Newspaper Clips (1900-1909)

June 7, 1901: Desecration of Graves Alleged
Aug. 4, 1903: New Mortuary Chapel
Aug. 7, 1903: New Mortuary Chapel in Congressional Cemetery
Feb. 20, 1904: Arsenal Explosion of 40 Years Ago
Jan. 11, 1905: Sale of Burial Sites
Mar. 3, 1906: Lot Owners Protest
Aug. 28, 1906: Faints at Parents' Graves
Nov. 29, 1906: Delving into History of Old Burying Ground

The Evening Star, June 7, 1901
Desecration of Graves Alleged


Nelson H. Adams of 737 7th street northeast has written to the District Commissioners calling attention to the alleged desecration of Chinese graves in Congressional cemetery. He says: "My attention has been called by Chinese friends to the desecration of the graves and tombstones of their deceased countrymen in their purchased lot in the Congressional cemetery, which a recent visit by my wife to the cemetery proved to be more than fully verified. It was found that the tombstones were dabbed with axle grease or similar substance and that the graves were desecrated in a most indecent manner. The Chinese people have a fervent veneration for their dead, and are unable to account for such dastardly and sacrilegious acts in a land of boasted Christianity, civilization and enlightenment. I ask that the matter be investigated.


The Evening Star, August 4, 1903, p. 16
New Mortuary Chapel

That in Congressional Cemetery Has Been Completed

A new mortuary chapel has just been completed at the Congressional cemetery. It is the most modern structure of its kind in the District, having the laest mortuary crypts and newest arrangements for the entrance and exit of the remains. It is also furnished with a carriage for carrying the remains from the door to the crypts. The style of the architecture is Gothic, and the walls are of pebble dash. It has stained glass windows, and the slate roof is crowned with a gilt cross. The interior is wainscoted, and the roof is partly open.

It is situated near the central part of the cemetery in a circular plot forty-two feet in diameter. The seating capacity is estimated at 130. The total cost, including cost of furnishings, was $4,500.

The chapel was built under the auspices of the vestry of Christ's Church, Washington parish, under the immediate direction of a committee consisting of S.J. McCathran, chairman; C.M. Bland and Adam Gaddis. Mr. A.M. Poynton was the architect and Joseph H. Gibbons the builder. Persons connected with Rock Creek and other cemeteries of the District have expressed favorable criticism of the new mortuary chapel, saying that it is of the newest type and one which is sure to be copied by the authorities of the other cemeteries.

Many persons have been in error in believing that this chapel was to be used for general church services. It is strictly a mortuary chapel to be used free of charge by the lot owners and any one burying in the Congressional cemetery for burial services alone.


The Evening Star, August 7, 1903, p. 12
New Mortuary Chapel in Congressional Cemetery


The new mortuary chapel lately completed in Congressional cemetery is one of the most picturesque and modernly equipped structures of its class. It is not a large building, yet is of a size ample for the needs of the cemetery. It is situated at the junction of the roads leading from the north and west entrances, where formerly there was a circular plot with flower beds in the center. To the north stretch the lines of the old tombs marking the graves of the deceased congressmen. The distance from the main entrance to the building is about 125 yards. The chapel is closely shaded by trees and its architecture fits well into the surroundings. The architecture is of the Gothic style, the walls being covered with pebble dash. The windows are of stained glass, and at the apex of the slate roof over the main entrance a gilt cross is mounted. The seating capacity is 130. The cost was $4,500.


The Evening Star, February 20, 1904
Arsenal Explosion

Disaster of Nearly Forty Years Ago
A Monument Erected
Twenty-One Girls in Laboratory Burned to Death
President Lincoln and Secretary Stanton Attend Funeral
Greatest Fatality in City

The visitor to the Congressional Cemetery will notice close to the western brick wall, and near the middle gate, a marble monument about twenty-five feet high, surmounted by the figure of a young woman. Upon tablets on the four sides there are inscriptions. The inscriptions declare that the monument was erected by citizens of the District in memory of those who lost their lives in an explosion at the arsenal June 17, 1864, and also give the names of the twenty-one victims.

It was a bright morning in June 1864. The birds sang sweetly in the trees that made the arsenal grounds a bowerland, and the soft breezes from the lazy Potomac lulled to slumber the soldiers who lay in the shady nooks along the shore wall watching the river craft plying to and fro.

