Yard, who had the distinction of building it twice, the second time being after he ordered it burnt to deny it to the British in 1814. Commodore Tingey remains on watch at the Navy Yard, keeping a eye on things. In addition to his protective spirit assisting at Quarters A, originally his home and now the residence of the Chief of Naval Operations, he has been sighted late at night, inspecting the Yard. He wears the period fore and aft hat, familiar to any fan of pirate movies, and carries a spyglass. His authority is further confirmed by the sword belted to his waist, but somewhat dimmed in that it is belted over his nightshirt.

Fellow fans might enjoy Eric Mills new work, The Spectral Tide: True Ghost Stories of the U.S. Navy, which is an excellent collection of tales, well written and thoroughly researched, two traits often missing in the world of ghost stories. It highlights, among it's many stories, several of the ones listed above, including a great description of the Tracy House fire. I'l leave it to Mr. Mills to tell that one.

Ghosts in Navy Blue

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