Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. is not only known as the site of a U.S. Army post, but as the site where several ghosts apparently reside and roam. The haunting of Fort McNair for several generations makes it one of the places in Washington, DC where the ghosts either do not want to leave or perhaps they just have not found their way to the next chapter of their “life.”
History of Fort McNair gives insight to its haunting spirits
Fort Lesley J. McNair was established in 1791 on land that spanned a little under 30 acres. It is the third oldest military installation in the United States, after the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Carlisle Barracks in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It was the scene of battle during the Revolutionary War, when the British advanced. After the war, the facilities that had been destroyed and damaged were rebuilt.
As time went by, Fort McNair served as a prison during the 19th century. It is one of Fort McNair’s most famous ghosts who was imprisoned and executed there during the 19th century that intrigues people today.
Mary Surratt still roams Fort McNair
Mary Surratt, the first woman to be executed in the United States for crimes allegedly committed, was imprisoned as the conspirator in the Abraham Lincoln Assassination. The Robert Redford movie, ’The Conspirator’ follows the story of Surratt, who was imprisoned, tried, and sentenced, based mostly on testimony from convicted criminals and men facing court marshal, and executed at Fort McNair. Her son, John Jr., had been introduced to John Wilkes Booth several months prior to President Lincoln’s assassination. Booth allegedly made several visits to the Surratt Boarding House, which was owned by Mary. A plan to kidnap Lincoln was hatched, a scheme which John Jr. had been recruited for. But at the time of the assassination, John Jr. was in New York. Upon learning of the assassination and the search for him as a Confederate conspirator, he fled into Canada.
Mary Surratt was hanged at Fort McNair on July 7, 1865. But it is believed that she has not left Fort McNair. Kim Holien, U.S. Army Civilian Historian at Fort McNair explained in ‘‘The Conspirator’ Mary Surratt still haunts Washington,” that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled Mary Surratt’s trial and execution were illegal. It is speculated that perhaps the injustices done to her are at least part of the reason that Mary Surratt still resides in Building 20. In a group walking-tour of those interested in the haunted history of Fort McNair, stories of staff and former residents of the building tend to confirm that Mary Surratt does indeed still reside in Building 20.
Dr. Walter Reed still practices at Fort McNair
Another famous spirit still allegedly roaming Fort McNair is that of Dr. Walter Reed. Reed, for whom the Walter Reed Army Medical Center is named, is the doctor who discovered that mosquitoes carry yellow fever. In 1902, Reed suffered a ruptured appendix and died after emergency surgery in Building 58 of Fort McNair. Although he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, his spirit apparently remains at Fort McNair. Alex McVeigh explains in “Walk shows off haunted history of Fort McNair” that Dr. Reed sometimes knocks on the door to the examination room in the building he died in. Drawers will also occasionally open in the examining room as if Dr. Reed is searching for something in the drawers.
Do not insult General Pershing in the officer's club
General John Pershing is apparently haunting the Pershing Room at the officer’s club at Fort McNair. On one of the walls, a large portrait of General Pershing watches out over the crowd of visitors to the Pershing Room. When one military officer patron made an unkind remark about Pershing, he soon found himself lying “flat on his back,” according to Holien, in Kitty Felde’s, “Pershing’s ghost reportedly haunts officer’s club.”
Whether the hauntings at Fort McNair are the spirits of historically famous people such as Mary Surratt, Dr. Walter Reed and General John Pershing, or those of unknown people, staff who still tend to their daily duties or yet-to-be-discovered spirits, it is obvious that the living individuals at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. are not there alone.