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Experience Builds Character
Historic preservation often focuses on a place where a famous person spent some quality time – George Washington slept here! Or where important things happened: a battle waged, a treaty signed, a village established. It’s generally not about the land itself but about the things that happened on the land.
Certainly, an historic cemetery celebrates the people who are spending quality time on, or rather in, the land. But an historic cemetery also celebrates what has happened to the land itself. The texture of the land, the gentle undulations of the sod above its old graves speak to us of the journey the land itself has taken.
If you visit an old burial ground in the early evening, you will experience the land in a way most historic sites cannot ever hope to share. As the sun sets beyond the horizon, shadows gently rise up to claim the shallow depressions, leaving no doubt as to what the place is all about. Even if you took away all the headstones, you wouldn’t need an interpretive sign to tell you it’s a graveyard.
At each of several thousand three-by-eight foot plots the earth has been disturbed, opened up to accept someone to his or her final resting place. And as those mortal remains return to the earth, dust to dust, the ground settles back down to close the final chapter of that life. It is a profound thing that has happened and the texture of the ground is what tells us it has happened. The experience of the land itself speaks to us as forcefully as the old tablet upon which the name and dates have been inscribed.
One of the important missions of an historic site is to call upon us to examine our own lives, to apply the lessons of what happened here to ourselves. Are we rising to the challenges of our life, are we making our communities better places? The character of an historic graveyard raises these questions in a profound yet subliminal manner. When a shallow depression is all that’s left, we can’t help but pause to consider what mark we will leave after we have passed this way.
©2014 Historic Congressional Cemetery