- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

Carolyn Crouch’s job is a walk in the park. The only catch? The park may be haunted.

Ms. Crouch leads a weekly walking tour of Lafayette Park, a neighborhood near the White House where the “ghosts” of presidents, first ladies, military officers and society mavens dwell.

She is a pied piper of the paranormal. She leads long strings of walkers past the neighborhood’s oldest landmarks, spinning yarns that are at once spooky and gossipy.

Outside the Hay-Adams Hotel, for example, she recalls the curious marriage of Henry Adams, the man who originally owned the property. Mr. Adams’ wife, Clover, killed herself in 1885 and her ghost is believed to haunt the hotel, Ms. Crouch said.

“Sometimes I get the feeling spouses and friends are being dragged along by a true believer, so I try to work in a lot of history to make it interesting for them,” she said.

Ms. Crouch has been leading the Lafayette Park tour, dubbed the “Most Haunted Houses Tour,” for four years. Her company, Washington Walks, also offers walking tours of the District’s best addresses and grandest hotels, as well as tours of neighborhoods such as Cleveland Park, Foggy Bottom and Logan Circle.

She has never encountered a ghost herself. But during one recent tour, immediately after she finished telling a scary story, a bird grazed her head, causing the walkers on the tour to gasp.

“If push comes to shove, I have to count myself as a believer,” Ms. Crouch said. “I have been talking about these ghosts for four years now. I’m certainly open to meeting them.”

On a Wednesday in late October, Ms. Crouch arrives at the Farragut West Metrorail station, where the Lafayette Park tour begins.

It is about 6:15 p.m., but the people who signed up for the tour already are congregating. Tonight’s group, which includes a Boy Scout troop from Northern Virginia, has 30 people, twice the normal number.

“It always gets bigger the closer you get to Halloween,” Ms. Crouch said.

The first stop is an office building at 818 Connecticut Ave. NW, once the site of the home of a tailor who is believed to have murdered his wife. Before the home was torn down and replaced by offices, people claimed to hear moaning and rattling at the site.

Ms. Crouch explains for her walkers the difference between a ghost and a spirit.

“A ghost is someone who died tragically, died violently, died horribly. They are destined for the rest of their lives to repeat whatever happened to them. Spirits are people who died peacefully and return to the place they lived because they liked it so much,” she said.

Ms. Crouch, formerly an actress, tells gripping stories. Her loud, clear voice and her stories hold the attention of the tourists, even the fidgety Boy Scouts.

“I play it straight,” she explains later. “There is no wink-wink, nudge-nudge. No irony.”

Over the next two hours, Ms. Crouch leads her crew to places such as the home of Navy hero Stephen Decatur, the White House and the Hay-Adams Hotel.

As the tour progresses, workers pour out of downtown Washington. By 7:55 p.m., when the group reaches its final destination, the Octagon House, the city feels like a ghost town.

The Octagon, built between 1798 and 1800, was the home of Col. John Tayloe. The ghosts of some of his family members, including a daughter who took a spill down its spiral staircase, still linger, Ms. Crouch said.

In the basement, while Ms. Crouch is showing others around, some of the Boy Scouts peek into a darkened room.

“Dude, I see something,” says one.

“It’s a statue,” says another.

“It’s a cardboard cutout.”

The debate continues until one of the boys fixes his flashlight on the figure.

“Oh, it is a cardboard cutout.”

Ms. Crouch, a Connecticut native, moved to the District to study acting several years ago.

Today, she is the married mother of an 18-month-old daughter. She spends her mornings at home and her evenings leading tours.

She got the idea for Washington Walks while vacationing in London. During the trip, she took a tour that followed the trail of Jack the Ripper.

“Literally on the Virgin Atlantic flight coming back I was thinking Washington would be perfect for something like this,” Ms. Crouch recalled. When she returned home, she discovered no one else was offering walking tours of the District, especially historical or haunted tours.

Most Washington Walks tours are given during the evenings and cost $10 per person for adults and $5 for children. The Lafayette Park tour costs $15, which covers the cost of admission to the Octagon.

The tour concludes at about 9 p.m. The Boy Scouts thank Ms. Crouch before departing.

“This has proven to be the ideal job for me,” Ms. Crouch said. “I control my own schedule and I can be at home during the day. Being with my daughter is very important to me.”

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