Beyond the halls of power, Washington might not seem like a very spooky place. Nearby Baltimore or Richmond seem far more haunted, with the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe or Hannibal Lecter or the Confederacy. Washington, D.C., instead, conjures images of the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Transportation.
That impression, however, is dead wrong, as the metro area is home to some of the country’s scariest sights.
Start at Seneca Creek State Park in Montgomery County with a picnic, but make it pre-sunset because the park closes at nightfall. Good thing, too, as you wouldn’t want to run into the Blair Witch. Fictional though she may be, the eponymous movie terrified moviegoers and was shot right in D.C.’s backyard. Enter if you dare.
Navigate the Beltway so that you come back to the city by crossing the Key Bridge, coming from Virginia. Sure, that will take you out of your way, but it will bring you into the District at just the spot where Father Karras took a tumble with little Regan MacNeil’s The Exoricst demon, Pazuzu. Park at the adjacent gas station for a good long look at the infamous steps, always a popular spot for Halloween.
Beyond cinematic spooks, some say that the Decatur House on Lafayette Square is haunted by a genuine ghost. If Commodore Stephen Decatur, the American naval hero who died — married yet childless — in the house following a duel in 1820, is the specter in question, we may have a gay ghost on our hands. In Conduct Unbecoming, Randy Shilts wrote about the possibility of Decatur’s romantic attachment to fellow Navy officer Richard Somers, whose ring Decatur wore.
Washington’s spookiest setting, however, may be one of its newest: Nationals Park. If Poltergeist taught us anything, it is that you should never, never, never build atop sacred ground. If mysterious, ghostly rings appear in the bathroom stall partitions of the men’s rooms, or should phantom, naked spirits — save for the socks — appear above the pitcher’s mound at midnight, no one should be surprised.