When Benjamin Stoddert built Halcyon House and named it after the Greek legend about a bird that brings calm seas and peaceful days I am sure he hoped as much for his new home. But alas this was not to be for Stoddert. Despite the fact he was the first Secretary of the Navy in John Adam’s administration he was not to have calm or peaceful days. Stoddert, originally a seafaring man established a shipping business that unfortunately fell on hard times. By the time he left his post as Secretary of the Navy in 1801 he found himself nearly destitute. In 1813 he died penniless. Does trauma in life mean one’s spirit lingers, this question remains unanswered but it seems Stoddert’s spirit decided not to leave the magnificent home he built.
Halcyon House is located in the Georgetown district of Washington, D.C. It is a lovely Georgian style mansion that sits on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River. The home was originally small and elegant. Stoddert had the renowned planner Pierre Charles L’Enfant design his terrace. The home’s garden was and is considered very beautiful.
In the years following Stoddert’s death this home passed through several owners hands. Some state this is because Stoddert’s ghost often made appearances during this time. His figure was often seen standing at windows looking out. Many witnesses described a man that fit his appearance: a short, stout man, older and balding. He sometimes was seen sitting in a favorite Captain’s chair in the home.
In the mid 1800s during the Civil War the home’s basement was connected to a tunnel that led to the Potomac River. This tunnel was part of the Underground Railroad and was used to hide runaway slaves that were headed north. Legend states that some of these slaves died in the home’s basement. It appears their ghosts haunt this area for their cries and moans can be heard to this day. At the turn of the 20th century the entrance to this tunnel was walled up but this did not stop the activity.
In the 1930s the home’s most eccentric owner moved in. Albert Adsit Clemons* at best was a very odd sort--at worst some state he was mad. It seems Clemons got the notion that as long as he added on to the house he would never die. This irrational belief led him to build doors that opened to brick walls, rooms without walls and a staircase that went nowhere. During the time he owned the house he also adamantly refused to have the home wired for electricity. Needless to say all this activity did not prevent his death in 1938. He did add on to the home’s square footage but he left a floor plan that was a collection of odd mazes.
After Clemons death the activity in the home increased. It seems his spirit joined Stoddert-- for both men haunt the house. The electricity when installed was erratic and never worked properly. Doors and windows were often found open when they were locked. One engraving that was hung on the wall would fall to the floor on a regular basis. Footsteps and strange noises were often heard in the home’s attic.
In the early 1960s Georgetown College acquired the land and turned the home briefly into a student dorm. This further ruined the structure. During this time Vice President Hubert Humphrey considered buying the home but he decided it was not cost effective—considering the work needed to restore it.
By far the most bizarre activity to be reported happened in the 1970s. This involved three separate occurrences of levitation that all happened in the second floor master bedroom. A male tenant and then a female guest on different occasions both awoke to find that they were floating above the bed they slept in. A couple around this same time who were caretakers for the home awoke in the same room to find that both their positions had been reversed—their heads were at the foot of the bed.
In the 1990s Halcyon House was on many lists as the most haunted house in Washington D.C. But its most recent owners who spent 16 years restoring the property claimed to never experience anything—but the many workmen that worked on its renovation did…
Halcyon House went up for sale in 2008. The home is not only restored to its original splendor –the property has been further improved. It has 30,500 square feet, which includes a new forth floor with a studio. The home also has a library, chapel, three living rooms and a ballroom. Outside there is a pool and an adjacent townhouse that has six luxury apartments. The home’s original entryway still commands a spectacular view of the Potomac River, harbor and the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and Kennedy Center. At this time Halycon House was priced at 30 million dollars. The home is an historic site and has been used for many weddings.
* Clemons obsession is similar to Sarah Winchester’s obsession for her home-- Winchester House in San Jose, California. Albert Clemons was Mark Twains’ nephew.