Wednesday, October 30, 2013

True Ghost Stories: Reagan's White House Ghost

It wouldn't be Halloween if I didn't re-post  my favorite White House ghost story which I heard right from the lips of President Reagan back in 1986.

Ever since the White House was first occupied in 1800, there have been rumors of hauntings, but I got this story direct from the President. No, not President Obama. I first heard about the White House ghosts directly from the lips of Ronald Reagan.

It was March 18, 1986, and my husband Nick and I had been invited to a state dinner in honor of Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. The State Dining room was filled with gold candlesticks, gold vermeil flatware and vermeil bowls filled with red and white tulips. I had the great privilege of being seated at the President’s table along with Chicago Bears’ running back Walter Payton; the Canadian Prime Minister’s wife Mila Mulroney; the president of the Mobil Corporation; Donna Marella Agnelli, wife of the chairman of Fiat; Burl Osborne, the editor of the Dallas Morning News, and Pat Buckley, wife of William Buckley.

The President, a brilliant storyteller, entertained the table throughout the meal and the story I remember best was about his encounters with the White House ghostly spirits. Here is how I wrote it later in an article about the dinner for the Ladies’ Home Journal: “According to the President, Rex, the King Charles Cavalier spaniel who had recently replaced Lucky as First Dog, had twice barked frantically in the Lincoln Bedroom and then backed out and refused to set foot over the threshold. And another evening, while the Reagans were watching TV in their room, Rex stood up on his hind legs, pointed his nose at the ceiling and began barking at something invisible overhead. To their amazement, the dog walked around the room, barking at the ceiling.

'I started thinking about it,' the President continued, 'And I began to wonder if the dog was responding to an electric signal too high-pitched for human ears, perhaps beamed toward the White House by a foreign embassy. I asked my staff to look into it.'

The President laughed and said, 'I might as well tell you the rest. A member of our family [he meant his daughter Maureen] and her husband always stay in the Lincoln Bedroom when they visit the White House. Some time ago the husband woke up and saw a transparent figure standing at the bedroom window looking out. Then it turned and disappeared. His wife teased him mercilessly about it for a month. Then, when they were here recently, she woke up one morning and saw the same figure standing at the window looking out. She could see the trees right through it. Again it turned and disappeared."

After that White House dinner, I did some research and discovered that half a dozen presidents and as many first ladies have reported ghostly happenings in the White House. It’s not just the ghost of Lincoln that they see, although he tops the hit parade. He caused Winston Churchill, who was coming out of the bathroom naked but for a cigar when he encountered Lincoln, to refuse to sleep there again. And Abe so startled Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands that she fell into a dead faint when she heard a knock on the door and opened it to find Lincoln standing there.

I also learned that the Lincoln bedroom was not a bedroom when Lincoln was President—it was his Cabinet Room where he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

It’s well known that Abraham Lincoln and his wife held séances in the White House, attempting to contact the spirit of their son Willie, who died there and who has been seen walking the halls.

The ghost of Dolley Madison, wife of James Madison, appeared often in the Rose Garden, which she planted. There is even reportedly a Demon Cat in the White House basement that is rarely seen. When it does appear, it is foretelling a national disaster. While the Demon Cat may at first look like a harmless kitten, it grows in size and evil the closer one gets. A White House guard saw it a week before the stock market crash of 1929 and it was also reportedly seen before Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

Abigail Adams’ ghost has been seen hanging laundry in the East Room—she appeared frequently during the Taft administration and as late as 2002 and is often accompanied by the smell of laundry soap.

Lincoln himself told his wife he dreamt of his own assassination three days before it actually happened. Calvin Coolidge’s wife reported seeing Lincoln’s ghost standing at a window of the Oval Office, hands clasped behind his back gazing out the window (just as Reagan’s daughter saw a figure in a similar pose.) Franklin Roosevelt’s valet ran screaming from the White House after seeing Lincoln’s ghost . Eleanor Roosevelt, Ladybird Johnson and Gerald Ford’s daughter Susan all sensed Lincoln’s presence near the fireplace in the Lincoln Bedroom.

