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Exploring the Ghosts of the Cannon House Office Building

Explore the wild parties and tragic suicides of the Cannon House Office Building with this look at the obscure stories of its past. Plus, a lost chow dog!
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Taking a look at our web analytics, we see that we are reasonably popular among those of you working on the Hill (with a large spike during August recess – not a lot to do then other than surf the Web).

So, to pique your interest and see if we can write our most emailed article by those of you with @mail.house.gov addresses, we’re going to focus our latest “Three Things…” post on the building you work in (at least a good chunk of Hill GoDCers).

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Cannon House Office Building (Library of Congress)
Cannon House Office Building (Library of Congress)

Of course, keeping true to Ghosts of DC style, only obscure stories that will be great additions

1. No admittance or “watermelon parties” after 5 p.m.

According to an article on September 8th, 1923, wild parties were a common occurrence in the building. When Congress was on recess, the staffers went a little nuts. Remember that this was during prohibition, inside a federal building.

In an effort to stop an epidemic of wild parties which have been held with great frequency in the House Office building during the recess of Congress, the superintendent of public buildings and grounds has had erected this sign in the rotunda of the main floor:

“Visitors not allowed after 5 p.m.”

Policemen stationed at the entrance to the building have been instructed to enforce the rule strictly and they are, much to the embarrassment, if not disgust, of the employes of the representatives.

However, all sorts of reports are current as to the nature of the offense which brought forth the ban on visitors. One is that at one of the parties staged in the office of a dry representative corn whisky and hard cider were the chief liquid refreshments. All went well for a short time until the whisky and the cider got in their work and the men got in a free-for-all fight over the girls. One of the men was knocked against a wash bowl in the room and so badly cut that it was necessary to take him to a hospital.

On the heels of that affair a “watermelon party” was held in the office of a representative on the fourth floor. Corn liquor was also served at that function and the guests became extremely hilarious. Two of the girls dressed like Eve, ran up and down the corridors it is said.

For some time certain offices in the building have been under surveillance and policeman stationed in offices have been able to learn the names of the offenders. Just what action they intend to take has not been disclosed.

I suspect the same shenanigans and tomfoolery exists today, however, mostly located in the bars on Pennsylvania Ave.

DISCLAIMER: If congressional staffers throw a “watermelon party” after reading this post, Ghosts of DC cannot be held liable, nor responsible for any damage caused to federal property (unless GoDC is invited and materially participates).

Washington Post headline 1923
Washington Post headline 1923

2. Pennsylvania Congressman ends his life in office

Samuel A. Kendall (Library of Congress)
Samuel A. Kendall (Library of Congress)

This is a sad and tragic story of Samuel A. Kendall, the 73-year-old Republican representing Pennsylvania’s 24th Congressional District (eliminated in 1983), representing Fayette, Greene and Somerset counties.

On January 9th, 1933, the Washington Post reported on the tragic end to Congressman Kendall’s life.

Seeking from death an anodyne that life denied him, Representative Samuel Austin Kendall, 73-year-old Pennsylvania Republican, yesterday calmly ended his career with a .38 caliber pistol as he sat in his easy chair at his suite in the House Office Building.

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A neatly penned note lay on the dead Representative’s desk, saying he had been unable to “throw off my grief” caused by the death of his wife last August and of a favorite son 20 years ago, and was going to “join them in heaven.”

The body of Representative Kendall was found by William Whelan, House mail clerk, just before 11 o’clock yesterday morning. A number of persons in the office building said they heard a shot some time between 10:15 and 10:45 a. m. Among these was Representative Hall (Republican), North Dakota.

A second note simply declared “notify J. W. Kendall, son, 2401 Calvert street,” giving the telephone number. Another son, Samuel A. Kendall, jr.,  also was notified and, searching among effects of his father at his home, discovered another missive identical with that found on the representative’s desk. This indicated to Capitol authorities that Representative Kendall’s death had been contemplated for weeks. The note found on his desk read:

“Dear children: My work on earth is completed. The sudden death of your dear mother was the most severe shock of my whole life and I have been unable to throw off my grief.

“Every day has added to my sorry, and I can no longer bear my suffering which I have kept from you.

“Mother has been calling me to join her and little Van in Heaven and I can no longer resist th call and am going to join them. Good-bye.



According to the newspaper, this was the first suicide at the Capitol.

Representative Kendall served from 1919 until his death. His term was to expire that year, as he lost the election in 1932. While serving in Congress, his office was 408 in what is now the Cannon House Office Building, currently occupied by Democrat Karen Bass (CA-33)

3. Lost dog takes up home in House office building

Who doesn’t love a dog story? On January 18th, 1924, the Washington Post had a story about a dog who had started shacking up in the building.

A chow dog, aristocratic in appearance, evidently lost ,has been making the House office building his home since Wednesday morning.

Shy of strangers, the chow divides the day between trotting through the corridors and sitting on the front steps, awaiting the return of his owner.

Representative John C. Speaks, of Ohio, yesterday treated the dog to a sumptuous feast of meat. Mr. Speaks said the owner probably can find the chow at the main entrance to the office building.

super poofy chow
super poofy chow

Stay tuned … Longworth is coming up tomorrow!

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