A White House Ghost Story

The White House at night - Washington DC, United States. There are plenty of White House ghost stories.

The White House at night – Washington DC, United States. By Orhan Cam, Shutterstock. There are plenty of White House ghost stories.

Winston Churchill encounters Lincoln: The most famous White House ghost story

What would you do if you stepped out of the bath tub stark naked – with only a cigar dangling from your mouth – to encounter the ghost of Abraham Lincoln standing in your bedroom? That’s exactly happened to Winston Churchill, if you believe Washington lore. Churchill, who’d been visiting the White House during WWII and staying in the Lincoln bedroom, simply removed the cigar from his mouth and said, “Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.” Lincoln, leaning against the fireplace mantle, smiled and disappeared.

Sir, I believe I am the only man in the world to have received the head of a nation naked.

The story is so famous it made both the Washington Post and a Fact Sheet from The White House Historical Association. But is it true?

Churchill with his iconic cigar.

Churchill with his iconic cigar. A postage stamp printed in Great Britain showing Winston Churchill, circa 1960. Editorial credit: Stamptastic / Shutterstock.com.

Putting the White House ghost story to the test

Richard M. Langworth, a Senior Fellow of the Hillsdale Churchill Project, tackled the White House ghost encounter as a research question. He says the Churchill-Lincoln encounter evolved from a Churchill-Roosevelt encounter that really happened in December 1941 or January 1942. The Japanese had recently attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States had entered the war, and Roosevelt was hosting Churchill at the White House.

Yup, Churchill was naked, but it wasn’t Lincoln he encountered

Roosevelt had just thought up of a great name to call a new international organization he wanted to found after the war: The United Nations. Excited, Roosevelt wheeled himself into Churchill’s bedroom to share his idea. He entered just as Churchill stepped naked from his bathroom. “The Prime Minister of Great Britain has nothing to hide from the President of the United States,” Churchill quipped.

One of Churchill’s bodyguards and one of his secretaries confirmed the story, so it’s likely true. Although Churchill publically claimed to have had at least a bath towel wrapped around him, he did tell King George VI when he returned from Washington, “Sir, I believe I am the only man in the world to have received the head of a nation naked.”

Churchill turned down the Lincoln bedroom

The Lincoln bedroom.

The Lincoln bedroom. The bed wasn’t to Churchill’s taste, so the Roosevelts moved him. Photo by Jack E. Boucher, public domain (government document). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Langworth also referred the White House ghost question to Lewis Lehrman, a Lincoln and Churchill scholar. Langworth says Churchill never stayed in the Lincoln bedroom. He didn’t like the bed. Eleanor Roosevelt put him in the Rose Room instead.

Disappointed? Try some other White House ghost stories

A haunted room.

A haunted room. Photo from Pixabay.

That’s one great ghost story shot down, but if you’re up for White House ghosts during the Halloween season, there’s apparently plenty of them. Lincoln’s ghost has appeared up till the 1980s. There’s also Mary Todd Lincoln, Willie Lincoln, Andrew Jackson laughing and swearing, Thomas Jefferson playing his violin, John Tyler proposing to Julia Gardner, his second wife, in the Blue Room, Dolly Madison fuddling around in the garden, and Abigail Adams hanging up her laundry in the East Room. Check out the Washington Post article and White House Historical Association Fact Sheet listed below.

My advice? Just try not to be naked when you encounter any White House ghosts. They might not be as understanding as Lincoln. (I can hear Dolly Madison and Abigail Adams screaming already.)

But at least you now know how the United Nations got its name.

Do you know any White House ghost stories?

Literature on point:

Theresa Vargas, “Is the White House haunted? A History of spooked presidents, prime ministers and pets.Washington Post, October 30. 2017.

The White House Historical Association, White House Ghost Stories (Fact Sheet).

Richard M. Langworth, “Churchhill’s Ersatz Meeting with Lincoln’s Ghost” and “Nothing to Hide: The Truth about Churchill’s Naked Encounter,” both on Langworth’s website.

Read More

Lincoln’s dog Fido: A Faithful Pet Assassinated Like His Master

Lincoln's dog Fido

Lincoln’s dog Fido (1860); public domain.

Two theories on the popularity of the name “Fido”


Do you actually know a dog with that name? It’s so cliché no one names their dog Fido anymore. Fido has instead become a generic name for dogs: “Bring Fido on vacation.” “Is expensive dog food really good for Fido?”

How did Fido become so popular that the name became generic?

