My photographer niece Amanda posted a link at Facebook this morning to the grave monument of American expat sculptor William Wetmore Story, which reminded me of this story, originally posted in January 2009, when the Obamas stayed at the Hays-Adams Hotel in DC prior to the inauguration.
Marian Hooper Adams (1843-1885) was the wife of Washington man of letters Henry Adams, the grandson and great-grandson of presidents John Quincy Adams and John Adams. The daughter of wealthy Bostonians, Clover, as she was universally known, met Henry in London; although they did not fall passionately in love, they shared enough common interests to make them compatible, and were married in 1872. They were a popular couple in the Washington of the day. Their closest friends were John M. Hay, once private secretary to President Lincoln and later Secretary of State in the McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt administrations, and his wife, Clara Stone. So attached were the two couples that they had houses built side by side at 16th Street and H Street NW, overlooking the White House across Lafayette Square, where today stands the Hay-Adams Hotel (built on the site in 1928, after the Hay and Adams houses were torn down). Clover, however, died before she could move into the twin houses.
Clover Adams was, judging from references to her in the letters and diaries of friends and family, a warm, witty, highly intelligent woman. She was, oddly enough in the man’s world of 1870s Washington, a gifted photographer who had her own darkroom in the various houses she and her husband—the couple were childless—shared over the thirteen years of their marriage.
Clover was physically fragile, prone to asthmatic ailments which the humid climate of Washington (which is, after all, built in a swamp) only aggravated. She also had a history of depression. On December 6th, 1885, following the death of her beloved father, hard upon rumors that Henry was carrying on an affair with a woman in their social circle, she took her own life, apparently with potassium cyanide, a chemical used in developing photographs at the time. Henry found her lying by the fireplace in her bedroom in a house on H Street they were living in while their new home was being finished. She was only forty-two.
Henry Adams’s conduct following his wife’s death strikes a modern observer as curious, to say the least. He destroyed all the letters she had written to him over the years of their relationship, and all but two photos of her—the two he did not destroy were in the possession of family members. Nor did he mention her a single time in his award-winning autobiography The Education of Henry Adams, published in 1918. Moreover, he caused a minor scandal in DC society over the grave monument he commissioned from the renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens for her grave in Rock Creek Cemetery. His exact instructions to Saint-Gaudens were to make a monument “that would not be intelligible to the average mind”. Saint-Gaudens followed those instructions to the letter. The bronze statue that marks the grave is one of the strangest I, at least, ever saw:
Saint-Gaudens himself gave the statue the name “The Mystery of the Hereafter and the Peace of God that Passeth Understanding”; others, struck by its studied melancholy, have called it “Grief”. The monument, furthermore, bears no identification: no name, no dates, not even that ambiguous designation “beloved wife”.
Henry Adams himself didn’t like it at all, and not because of its sorrowful aspect; it apparently wasn’t aesthetically pleasing to his eye, not to mention that in his later years he worried that people would forget what a witty, joyful person Clover was when her depressions and anxieties weren’t overwhelming her. In other words, he thought it called attention to her grave of a morbid sort she wouldn’t welcome. As for removing it, though, he merely dithered over the question and never took any action on it.
Clover Adams, it is said, haunted the upstairs bedroom in her temporary home on H Street for many years, to the point that the house became impossible to rent. People who occupied that bedroom often were startled by the filmy figure of a woman in an oak rocking chair over in one corner. She seemed to emanate an air of such sorrow that the observer who saw her would be overcome by it and burst into tears, at which point she would vanish. The earliest reports of this haunting go back to the 1890s, according to John Alexander’s Washington Revisited: The Ghostlore of the Nation’s Capital (1998; revised edition). That house was eventually torn down.
In theory, Clover should not haunt the Hay-Adams Hotel. She never lived in the house Henry built for them on the site, and the hotel itself was not built for more than forty years after her death. Henry Adams, however, lived in his house from the end of December 1885 until his death in 1918. It may be that her spirit moved there once her original haunt was destroyed. At any rate, even a Wiki article about the Hay-Adams says that she is seen, particularly in the last weeks of December, in a room on the fourth floor of the luxurious hotel. She has been known to give people hugs, says Wiki, and occasionally is heard crying and asking the question, “What do you want?”
Sightings of her have also been reported in the area of her grave, near that oddly compelling monument—a small, wispy woman wearing the fashions of the mid-1880s.