Cemetery of the Month: Congressional, Washington, DC

When I was growing up in Washington, DC, Congressional Cemetery was known primarily as a place where one could get mugged, buy drugs, or bust up a few gravestones. The neighborhood had deteriorated, and the owner of the cemetery (Christ Episcopal Church) no longer had the funds to properly maintain the acreage.

On one sad night, in 1973, vandals went on a rampage in the cemetery, and when they were done, five crypts had been broken into and robbed–valuable jewels taken, according to some reports, which means these vandals weren’t afraid of digging around in some serious human goo–and one hundred and fifty tombstones were overturned.

What saved the place?

Volunteers. $$$ from the Feds. Dogs. Also goats.

More on that to come. First, it’s good to know the cemetery has been pretty well spruced up. Congress provided some funding for maintenance, through the Veterans’ Administration, and volunteer groups have done great work raising money and taking care of the place.

Here’s how it looks, in part, today.

Congressional Cemetery fence - Washington DC - 2012

For a long time, Congressional was THE place for national and local politicians to be planted. Some, however, chose to be buried elsewhere, but were remembered nonetheless in Congressional. Hence, various parts of the cemetery boast long lines of cenotaphs bearing the names of men such as Charles Sumner and Henry Clay.

Treat yourself to something chocolate if you are (a) not a cemetery enthusiast, but (b) remembered that a cenotaph is a monument to someone not actually buried in that spot.

CLOSER VIEW OF CENOTAPHS ALONG ROADWAY - Congressional Cemetery, Latrobe Cenotaphs, Eighteenth and E Streets, Southeast, Washington, District of Columbia, DC HABS DC,WASH,255-2

Other famous names here include Matthew Brady, Civil War photographer who, unaccountably, has two gravestones . . . here

Mathew Brady's grave

and here.

Mathew Brady's grave 1

J. Edgar Hoover, fenced-in, perhaps to keep the Commies away.

QR CC J Edgar Hoover

John Philip Sousa provides a nice bench on which one can rest weary feet.

John Philip Sousa (12927944)

There’s also Elbridge Gerry, VP to James Madison and bestower of the scourge that is gerrymandering; Benjamin H. Latrobe, Architect of the U. S. Capitol; and Robert Mill, designer of the Washington Monument, to name just a few.

The real fun in Congressional Cemetery, however, lies in getting to know some of the other inmates, lesser known folk who boast some interesting stories as well.

For example, there is–or was (remember those destroyed tombstones?)–a statue of a young girl, dressed in late Victorian garb, dedicated to Marion Ooletia Kahlert, who died at the age of ten. For many years Marion was reputed to be DC’s first traffic fatality, killed on 25 October 1904 by an errant bread truck.

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