2 minute readHistory

The Spirit of Clara Barton Lives On

Our fearless founder Clara Barton had an incredible heart for people, working tirelessly to help those affected by conflict and disasters. After her death, people have continued to encounter her legacy and spirit in many ways – from the mundane to the unexplained.

The Unexplained

Many people are big fans of Clara, but what you might not know are some of more mysterious stories that accompany her legacy.

Red Cross staffers, for example, have felt Clara’s presence as they worked in the attic of our national headquarters building in Washington, D.C. At one point, someone was working alone in the attic. They heard footsteps coming up the one set of stairs with access to the attic. They turned to greet the visitor, but nobody showed up.

The Name

If you can count a person’s success by the number of things named after them, Clara rises to the top of the list. Schools across the country bear the Barton name, as well as a major a parkway that runs through the Washington, D.C. area.

Do you have any ancestors named Clara? Wounded Civil War soldiers were sometimes so thankful for the “Angel of the Battlefield” that they named their daughters after Clara.

The Fakeout

View of the central salon of Clara Barton's home in Glen Echo, Maryland
View of the central salon of Clara Barton’s home in Glen Echo, Maryland

At the turn of the century, using a medium to attempt contact with someone who is deceased was very popular. Clara and her group of friends were not exempt from this trend – including her dear friend, Dr. Julian Hubble, who inherited Clara’s home and everything in it.

Mabelle Rawson Hirons, a neighbor of Clara’s family in Massachusetts, took advantage of the spiritualism movement and convinced Dr. Hubbell that Clara’s spirit was speaking through her. “Clara” – speaking through Mabelle – said a memorial to Clara would only be possible if Dr. Hubbell signed the house over to Mabelle.

Following the promptings of what he thought was Clara’s spirit, Dr. Hubbell signed the home over to Mabelle. In turn, Mabelle sold many of Clara’s belongings, pushed Hubbell out of the home and ultimately scammed him out of his inheritance from Clara. (Don’t worry! Dr. Hubbell eventually got the home back. Read more here.)

The Letter

In Washington D.C., you can visit Clara’s Missing Soldiers Office Museum. The building was slated to be knocked down in 1996. Before demolition, a man named Richard Lyons conducted a routine inspection of the building.

Richard Lyons standing in Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum
Richard Lyons

As he stood in what is believed to be Clara’s bedroom on the third floor, looking out the window, Richard felt a tap on his shoulder. Thinking it was his partner returning to the site, he turned around. No one else was in the room, but his about-face made him perfectly aligned to notice an envelope hanging out of the ceiling slats.

Being a curious man with an affinity for history, Richard went to investigate what else might be in the attic. He discovered more than a thousand objects, among which w­­­­as a sign that read “Missing Soldiers Office, Office 3rd Story Room 9, Miss Clara Barton.” These were the rooms where Clara Barton had lived and worked during the Civil War. All because of a tap on the shoulder from someone who wasn’t there at all – at least in the flesh.

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