I’d love to find out if the Obamas have encountered any ghostly knockings, or if their dog Beau has suffered the same alarming anxiety attacks as Reagan’s dog Rex. Tomorrow, as the portals between this world and the other world swing open, I suspect the White House will be hosting a ghostly gala of the illustrious dead.

(If you have any  personal paranormal experiences to report, let me know about them at: )

Friday, October 25, 2013

Halloween Decor--Grins & Gore in Grafton

Living in our picturesque New England village of Grafton, MA, I usually make my Halloween decorations from the traditional pumpkins, gourds and cornstalks purchased at one of our local farms, like Nourse Farm in Westborough, which has been owned by the same family for 300 years, ever since their ancestor, Rebecca Nurse, was accused of being a witch and her sons left Salem, one of them settling here.
But Halloween decor brings out a stunning level of creativity and talent in our little village--for instance, in this Colonial mansion, right down the road (Rte 140) from us, which houses Bergeron Creative Studios and its leading creators, Al Bergeron and  Dara King.  Every season I eagerly await their latest brainstorm.  This year's Halloween house produced giant pumpkins.
 Last year's was all about giant spiders.  Whatever they do, their decor stops traffic and evokes honks of approval during the rush hour.
Further up Route 140 is a humble Xtramart Convenience store, but one of its employees, a young woman named Missy Vassar, so loves decorating that she turns the place into a veritable museum every season, using her own props, and her talent creates folk art, especially at Halloween.  But she doesn't forget that the store is there to sell, well, convenient products.
Inside there's a ghastly couple in the middle of the Halloween candy.
And three skeletons flying over the automobile products.

A one-eyed witch stirs up trouble by the Hefty bags.

A purple witch is pushing Pepsi.

A large spider hangs out in the frozen food.

The Queen of Halloween threatens.

A floating wizard has a soda can in one hand and a spider in the other.

An elaborate multi-level haunted cave has a skeleton Mariachi band which echoes all the Mexican skeletons I have on my Day of the Dead altar in my kitchen.

Last weekend I wasn't able to attend the Eco-Tarium's fabulous Great Pumpkin Fest, which includes  maybe 1,500 cleverly carved jack o'lanterns, but I'm reposting some of the designs from last year, for those of you who want to carve presidential pumpkins.

The jack-o-lantern I carved last week for Amalia (way too early!) has now turned to pumpkin mush, but by next Thursday I'll have made the porch into a haunted room full of bats and spider webs and hands reaching out of bowls of treats and a witch who pops out of a jack o'lantern cackling.

Two-year-old granddaughter Amalia, who's celebrating Halloween in Manhattan this year, refuses to put on any costume--it's all too SCARY--much less enter the Grafton Xtra Mart.  But wait till next year!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Amalia in the Pumpkin Patch

Last week on Tuesday, while her Mommy was starting her new job at Martha Stewart's Weddings Magazine in Manhattan, Amalia and her grandma, Yiayia Joanie, made cupcakes to surprise Mommy, because it was her birthday.

Amalia put all the sprinkles on the cupcakes by herself, and she cleaned up all the extra sprinkles that fell off, by eating them.

When Mommy came home from work with her friends, everyone enjoyed the cupcakes and  Mommy blew out the candles and the grown-ups drank champagne.

Then on Thursday, Amalia and her Mommy and her Papou Nick and Yiayia Joanie drove to Grafton, MA where Mommy was appearing at a book event for the Worcester Public Library.

When she got to Yiayia and Papou's house, the first thing Amalia had to do was to have tea on the porch with Yiayia's dolls, Molly and Victoria.

Then she had to feed the fish in the fishpond with Yiayia Nene.

On Friday everyone went with Amalia to the Pumpkin Patch at Tsougas Family Farm in Northboro.
The pressure was on.  How would Amalia ever be able to choose the perfect pumpkin from so many pumpkins?

She would just have to start at the beginning and look at every pumpkin.

She would take Mommy along to advise her.

Look!  There's a green one.  That's intriguingly different.

In the end, Amalia told her Mommy that she liked the baby pumpkins best, because she could carry them.

Amalia made her final decision--Here's her favorite pumpkin in the whole pumpkin patch.

Don't look now, Yiayia Joanie, but there are two creepy guys following us.

