Who’s Haunting the White House: The President’s Mansion and the Ghosts Who Live There
By Jeff Belanger; illustrated by Rick Powell
64 pp.; ISBN-13: 978-1402738227
Review by Amy Brozio-Andrews
In Who’s Haunting the White House: The President’s Mansion and the Ghosts Who Live There, Jeff Belanger takes young readers on a historically haunted virtual tour of a famous American landmark.
Beginning with the White House’s earliest days, from it’s original design and construction completed in 1800 through the presidency of Harry S. Truman (1945-1953), Belanger chronicles the haunted happenings, spirits reportedly seen by people like White House staff, presidents’ wives, and even visiting dignitaries and heads of state. While some of these stories may be familiar, others are quite surprising. For example, David Burns, the man who donated the land on which the White House sits, has been heard in the Yellow Room; he’s been heard calling out to people and saying, "I’m Mr. Burns." When in 1913 President Woodrow Wilson’s wife directed the White House gardeners to pull up the colonial garden planted by Dolley Madison in 1809 to make room for a rose garden, they were met by the spirit of Dolley Madison herself, livid that her garden might be destroyed. Stories from the Lincoln years in the White House are plentiful; Mary Todd Lincoln said her sons came to her (one of which actually died in the White House) and many people over the years have claimed to see the ghost of Abraham Lincoln.
Belanger (founder of GhostVillage.com) offers the reader a "come along with me" narrative style that is engaging and detailed, supported by first person accounts where possible, along with historical paintings, presidential portraits, photographs, and informative sidebars about White House history and ghosts in general. Rick Powell’s colored pencil artwork vividly reimagines numerous haunting scenes from the narrative. The connections to the spirit world get a little more tenuous as the book’s timeline moves toward the contemporary, but that’s understandable. The majority of the sightings (and identities of those sighted) take place beyond recent memory; it would have been interesting to see if ghost sightings continue through the present day, although Belanger does include an interview with former Chief Usher Gary J. Walters regarding his time in the White House and what he and the people around him have seen and heard.
Avid readers of history, especially presidential history, will find a lot to like here, along with young readers who are unfamiliar with the idea of ghosts haunting the White House. Belanger’s book is a good introduction to the topic, as it stays away from the frightening and sensational, presenting people’s accounts of White House hauntings with sincerity and strong attention to historical detail.