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Newspaper Clips (1950-1959)
Apr. 4, 1953: A Grave Muddle
Apr. 28, 1953: U.S. Acts to Return Old Cemetery Lots
Mar. 7, 1955: Congressional Cemetery Shrouds Hushed History
Feb. 1, 1957: Drinking Boys Accused of Cemetery Vandalism
Mar. 16, 1958: Tombstone Philosopher
The Washington Daily News, April 4, 1953
A Grave Muddle
Uncle Sam Wants Out of Cemetery
By Neil McNeil
Some people are buried in the wrong place at Southeast Washington's Congressional Cemetery, and the Defense Department, after an unsuccessful drive to clear things up, has thrown up its hand and is trying today to clear out.
The Department--according to a bill filed in the U.S. Senate the other day--wants to turn back over to the cemetery a large number of burial plots the Government purchased in the last century.
It also wants to get out of paying for upkeep of eight lots, owned by the cemetery, where Government officials were buried by mistake a long time ago.
The cemetery--first known as the Washington Parish Burial Ground and then as the Washington Cemetery--was established on April 4, 1807.
In 1812 the rector and vestry of Washington Parish (Christ Church) took over and it has been their baby ever since.
The cemetery was first intended as a burial ground for members of Congress and other Government officials.
Many Buried There
A.R. Johnson, cemetery superintendent, reports that there are a lot of them buried there, including an Indian chief who helped Gen. Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812 and George Washington's secretary, Tobias Lear.
But there hasn't been any Government money to keep up the graves since around 1873 when the parish got the last of the $25,000 total which the Government gave for upkeep.
Roger Kent, general counsel of the Defense Secretary's office, said in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, that the Government made many purchases in the cemetery before 1871.
But things got mixed up somehow.
Mr. Kent phrases it this way: "Apparent meticulous records were not kept and preserved."
In any case, "Government burials were made in lots not acquired (by the Government) and private burials were made in lots sold by the parish but previoiusly acquired by the Government," he told the senators.
"Several unsuccessful attempts have been made to clarify this scrambled ownership."
400 Too Many
Giving up the search now, the Defense Department reports it has about 400 lots for which there is "no present or forseeable need," and 188 of these already have been used by non-Government personnel.
From this it would appear that there are enough lots at Congressional Cemetery to last a long time.
For $100 the Government wants to give up its lots and forget about the whole matter.
There's no indication when Congress is going to get around to acting on the request.
Mr. Johnson said he was told a year ago that this is the sort of deal which would go thru, sometime in the future.
It will help out, Mr. Johnson said.
"We've got only a limited number of sites," he said.
Perhaps this bill would help release some so the cemetery could get on a better financial footing, he said.
"We only get $25,000 a year and we need $10,000 more," he said.
But he didn't sound like he was expecting that extra $10,000 tomorrow.
He's apparently conditioned to things moving slowly at a cemetery.
The Washington Post, April 28, 1953
U.S. Acts to Return Old Cemetery Lots
Once again the Government and Washington Parish Christ Church are dickering over burial lots, though it's been half a century since the last Federal body was laid to rest at Congressional Cemetery.
Actually, the parties have been trading in burial lots for 137 years, off and on. But the current transaction, involving $100 and 392 lots, may close the deal once and for all.
Congressional Cemetery, at 1801 E st. s.e., has a real name--Washington parish Burial Grounds. The vestry of Christ Church, at 20 G st. s.e., has owned and operated the cemetery since 1812. The government first got into it in 1816.
Back in 1816, the Government asked the vestry for 100 burial sites. It requested and got 300 more in 1823. Down the long years, it has picked up some 500 additional lots.
If this seems like a lot of lots, pay it no heed. A spokesman for the vestry says the 30-acre cemetery has more than 38,000 of them. He also says more than 80,000 persons are buried there, many in mass graves.
Well, it developed back in mid-1950 that the Government had 392 of these lots and no use for them. So the Army Corps of Engineers, which has title to them, took steps to give them back to the vestry.
For one thing, corps representatives did some stepping around in the cemetery, surveying the lots. There is considerable confusion, it seems, stemming from the fact that some Government personages are buried in lots belonging to the vestry--and some private citizens rest in lots claimed by the Government.
This is because many records have been lost, others changed, several wars have taken place--in short, because time has dimmed some records of who rests where even as it has softened and faded the once-sharp inscriptions in the old cenotaphs.
The business has reached the point now, though where it's moving right along. The Senate Armed Services Committee last week approved a bill permitting the vestry to buy, for $100, the 392 lots.
The bill also provides for the trading of eight burial lots owned by the vestry but occupied by Government-placed cenotaphs or monuments for eight Government-owned lots.
If this appears complicated, here's something to top it: of the 400 lots (392 pllus8), only 212 are vacant. The vestry, interpreting the faded records as best it can, explains that "the Government used 5 of our lots and we used 88 of theirs." Figure that out.
Many notables are buried in Congressional Cemetery, among them Elbridge Gerry, fifth Vice President, interred in 1814; Col. Tobias Lear, George Washington's secretary, 1816; Chief Push-ma-ta-ha, of the Chocktaw nation, who fought in the War of 1812 and died here of the croup in 1824, and famed John Philip Sousa, the March King, 1932.
There also is a common grave for 27 girls who were working in the arsenal here during the Civil War when an explosion cost their lives.
The bill to give the 392 lots to the vestry went through the committee without question. "The felt," a vestryman said, "that it was the righteous thing to do."
The vestry will keep right on maintaining the Government cenotaphs and monuments just the same, as it has for 169 years.
