I’ve been asked a few times recently where the idea to write a White House ghost story based on true events came from. So I figured I’d share the origins of the novel here in case you were curious.
I’d never heard of President Franklin Pierce. Why would I have? A one-term administration. A leader whose inaction set the course toward civil war. A slice of American history that even historians haven’t bothered with much.
What drew me to write The Residence wasn’t the history, nor was it setting a ghost story in the most famous house in the world. It was the mystery of a marriage.
I came to Franklin by way of Jane, whom I found by accident at the bottom of an internet rabbit hole. On the surface, her profile was the opposite of more celebrated or charming First Ladies. Jane Pierce wanted only to be a wife and mother in small town New Hampshire, yet fate kept pulling her and her husband to seats of greater power. Along the way, she lost all three of her children, the last of whom, Bennie, was the sole fatality in a bizarre train accident that occurred just weeks prior to Franklin’s inauguration. Forced to reside in a palace of grief, she hid on the second floor of the White House and wrote letters to Bennie, pleading for the boy’s return. According to her, he did.
The lore around Jane (dubbed “the phantom of the White House” by the press) includes seances, eccentric behavior, a life of unimaginably cursed luck. So why did the handsome Franklin Pierce choose her in the first place? How did they endure such tragic loss and yet remained devoted to each other both during their years in Washington and after? Why did Franklin refuse to swear his oath on a bible?
Ghost stories are as much about those who witness the supernatural as the spectres themselves. How do spirits – and demons – choose the ones they possess? The Residence is the story of a couple struggling with enormous loss while not being permitted to grieve. It’s also about a secret. A resistance to an ancient darkness that followed them inside the only haunted house whose inhabitants are forbidden to leave.