Occurred on Friday, June 17, 1864
It was Friday, that unlucky day, and the stillness was disturbed only by the tread of the sentry as he paced the walk.

In a one story brick building, containing four rooms located in the northern end or entrance to the arsenal grounds, extending east and west, a company of about one hundred and eight young women were busily engaged at work. It was the laboratory of the arsenal. They were making cartridges for small arms, called "choking" cartridges. This was during the war, and the cartridges were being made for shipment to the front.

Suddenly there was a great flash of light just outside of the building, and through the open windows into the building went a dart of flame that ran like a hissing serpent along the table where the girls were at work. In an instant there was a greater flash of light that seemed to fill the entire room, which was quickly followed by a deafening explosion.

The report came like an earthquake shock. People in South Washington rushed out of doors to learn the cause. It was in the troublous war times, and the people for some years had their nerves wrought up to a high tension, and their eyes and ears were primed to see and hear anything unusual with feelings alternating betwixt hope and fear.

It was but a very brief time before the word passed from street to street that there had been a terrible explosion at the arsenal, and thither many hundreds of people hurried for the horrible confirmation.

Explosion of Stars Started Fire
Shortly before noon a quantity of stars blended for shells that had been lying outdoors in copper pans to dry about thirty feet from the laboratory building, caught fire from the heat of the son and exploded. The flash from the exploding stars entered the building through the adjacent open widows, igniting the powder and cartridges exposed on the long table in front of the women employes. In an instant there was a deafening roar, followed by a fire that seemed to take hold of everything in the room. The unfortunate women were instantly wrapped in consuming fire.

This room was occupied by twenty-nine young women, and not one escaped without injuries. The women in the east end of the building escaped by jumping from the windows, being close to the ground. It was this quick action that saved their lives.

These stars that caused the explosion and set fire to the building were composed of chlorate of potash, nitrate of strancia and copul. There were about eight or nine hundred of them in three metallic pans, and they were used to produce white and red stars in exploding shells.

The investigation by a coroner's jury after the disaster revealed that the cause of the explosion was the "criminal carelessness" of the superintendent in placing the combustible stars in such close proximity to the laboratory.

It was a gruesome sight that met the eyes when the flames had been subdued and the work of recovering the bodies of the victims had been concluded. Seventeen bodies were laid, upon the green sward. Nearly all of the bodies were unrecognizable. The flames had done desperate work. Some of the bodies lay in boxes, some on boards and some in large tin pans. A few of the bodies were burned to cinder and were incased in the wire hoopskirts that were in vogue at that time.

Identification of Bodies
Some of the bodies were afterward identified by a shoe or a piece of jewelry that had escaped the ravages of the flames. It was noted as a singular fact at the time that the women who had worn hoopskirts suffered the most from the flames, their bodies being burned to a crisp.

This was the worst catastrophe that had ever happened in Washington, and probabl has not been equaled here since. The jury that held the inquest over the remains of seventeen of the victims were the following citizens, nearly all of whom have long since passed to their reward: Asbur Lloyd, foreman; James Lawrenson, Thomas E. Lloyd, Robert H. Graham, Herman G. Lorch, Thomas Taylor, William H. Lusby, S.H. Ingersoll, W.H. Rutzer, F.A. Boswell, W.H. Gibson and Joseph Pullin. The jury in its verdict recounted the cause of the explosion very explicitly and rebuked the superintendent, one Thomas B Brown, who had been a pyrotechnist at the arsenal since 1841, for placing the combustible stars so near the laboratory, and said that he merited severe censure b the government for his "culpable carelessness and negligence and reckless disregard for life." In the separate verdict in each case there were only two instances where the names of victims were used. In all the other cases the word "female" was used.

Besides the seventeen dead bodies recovered, there were four women who escaped from the building, but who subsequently died from their terrible burns.

Major James G. Benton was the commandant of the arsenal at this time.

Employes Vote a Day's Wages
A meeting of the employes of the arsenal was held that day, and it was voted to contribute one day's pay to defray the expenses of the funeral. Committees were appointed to select a site in the Congressional cemetery for the dead victims, to arrange for the funeral and procession, and to acquaint families and relatives of the victims of the action of the meeting and to secure their attendance at the funeral.

