D.C. The Demon Cat

We need to talk about the Capitol building in Washington DC. Something huge has come to my attention and I need to share the news with you before it’s too late. Riots? Old news. We need to talk about the demon cat that haunts its hallways.

The snappily named ‘Demon Cat’, or ‘D.C.’ for short, is one of several reported ghosts that haunt the sprawling government buildings in Washington D. C. Haunting alongside the spectral moggy is the ghost of a civil war soldier (who died in the buildings following their brief use as a hospital) and John Quincy Adams (the 6th US President), locked in an eternal final speech; a very patriotic cross section of the netherworld.

In the mid-19th century, cats were brought into the government buildings to deal with the rodents that made their home in the basement. And one such cat loved its job so much that it didn’t leave, long after its body was dead and gone.

D.C. is specific in its haunting, roaming around the basement crypt of the Capitol Building; a space that was originally intended as George Washington’s burial chamber.

As with many feline superstitions, D.C. is a particularly unlucky spectre, mainly appearing before tragedies and presidential elections (which could be seen as tragedies in some instances), and was reportedly spotted before the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy.

When he’s not busy being a harbinger of political doom, D.C. frequently appears to unsuspecting security guards. One guard reportedly died of a heart attack after witnessing the ghostly cat. In the 1890s, D.C. briefly vanished after several alarmed and armed guards shot at it (shooting a cat, delightful).

But how do you know if you’ve spotted D.C. and not your common or garden ghost cat? D.C. is commonly described as being a black, unremarkable, normal sized cat. However, he has also grown to the size of a ‘giant tiger’, growing up to ten feet tall when startled.

When spotted, D.C. pounces at its victim, disappearing before making contact. In other more bizarre instances, D.C. simply ‘explodes’. Which is a truly reassuring image.

Steve Livengood, chief tour guide of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society is widely quoted as the authority on D.C’s strange legacy. Livengood recounts that the Capitol police force predominantly consisted of friends and family of congressman, hired as personal favours, who would turn up to work incredibly drunk.

“The night watchmen were not professionals. They would often be some senator’s ne’er-do-well brother-in-law that had a drinking problem.”[1]

As such, Livengood isn’t a believer in the existence of the ghost cat, but believes the legend started when a drunk guard was licked by a cat, believed it to be an enormous creature, reported it to his superior and was sent home to sleep it off. The rest of his workmates soon cottoned on that seeing the ‘demon cat’ meant a night off from work, and as such the legend of D.C. began in earnest.

Although ghostly in matter, D.C. has remained in the consciousness of the Capitol due to the physical evidence he left behind. In the Small Senate Rotunda, there is a patch of concrete marked with the shallow imprint of a cat’s paws. In another part of the building, once more in concrete, are etched the initials ‘D.C’ – Demon Cat.

[Image: DC’s paw prints. Bee Barnett via AtlasObscura]

Again, Livengood comes in with his hammer of rationality. In 1898, the Capitol was damaged by a gas explosion and repairs were made using concrete, at which point  “It’s quite possible that a cat walked across the wet concrete”[2]

The last recorded sightings of D.C. were in the 1940s, following the end of WWII. Even Livengood, on his frequent tours, has never seen the cat, or heard of any contemporary sightings. However, he enjoys and appreciates the story of D.C, saying that it humanises the building –an element understandably lost in any field when politicians are involved. 2020 and 2021 have certainly been tumultuous years, so who knows if D.C will be making a welcome appearance soon. An exploding demon cat would certainly surprise no-one at this stage.

[Bonus Salem because apparently I’m that girl now.]


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