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Newspaper Clips (1970-1979)
May 7, 1972: City's Oldest Cemetery
Sep. 28, 1973: Congressional 25 Tombstones Tumbled
Nov. 11, 1974: Group Clears Up Cemetery
Aug. 21, 1975: To The Weekly
Sep. 23, 1975: The Task of Caring For Congressional Cemetery
May 20, 1977: Congressional's Unquiet Graves
The Washington Post, May 7, 1972
City's Oldest Cemetery
History Oft Interred With Bones
By Donald P. Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
"When we heard Mr. Hoover was coming here, we got out there ourselves and cut the grass," said Alverta Pierce, who lives in the caretaker's house at Congressional Cemetery.
Her grandson is one of the five employees of the city's oldest burial ground, a 30-acre plot in Southeast Washington, which Sen. Vance Hartke (D-Ind) described on Thursday as "national disgrace."
J. Edgar Hoover is the latest famous American to be buried in Congressional. The quiet, private ceremony Thursday for the FBI chief has renewed interest in the cemetery, whose 80,000 inhabitants include such disparate neighbors as a vice president, scores of senators and representatives, three Capitol architects, a handful of American Indian leaders, some Chinese residents of the District and the district's first automobile accident victim.
Hartke introduced legislation Thursday to have the cemetery placed under control of the Interior Department. A sijmilar bill was introduced in the House on April 22 by Rep. John P. Saylor (R-Pa.).
The cemetery is owned by Christ Church (Episcopal), Washington Parish, which acquired the land at 18th and E Streets SE just after the congregation was founded 1794.
Yesterday brought a trickle of mourners and tourists to Congressional to pause or pose in front of the three dozen floral tributes that all but obscure the headstone of the Hoover family.
To bicyclists, law clerk James W. Winchester and university counselor Ann Noble, walked their bikes in--a sign warns 'no bicycles'--after Winchester recalled reading that Hoover was buried there.
"It's a beautiful site--and out of the way," said Miss Noble. "Maybe Congress should take it over, but then the tourists would discover it."
"You can tell it doesn't get the care that Arlington does," said Winchester, "even though it has many famous people buried here."
Leroy V. Pennell, a retired federal employee, joined the discussion and pointed out that the remains of some of the more famous names etched on the headstones aren't buried there.
"See those stones over there that say Henry Clay and John Calhoun, well neither one of them are in there," said Pennell, a frequent visitor.
He was pointing to two of 15 cenotaphs designed by the famous American architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe. They border the main entry road.
The 3-by-5 foot monuments were put in place for a few years after 1812, when the vestry of Christ Church voted to set aside 100 plots for use of congressmen and senators. (In 1820, the reservation was extended to include heads of federal departments and their families.)
It became a federally financed custom to erect the sandstone cenotaphs even if the memorialized politician's body had been removed to another location, or had never been placed there.
The practice was stopped by Sen. George Frisbie Hoar of Massachusetts, who authored a bill that directed the sergeant-at-arms of each house to have "a monument of granite (sic) erected only whenever any deceased senator or member . . . shall be actually interred in the Congressional Cemetery."
The action stopped the abuse, and practically ended the use of the cemetery by official Washington. Since then only three representatives have been buried there, the latest being Rep. Tilman B. Parks of Arkansas, in 1950.
Shavis Brown, 15, and Ronald Robinson, 14, cousins who both live at 435 15th St. SE, like to stroll through the cemetery, sometimes using it as a shortcut to the Anacostia River just beyond.
They paused in front of the Hoover grave yesterday, where Ronald observed that it was covered with "lotsa' pretty flowers," highlighted by a red, blue, pink and green replica of the FBI shield, including a soaring yellow eagle. A streamer said it was from the FBI National Academy.
Ronald, an 85-pound boxer for the Ham A.C. at Elliott Junior High (30 wins, four losses), said he has no desire to be an FBI agent. "Not now," he said, "not with him gone."
Shavis, an offensive end and defensive linebacker for the Eastern Branch Boys Club football team, was more political: "Too many people have died because of the FBI," he said, declining to elaborate.
Four teen-aged boys with fishing poles climbed the red brick wall at 17th and G Streets, and strolled toward the river bank without pausing at the Hoover grave.
One of them wasn't even aware of the new tourist attraction, saying that the only famous person he knew of buried there was John Philip Sousa. The U.S. Marine Band plays a concert at the grave of its most famous conductor each year on the anniversary of his death, March 6.
But the Hartke-Saylor proposals say enough history remains to have the grounds become part of the national park system, as is called for by Saylor.
Among others buried at Congressional are: Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, Vice President (to James Madison) Elbridge Gerry, Choctaw Chief Push-Ma-Ta-Ha, and 21 young women who died following an explosion at the U.S. Arsenal in the District on June 17, 1864.
Hardly anyone opposes a federal take-over. Mrs. Pierce's nephew and his boss, caretaker Fritz Lehmann have repeatedly sought federal aid.