One family named Adams lost a daughter in the explosion. It was the third child lost on Friday, and also from unnatural causes. Another incident of the explosion was that on the morning of the day it occurred a young woman had been sent home from work by the superintendent for laughing and talking during working hours, which was prohibited by the rules. To this bit of discipline she owed her life. Another incident reported is that on the same day of the explosion a letter ha been received by the authorities at the arsenal from the arsenal at Allegheny, near Pittsburg, acknowledging with grateful thanks the receipt of $170 contributed for the relief of a number of sufferers from a similar fatality at that place.

Despite the pall of uncertainty and gloom which hung over Washington and the entire country by reason of war and all its attendant horrors, this catastrophe sent a thrill of horror and subsequent intense sorrow over the entire city. In South Washington, where nearly all the victims lived, it provided universal expressions of sympathy and mourning. Indeed, it was a subject for talk and reference for some years after its happening.

Funeral Held on Sunday
The funeral occurred on Sunday afternoon, June 19, and took place at the arsenal grounds near the scene of the disaster. More than a thousand people waited at the gates of the arsenal, at the foot of the street, for entrance to the ceremonies. It was a very hot day and many were overcome by the heat in the immense throng. The gates opened at 2:30 o'clock. The exercises were held on a large platform, about 15 by 20 feet, covered with white duck and trimmed with emblems of mourning. Overhead was a canopy draped with the American flag and mourning. There were fifteen coffins containing the remains, eight unidentified on one side of the platform and seven identified on the other side. The coffins were made in the arsenal carpenter shop of poplar and were silver mounted. Upon the top of each was a plate bearing the name of the inmate, where known, or the word "Unknown" if otherwise.

Rev. Father A. Bokel of St. Dominica parish preached a funeral service for the victims who had been Catholics, and Rev. S.V. Leech, pastor of Gorsuch Chapel, on 4 1/2 street southwest, preached for the Protestant victims. The services were very impressive and there were many exhibitions of hysteria and intense grief by families of victims, who begged to have the coffins opened that they might view the remains. Owing to the almost unrecognizable condition of the remains it was held inadvisable and unwise to do so.

Long Funeral Procession
The funeral cortege moved up 4 1/2 street to Pennsylvania avenue, and thence out to Congressional cemetery. It was a very long one, occupying over a half hour to pass an given point. John G. Dudley was chief marshal. The bells in St. Dominic's Church and the Columbia Fire Company house tolled and business in South Washington was generally suspended during the funeral hour.

The procession was headed by the Findlay Hospital Band; then came division of the Sons of Temperance, which was a flourishing fraternal organization in those days, consisting of Excelsior, No. 6; Grand Samaritan, No. 1; Equal, No. 3; Armory Square, No. 4; Columbian, No. 5; Aurela, No. 9 and Lincoln, No. 11.

President Lincoln and Secretary Stanton, and son of the latter rode in a carriage as chief mourners.

There were many ambulances containing officers and employes of the navy yard and ladies.

The following is a list of the pallbearers, many of whom have since gone to join the majority;

The Pallbearers
E. Crampton, E.L. Clapp, J.H. Granger, L. Dishard, L. Anderson, T. Mansfield, G. Dalton, W. Jones, W. Whitmore, John Condy, W. America, A.J. Cawood, J.H. Huntington, G. Hercus, -- Leach, -- Hall, T.F. Mockabee, A. Cornen, E. McElroy, L. Marting, J. Indermauer, W. Beagle, W. Powell, E. Muttot, C. S. Draper, H.H. Lemon, H. Marders, R. King, B. Young, O. Smithson, J. Meddler, O. Sorrel, J. Dickinson, W. Weeden, Thomas McCook, John Weeden, T. Dickson, M. Rhyon, J. Rhybu, H.W. Young, J. Glover, O. Spicer, O. Bailey, M. Spicer, J. Miller, T. Rowland, R. Johnson, H. Leesnitzeer, W.H. Toffing, W.J. Carmichael, C. Callaghan, R. Gracey, J. Redmond, W. Nolas, W. Handsberry, F. Shay, H. Edgar, W. Boyd, J. Farrell, G. Ritz, A. Austin, C. Kell, F. Kutz, G. Brandman, E. Haufman, H. Wiskett, M. Sullivan, A. Anderson, J. Jiller, J. Riley, J. Beacham, J. Richmond, G. Neff, Jos. Gunnell, O. Snook, F. Daffer, Wm. Moore, Wm. Meeks, A. Cook, G. Schaeffer, E. Hoover, Jos. Green, R. Jacobs, W. Kidwell, J. Fry, A. Ferguson, H. Vonhorn, Jos. Coderick, O. Dunn, Thos. Dunn, on the part of the workingmen of the Arsenal. C.F. Smith, J.S. Hollidge, J.T. Ballard, H. Harvey Hagard, H.P. Pillsbury, C.C. Bushnell, D.L. Haggard, B.F. Scott, G.S. Duli, C.S. Maxwell, J.H. McMurry, J.H. Wooley and Robert Hazell, on the part of the Sons of Temperance.

