The Surrat House

Posted on November 5, 2019

Washington DC is home to many old and historic sites. To say that DC has seen its fair share of drama and intrigue over time would be an understatement. Not only is Washington DC the capital of our nation, it has also been home to many politicians and historical figures. This makes Washington DC the perfect place for ghosts to come and take up residence.

The Surrat House

This townhouse was located on 604 H Street NW and was three-and-one-half stories tall. It was originally constructed by Jonathan T. Walker in 1843. The building can be described as being in the Greek Revival style. The house is on a lot measuring 29 by 100 feet. The building itself is 23 feet wide and it faces directly out onto the sidewalk on the south side of the street. The house has a depth of 36 feet. The building was redesigned in 1925 so that the first floor could be used as a commercial space.

John Surratt purchased the house from Augustus A. Gibson on December 6, 1853. He used it as a boarding house. After her husband died in 1862, Mary Surratt chose to rent out her private residence in nearby Maryland, to John Lloyd, a former Washington, D.C., policeman and a Confederate sympathizer. Mary Surrat moved into the Washington, DC boarding house. Mary’s son lived there as well and he was soon introduced to John Wilkes Boothe. Boothe would become a regular at the boarding house.

In 1865, the military tribunal trying the conspirators of Lincoln’s assassination heard testimony from residents at the boarding house. They told the tribunal that Surratt had regularly met with John Wilkes Boothe and the other Lincoln conspirators at the house. Lloyd told the tribunal that he had been asked by Surratt to provide field glasses and guns to both Booth and his co-conspirator David Herold. Because of this evidence, Surratt was convicted and sentenced to death. For her role as a member of the Abraha Lincoln assassination plot, she became the first woman to be executed by the United States federal government. She was executed by hanging

The building would eventually be listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on August 11, 2009.

In April, 2011 the house gained some attention with the release of a film about Mary Surratt, The Conspirator. This movie was directed by Robert Redford. As of 2016, the commercial space is now used as a Chinese restaurant, with karaoke rooms available upstairs.

Source [https://scarydc.com/2017/08/02/mary-surratts-ghost/]

Other opinions

Mary Surratt always proclaimed her innocence. In fact, many people actually did believe her. But recently, historians have argued that she had to have known exactly what was going on.

“Mary kept her home open to Booth and all the co-conspirators who came to the house, “according to her biographer Kate Clifford Larson.  She is quick to point out that people came from all over to go to meetings at the house and some of them even stayed overnight. It would be impossible to not know what is going on. And by accounts, Mary Surrat was an intelligent woman too. In addition, Mary Surrat was known to have invited John Wilkes Boothe to the house on many occasions. It seems impossible that she would have no idea of the plot he was cooking up.

How is the building haunted?

This town home seems innocent enough. It blends in with the other buildings and no traumatic event happened on the property. So, why should you visit it?

This building may also house Mary Surratt’s ghost. From the 1870s onward, residents of the building have claimed that Surratt’s ghost is indeed responsible for the incomprehensible mumbling, disembodied voices, and whispers, footsteps, muffled sobs, and creaking floorboards which have unnerved them in the former boarding house.

The ghost is said to be that of Mary Surratt, the convicted conspirator in the Lincoln assassination. Residents claim that her ghost is the one who is responsible for the unexplainable noises and cries heard in the former boarding house, especially on the second floor.  She was also the first woman to ever be executed by the Federal Government. Although her son was also tried by a military tribunal, he was found not guilty.  After her tragic execution, her daughter Anne sold the house for a small amount of money. Ever since, the occupants and visitors to the Surrat house have complained about their unearthly neighbors.

Mary’s early life

Mary Surrat was sent as a young and fatherless girl to be educated by the Sisters of Charity in Alexandria, VA. She actually converted and became a relentless Roman Catholic proselytizer. Mary also strongly identified with the Southern secessionist movement all of her adult life. Unfortunately, this association did not help her case or let her avoid the noose.

At the age of 17, she married John Harrison Surratt. He was also a rabid secessionist and a debt-ridden drunk. The couple purchased 287 acres in Prince George’s County and built a home they also used as a tavern. In addition their property featured  a hostelry, a post office and a polling place in a town that would become known as Surrattsville.Located in a county with deep-seated Southern sentiments ,Lincoln received one vote there in the 1861 election, and with John Surratt’s fierce opposition to Union policies the establishment quickly became a speakeasy for those sharing similar philosophies. There is also some evidence that the Surratt residence, just 12 miles outside the capital, became a safe house for the flourishing Confederate underground.

When John Surratt died suddenly in 1862, his wife was left with the burdens of an encumbered farm. With her elder son, Isaac, serving in the Confederate Army, and with John Surratt Jr. occupied as a Confederate courier, it was impossible for Mary to keep the family business running successfully by herself. At this point she began to rent the Surrattsville property to John Lloyd, and she moved to the boarding house in Washington that had been acquired by her husband years earlier.

Source[ https://scarydc.com/2017/08/02/mary-surratts-ghost/]

Other facts

Mary Surrat has the honor of being the first woman executed by the United States government. She was executed by hanging — her neck was snapped on gallows built specially for the occasion. The gallows were constructed in the courtyard of the Washington Arsenal Penitentiary, which is now Fort McNair. Mary Jenkins Surratt, a widow of 42 and the owner of a boardinghouse on H Street, was convicted and condemned as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Until the end Mary Surrat maintained her innocence. If this is true, then the violent way she died may have condemned her soul to walk Earth forever. Soldiers at Fort McNair have heard a woman crying and begging for help.

At the Surrat house, her former home, she can be found there as well. Her ghost is said to be heard crying and asking for help. People have heard heavy footsteps coming up the stairs and then pacing the floors.

Did she need to be hanged?

The military tribunal were anxious to get a conviction. When Mary Surrat was convicted, the government’s prosecutor hid the recommendation of life in prison from President Johnson, who quickly signed the death warrant.

Conclusion

It is quite possible that Mary Surrat was merely a victim of circumstance. We will never know for sure. Today Mary can be found weeping and begging for help at her boarding house and the Fort where she was hung from the gallows.

If you are in Washington, DC, you can stop by the Mary Surrat house and keep an eye out for her spirit and your ears open to hear her weeping Maybe she truly is an innocent soul condemned to wander the Earth for all eternity.

 

Sources:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1991/10/31/the-haunting-tale-of-mary-surratt/8c1b67d6-7deb-401d-9274-cc540ff22482/

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/the-mary-surratt-boarding-house-washington-dc

https://scarydc.com/2017/08/02/mary-surratts-ghost/