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The U.S. Capitol’s ‘Demon Cat’ Legend

Washington, DC, has plenty of ghost stories. The most well-known is that of Lincoln's ghost, but close behind is the Demon Cat, known as DC for short. For most than 100 years, tales of the Demon Cat have been told, especially when people see the cat's paw prints in concrete in the Small Senate Rotunda of the Capitol Building. It's too good of a story to not pass along.   

“The story probably goes back to the post–Civil War era. The main thing is that the people who would see it particularly were the night watchmen,” says Livengood. The most common version of the legend goes that a guard was on patrol one night when he saw a black cat approaching. In those days, cats were not an uncommon sight in the building, introduced to control the rodent population. However as the cat came closer, it grew in size until it was as large as a tiger. The monster cat pounced on the guard, who fell down and tried to protect himself, but the creature vanished in mid-air.

Like most ghost stories, tales of the Demon Cat have a number of variations. Later sightings are said to have scared people to death. The cat’s appearances have also been linked to national tragedies and presidential transitions.

Steve Livengood is the chief tour guide of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. He talked to Atlas Obscura about the Demon Cat and how the legend got started.

(Image credit: Flickr user Nacho Facello)


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