The Washington Post, March 7, 1955
Congressional Cemetery Shrouds Hushed History
With Arlington National Cemetery the lone possible exception, there is more hushed history per headstone in the Washington Parish Burial Ground than in any other graveyard in the country.
Washington Parish Burial Ground? Well, not exactly. It'll
And 3 p.m. Saturday under its newer name--Congressional Cemetery--in the course of a benefit showing of 11 other historic Capitol Hill places for Friendship House's annual tour and tea.
That Congressional Cemetery should be listed high among the places to be exhibited should surprise no one who has ever strolled its brick and gravel paths. Beneath its weathered headstones sleep the great and near-great, the forlorn and forgotten, and about them history has stalked starkly through the better part of two centuries.
Old Washington Parish Burial Ground was laid out in the new and muddy Federal City's eastern quarter as a graveyard adjunct to Christ Episcopal Church. Its very handiness to the heart of Washington, however, earned for it an important patronage its founders could scarcely have envisioned.
Congress Donated Land
No respecter of sojourning statesmen, death struck as often in their ranks as elsewhere in this young swampland and it is a commentary on the transportation facilities of that day that many a man still sleeps fitfully in Congressional Cemetery--awaiting a reinterment the passing decades simply never got around to effecting.
Because of the liberal use Congress made of its facilities, Congress made liberal donations of land and money to the original parish venture over the years, gradually lending it a quasi-official status--and its present name.
In Congressional's famous Public Vault have lain for varying periods at least two Presidents (John Quincy Adams and William Henry Harrison) and Senators and Congressmen too numerous to index.
In the Causten family vault Dolly Madison tarried six years before the transfer of her remains to the Madison family graveyard in Orange, Va. In more permanent fashion are here interred the bitter Tobias Lear, the doughty Commodore John Rodgers and the sinister Pole, Count Adam Gurowski.
Its present superintendent, Al Rhea Johnson, can count 80,000 untroubled "guests" today in Washington Parish Burial Ground. And in the counting it is only natural that he is able to call the roles so many of them played so long ago--and yet, as time is measured, only yesterday.
Here lies, for instance, Gurowski of whom Ward Hill Lamen in his Recollections of Abraham Lincoln wrote:
"From this man Gurowski, and from him alone, Lincoln really apprehended danger by violent assault, although he knew not what the sense of fear was like. Mr. Lincoln more than once said to me: 'So far as my personal safety is concerned, Gurowski is the only man who has given me a serious thought of a personal nature. From the known disposition of this man, he is dangerous wherever he may be. I have sometimes thought that he might try to take my life. It would be just like him to do such a thing."
And, in the ironic fitness of things, there lies Davy Herold, who was hanged for his complicity in the very assassination on which Lincoln mused. Unmarked, his grave is locatable today only by recourse to Congressional's coded records.
And here lies Capt. Thomas Tingey, the Navy Yards' first commandant. He lived so long in the Commandant's House that he "willed" it to his widow, unmindful of the rights of his successor in office. Legend says the irate captain still stomps its corridors in posthumous wrath at the short shrift his last will and testament was accorded in that regard.
There stand the squat stone cenotaphs that Massachusetts' Senator Hoar ridiculed out of fashion in 1877. The prospect of being interred under one of those atrocities, he said, added a new terror to death.
The architectural influence of Robert mills, designer of the Washington Monument, is quickly apparent. For more than half a century, miniature obelisks were favorite tombstone designs in Congressional.
Eye-catching, too, is the life-sized statue of 10-year-old Marion Ooletia Kahlert that adorns her grave. It is a monument to the twentieth century's own relentless plague. Marion became Washington's first victim of the "horseless carriage" one bright October day in 1904.
As though in keeping with the spirit of this hallowed graveyard, there is hewn boldly into the last headstone in sight at the 17th st. s.e. entrance the hardy name of the man whose remains moulder beneath it--THOMAS AMERICA.
The Washington Post, February 1, 1957
Drinking Boys Accused of Cemetery Vandalism
Two 17-year-old boys were charged yesterday with vandalizing Congressional Cemetery tombstones last Halloween after a beer-drinking session on the ancient burial grounds.
A.R. Johnson, superintendent of the cemetery at 1801 E st. s.e., estimated the damage they did at $2000, including about $500 worth of labor involved in setting the markers aright.
Juvenile Squad detectives said the propensity of the two suspects for beer-drinking which inspired their depredations also played a part in their apprehension.
A companion to whom they bragged during a subsequent drinking about their Halloween night activities in the cemetery went to the police with the story, the detectives said.
Johnson said 130 tombstones were pushed over, many of them breaking in the process.
The accused boys were released to parental custody pending Juvenile Court disposition of the case.
The Washington Post, March 16, 1958
Sen. Norris Cotton (R-N.H.) last week delighted constituents with a travelogue newsletter on historic old Congressional Cemetery on the banks of the Anacostia River.
Cotton told about the cenotaphs, originally placed over the congressional graves but discontinued in 1877. They were so ugly that the late Sen. Hoar of Massachusetts said they "added new terror to death."
The New Hampshire Senator, one of the Capitol's leading budget balancers, was impressed by the story of Tillman B. Parks of Arkansas, the last Congressman buried at Congressional-in 1950. At his own insistence, Parks was given a $95 funeral.
"There's an economy-minded man for you," said Cotton. "Would he were still with us."
Side by side with the late Senators and Congressmen at whom she stormed and scolded in life, Cotton found the grave of Annie Royall, a "remarkable old harridan."
Annie's amazing memorial reads: "Annie Royall 1769-1854. Hated Presbyterians; liked all other denominations . . . sentenced to be ducked in the Potomac River for her rantings in court."
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