Nearby Tsougas Farm, we stopped at Davidian Brothers Farm where Yiayia Joanie chose a big pumpkin that she could carve for the house, and Yiayia Nene posed with the biggest pumpkin yet.

That night, as Yiayia Joanie carved the big pumpkin, (Amalia had requested a happy face, instead of a scary or sad face), Auntie Frosso read her a book about Halloween.

When she was asked if she'd like to touch the "gooey stuff" (she calls it "gluey stuff"), Amalia said politely, "Please, no! No thank you!"

When the pumpkin was all carved, we got out a flashlight to see what it would look like in the dark on Halloween.

Amalia decided that, after a strenuous day of making decisions, the best thing about Halloween was not picking the pumpkin, but playing with the flashlight.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Angels and a Menage å Trois in the Cemetery

As predicted in my previous post, I spent  Friday photographing in Rural Cemetery, Worcester (MA) as a participant in the Worcester Art Museum's class "Exploring Photography at Rural Cemetery",  taught by my friend Mari Seder.


It was really fun, despite the rain which followed us all day, alternating between a mist and a downpour. Then we went back to the Museum where Mari reviewed and critiqued our photos.  Even though we were all photographing in the same place, each of us focussed on different aspects of the cemetery.  One woman, who is a civil engineer, found wonderful geometric compositions in small architectural details and shadows and corners of stones.  Another concentrated on the beautiful trees and foliage, leaves and flowers.  And I discovered  that my obsession with the human form showed up in nearly all my photos--either with inclusion of my fellow photographers or the angels and cherubs that I found in the cemetery.  (If you come to my house you'll discover I've been collecting angels for ages.)

I thought this looked like the witch's house in Hansel and Gretel but when I got up close I learned it was the mausoleum of Inventor George Crompton.
 And it has quite a few cherubs, each with a different face and attitude.

This one was my favorite (below.)

We all circled this lovely (if battle-scarred) angel erected by the Gorham family.

I photographed her from all angles.

This one (below) I called a guardian angel. He is directing this departed soul toward Heaven.

But our attention turned from angels to scandal when we took shelter from the rain in the door of the Greek-temple-like mausoleum below.

The name over the door was "Kennedy" and here's the story, as reported in Rural Cemetery's "Guide and Walking Map" brochure-- a tale told with delightfully antiquated euphemisms:

"Ellen 'Nellie' F. Rogers and Walter G. S. Kennedy were married at ages 67 and 63 respectively. They then adopted Mr. Kennedy's 'chum' Charles A. Williams, a former piano salesman who was age 45 at the time, as their 'son'.  It was the stir of Worcester society to have such an event! We have one of the richest women in Worcester marrying a music teacher and adopting the comrade of Mr. Kennedy's...Nellie Rogers, the daughter of an old and wealthy Worcester family, lost her father at a young age and was left in a peculiar situation as a result.  She and her mother could enjoy the interest only of Mr. Roger's vast estate and only upon the death of one of them could the other inherit the fortune of the estate.

"Nellie and Walter traveled  the same social circles for nearly a quarter of a century before their friendship ripened into greater intimacy until one day she packed her trunks, 'took the family silver' and moved to Sicily with Walter and Charles in tow.  There she purchased a villa on the Sorrento Bay and she and Walter married in France.  On the day old Mrs. Rogers got word of the events, she passed away and left Nellie, Walter and Charles to inherit the fortune!  Rural Cemetery has benefitted from this fortune with the erection of the Ellen Rogers Kennedy Memorial Chapel in 1930."

After reading this, we peered with renewed interest into the holes in the locked metal doors of the Kennedy Mausoleum.

Peering even closer, we could make out the stained glass window and the sentiments carved  into the wall.  On one side:

"Death is not departure but arrival
Not falling asleep but waking."

And on the other:  

"It is life which is the night
And death is daybreak."

And by poking a camera through a hole to photograph the interior, we discovered a tantalizing mystery: There were only two crypts inside the mausoleum, leaving us wondering which of the scandalous threesome sleep inside, and in what order?

This is just one of the many mysteries that lie beneath the marble and slate stones of Rural Cemetery in Worcester.