A Skeptic’s Guide to D.C.’s 'Haunted' Octagon House - Atlas Obscura

Washington, D.C.

A Skeptic’s Guide to D.C.’s 'Haunted' Octagon House

Step inside the iconic 19th century home to learn the truth behind the spooky legends.

Join Atlas Obscura for an alternative ghost tour with Octagon House Manager Maggie Phalen to uncover the home's sordid history and unravel its many urban legends of hauntings and ghostly sightings. One of the most mysterious abodes in the nation's capital, the historic Octagon House has a disreputable history of untimely deaths and forlorn souls. Designed by Dr. William Thornton, architect of the U.S. Capitol, for Colonel John Tayloe III, the oddly-shaped house was one of the buildings spared when the British burned Washington in 1814. After the destruction of the White House, the home became a temporary residence for President James Madison and First Lady Dolley Madison. In the more than 200 years since it was built, the house has seen much tragedy, including the supposed deaths of two of Tayloe's daughters.

Despite stories of hauntings and ghostly sightings, a sharp-eyed skeptic sees only rational causes. The tour will begin with a toast to the home's architect with Thornton's favorite beverage, ginger beer, and continue with exclusive access to parts of the home not normally open to the public. You'll explore the home's sordid history, unique architecture, and dark reputation, viewing the supposedly haunted home through the eyes of a historian.

The old well in the Octagon House basement may be creepy, but is it actually haunted? 


  • There are two tour times for this event: 10 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. Your ticket grants you entry only to the tour time that you've selected.
  • This event is accessible via public transportation. The closest Metro is Farragut West on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines.
  • For those who do decide to drive, street parking is available. 
  • Please note the house has several staircases that we will climb. 
  • This event is family-friendly! 


Contact Rosie Grant at rosemary.grant@atlasobscura.com.

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Advance tickets only. All sales final. No refunds or exchanges.