- About Us
- Tours and Events
- Cemetery Map
- Interment Index
- Archive Finding Aid
Newspaper Clips (1850-1859)
June 18, 1851: Cemeteries, Monuments & the Congressional Burying-Ground
July 11, 1851: Congressional Cemetery
Oct. 12, 1853: Congressional Cemetery Meeting
Oct. 18, 1853: Congressional Burial Ground
Oct. 20, 1853: Congressional Cemetery Meeting
Jan. 31, 1854: Congressional Cemetery
June 15, 1854: Congressional Cemetery
July 6, 1855: Bitten By A Snake
June 4, 1857: Congressional Cemetery
The National Intelligencer, June 18, 1851
Cemeteries, Monuments and the Congressional Burying-Ground
A recent visit to the Congressional Burying Ground, by disappointing just expectation, has led to a few reflections, which are here presented in the hope of inducing some efforts for the extension and improvement of this too-neglected spot.
As Christians and as men of sense, it is alike our privilege and duty to strip Death of those habiliments of horror in which of horror in which it has been clothed by antique barbarism and the icy dogmatism of scholastic theology. The death's head and cross-bones, the ostentatious skeleton, old Time with his glass and scythe, Death on the pale horse and as king of terrors, and the whole legion of symbols drawn by wayward Fancy from her caves of fantasy and darkness, are but the paraphenalia in which weak Faith, uncheered by light from Heaven, has invested the great transition of our spirits. The Egyptians, in that death-brooding vein which was their characteristic, were wont to introduce into their feasts one silent guest-a skeleton; but even they were forced to veil it from sight. Let us not emulate them in the boldness of bad taste. It is a witness atrocity to outrage the soul's finest sensibilities, by accumulating horrors around death, and by an industrious ostentation of the barbaric regalia of the grave.
Genuine Christianity, replete with real faith in a great future, is full of hope and trust in God's goodness. On the grave it plants flowers; for it there is no death, but only change, translation, progression, and scene-shifting in the great drams of eternal life; to it graves are indeed consecrated ground, but not homes of the departed-these live in other spheres; to the heart purified by Christian motives and exalted by a divine philosophy, the grave of a friend is but the place towards which all pleasant memories of the departed centralize, his body but consecrates the ground, and cannot, for its own sake, be dear either to the soul "gone before" or ourselves; the body is but matter, which, having done its appointed service to the spirit-tenant, becomes again what it was before-a few pounds of nitrogen and water and phosphate of lime, scattered wide on manifold ministries.
Graves are consecrated to memories and meditations. We go there to revive our recollections of loved ones gone before. We go there to think on man and his destiny; on the meaning and purpose of his existence and life; on his hopes and prospects in that mysterious future towards which we are irresistibly borne. We go there as to a mount of vision, that we may see life as a whole, and purge our minds from those perspective exaggerations and falsifications which originate in our low every-day point of vision, whence life seems limited by yesterday and tomorrow. We go there to learn the insignificance of those vaulting ambitions which ruthlessly crush our better natures in their impetuous march. In fine, we go there to be wise, for man is never so wise as when standing on the graves of those once like himself. Indeed, how can our daily follies survive when we thus witness in the grave the "end-all" of worldly distinctions and the apotheosis of spiritual greatness?
These remarks shadow forth the high influences actually exerted by places of burial conceived and arranged in a spirit of exalted art. Their mission is to the living hear of man, over which their mute eloquence softly steals, reaching and purifying the very well-spring of his deeds. But alas! How rarely is it permitted this noble art thus to triumph! No structures need higher art than the monumental, and in no department of architecture are failures and monsters so numerous and lamentable. Our monuments still abound in the devices of heathendom, but without the attic grace of proportion and management. Too often they are rude, grotesque masses, graceless in form, unmeaning in expression, and transient as man himself. Unlike houses which, however ugly, may be habitable and of use, monuments which Speak not to the soul are utterly worthless. Better leave the dead uncommemorated than to intrude graceless, incongruous, soul-rasping forms to distract our memories and craze our meditations.
