Christmas 'ghosts,' including at the White House
Christmas is a time for some to tell stories of the supernatural, including about "ghosts." We think most obviously of Scrooge and his apparitions. Beyond scary spirits (of Christmases past), some believe that the Blessed Mother once appeared to the very author of that tale, Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol). In the midst of his sleep one night in 1844, the author said, he was visited by an apparition that had the form of a woman and was draped in blue as "the Madonna might in a picture by Raphael," to quote him directly. He didn't recognize the person, and the figure said nothing, simply looked at him with deep compassion.
But back to ghosts and "unsettled" spirits -- perhaps purgatorial souls who roam the earth. Saints like Padre Pio encountered these. Besides doing purgatory there, it is believed that there are souls who may linger here -- don't go directly into the Light of God -- due to fear of judgment, addictions, or over-attachment to people or worldly things. Said a Church-approved revelation known as An Unpublished Manuscript On Purgatory, "it is not on All Souls' Day that the most go to Heaven. It is on Christmas night." The Blessed Mother, according to the revelation, appears in Heaven that day with great splendor. ("Some souls have their purgatory on earth by suffering," added the revelation, by a deceased French nun in the 1800s, "others by love, for love is a true martyrdom.")
Do ghosts really exist -- the kind grandma told about on Christmas or New Year's Eve? "Nearly half of all Americans currently believe in ghosts," writes expert Lisa Morton, "and in other countries belief runs even higher (for example, 87 per cent of Taiwan's office workers believe in them)."
Some argue that Catholic tradition is that souls do not return to earth (Thomas Aquinas warned that "demons often pretend to be the souls of the dead"), while others counter that it's not a matter of souls returning but of having never left; through the centuries cardinals, bishops, and priests have been among those logging accounts of what seemed like deceased souls seeking help. (Jesus Himself used the word "ghost.") It doesn't hurt to pray for souls. The mystic Maria Esperanza also spoke of them.
Whether unsettled, purgatorial souls (the Virgin Mary once said that the deceased are sometimes allowed to manifest in order to obtain prayers), or evil in disguise, the stories are legion, as we were reminded upon a recent visit to the White House and Executive Office Building, where stories about apparitions and otherworldly manifestations are numerous and from prominent, credible people such as Winston Churchill, who claimed he saw an apparition of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln bedroom, sitting in silence by the fireplace. (Lincoln's "ghost" was also reported by First Lady Grace Coolidge).
Notes the History Channel: "A lesser-known early White House personality who has been said to haunt its halls was David Burns, who sold the government most of the land on which the city of Washington -- including the presidential residence -- was built. Lillian Rogers Parks, a seamstress who chronicled her 30-year career working at the White House in a 1961 memoir, told the story of a valet to President Franklin D. Roosevelt who reportedly heard a disembodied voice coming from a distance in the Yellow Oval Room, saying 'I'm Mr. Burns.' During Harry S. Truman's administration, a guard heard a similar voice. The Rose Room, Jackson's bedchamber while he was president, is believed by some to be one of the most haunted rooms in the White House. Jackson's ghostly presence also showed up in the White House correspondence of Harry Truman, America's 33rd president. In June 1945, just two months into his first term, Truman wrote to his wife Bess of the spooky quality of his new residence: 'I sit here in this old house and work on foreign affairs, read reports, and work on speeches -- all the while listening to the ghosts walk up and down the hallway and even right in here in the study. The floors pop and the drapes move back and forth -- I can just imagine old Andy [Jackson] and Teddy [Roosevelt] having an argument over Franklin [Roosevelt].'"
Less publicized are the supposed spirits that have haunted the Eisenhower Executive Office Building a few steps from the West Wing of the White House. In that building, which we found ourselves almost alone in, a week ago Sunday (12/13/15), during a little private tour (but feeling no creepiness), employees are said to whisper about ghostly apparitions they say roam the corridors -- hallways, not so much specific rooms. But there is what they call the "ghost room," where slamming doors and eerie laughter have been heard on the third floor.
Why such a concentration in this building? Some say that the spirits of workaholics can't seem to let go. Also, it's simply an old building -- built two hundred years ago, in the style of French Second Empire, which lends it an air of mystery. For your discernment! Also: for chats with eggnog by the fireplace?
Not many will need fireplaces this week, the weathermen say.
Anyway, spirits are not something to focus too much upon, not these sorts of alleged spirits; Mary Todd Lincoln held seances at the White House -- something everyone should keep far from, and something that can evoke the kind of masquerading entities about which Saint Thomas Aquinas warned. Pray for souls and leave hauntings alone, in the Hands of God, at Christmas especially but through all the year.
-- Michael H. Brown