There was a long line of carriages in the number of 450. The sixteen coffins were placed alternating in hearses and ambulances, there not being enough hearses to accommodate all the coffins.

There was a large express wagon belonging to the Adams Express Company in line draped in mourning and carrying a number of employes of the government express company.

Procession Augmented by Another
When the procession reached F street southwest it was joined by the funeral cortege of Miss Sallie McElfresh, one of the victims, whose funeral exercises had been held at Ryland Chapel, corner of 10th and D streets, where she had been a member. Rev. Lemon preached the sermon, The pallbearers were George A. Hall, W.H. Greenwell, E.H. Hoover and J.F. Hall.

One of the victims, Susan Hains, was a member of Wesley Chapel Sunday School. As a tribute to her memory the school marched in a body to the south side of Pennsylvania avenue near 4 1/2 street and line up. As the cortege passed the school sang: "Sister, Thou Wert Mild and Lovely." They then returned to the church and were dismissed with a benediction.

At the cemetery an immense concourse of people had gathered many hours before the procession arrived. The ceremonies were very simple. The clergyman, Rev. Leech, and a Mr. W.F. Crutchley, chaplain of Excelsior Division, Sons of Temperance, read their respective services for the dead.

The coffins were lowered into two large pits, where the monument now stands, each pit being six feet long, fifteen feet wide and five and a half feet deep. There was a passageway of about five feet between the pits. The closing scenes at the interment were very affecting and not without remarkable exhibitions of extreme anguish. Some of the relatives of the unfortunate victims were overcome by hysteria and some hung dangerously over the pit calling their dear ones by name. It was with great difficulty that the were restrained.

The remains of Miss McElfresh were placed in a grave near by containing the remains of her father, who had died a few months previous. Miss Bache's remains were placed in a vault.

Some Victims Interred in Mt. Olivet
The remains of four victims were interred in Mount Olivet cemetery under Catholic auspices. They were Catherine Horan, Johannah Connor, Bridget Dunn and Catherine Hull. Of the fourteen coffins lowered into the pits there were only six that bore names of recognized remains: Julia McEwin, Mrs. Collins, Elizabeth Branagan, Lizzie Brahler, Eliza Lacey and Maggie Yonson. The names of the eight unknown were not discovered until some days after the terrible catastrophe. Later the number of victims of the explosion ws increased to twenty-one by the deaths of some taken to hospitals and discovery of those missing. It was estimated at the time that every hack in the city was engaged a the funeral, and the hackmen previously agreed in meeting to charge only the regulation fee for funeral service.

Secretary Stanton of the War Department sent an order to Commandant Benton at the arsenal declaring that the funeral and all expenses incident to the interment of the victims would be paid by the government, closing with the following statement: "You will not spare an means to express the respect and sympathy of the government for the deceased and their surviving friends.

Movement for Monument
On the Monday following a movement was inaugurated in a meeting of employes at the arsenal to devise means to erect a suitable monument as a memorial to the victims. A committee composed of one from each department of the arsenal was formed to solicit subscriptions and appropriate resolutions were passed. Mr. J.G. Dudley was made chairman and Major Stebbin, treasurer.

The monument was finally secured by public subscription and erected over the site at about a year afterward. It is a neat and attractive shaft of marble, showing on one of the tablets a representation of the explosion and fire, and on another panel the date of June 17, 1865, when erected. The event that led to the erection happened nearly forty years ago, but there are many living today who will remember its sad associations and the intense public interest shown over its fatal sequence.

