So many stories that come from Washington D.C.’s Capitol Hill involve the fanatical, the fraudulent, the fickle and the faithless that it’s always a pleasure to run across a story of someone who was faithful till death and beyond. John Alexander tells the story of the Lonely Lady of Honeymoon House in his 1998 book Washington Revisited: The Ghostlore of the Nation’s Capital.
In the 1840s, a doting father of a blushing bride gave her and her fiancee a marvelous gift: a home, built especially for them on Capitol Hill, which the neighbors nicknamed Honeymoon House. The couple married and drove to their new home in eager anticipation of their first night as a wedded couple.
Something went terribly wrong, though. Just at dusk, the groom stepped outside–possibly for a last smoke before bed–and vanished.
His disappearance was a nine days’ wonder to the newspapers of the day. The Evening Star reported that, although the young man was reputed to be rich, his bankbox (in our day, a safe deposit box) contained only a few worthless stock shares. Others hinted that he had taken his new wife’s dowry and run for it, but could find no proof of such shenanigans.
His wife, a beautiful, intelligent, socially prominent woman, was no help whatever. Any mention of her missing love would send her into hysterics for many years after. Eventually, the hysterics gave way to a fixed idea: he would return to her someday, and when he did, she would be ready.
She spent hours each day cleaning the home they would have shared: polishing silver, washing bedclothes and curtains, sweeping, mopping, any of the endless tasks of keeping a large home by oneself. And each evening, she would bathe and dress herself in the wedding night finery she had never gotten to show off to her husband, brush out and braid her long dark hair, and then wait for him. On nights when she could not sleep, she wandered the halls of their home with a kerosene lamp.
She kept these rituals up for more than half a century, as her lovely body loosened and sagged, her lovely face wrinkled and paled, her lovely hair silvered and thinned. And as she aged, so did her home.
The house grew to look more and more derelict, until finally the local health authorities condemned it as unfit for human habitation and set a date by which the old lady had to be out of it.
She had neighbors who had looked out for her as she aged, and one of them came to offer to help her move. The lonely old soul, by now nearly ninety years old, merely shook her head and said, this house is good enough for me.
As if she knew her own days were not long, she promised the neighbor a sign that she was all right: each day she would raise the shades at a particular front window. If he ever saw the shades closed, he was to come at once.
Barely a week later, the neighbor saw, one morning, that the shades at that window were still down. The doors from the street were all locked from the inside, and he had no key. He summoned a policeman, and together they broke in to find the old lady lying on the threadbare carpet in the parlor, paralyzed and bleeding. Apparently she had been stricken with apoplexy and fallen, cutting her face badly, while trying to reach the sofa. In any case, it was too late to summon medical help; the two men could only watch and pray as the old lady died.
As is often the way with such things, the health authorities’ condemnation of her once-beautiful home was not carried out for two decades or more after the old lady’s passing. It was torn down, at last, sometime in the 1930s. In all that time, only one person ever entered the deserted house: that person reported that the air in the house was icy-cold and had a scent of cleaning soaps and perfume.
The neighbors would not enter the house at all, for, they reported, they could see, through ragged curtains and broken panes of glass, the old lady, still wandering the halls with her kerosene lamp, restlessly awaiting, as she had in life, her husband’s return.