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Ghost-Spirited: Legislators Suspect Office

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Ghost-Spirited: Legislators Suspect Office


By Charlotte Grimes Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau


COPIED FROM: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ARCHIVES Originally published on Saturday, August 10, 1991.


WASHINGTON - Who says Congress has lost its bipartisan spirit?


Not the last two occupants of Suite 1723 in the Longworth House Office Building, that's for sure. Both - a Democrat from Utah and a Republican from New York - have been spooked by eerie happenings that have some folks on Capitol Hill wondering if the office might be, well, haunted.


The current victim of the suspected poltergeist is Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, who moved in last January. Ever since, the lights in his personal office have had spells of flickering. The clock that's supposed to summon members for votes rings at odd times. All for no known reason.


''It's definitely a little spooky,'' moaned David Saybolt, spokesman for Orton, on Thursday. And it's more than just a minor irritation.


The troublesome lamps flank the couch, where constituents sit and watch their congressman appear and disappear in a flickering of lights. Unnerving at best. And the only thing saving Orton from rushing to the floor to cast phantom votes when his clock buzzer goes off is the fall-back alert system,

a personal beeper.


House electricians haven't been able to find a cause, though Saybolt tries to offer a rational reason at least for the flickering lights. ''Modulation of the current because of too many appliances on the line,'' he said, firmly. Then, a little worriedly: ''If that's what it is, you'd think they'd be able to find it.''


At first Orton and his staff didn't think of a ghost. A reporter from Utah, noticing the lights, joked about the possibility - and before you could say ''Ghostbusters II,'' the notion was floating around Capitol Hill.


It gained a little substance when Rep. Susan Molinari, R-N.Y., confirmed that, yes, when she and her staff had occupied the office just before Orton they, too, had a mystery.


For about two weeks last summer, the cleaning staff coming late at night couldn't get in. The door to the empty office would be locked - from the inside.


''That's impossible to do,'' said Chuck Hansen, spokesman for Molinari. ''That was really strange.''


Capitol police bolted and locked the windows, just in case a prowler was coming in after every one else had left. No luck. The Mystery of the Locked Room continued. And then suddenly the lock jiggering stopped, with no culprit apprehended and no earthly reason for it.


With Congress in recess, the Capitol and office buildings are echoingly empty - just the kind of places you might expect to meet a ghost. Orton's experiences have generated their own aura of publicity, with stories in even his hometown paper in Utah. Saybolt, the spokesman for Orton, is taking

quite a ribbing among the few staffers still on the Hill during the recess.


If the office is haunted, he likes to think that it's the ghost of some Republican shocked to death over ''a Democrat elected from eastern Utah.''


At least ''the ghost haunts equally Democrats and Republicans,'' sighed Saybolt.


The whole thing confirms a fundamental truth for Hansen. ''They say that in August,'' said Hansen, deadpan, ''Washington is a ghost town. I guess this proves it.''



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