The House of the Americas was built on the site where the aristocratic Van Ness mansion, named for its owner John Van Ness, once stood. The mansion was the first residence in the district of Columbia to have both hot and cold running water, a luxury unheard of at the time. After the death of John Van Ness, his heirs chose to live elsewhere, for several years.

Leaving the mansion empty  In fact, the house was vacant for so long that it began to acquire an eerie reputation among the city's inhabitants. It was said that six headless white horses could be seen cantering about the grounds on the anniversary of their master's death, hoping to provide him with one last ride. It was also reported that the forlorn ghost of Mrs. Van Ness could be spied wandering from room to room, waiting in vain for the reappearance of  her beloved husband.


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