The Old DC City Hall and Courthouse is one of the oldest buildings in the District of Columbia, Washington’s former City Hall, located on D Street between 4th and 5th Streets NW, was built in stages beginning in August 1820 but due to chronic underfunding was not finished until 1849. It originally was shared between the federal and Washington City governments, each of whom contributed to its cost. The building was designed by George Hadfield (1763-1826), an early American architect who had been at one point the supervising architect of the U.S. Capitol. At the time of its completion, the building is considered one of the finest examples of Greek revival architecture in Washington.
Since the building was co-financed by the Federal Government, it also doubled as a federal district courtroom. In the nineteenth century, it was the scene of some sensational trials. In 1859, the jury found New York Congressman Daniel Sickles not guilty of the murder of Phillip Barton Key, the son of Francis Scott Key, because of momentary insanity. The same defense did not work for Charles Guiteau, the assassin, of President James Garfield in 1882. A hung jury, in 1867, allowed John Surratt, one the Lincoln Assassinator conspirators, go free.
During the Civil War, the City Hall also served as a hospital. For decades afterward, particularly around Decoration Day, as Memorial Day was then known, the hospital would reek of odor of the wounded and dying long after they had passed on or recovered. For some visitors, they felt it was confirmation of the psychic vibrations of the lost souls that had perished there. Between 1916 and 1919, the Federal Government provided funds to renovate and modernize the old building. Once it was done, the smells of the Civil War disappeared. Perhaps an accidental exorcism had been performed by the renovation. Did the noise of construction scare away the spirits?