The Congressional Burying-ground is far from being what could be desired. Its natural location is particularly beautiful and fortunate, but art has not seconded this first essential. One great defect is the narrowness of its space. God's acre, the narrow house, man's six feet of earth, seem almost to have been taken literally. Its limits seem to have been fixed according to old churchyard notions, and not at all in conformity with the liberal artistic conceptions to which Greenwood, Mount Auburn, Forest Hills, Laurel Hill, and Mount Hope owe their dimensions and arrangements. At present, it is quite too small to permit its being made a necropolis worthy its intended uses. To a stranger's eye it would seem practicable still to effect a large extension of its limits, particularly towards the northeast. There should be no delay in adding what adjacent ground is obtainable. The dead are already packed away as if on a warehousing system; what, then, will be the condition of the cemetery after a hundred years?
Another great defect is in the material, style, and character of the existing monuments.
The use of Aquia Creek sandstone is almost a satire. A name which is to survive no longer than a monument of this material is indeed "writ in water." Let lovers' vows be recorded on this, but not names destined to solid fame. Italian marble is almost the only material fit for the application. There is a peculiar turpitude of taste displayed in the profuse whitewashing lavished on those wretched Aquia stones. It is like whitewashing a radically base man's character. Having the bad man or stone on hand, it may be indispensable to hide what cannot be cured.
The style of a monument is, in the next place, what stamps its value or worthlessness. It is essential to its good effect that the design shall be such as to please the well-trained eye. There must be unity of design and harmony of proportions. The component forms must be such as, in their final place, will make up a congruous and pleasing picture. Congressional monuments are scarcely better in style than material. There is nothing to commend the particular form used rather than any other. It lacks unity of design. The top block is but a parasite, put on without ideal connection, besides being an ugly form in itself. This monument lacks, also, harmony of proportion. In character it is even more deficient; it really means nothing whatever. A monument which is to be applied indiscriminately to a hundred men could not be expected to mean much, for its meaning would of course be mainly misapplied. From all known cases of "damnable iteration," this routine reproduction, a hundred times over, of the same insignificant form stands out on a "bad eminence." There is a reason why a hundred bricks or barrels should be alike; but you might as well paint identical portraits of five-score members as give them all identical monuments., The actual tout ensemble, too, presents a systematic appearance of salting down, which is atrocious taste.
This total absence of appropriate and congruous character is fatal to those poetic and spiritual influences which give its chief value to a tastefully disposed cemetery. The great redeeming feature of the Congressional cemetery is its rich profusion of trees and flowers; showing that, if nature were but properly seconded by art, the ground would be eminent for beauty. When shall we hail that day?
After these free remarks on existing defects, a few suggestions for improvement are ventured:
First: To have the area as much enlarged as possible, laid out in good taste, and planted with trees and flowers.
Second: To stop entirely the use of that sandstone material, and substitute Italian marble.
Third: To stop that unmeaning repetition of the same bad design, and to adopt a system of independent designs for each new monument.
To obtain these designs, let a moderate premium be awarded for the one chosen. Thus would good designers be called out and encouraged, while it would result in a high style of art being secured. If it be desired to prevent undue expenditure under the impulse of present feeling, Congress could beforehand prescribe a limit for each monument. In assigning their character to these monuments, four courses are open:
First: Each deceased member might have an individual monument.
Second: A larger monument might be erected for each decade or period of ten years, with tablet-space sufficient for all who might die during the decade, and to each grave simple head and foot-stones.
Third: A general monument might be designed, bearing a large number of tablets, all to be filled in succession, and stones at each grave.
Fourth: A monumental building, on an extended scale, with vaults below and interior tables above, might be constructed.
It is here sufficient to make these suggestions, and they are now left to the consideration and care of those who are zealous in good works, not without an earnest hope that in due time they may bear fruit. E.B.H.
