Halcyon House Underground Railroad

Transcription: “In the 1950s, a family owned the house. A bunch of rats and critters were crawling up from the basement so they hired a carpenter to close up the space. When he was down there, he heard wailing, but he decided to ignore it. When he was putting the last brick in, he heard a blood curdling scream and felt a strong gust of wind. They say that the explanation is that the house was a stop in the Underground Railroad. The house is next to the Potomac, which is right across from Virginia. They say that the wailing and moaning come from the spirits of slaves who were upset that their last glimpse of freedom was being sealed up.”

The same informant who works for a Washington D.C. tour company told me another more recent story involving the Halcyon House. Despite its origins in the 1950s, the story relates back to a renowned moment in American history, the Underground Railroad.  

My informant began the story in the 1950s by describing the rodent infestation in the Halcyon House. A seemingly typical household repair was converted into a ghost story when a carpenter was hired to seal off the basement from the rest of the house. When the carpenter was laying the final brick that would seal of the basement, he felt a strong gust of wind and heard a scream. With no logical earthy explanation, those involved turned to history.

The Halcyon House is rumored to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. Due to its location near the Potomac River and proximity to Virginia, the Halcyon House could have been the final stop for runaway slaves on their way to freedom. Slaves who did not make it to freedom across the Potomac would have been trapped in the Halcyon House. Some reason that the scream from the basement came from the spirits of slaves who were upset that their path to freedom was being permanently sealed off.

My impression of this story is that it signifies a reanimation of history. In other words, American history is made new through this ghost stories of the Underground Railroad. The story acts as a reminder of a period in American history that should not be forgotten. To dramatize its memory, the Underground Railroad was translated into a ghost story.