About seven years ago, Arciniega was giving a tour to a group of 11-year-old boys when she stopped to talk below a lamppost. “One of the things that Albert hates is electricity,” she says. “I kid you not, I said ‘he hates electricity, it’s the devil’s work, he’d want nothing to do with it’ and the lamppost went out, like, as I said that.” As she continued the story, a dark figure suddenly appeared in the house. “I can still picture it,” she says. “We, like, screamed, running down the street. Now, frequently, I will walk by a lamppost and the light flickers on and off, not just in Georgetown.”
For a while, the experiences spooked her, but she’s learned to embrace her ghostly friend. “I have no issue being known in the community as the girl who likes spooky dark side stuff,” she says.
A North Carolina native, Arciniega, 36, moved to Washington in 2011 with her husband, musician Manny Arciniega, because one of his best friends lived here. Two months later, she embellished her history in D.C. to get a gig as a tour guide for DC By Foot. “Most of tour guiding in D.C. is American history, which I had down pat,” she says.
Now she helps run the company, and its national spinoff, Free Tours by Foot, and she also co-owns Visit DC Tours. The pandemic has hurt the walking-tour industry but she’s still leading (socially distanced) tours, and DC By Foot has plenty of ghost tours lined up throughout the fall. With Halloween looming, Arciniega, now a Silver Spring resident, put a spooky spin on her perfect day in D.C.
I did not drink coffee before I had kids, which means I’ve never in my life had a nice hot cup of coffee quietly by myself. I love the lavender lattes at Open City at Washington National Cathedral because they’re delicious, and it’s such a beautiful and serene space. Hopefully the bells would chime while I was there.
I would go walk around Georgetown by myself. My specialty as a tour guide is Georgetown. I love it, but I very rarely am there other than being a tour guide. I’d like to have a chance to wander outside of the normal tour route.
While I was at the top of the hill, I’d go to Oak Hill Cemetery. My favorite thing to do when I travel is to go to historic cemeteries — they’re full of history, like, what famous person is buried here, and then I can learn more about them. But it’s also really interesting to walk around and look at the headstones of non-famous people, especially in the 1800s where they really got into the ornate headstones. Oak Hill is very hilly, there’s trees everywhere and nothing’s in a straight row. It’s very much more like a park. I never get a creepy vibe from Oak Hill. The people there seem to be very much resting in peace.
The Old Stone House is one of the most haunted buildings in D.C. I want to go there at night, but I’m too afraid. So I pop in during the day. There are dozens of different specters that have been seen in the Old Stone House, some of them a lot less friendly than the others, like George, he’s kind of evil. There’s all these reports of him pushing people down and pulling their ponytails. I don’t want to see him. I’d like to say hi to the friendly old 1800s woman sitting by the fireplace.
For lunch I’d go to A. Litteri, and I’d go when no one else was there so I don’t have to wait in line. I just like roast beef, lettuce and mayonnaise on white, but I love their bread. My husband can join me for this part. He gets a little bit of everything — five different kinds of meats and cheeses and every topping they have — and probably four bottles of wine because he loves their wine.
Then we’re going to go to an afternoon baseball game with the kids. And since it’s October, that means it’s the World Series: Game 5, where we win. We’re huge Nats fans. I don’t count this season. I love [pitcher] Sean Doolittle, but I love his wife, Eireann, more. So I would like to hang out with her while we watch the game.
I have abandoned my family and now I want to go to the Library of Congress, my favorite place in D.C. I love giving tours of it. I love visiting it. But more importantly, I love doing research there. I would like to go down to the stacks, but it’s not normally open to the public. It does seem eerie and creepy because I assume I would be the only person there, surrounded by rows and rows of old books that I can, very carefully and with gloves, read and peruse. I’m sure the library stacks are haunted because I feel like all old abandoned basements full of books should be haunted (hopefully by some scholarly ghosts).
Then I would go to another haunted building, the Octagon House. Beautiful architecture, a really fun place to visit, also, supposedly haunted by dead daughters, both of whom got pushed, tripped or fell or went down the staircase years apart.
I’m going back to Georgetown to go to Martin’s Tavern, my all-time favorite restaurant. When you sit down, they have little booklets that talk about the history there. The family history is great — longest family-run restaurant in D.C. And JFK proposed to Jackie there. There are other sites that also claim that story. I do know they had their engagement party at Martin’s and they ate there frequently. Their baked potatoes are great because they do the right amount of salt at the bottom. I’m a steak-and-potatoes girl. They have a table that’s half a booth and you’re looking at the wall. I’d sit there, alone.
Then I’ll do some trick or treating in Georgetown with the kids. My son, Mahler, 3½, would like to be a ghost pumpkin unicorn. My daughter, Emyn, she’s 1½, so Mahler gets to choose her costume. He wants her to be just a pumpkin.
Next, I’m going to stop by Halcyon House. It’s legit haunted. Then I’d walk down “The Exorcist” steps because of course.
Then I’d go get an Oh My God at Baked and Wired. It’s like this s’more thing from heaven. I have no idea exactly what’s in it, but it’s delicious and very aptly named.
I’d go see a show at Ford’s Theatre, and my husband is playing. He’s a percussionist and plays in musicals in the city. I love sitting in a theater with so much history. A lot of people go with kind of morbid curiosity that the president was killed there. But I really like thinking of it the opposite way: He just loved theater and I love that they honor that. I would love to see “Come From Away,” which premiered there.
Then we’d head over to the Hay-Adams and have a drink at Off the Record. The Hay-Adams is my favorite haunted hotel. I like the speakeasy feel of Off the Record. The hotel itself is supposedly haunted by a ghost who lived in a house that was there before the hotel was built.