The National Intelligencer, July 11, 1851
Crowds of visitors are daily in attendance at the Congressional Cemetery. The ground recently added to the former site is nearly all taken, and indeed is already improved by the erection of many beautiful monuments and other memorials of affection. The Methodists, too, are emulating the example of their Protestant Episcopal neighbors, by enclosing a large portion of their ground, which, up to the present time, has remained unoccupied.
The National Intelligencer, October 12, 1853
Congressional Cemetery Meeting
An adjourned meeting of the lot-holders in the Congressional Cemetery was held, pursuant to adjournment, on Tuesday evening last.
Mr. Lenox, after a few remarks, offered the following preamble and resolutions:
WHEREAS the Congressional Cemetery has been selected by many of the citizens of Washington as the receptacle of the remains of their deceased relatives and friends, and by the Congress of the United States as the burial-place of its deceased members; and whereas in the opinion of this meeting said cemetery requires more careful attention: Therefore--
Resolved, That a committee of five lot-holders be appointed to confer with the vestry of Christ Church parish as to the present condition of the Congressional Cemetery, with a view to the adoption of such measures as will improve and secure for the future such arrangements as will tend to preserve it as a decent and proper resting-place for the dead.
Resolved, further, That, in the event of a failure on the part of the committee to secure the above mentioned objects, they are hereby authorized to call another meeting of the lot-holders as soon as that fact shall be ascertained, otherwise to make publication of the results of such conference, as they may deem proper.
Dr. Coolidge also addressed the meeting; after which the resolutions were unanimously adopted.
In pursuance of the second resolution, the committee will consist of Walter Lenox, Dr. Coolidge, Charles L. Coltman, Andrew Rothwell, and Peter F. Bacon. W.C. Zantzinger, Secretaries John P. Pepper
The Evening Star, October 18, 1853
Congressional Burial Ground
It should be remembered that those interested in the proper preservation of this cemetery are invited to meet this evening, at the City Hall, to hear the report of the committee appointed at the late meeting of those who are anxious to reform its present shameful condition. All lot-owners, and all who have the remains of dear friends deposited there, should surely be present. It is clearly within their power to bring about the desired reform, and if they fail to interest themselves in the matter, they can have none to blame but themselves hereafter.
An adjourned meeting of the lot-holders in the Congressional Cemetery was held, pursuant to adjournment, on Tuesday evening last.
Mr. Lenox, after a few remarks, offered the following preamble and resolution:
WHEREAS the Congressional Cemetery has been selected by many of the citizens of Washington as the receptacle of the remains of their deceased relatives and friends, and by the Congress of the United States as the burial place of its deceased members; and whereas in the opinion of this meeting said cemetery requires more careful attention: Therefore-
Resolved, That a committee of five lot-holders be appointed to confer with the vestry of Christ Church parish as to the present condition of the Congressional Cemetery, with a view to the adoption of such measures as will improve and secure for the future such arrangements as will tend to preserve it as a decent and proper resting place for the dead.
Resolved, further, That, in the event of a failure on the part of the committee to secure the above mentioned objects, they are hereby authorized to call another mentioned objects, they are hereby authorized to call another meeting of the lot-holders as soon as that fact shall be ascertained, otherwise to make publication of the results of such conference, as they may deem proper.
Dr. Coolidge also addressed the meeting; after which the resolutions were unanimously adopted. In pursuance of the second resolution, the committee will consist of Walter Lenox, Dr. Coolidge, Charles L. Coltman, Andrew Rothwell, and Peter F. Bacon. John T. Towers, Chairman W.C. Zantzinger and John P. Pepper, Secretaries
The western walls of the Congressional Cemetery are now taken down preparatory to building new walls and extending the grounds.
