11 People Who Died in the U.S. Capitol
By Jason Plautz
1. John Quincy Adams
After his one term in the White House, Adams became one of just two presidents to return to Congress (Andrew Johnson was the other), serving in the House from 1843 until he died on the job. During a floor debate in 1848, Adams loudly voted "No" on a resolution, then collapsed at his desk. He was moved to the Speakers Lobby where he fell into a coma and died two days later. Interestingly, Abraham Lincoln, then a freshman Congressman, would serve as a pallbearer at his funeral.
2. Morris Michael Edelstein
Edelstein, a New York Democratic Representative, made his final floor speech count. Fellow Rep. John Elliot Rankin of Mississippi had just given an antisemitic speech, accusing "our international Jewish brethren" of trying to "harass the President of the United States into plunging us into the European war." Edelstein, who was Jewish, offered a rebuttal, which closed with:
"I deplore the idea that any time anything happens, whether it be for a war policy or against a war policy, men in this House and outside this House attempt to use the Jews as their scapegoat. I say it is unfair and I say it is un-American. As a member of this House I deplore the allegations because we are living in a democracy. All men are created equal regardless of race, creed or color. Whether a man be a Jew or a Gentile he may think what he deems fit."
Shortly after finishing, Edelstein walked off the floor and had a fatal heart attack in the House cloakroom. When news spread that he had died, the speaker tried to adjourn the House, but first had to wait through five impromptu eulogies.
3. Henry Wilson
Wilson was chosen to replace the scandal-plagued Schuyler Colfax as vice president during Ulysses S. Grant's second term. But just months into his term in 1873, Wilson suffered a major stroke and spent much of the next few years at home in Massachusetts, writing books and resting. By 1875, he had regained enough strength to start plotting a possible presidential run and made it back to Washington with the hopes of presiding over the opening of the new Congress the following year. But that November, Wilson found himself paralyzed after taking a bath in the basement of the Capitol (at the time, legislators had access to marble bathrooms in the basement) and was sent back to his office in the Capitol building to rest. Days later, he was told that one of his former Senate colleagues, Orris Ferry of Connecticut, had died. According to the Senate historian, Wilson said "that makes 83 dead with whom I have sat in the Senate," then rolled over and soon passed away.
4. John Lenthall
Lenthall worked as the Clerk of the Works to architect Benjamin Latrobe during construction of the U.S. Capitol at the start of the 19th Century. Lenthall was working on what would become the Old Supreme Court Chamber, which involved a new and unusual design. Thinking construction was complete, Lenthall removed the wooden supports that were supporting an arch in the room, which collapsed and killed him. Legend has it that Lenthall cursed the Capitol with his dying breath, which is brought up during any construction problem.
5. Thomas Bouldin
Bouldin had served two terms in the House, representing Virginia from 1829-1833 before being voted out. But he was called in just months later when, in August, Rep. John Randolph died. On Feb. 11, 1834, Bouldin rose to address the House, spoke a few sentences, then collapsed and was declared dead on the floor. He was succeeded by his brother, James, who would go on to serve another two terms.
6. William Preston Taulbee
Taulbee had served two terms in the House, representing Kentucky, when he was caught having an affair with a young woman named Laura Dodge, whom he had gotten a job as a patent clerk. Charles Kincaid, a writer for the Louisville Times reported the affair with gusto, splashing it in the paper with the headline "Kentucky's Silver-Tongued Taulbee Caught in Flagrante, or Thereabouts, with Brown-Haired Miss Dodge."
Taulbee did not seek re-election, but instead took a job as a lobbyist that required him to spend a good deal of time in the Capitol. He and Kincaid ran into each other a fair amount after that and Taulbee would insult the reporter or even pull his ear whenever they passed each other in the halls. On Feb. 28, 1890, however, Kincaid got his revenge. Having been roughed up by Taulbee that morning, Kincaid returned to the Capitol with a pistol and shot him on a marble staircase (Taulbee died 11 days later from the wound). It's said that Taulbee's blood is still visible as a stain on the staircase where he was shot.
7. Edward Everett Eslick
Eslick, a Democratic Representative from Tennessee, was giving an impassioned speech on the House floor in June 1932 when he had a heart attack mid-sentence and died on the floor. His widow, Willa Eslick, ended up running to replace him and became the state's first Congresswoman.
8. Augustus Hill Garland
After serving as both governor of and senator from Arkansas, Garland was appointed to be Attorney General under President Grover Cleveland. He made it through a scandal-ridden term, during which he became the first sitting cabinet member to be censured by Congress, then left the White House and practiced law in Washington. In January 1899, Garland was arguing a case in front of the Supreme Court, at the time still housed in the Capitol, when he suffered a stroke and died a few hours later in a nearby office.
9. Unnamed Civil War Soldier
In the summer of 1862, military leaders converted the U.S. Capitol into a hospital for wounded Union soldiers and set up more than 1,000 cots in Statuary Hall. The conditions, however, were horrible and the patients were cleared out by October of that year. But according to legend, at least one who died on site never left. Staffers and visitors say that they've seen the ghost of a Civil War soldier at night in the hall, darting among the statues.
10 and 11. Officer Jacob J. Chestnut and Detective John M. Gibson
Gibson and Chestnut were killed in a 1998 attack on the Capitol by Russell Eugene Weston Jr. Although his motives were unclear, Weston shot Chestnut while entering the building, then ran towards the offices of House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. There he shot Gibson, who fired back and wounded the gunman and allowed him to be apprehended. Both Officer Chestnut and Detective Gibson later died from their wounds and were laid in honor in the Capitol rotunda, the first police officers to receive the honor. The United States Capitol Police Memorial Fund was also created in their honor.
Note: The original version of this article mistakenly referred to Officer Jacob J. Chestnut and Detective John M. Gibson as on-duty security guards. We regret the error.