10 people have died inside the White House, including 2 presidents, 3 first ladies, and 1 child

The White House, circa 1846.

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The White House, circa 1846.
source
Library of Congress

  • 10 people have died inside the White House in the 218-year history of the building.
  • The list includes two presidents – William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor.
  • Three first ladies and one first child – Willie Lincoln – also died inside the White House.

The White House has had thousands of occupants over the years, from presidents and first families to White House staffers, chefs, and groundskeepers.

So it’s something of a marvel that in the 218-year history of the White House, only 10 people are known to have died inside the building, according to the White House Historical Association.

That short list includes two presidents, three first ladies, and one first child – Willie Lincoln, the third son of Abraham Lincoln, who died of typhoid fever in what is now the President’s Dining Room.

Read on to learn about Lincoln and the nine other people who took their final breath in America’s most famous residence.


William Henry Harrison, president — April 4, 1841

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Wikimedia Commons

The first person to die in the White House was William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States.

Harrison’s death – just 31 days into his presidency – marked the first time a president died in office. It’s commonly thought that Harrison died of pneumonia after catching a cold while delivering his inaugural address, which lasted a record-setting 105 minutes.

Modern researchers, however, have argued that Harrison actually died from intestinal fever contracted from the White House’s tainted water supply – the same source that may have killed two other presidents from the same era.


Letitia Tyler, first lady — September 10, 1842

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Wikimedia Commons

Letitia Christian Tyler, wife of 10th president John Tyler, died of a stroke in 1842, making her the first first lady to die in the White House.

Three years earlier, she suffered a stroke that left her almost completely disabled, leaving her daughter Priscilla Tyler to perform White House hosting duties when John Tyler became president. Priscilla became the de facto first lady following Letitia’s death until the president remarried in 1844.

Priscilla described her mother as “the most entirely unselfish person you can imagine,” according to the White House Historical Association.

“Notwithstanding her very delicate health, mother attends to and regulates all the household affairs and all so quietly that you can’t tell when she does it.”


Zachary Taylor, president — July 9, 1850

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Wikimedia Commons

America’s 12th president, Zachary Taylor, died in the White House in 1850, becoming the second president to die in the building after William Henry Harrison.

Taylor died of a digestive ailment he likely contracted five days earlier, on July 4, when he consumed large amounts of raw cherries and iced milk on a hot day in Washington, DC. Modern historians argue that like Harrison and James Polk, Taylor died from a stomach disease caused by Washington’s unsanitary water supply.


Willie Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln — February 20, 1862

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Wikimedia Commons

William Wallace Lincoln, the third of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln’s four children, died of typhoid fever in 1862, becoming yet another possible victim of Washington’s unsanitary water supply.

The 11-year-old died in the White House’s Prince of Wales Room, which has since become the President’s Dining Room.

President Lincoln was “grief-stricken” by Willie’s bedside, saying, “My poor boy. He was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!”


Frederick Dent, father of first lady Julia Grant, December 16, 1873

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Wikimedia Commons

Frederick Dent, the father of Ulysses S. Grant’s wife Julia, died in the White House at age 88 in 1873.

He had moved to the executive mansion along with the first couple after Grant was inaugurated in 1869 – putting him on the short list of presidential in-laws who made the move to Washington.


Elisha Hunt Allen, Minister of the Kingdom of Hawaii to the US — January 1, 1883

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Wikimedia Commons

Elisha Hunt Allen, a Congressman from Maine, was prominently connected to the Kingdom of Hawaii and served as a diplomat between the US and Hawaii for more than 30 years.

On New Years Day 1883, Allen died of a heart attack while attending a diplomatic reception at the White House hosted by President Chester A. Arthur.


Caroline Harrison, first lady, October 25, 1892

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Wikimedia Commons

The White House owes many thanks to Caroline Harrison, the wife of 23rd president Benjamin Harrison.

She was noted for overseeing the White House’s extensive remodeling effort, including the installation of electricity, and helped rid the building of its rodent and insect problem. She also introduced the presidential tradition of having a Christmas tree in the White House.

Harrison contracted tuberculosis in 1891 and died in the White House the following year.


Ellen Wilson, first lady — August 6, 1914

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Wikimedia Commons

Ellen Wilson was the wife of 28th president Woodrow Wilson and the mother of their three children.

In 1914, Ellen tripped and fell in her White House bedroom. While the fall was not serious, the physician discovered she was in the late stages of Bright’s Disease, an ailment of the kidneys.

Although the disease would prove to be fatal, both the doctor and Ellen agreed not to tell the president for months. They finally informed him two days before Ellen’s death.


Charles G. Ross, White House press secretary — December 5, 1950

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Wikimedia Commons

Charles Ross, the press secretary for President Harry Truman, died of a coronary occlusion at his desk in the White House in 1950.

Ross was a childhood classmate of the president and his eventual wife Bess Truman, all from Independence, Missouri. Ross became an editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Truman eventually tapped him to be his spokesman.

Truman released a touching statement about Ross upon his death: “The friend of my youth, who became a tower of strength when the responsibilities of high office so unexpectedly fell to me, is gone,” the president said.

“Patriotism and integrity, honor and honesty, lofty ideals and nobility of intent were his guides and ordered his life from boyhood onward. He saw life steady and saw it whole. We shall miss him as a public servant and mourn him as a friend.”


Margaret Wallace, mother of first lady Bess Truman — December 5, 1952

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Wikimedia Commons

The most recent person to die inside the White House was Margaret Wallace, the mother of first lady Bess Truman.

Wallace had made the move to the White House when Harry Truman became president, sharing a bedroom with the Trumans’ daughter.

Margaret and President Truman had a fraught relationship, as even the office of the presidency wasn’t enough to convince Margaret he was good enough for her daughter. She insisted on addressing him as “Mr. Truman” and openly criticized the president regularly.

Still, after her death at the age of 90, Truman wrote in his diary: “She was a grand lady. When I hear these mother-in-law jokes I don’t laugh.”