Some time back we furnished our readers with an account of the Oak Hill Cemetery on the Heights of Georgetown, we will now give a slight account of another cemetery situated at the other extremity of Washington, known as the Congressional Cemetery, and which, like to former is well worthy of a visit. The Congressional Cemetery is situated east of the Capitol and was formerly known as the Washington Parish Burial Ground. It comprised some time back an area of ten acres, but is now considerably enlarged, the original burial ground being rather thickly occupied with vaults and tombs. The cemetery is laid out in avenues and walks, and as the visitor proceeds down the chief avenue, he sees on either side the family vaults of our principal citizens. But what most arrests the attention, are the four rows of monuments erected by Congress, in memory of those Senators and Representatives who have at various times died in this city. These are, generally, monuments to departed Congressmen, rather than graves containing their remains, for here are inscribed the names of Henry Clay, Calhoun, John Q. Adams, Robert Rantoul and others, amounting to over a hundred statesmen, whose names are perpetuated in the record of history. Besides these there are many similar monuments of an earlier date in another part of the cemetery. It is to be noticed that these Congressional monuments are all exactly alike in size, form, architecture and dimensions, and apart from the names inscribed on them, contain nothing of particular interest. They are all built of white freestone, and in many instances the names are becoming nearly illegible. We would propose, as an improvement, that the lettering upon them should be painted black, that they may be the more easily deciphered. Interspersed among them are, however, many handsome monuments, erected to the memory of various meritorious officers of the United States service. Here is the monument to Major General Macomb, whose services at Plattsburg are faithfully recorded on it. It is a handsome monument surrounded by a sculptured helmet, and other devices emblematic of his profession. A handsome broken column commemorates the name of Major General Brown. Here, also, under a plain tombstone lie the remains of the Hon. Henry Stephen Fox, the British envoy, who died in Washington, while holding his office in 1846; he was the nephew of the celebrated Charles James Fox, the well known British orator and statesman. A monument commemorates, in another part no great distance off, the victims of the ill-fated explosion on board the Princeton, in 1841. In another part of the grounds, situated near the banks of the river, and commanding an extensive view of the Maryland shore, is a handsome marble column in memory of Lieut. McArthur, erected by his brother officers of the coast survey; the shaft of the column is ornamented with an anchor, and a surveying instrument, typical of his occupation, is carved on the base of the same. The memory of some other officers of the Coast Survey, is appropriately commemorated by a monument, representing a broken mast, supported on a pedestal. The gallant seamen to whom it is erected, are Lieut. G.M. Bache, and those officers and seamen of the brig Washington, employed on the coast survey, who perished in September, 1846, during a hurricane off Cape Hatteras. It was erected by their surviving shipmates. Another unique monument, rather original in its idea, is that to Lieut. John T. McLaughlin, representing a cannon, placed on the breach end, on a pyramid of cannon balls. A small marble cross marks the resting place of General John McNeill, and whilst glancing at it, we were struck with its modest humility contrasted with the aspiring pretensions of two lofty columns in the same grounds, which recorded the deaths of some infant children. The memory of the celebrated New York statesman, George Clinton, to whom that State owes so much of her prosperity, and, who was also once Vice President of the United States, is commemorated by a handsome free stone monument, surmounted by a pyramid adorned with a medallion likeness of the legislator, the cap of liberty, the fascias, and other insignia of ancient republicanism. Another Vice President, Elbridge Gerry, has a handsome monument, on which is inscribed the famous epitaph, that he died acting up to his declaration, that if a citizen had but a day to live, he should devote it to the service of his country. An interesting spot is that which marks the grave of the Choctaw chief, Push-ma-ta-ha, the friend of the white man, whose last wish was that the big guns should be fired over his grave, as recorded on his tombstone. The monument was erected by his brother chiefs.
And here let us close, for we have exceeded our limits; but we will on a future occasion mention some other of the monuments contained within the precincts of the Cemetery.
The Evening Star, July 6, 1855
Bitten by a Snake
A Mrs. Kirk, a widow, who went, yesterday to visit the grave of her husband in the Congressional burying-ground, while walking through the tall grass in the enclosure, was severely bitten upon the knee, and fell after walking three or four yards from where it occurred. The wound instantly swelled and became black. The whole limb was also swollen enormously. She was carried over to the almshouse, where medical and other assistance was rendered to her. The physician is of opinion that the wound was occasioned by a snake bite. Today, she is able to walk, though, but for the fact that she received medical assistance immediately, she would probably have been a much greater sufferer. Take care to carry a doctor along when you walk through the rank grass and weeds of the Congressional burial ground.