On one of the panels is found the following list of names of the victims of the explosion: Ellen Roche, Margaret Horan (MtO), Lizzie Brahler, Eliza Lacey, Julia McEwen, Johanna Connors (MtO), Bettie Brannagan, Bridgett Dunn (MtO), Susan Harris, Margaret C Yonson, W.E. Tippett, Emma Baird, Melissa Adams, Annie S. Bache, Kate Branahan, Emily Collins, Mary Burroughs, Pinkey Scott, Louisa Lloyd, Rebecca Hull (MtO), Sallie McElfresh.

The Evening Star, January 11, 1905
Sale of Burial Sites

Argument Before Commissioners Regarding Congressional Cemetery

Attorney Maurice D. Rosenberg and M.J.T. Earnshaw, superintendent of the Congressional cemetery, appeared before the District Commissioners this morning to urge a favorable report on the bill granting the vestry of Washington parish the right to sell as burial sites, certain land within Congressional cemetery. The land was formerly the parking space along G street east, and it is stated many years ago it was set aside for burial sites for members of Congress. Only about twenty-five lots, it is stated, have bodies buried in them, while about 200 lots contain no bodies, but have cenotaphs erected over them in memory of former members of Congress.

Mr. Rosenberg told the Commissioners that the cenotaphs are crumbling and falling to the ground, and he argued that the lots which are not occupied by bodies should be given to the cemetery to sell as burial sites, and the cenotaphs removed. These lots, he said, are 9 feet square, while the ordinary lots are only 3 by 9 feet. The acquisition of the unoccupied lots he said will give the cemetery a large number of additional lots which he said are needed.

The Commissioners said they will take the matter under consideration.


The Washington Post, March 3, 1906
Lot Owners Protest

Sweeping Charges Against Cemetery Management
An Investigation Ordered
Meeting Held at Naval Lodge Hall Last Night to Consider a Bill before Congress
Authorizing Sale of Parts of Streets in Congessional Burying Ground
Committee Appointed

Sweeping charges against the management of Congessional Cemetery and the appointment of a committee of investigation was the outcome of the meeting of lot owners in the cemetery in Naval Lodge Hall, at Fourth street and Pennsylvania avenue southeast, last night.

The meeting had been called to consider a bill, referred to the House Committee on the District of Columbia, which provides that the right shall be granted to the vestry of Washington Parish -- the present managers of the cemetery -- to sell for burial sites parts of certain streets now inclosed and included in Congressional Cemetery.

The chairman of the meeting, George C. Henning, president of the Traders' Bank, moved that a committee be selected to consider the bill, and make a report at the meeting last night. It was this action that called down upon the management the severe denunciation.

Judson T. Cull, in speaking of the motion, said that he thought its purpose was too narrow and restricted. He had heard from time to time harsh criticisms of th emanagers of the cemetery, and he was of the opinion that the time had come when, in justice to the lot owners, a thorough ventilation should be made. The information upon which Mr. Cull's charges were based had been obtained, he said, from former members of the vestry.

Mr. Cull said that he was the owner of some lots in the cemetery, and that it had been his experience that they were never kept in the condition they should be. That there was never any roads by which they could be reached, and that at most times the lot owners were obliged to walk through long grass, which was never cut until it would make good hay. When it was cut, he continued, it was allowed to stay on the ground until it was hay, and then sold, not for the benefit of the cemetery, but for the vestry.

Some Serious Charges
He stated that the vestry had sold ground which did not belong to it for burial sites, and then had to purchase it later. It had been brought to his attention that sites containing bodies had been resold.

Mr. Cull supplemented these facts with one to the effect that over $2,700 a year of an income derived from a trust fund of $50,000 had been used for defraying the expenses of Christ Church, and that the intent of the present bill was to supply them with more land to sell for this purpose.

At the end of his remarks several persons gave their views on the subject, all of which, with one excaption, were against the continuance of the present management.

Mr. Alexander McKenzie made a motion to have a committee of five appointed to investigate the entire matter. This motion was carried, and Judson T. Cull, John H. Shelton, William H. Dennis, T. Edward Clark, and J.W. Tolson were elected to serve on it.


