Friday, April 11, 2014

Haunted Smithsonian Castle

The “Castle,” which is the cornerstone of Washington D.C., is the original Smithsonian Institute building.

Of the various white-columned Smithsonian museum buildings that line the Washington Mall, the Castle stands alone in its unique appearance. Designed and built by the renowned architect James Renwick in 1815, this redbrick building often is compared to a medieval castle.

The Castle is also noteworthy because it is considered by some to be haunted. This fact is often discounted as just a myth or urban legend, but there is compelling evidence that this building might just have a few “otherworldly inhabitants.”

The various Smithsonian Museums contain millions of artifacts including paintings, the Hope Diamond, a T-Rex dinosaur, the Kitty Hawk, a Woolworth’s lunch counter, Egyptian mummies, Archie Bunker’s chair, scalps taken by Native Americans, Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet, Judy Garland’s Ruby Slippers, Edison’s light bulb, Lewis and Clark’s compass, and various other unique historical and anthropological significant items.

Hope Diamond

One item the Smithsonian castle contains is said to be the reason this building is haunted. The Smithsonian is named after an Englishman, James Smithson. He was a chemist and mineralogist. He traveled Europe studying and publishing papers on his findings.

James Smithson
When he died, he left his fortune to the founding of the Smithsonian Institute. Ironically, Smithson never visited the U.S., and he never viewed the Castle that bears his name.  After his death, his body was brought to the Castle in 1904 and placed under one of the main rooms.

At one time there were so many sightings of Smithson’s ghost that in 1973, the former curator of the Castle’s collections, James Goode, had his body disinterred. His casket was thoroughly inspected, and it was found his skeletal remains were still inside. So nothing unique was found.

But his ghost was still seen.

Smithson's gravestone in Castle

Click to enlarge
An article was published in the Washington Post in May of 1900. This article entitled, Shades of Scientists Who Walk There Nightly * mentions sightings of ghosts.

The guards and staff that worked at the Castle, late at night during this period, reported seeing several of the “devoted deceased scientists of earlier eras walk the halls of the museum.” It was believed they were there to guard the institute’s collection.

Among these former curators was Spencer Fullerton Baird 1823-1887. He was the first Smithsonian curator. The Post article mentions that long after Baird died, “he continued to supervise the affairs of the museum he devoted his life to.”

A night watchman by the name of Lynn reported seeing Baird’s ghost repeatedly. But when he tried to talk to or approach this apparition, it would vanish.

Another ghost seen was that of paleontologist Fielding B. Meek who actually lived in the Castle with his cat. He first occupied two tiny rooms under the staircase, but in 1876, a fire forced him to move to a tower room, where he died shortly afterward.

His ghost has been seen in these two areas of the Castle.

In contrast to these traditional stories a recent curator, Richard Stamm of the Castle’s collections for 34 years, states that he has never seen a ghost.

* The term “Shades “ is an old-fashioned word for ghosts.

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