The Evening Star, June 4, 1857
This place was known in the year 1800 and for some time thereafter as Tingey's burial ground. The first tombstones erected there were in the year 1804. The place had for a few years previous been used as a common burial ground for those who had occasion to bury their dead, on the same plan as is common in all country parishes. The good people of Christ's Church, Navy Yard, in the year 1812 took the ground in hand, and it was thereafter called, "The Washington Parish Burial Ground." They adopted certain regulations for the purpose of protecting the place, and enclosed it with a brick wall. The ground then comprised a very limited space, and as it gradually filed up portions of adjacent land were purchased and added to it until it covered an extent of about seven acres. Congress began to bury its dead here, and since that time it has been called the Congressional Cemetery, and appropriations have been made from time to time by Congress for the purpose of keeping it in repair. The last purchase made amounted to about seven acres in addition to the old ground, and now the entire grounds extend over a space of about fourteen acres. Situated on the sunny side of a ridge which skirts the western shores of the Anacostia, it slopes gracefully eastward till its verdant edges meet and embrace the waters of that beautiful stream in whose mirror-like depths its cypresses and funeral monuments are sadly repeated.
The remains of some of the most distinguished men in our country's history lie in their long sleep within the Congressional burial g round, and monuments in memory of those whose voices were wont to be heard at the forum and in the hot debate of Congressional legislation, arise on every side, pointing out to man the impotence of his boasted greatness and wisdom, and "how like a leaf we fade." Since the Federal Government was removed to the District there have died during its sessions some one hundred and thirty members of Congress. In former times the old Rock Creek grounds were used by Congress when occasion required. What number of Congressional interments were made there is now known.
Among the monuments in the Congressional ground, one of the most prominent is the exquisitely modeled marble tomb, surmounted by an octagonal column, indicating where rest the remains of the eloquent William Wirt.
A short distance to the west, a weather-stained monument marks the grave of Capt. Beverly Kennon and Judge Abel Parker, two of the lamented victims of the explosion upon the Princeton. The friendship which existed between them is touchingly told by the following:
"The lamented men who lie together beneath this stone were united by the ties of a friendship which commenced in youth and experienced no interruption till the awful moment when the lives of both were terminated by the explosion of the great gun of the Princeton frigate. United in life, in death they are not divided."
Nearby, among the Congressional monuments, we note the inscription upon the tomb of the brilliant, eccentric, and most unfortunate Felix G. McConnell, of Alabama.
In the old part of the grounds, near the monuments to George Clinton and Elbridge Gerry stands, overshadowed by a cedar, a plain granite monument, bearing the following inscription: "Push-ma-ta-ha, a Choctaw chief, lies buried here. Push-ma-ta-ha was a warrior of great distinction; he was wise in council, eloquent in an extraordinary degree, and on all occasions and under all circumstances the white man's friend." On the reverse side the last words of the great chieftain are cut in the granite: "When I am dead, let the big guns be fired over me." The great chief was the principal of a delegation from his nation to the General Government in the year 1824.
Close beside this stands a monument erected by order of Frederick William of Prussia to the memory of Frederick Greuhm, Prussian minister to the United States in the year 1823.
Under the spreading shade in a quiet corner of the ground stands a quaint statue of granite, on which is inscribed the date of the death of Margaret Potts, September 28, 1808 with these lines:
Here lies a rose, a budding rose, Blasted before its bloom; Whose innocence did sweets disclose Beyond that flower's perfume, To those that for her loss are grieved This consolation's given: She's from a world of care relieved And blooms a rose in heaven.
Here in republican soil, rest the remains of Henry S. Fox, the British Minister, who died in Washington in 1846.
A long monotonous row of untasteful monuments serve to bear the funeral record of Congress, but in most cases the ashes of those whose names are here inscribed rest far away.
©2013 Historic Congressional Cemetery