The Washington Herald, August 28, 1906
Faints at Parents' Graves

Mrs. J.M. Cooper Overcome in Congressional Cemetery

While depositing flowers upon the graves of her father and mother in Congressional cemetery yesterday afternoon, Mrs. J.H. Cooper of 1709 9th street northwest was overcome, her grief, combined with the affects of the heat which followed the rain, causing her to fall unconscious beside the graves. She was found by workers in the cemetery and was helped into the office, where efforts to revive her were unsuccessful. She was sent to the Washington Asylum Hospital, and it required five hours to restore her to consciousness. It was stated today that her condition is much improved, but that the effects of the shock would keep her in the hospital for several days.

Mrs. Cooper went to the cemetery early yesterday afternoon and was employed about the graves for some time in the hot sun, with the result stated. She was missed from her home earl last evening, and a search located her in the hospital.


The Washington Times, November 29, 1906
Delving into History of Old Burying Ground

Senator Burkett's Job of Getting Facts About
Congressional Cemetery a Hard One -
Mixed Records of Government Lots

In a very literal sense there is likely to be a rattling of dry bones when Senator Burkett, of Nebraska, makes his report on the Congressional Cemetery, one of the ancient institutions of this city. He is just now getting it finished, and it is a most interesting and curious history of 100 pages or more of type-written matter.

The history of Congressional Cemetery reaches into three centuries. It was started about 1798 and Congress early became interested in it because it was desired to have a cemetery in which to lay at rest the bones of Senators and Congressmen. In those days when there was no refrigerator service and embalming was ineffective, it took weeks to transport the remains of a distinguished man to his home, if he happened to die in Washington. There was nothing for it but to bury him here. So the Congressional Cemetery was taken under the wing of Congress. In it are buried almost 100 men who have been Senators, Representatives or distinguished officials of the Government, officers of army and navy, etc. There are some men, too, who served foreign nations in notable diplomatic posts.

Senator's Difficult Task
The cemetery plat in Southeast Washington, is cut up by a number of streets. These were long since vacated to the extent of permitting them to be closed in; but they were never vacated to the extent of permitting them to be platted. This right to plat them is asked in a bill before Congress. It has two or three times passed the House, but the Senate has always been the sticking point. Senator Burkett was given the bill by the District of Columbia Committee and proceeded to prepare a history of the ancient cemetery.

Immediately the immensity of his task became evident. There was nobody who could remember the beginning of things. Records were inaccessible or lost. Congressional action was uncertain, and required much effort to make accuracy possible. Department records were turned inside out.

From its beginnings, the cemetery has been in charge of the vestry of Christ's Church, Episcopalian. There have been transfers back and forth of lots; from the Government to the vestrymen, and the reverse. Senator Burkett can't find all the lots the Government ought to own. The vestrymen present a theory that these lots that have apparently disappeared, are represented by sidewalks built in parts of the plat, covering ranges of burial plats that ought to be the property of the Government.

There was an investigation back in 1876, but nobody at that time could remember back to the reorganization in 1850. Likewise, it seems, when the reorganization of 1850 was made nobody was then able to tell much about the first beginnings. And now the same condition obtains-there is a demand for another reorganization, and the detailed facts can't be had.

The Congressional Cemetery, by the way, afforded the late Senator Hoar opportunity for one of his choicest bon mots. He was telling the Senate the horrors of the monuments and cenotaphs placed in commemoration of deceased statesmen. A cenotaph, by the way, is a monument over a man who isn't under it. The Congressional Cemetery stones are of peculiarly atrocious design. "It is but adding to the terrors of death," declared the Massachusetts sage, "to compel a man to contemplate that he may have one of those things erected above him."

Famous Men Buried There
Among the famous men who lie in this plat are Elbridge Gerry, once Vice President; Senator James Jones of Georgia, who was buried there in 1801, and was the first Senator to give countenance to the institution; Tobias Lear, secretary to President Washington; Frederich Gruehn, Prussian minister in this country, died 1823; Push-ma-ta-ha, a famous old Choctaw chief; Abel P. Upshur, once Secretary of State; Gen. John A. Rawlins, Secretary of War under Grant.

| Bookmark and Share