DC Ghost Tour Uncovers the Creepy History of Washington, DC

We were all smiles both before and after the DC Ghosts tour!
We were all smiles both before and after the DC Ghosts tour!
10/13/23 - By Jennifer Marino Walters

In the weeks leading up to Halloween, it's not uncommon to see people dressed like ghosts, goblins, and other creepy characters at Halloween events all over the DC area. But if you're looking for a more authentic experience this October—or all year long—why not try a DC ghost tour? These nighttime walking tours take visitors past places that are said to be haunted by the ghosts of presidents, assassins, heroes, and more.

My family recently went on a DC Ghosts ghost tour operated by US Ghost Adventures. It was the perfect activity to kick off Halloween season, and it taught us some interesting DC history. My 12-year-old twin sons and 9-year-old daughter enjoyed the ghost tour as much as my husband and I did, and while the stories were definitely creepy, the tour wasn't overly scary. In fact, there were several other children in our tour group and no one went home crying. Our kids are still talking about how cool it was.

Did we see any ghosts? You'll have to read on to find out! After you do, visit our Halloween Fun and Activities Guide for DC Kids for more spooky (and not-so-spooky) ways to celebrate Halloween, from the best pumpkin patches and corn mazes near DC to the top free Halloween events in the DC area.


About the DC Ghosts Ghost Tour

DC Ghosts' standard ghost tour—the one my family took—lasts one hour and covers roughly one mile. Tours meet behind the Treasury Building at 15th Street NW and F Street NW. While our ghost tour began at 8pm, there are also tours at 7pm and 9pm on certain nights. Tours can accommodate up to 80 people depending on the night, but are split into groups of roughly 20.

The standard ghost tour includes stops at eight locations that are said to be some of DC's most haunted (more on those later). Prices start at $25 for adults and $16 for kids 12 and under. For an additional per-person fee, you can extend the tour for an extra 30 minutes and four additional stops. You can also rent an EMF activity detector to use during the tour, which is supposed to detect electromagnetic anomalies that occur when paranormal activity takes place. If you really want to delight your child, add on a ghost plush.

If the standard ghost tour isn't scary enough for your family, DC Ghosts also operates an Ultimate Dead of Night Haunted Ghost Tour each night at 10pm, which includes even more haunted stories and locations. Plus, the tour guides use ghost-hunting equipment.

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My daughter stayed right by the tour guide's side so she wouldn't miss any spooky stories.

Our Ghost Tour Experience

We did the ghost tour on a warm Saturday evening in late September, so it was at capacity (40 people). We arrived at the meeting spot behind the Treasury Building 15 minutes early as directed, where we found our friendly tour guide holding a lantern. By the time 8pm rolled around, a second tour guide had arrived, and the tour group was split in half among the two guides. We then embarked on what turned out to be a truly interesting experience.

Our tour guide was super friendly and knowledgeable, and we could tell she really enjoyed sharing stories about DC's eerie past. She patiently answered all of my daughter's questions, even the silly ones like, "Why is that light flickering?" At certain stops, she'd pull out her phone to show us photos past tour guests had taken of ghostlike shadows in windows. She urged us to take as many pictures as we wanted and to examine them when we got home to see what surprises we would find.

My kids—especially my daughter—spent a great deal of time doing just that on the car ride home and convinced themselves they saw a face in one of the windows. Was it a ghost? Who knows, but that's beside the point. Just the idea that it might have been was enough to delight my children.

There was also a man on the tour who had rented an EMF detector. It did turn red at several of the stops, which gave us all a small thrill.

By the end of the ghost tour, nothing overly creepy had happened, but it didn't matter. We'd gotten to see some cool landmarks up close (which delighted even the non-tourists among us), hear ghost stories, and learn some fascinating DC history. One of my boys kept exclaiming, "This is so cool!" at each stop. What more could we really ask for in a pre-Halloween activity?

Some Ghost Tour Locations

I don't want to reveal all of the ghost tour locations and stories, because that would take all the fun out of it for future guests. I will share a few, though, so you can get a taste of what to expect.

Ghosts or no ghosts, seeing the White House lit up at night is an amazing experience.

The White House

According to our guide, many paranormal experts believe the White House to be one of the most haunted places in the US. Over the years, White House residents and staffers have reported seeing the ghosts of Abraham Lincoln, Abigail Adams, and other noteworthy people.

Blair House

Built in 1824, Blair House is the official guest house of the President, so it's had many VIP guests over the years. But their stays haven't always been comfortable, as Blair House has a dark history. One of the biggest horrors to occur there was the 1950 assassination attempt of President Harry Truman, who lived there while renovations were taking place in the White House.

Blair House guests have reported seeing apparitions over the years, including members of the original Blair family, images of children in reflective surfaces, and Truman himself. Our tour-mate's EMF detector turned red several times as we walked along this chilling house.

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My son believed if he stared at Decatur House long enough, he'd see a ghost.

Decatur House

Decatur House was built in 1818 for Commodore Stephen Decatur, a national military hero. Decatur was shot in the hip in a duel with Commodore James Barron, and died of his wounds in his bedroom after reportedly bleeding for 12 hours. So many passersby reported seeing Decatur's pained face in the windows that several of them were boarded up, and remain that way to this day. Many visitors to Decatur House have complained of stomach pain, which supposedly mirrors the pain Decatur himself felt as he bled out at home.

There have been many reported ghost sightings in the center window of the Cutts-Madison House.

Cutts-Madison House

This house was Dolley Madison's home from 1837 until her death in 1849. Many report seeing a figure in a second-floor window. My own son is convinced he can see a ghostly face in a photo he took of that same window, and when the rest of us look closely enough, we see it too!

The ghost of Dolley Madison or a spooky shadow? You decide!

But who knows if it's Madison or simply a strange shadow?

I won't give away any additional locations or stories, but I will say that I highly recommend taking this walking ghost tour even if you're not into (or don't believe in) the paranormal. The history itself is really interesting, and whether or not they are true, the ghost stories are highly entertaining—especially around Halloween!

More to Know About the DC Ghosts Ghost Tour

1. It's Kid-Friendly

As I mentioned, the ghost tour isn't crazy scary, and I think kids ages 8 and up would enjoy it. At 8pm on a Saturday, there were plenty of people walking around near the White House, so we did not have to walk through any super dark or abandoned places. However, you know your kiddos best. If they scare easily, then the tour probably isn't for them.

2. It Takes Place Rain or Shine

If rain is in the forecast and you want to switch your tour, you'll need to contact DC Ghosts ahead of time. However, you'll be charged a rebooking fee of $10 per person.

3. Buy Tickets in Advance

Purchase tickets for the ghost tour ahead of time online to reserve your spots.

4. Consider Purchasing the Extended Tour

I'll tell you, that hour goes by quickly! When our tour guide announced that the standard tour was over, my kids said, "Already?" in unison. They wanted to stay and see more locations, but unfortunately, you cannot stay for the extended tour unless you purchased the extra time in advance. Several people in our group stayed on for the extended tour, and my kids were super jealous!

5. Tip Your Tour Guide

Our guide said she took Venmo and other payment options, but I'd suggest having cash on hand in case yours doesn't.

Other US Ghost Adventures Ghost Tours

US Ghost Adventures operates ghost tours in over 75 other cities, including three others in the DC area—Old Town Alexandria, Baltimore, and Annapolis. Other cities include Boston, San Diego, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Miami, and New York City. These tours are great way to learn some interesting history and creepy facts about cities across the US.

All photos are courtesy of author Jennifer Marino Walters.

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