It’s no secret that the White House is said to be haunted — and not all of the stories are ancient history, either: Jenna and Barbara Bush’s White House ghost story took place comparatively recently. In an Oct. 26 interview promoting their new book, Sisters First: Stories From Our Wild And Wonderful Life, on Sirius XM’s POTUS channel, Jenna Hager Bush and Barbara Pierce Bush told host Julie Mason about a pair of odd occurrences they experienced while they were living at the White House as the nation’s First Kids (I say “kids,” but they were young adults by that point — George W. Bush took office in January of 2001, when the twins were 19) — and although it’s relatively benign as far as ghost stories go, it’s still pretty spooky.
The two incidents that together make up the story happened during the summer one year while W. was in office. Jenna was working at a charter school in DC, while Barbara was just visiting for the week; the detail that matters, though, is that at the time the story occurred, both of them were staying at the White House. (Judging from a reference the twins make to their age during that summer, the whole thing probably took place sometime around 2006, which would set it in the second year of W.’s second term.)
Jenna began the telling: “I had gone to bed,” she said in the interview. “We had rooms right next to each other, where Sasha and Malia would later live, and where other First Children had lived," she said. "And I was in my room, by myself, falling asleep, and my phone rang. So I kind of woke up, turned it off, and I was falling back asleep… and I heard opera — a woman’s opera voice coming from the fireplace.”
She said that it gave her chills — as she put it, “I could kind of feel it … I felt something” — which freaked her out,so she ran into Barbara’s room and woke her up. Barbara, however, brushed it off, saying, “Just go back to sleep — you’re a nut.”
Two days later, though, Barbara would experience something similar. Both of the women were in Jenna’s room, where they were planning to sleep that night. Said Barbara, “We were going to bed … dozing off, falling asleep. And all of a sudden, there is 1920s jazz music coming out of the fireplace.” Specifically, it was jazz piano — and it terrified them.
Barbara continued, “So we wake up, and we’re scared, and the hair on the back of our neck is standing up. … [But] we decide not to get in bed with our parents, because we’re about 24 years old.” (This is why my estimate for the year of the story is 2006-ish, by the way; the twins were born in November of 1981 and were 24 during the summer of 2006.) Instead, they convinced themselves that their cat, Willard, must have jumped on top of the piano.
It wasn’t a perfect answer to what might have caused the piano noise — because, as Barbara noted, “The questionable part is that it was very good jazz piano. So the cat would have really had to have taken it up.” But it’s what they needed to tell themselves in order to get at least some sleep, so they insisted to each other it was the cat and tried to carry on.
But when they woke up the next morning, they ran into a man who worked at the White House in the kitchen — and that’s when their comforting illusion shattered. “First of all, I walk out and the piano top is down,” said Jenna, “so I’m like, it wasn’t the cat. And I said, ‘Buddy, you wouldn’t believe what we heard last night.’ And he goes: ‘Oh, Jenna, you wouldn’t believe the things I’ve heard in this house.’”
Cue the dramatic music.
Jenna has actually spoken about this particular story before; she told it during an appearance on The Jay Leno Show in 2009, noting that the next day, she and Barbara had asked whatever White House staff members they could find what the deal was with the strange music they had heard. “We tried to rationalize it, but they said they heard it there all the time,” Jenna told Leno.
And, indeed, the Bush twins are far from the only people to have run into alleged ghosts at the White House. Everyone from Abigail Adams to Abraham Lincoln is said to haunt the building; Winston Churchill even reportedly experienced a haunting while visiting during his years as Prime Minister of Great Britain. You can check out more White House ghost stories here.
Is the White House actually haunted, though? You’ll have to judge for yourself. For the curious, though, you can listen to Jenna and Barbara tell their story here.
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