OOOOO, what a delicious DC scandal this story would make in our twenty-four hour newscycle day and time! Alas, it only involves a politician, and that one from pre-Civil War times, tangentially. The rest of the story is about how the past can have an unsettling and even deadly way of creeping up on us. John Alexander tells the tale in the 1998 edition of his book Ghosts: Washington Revisited.
The story doesn’t begin in Washington, though; it begins on a stagecoach on the long route from Macon, Georgia to the federal city. Aboard that coach was a plantation owner’s daughter, a runaway who carried with her a secret: she was decamping because she had taken one of her father’s slaves for a lover. Her father had caught them in the very act in a hayloft; he shot the slave to death, beat the girl and locked her into her room, and then embarked on an unparalleled attempt at spin control that hadn’t worked; the scandal was all over pre-War Atlanta in a heartbeat. Worse yet, the girl’s planter fiance was breathing vengeance. As Shakespeare said, the better part of valor is discretion; the young lady deemed it best to leave Georgia forever.
On that same stagecoach was a middle-aged member of Georgia’s congressional delegation, a married man whose wife didn’t accompany him to DC, preferring to remain in Georgia with their family. Over the several days it took to make the journey, the congressman and the belle struck up a very intimate friendship. By the time they got to DC, the friendship was such that he established her in a respectable (^_^) boarding house where he could pay her discreet visits.
The young lady was well-educated as well as a sensual creature, and she had an idea: she wanted to set herself up in business. Her reputation, had DC society only known about it, was in irreparable tatters anyway, so why not in for a penny, in for a pound? She persuaded her congressman lover to advance her the money to buy a house (said to have been a Revolutionary War era mansion on 29th Street in DC’s tony Georgetown district) where, over the next few years, she established the most elite brothel in the city. Consisting of only four highly educated and sophisticated ladies like herself–more like the courtesans of old than anything–with herself as the madam, it catered only to the most distinguished clientele. She reserved herself strictly for her congressman.
And so a few years went by, business was booming–if understated–and then, one unlucky day in late spring, the girl’s fiance, whom she had thought never to see again, found her.
Witnesses said a shabbily-dressed man, bearded and stinking of whiskey, knocked on the door, which was answered, not by a servant, but by the madam herself. Despite his obvious deterioration, she recognized the man immediately, as he recognized her. She tried to slam the door, but he stopped her by grabbing her wrist and hitting her across the face. So violent was the blow that it broke his grip on her arm, and she was able to get away, but only temporarily; he followed her as she raced up the stairs to seek safety in one of the upper rooms. He cornered her in one just at the top of the stairs.
Those down below, shocked into paralysis, heard one single scream, cut off short. They moved then, rushing upstairs to find the man gone through an open window and the madam dead, her killer’s fingermarks still visible where he had wrung her neck.
The murderer was never caught, and the Georgia congressman discreetly sold the house on 29th Street.
Unfortunately, those who lived there in after years found it a haunted place.
In reports dating from very shortly after the madam’s murder and continuing up to at least 1934, tenants of the house said that a tall, beautiful young woman dressed in blue, with starchy and rustling petticoats, was repeatedly seen on the staircase and in the upstairs hall, apparently still trying to escape the killer behind her.
He was never seen or sensed: only her, the beautiful young madam.
John Alexander says he was never able to establish exactly which house on Georgetown’s 29th Street was the one haunted by the Murdered Madam; he believes it may have been torn down sometime after that last report of her ghost, which appeared in an August 13th, 1934 edition of the Washington Evening Star, an apparently now-defunct newspaper.