Dog lovers and historians have advanced two theories. One is that Abraham Lincoln’s dog Fido influenced the name’s popularity, the other that is was the Italian dog Fido in WWII. Which theory is right? We’ll look at both against the backdrop of the popular literature of the day to find a clear winner. You might want to have a box of tissues because both of these stories are sad.

Lincoln’s dog Fido: Assassinated like his master

Articles in both Psychology Today and the American Kennel Club attribute the popularity of the name to Lincoln’s dog Fido.

Pharmacy records in Springfield, Illinois indicate Lincoln had a dog already in 1855. He purchased de-worming medication. That dog was probably “Fido,” a yellow lab mix, of whom a few photographs survive. Lincoln decided not to take Fido with him to the White House and left his dog in the care of a friend while he was gone.

A year after Lincoln’s assassination, Fido also met tragedy. A drunken man was sitting on the curb. Fido jumped up him with his dirty paws. In an intoxicated rage, the man knifed the dog. That’s how Lincoln’s dog Fido met his end. Assassinated like his master, said Johnny Roll, a member of Fido’s adoptive family.

Fido’s reputation as the First Pooch, the first presidential dog ever photographed, and as assassinated pet catapulted the name Fido into enduring popularity.

mMonument to the Italian Fido

Tuscanycalling, Dante Square and monument to the Italian Fido, Wikipedia Creative Commons.

The Italian Fido: Ever faithful

A book on dog names attributes the popularity of Fido to an Italian dog belonging to Carlo Soriano. Soriano rescued the dog and named him Fido (“I am faithful”). Thereafter Fido waited for Soriano’s bus every day to accompany him home from work. One day during WWII, Soriano was killed in an air raid while at work. Fido continued to wait for his master at the bus stop every day – another fourteen years – until the dog’s death. Fido’s faithfulness received worldwide attention. Italy even erected a statue of Fido to commemorate his faithfulness.

So which dog made the name Fido famous?

If you peruse old newspapers, you’ll find dogs named Fido going all the back to the 18th century. Lincoln’s dog Fido wasn’t the first with that name. After Lincoln’s death, however, the name occurs more frequently in online newspaper searches, but it’s hard to tell whether that’s due to increased popularity of the name or the availability of more newspapers for that time period.

"Fido" appears as a generic name in a mock trial in 1906.

“Fido” appears as a generic dog name in a mock trial in 1906. “Administrator’s Notice,” Mexico Missouri Message (Feb. 22, 1906). Public domain.

An 1875 review of clerical records of registered dog names a good thermometer reading of the popularity their popularity. Fido was tied for the third most popular, preceded only by Jip and Carlo. Another survey of dog licensing records in Bakersfield, CA indicates that Fido had almost completely dropped out of the list by 1900. Only one person named their dog Fido. A Minneapolis paper of 1901, however, indicates that Fido was still a popular name at a dog show.

By 1906, Fido begins to appear as a generic term for dogs. It was used as the name for a fictional dog in a mock trial. And in 1910, a satirical article about dogs appeared by an author named “Fido.”

Fido as a newspaper author

“Fido” is already writing newspaper articles by 1908. Fido, “There’s Nothing Nowadays Like Being a Flossie Little Dog,” The Spokane Press (July 15, 1908). Public domain.

All that indicates that Fido was popular canine name long before the Italian Fido was even born. Hence, it’s Lincoln’s dog Fido, the assassinated pet, to whom we should attribute the enduring popularity of the name.

 Literature on point:

 Administrator’s Notice,” Mexico Missouri Message (Feb. 22, 1906).

Matthew Algeo, Abe and Fido: Lincoln’s Love of Animals and the Touching Story of His Favorite Canine Companion (Chicago Review Press, 2015).

Dog Names: “The Most Popular of the Pack (1875),” Worcester (Mass.) Gazette via the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer (Aug. 24, 1875).

Dorothy Meserve Kuhnhardt, “Lincoln’s Lost Dog,” Life (Feb. 15, 1954).

Man’s Best Friend,” Minneapolis Journal (Dec. 14, 1901).

Laurie Bogart Morrow, The Giant Book of Dog Names (Gallery Books, 2012).

Popular Dog Names in the Early 1900s,” woofreport (April 12, 2017).

Randy Shore, “Names Increasingly Reflect Dogs’ Integration into the Family,” Vancouver Sun (Oct. 189, 2009).

Fido, “There’s Nothing Nowadays Like Being a Flossie Little Dog,” The Spokane Press (July 15, 1908).

Read More
error: Content is protected !!