You’ll Never Believe How Many People Have Died in the White House
Numerous people have lived and worked at the White House, dating back to some of our earliest presidents and their families. But did you know that some people have died at the White House? No wonder at least a few presidents thought the White House is haunted!
The White House Historical Association reports that there have been 10 known deaths at the White House. Read on to discover who has died in the White House over the years, whether they were part of the first family, related to the first family, or simply a civil servant who happened to be working in the White House.
1. William Henry Harrison
- Died: April 4, 1841
One of only two presidents who has died in the White House, William Henry Harrison died in 1841. As The New York Times notes, Harrison has the unfortunate distinction of the shortest-serving president. He died just a month after taking office, ostensibly of pneumonia contracted during his lengthy inaugural address. However, the real cause of his death seems to have been enteric fever caused by deadly bacteria. Harrison would have been exposed to that bacteria through the White House’s water supply, as sewage accumulated on public grounds just seven blocks away.
Next: This first lady died after having a stroke.
2. Letitia Tyler
- Died: September 10, 1842
First lady Letitia Tyler, the first wife of President John Tyler, died at the White House in 1842. As the White House’s website explains, Tyler was the youngest first lady to pass away, and one of only three to die in the White House. Two years before her husband won the presidency, Letitia experienced a debilitating stroke. Thereafter, she stayed in a wheelchair and spent her tenure as a first lady largely skipping public functions. She suffered a second stroke in 1842. Upon her death, even an anti-Tyler newspaper praised the first lady as a loving wife and a friend to the poor.
Next: This president probably died because of contaminants in the water supply.
3. Zachary Taylor
- Died: July 9, 1850
Zachary Taylor, the second president to die at the White House, died in 1850.The New York Times reports that Taylor seems to have died of the same cause that killed William Henry Harrison: severe gastroenteritis likely brought on by sewage-borne pathogens in the White House’s water supply. Some historians had speculated that Taylor was assassinated. But state and county medical officials determined in the 1990s that instead, Taylor could have died of “a myriad of natural diseases which could have produced the symptoms of gastroenteritis.”
Next: This presidential son died aged only 11.
4. Willie Lincoln
- Died: February 20, 1862
One of the most tragic deaths at the White House occurred in 1862, when Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie died at age 11. As The Washington Post explains, Willie died of typhoid fever, which he “probably contracted from contaminated water that supplied the White House.” The Lincolns had lost another son, Edward, in 1850, just before his fourth birthday. But as the Post explains, “the loss of Willie plunged them into an altogether deeper grief and cast a pall over the White House that would linger throughout the war.”Already one of the loneliest presidents, Lincoln was devastated by Willie’s death.
Next: This father-in-law of a president died in the D.C. but was buried in St. Louis.
5. Frederick Dent
- Died: December 15, 1873
Frederick Dent, the father of first lady Julia Grant, died at the White House in 1873. Dent was a soldier and a fur trader, and owned an estate called White Haven in St. Louis. (He also owned more than a dozen slaves, including one gifted to his daughter. Both Dent’s daughter and the slave were named Julia.) Upon Dent’s death, Ulysses S. Grant accompanied his father-in-law’s remains to St. Louis, where Dent was laid to rest.
Next: This diplomat died at a New Year’s reception.
6. Elisha Hunt Allen
- Died: January 1, 1883
In 1883, Elisha Hunt Allen, who served as the Kingdom of Hawaii’s minister to the United States, died at the White House. Allen practiced law and had served as a congressman from Maine. Allen forged connections with the Kingdom of Hawaii, and became Hawaii’s minister to the United States in 1869. He suddenly died in office while attending a diplomatic reception given by President Chester A. Arthur at the White House. At the reception, a celebration of New Year’s Day for the Washington Diplomatic Corps, Allen reportedly suffered a heart attack (PDF).
Next: This first lady died of tuberculosis.
7. Caroline Harrison
- Died: October 25, 1892
The second first lady to die at the White House, Caroline Harrison, died in 1892. During her tenure as first lady, Caroline renovated the White House, helped raise the funds to found the Johns Hopkins University medical school (on the condition that women could attend), and became a founding member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. In the spring of 1892, a doctor diagnosed her with tuberculosis. She died at the White House during her husband’s re-election campaign.
Next: This first lady died of kidney disease.
8. Ellen Wilson
- Died: August 6, 1914
In 1914, first lady Ellen Wilson died at the White House. The White House Historical Association reports that her health failed slowly due to Bright’s disease, which involves chronic inflammation in the kidneys. She died “serenely.” But on the day before her death, she made her doctor promise to tell Woodrow that she hoped he would marry again. She reportedly murmured at the end of her life, “Take good care of my husband.” Her husband took her to Rome, Georgia, her childhood home, to put her to rest near her family.
Next: This press secretary died at his desk.
9. Charles G. Ross
- Died: December 5, 1950
Charles G. Ross, the White House press secretary, died at the White House in 1950. Ross served as Harry S. Truman’s press secretary from 1945 until his death in 1950. He graduated high school with Truman and the future president’s eventual wife, Bess. Ross became a journalist and a journalism professor before working at the White House. He died at his desk after giving a press conference and while he was preparing to make comments to television news correspondents. Truman stated upon Ross’s death, “He fell at his post, a casualty of his fidelity to duty and his determination that our people should know the truth, and all the truth, in these critical times.”
Next: This mother-in-law of a president often insulted him. But he still thought her ‘a grand lady.’
10. Margaret Wallace
- Died: December 5, 1952
Two years later in 1952, Margaret Wallace, the mother of first lady Bess Truman, died at the White House. The most recent person to die at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Wallace moved to the White House with her daughter and son-in-law when Harry Truman became president. Wallace believed that Harry, even as president, was unworthy of her daughter, Bess. Despite her frequent slights and insults, Harry always turned the other cheek. Upon her death, he wrote in his diary, “She was a grand lady. When I hear these mother-in-law jokes I don’t laugh.”
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