The Rev. David Denning, rector of Christ Church, said the vestry's reaction has been "very favorable."
The church's original congregation considered itself members of the capital city's nobility--"not large but sufficiently elegant" according to one brochure--but its affluence disappeared as its members became commuters.
The church, at 20 G St. SE, and the neighborhood, have regained some of their former affluence, but a commitment to serve the neighborhood doesn't permit adding to the $42,500 that is annually budgeted for care of the cemetery.
The vestrymen are willing to denote the land to the government, in return for a pledge to honor commitments to owners of plots, and a promise to restore it to its former grandeur, even though that will be short of the promise, envisioned in the 1800s, to become "the American Westminster Abbey."
The Evening Star, September 28, 1973
Congressional 25 Tombstones Tumbled
By Chris Lorenzo
At least 25 tombstones were knocked over at the beleaguered Congressional Cemetery early today. A suspect eluded a police dragnet.
The cemetery at 1801 E St. SE, the resting lace of J. Edgar Hoover, John Philip Sousa, and a host of senators and representatives, had been receiving special surveillance after a vandalism spree over the past three months in which its outer wall was partially destroyed, five crypts broken into, valuable jeweels taken from graves and 150 tombstones overturned.
Two First District detectives, David R. Penque and N.T. Boone, were driving through the cemetery about 3:30 this morning when they spotted a man climbing over a six-foot-high chain link fence. They called for help and police dog handlers and dogs, and the police helicopter rushed to the scene.
Although the man was spotted once by the helicopter in one of two fields near the cemetery, he eluded his pursuers, and the dogs were unable to pick up a trail, Lt. Richard Xander said.
None of the crypts appeared to have been vandalized, Lt. Xander said.
The recent robberies and destruction at the cemetery has prompted renewed pressure on Capitol Hill for action on a bill that would transfer to the Interior Department the responsibility for maintaining and guarding the 166-year-old cemetery.
The Washington Star News, November 11, 1974
Group Clears Up Cemetery
Alarmed by the crumbling condition of the Congressional Cemetery, about 30 members of the Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Police set to work last spring to clean up the District's oldest chartered burial ground.
John Sullivan, president of the police reservist group, said the members have worked nearly every Saturday since April, clearing away underbrush, filling in sunken graves, reseeding and restoring several vault doors.>/p>
In a survey of cemetery conditions, the Star News reported Monday that there were some broken markers and a good deal of high grass at Congressional but that the grounds are in better shape now than they were last spring because of the association's efforts.
The federation's concern grew out of a project to mark the graves of area policemen and firemen Sullivan said. Having done all they could at Congressional, Sullivan said, the men last week began helping to clear out the Mt. Zion Cemetery in Georgetown, the oldest black cemetery in the city.
A similar volunteer group has been at work for several years improving another black cemetery, Woodlawn, on Benning Road, N.E.
The Washington Post, August 21, 1975
To The Weekly:
I am a born Washingtonian as were my mother and father. I would like to know exactly what the trouble is regarding Congressional Cemetery. The Shackelford family purchased the lots right after the Civil War. That is, my grandfather bought them as he was a Civil War veteran. I have been going out there cutting the grass on our lot and I cannot see where there was any change in the cemetery as the grass is very high and the bushes overgrown. I understand the Episcopal Church (Christ) has control over it-surely they could get the Boy Scouts to care enough to cut the grass.
There was a bill in Congress to take over the cemetery but nothing was ever done about it. What can be done for this historical spot?
All my life, even as a child, my Dad and I always went there together and to me the cemetery is sacred. What can be done to . . . clean it up?
My father, James W. Shackelford and his four brothers learned their trade as pressmen on the Post. Could you please help to get this place in order? Even donations would help as it is really a disgrace. Any suggestions will be appreciated.
Ann Shackelford Fogarty
Washington Post, September, 23, 1975
The Task of Caring For Congressional Cemetery
By Anne Oman
A changing of the guard took place Saturday at the historic Congressional Cemetery, which served as the national burying ground before Arlington.
Christ Episcopal Church of Capitol Hill, which owns the cemetery, laid off its staff of four on Friday. The included Donald Hester, the cemetery administrator, and three groundskeeper-gravediggers. The next morning Hester turned over his office files and the power mowers to a group of 10 volunteers who will maintain the cemetery in the future.
"We're not closing the cemetery," emphasized Peter Jones, senior warden of Christ Church and organizer of Saturday's work detail. "But the church has been losing money on the cemetery at the rate of $20,000 a year. We hope to cut that figure drastically by using only volunteer help for maintenance."
The cemetery, the first to be established in Washington (in 1807) stopped selling plots in June. A part-time church employee will arrange burials for people who already own plots through a contract grave digger, Jones explained.
Ethel Robertson of Hillcrest Heights, a church member who has five generations of relatives buried in Congressional, has volunteered to do the office work until a permanent employee is hired. "A lot of people thing the church has been derelict," she said, "but in the three years I've been on the vestry we've spent about 75 per cent of our time trying to improve the cemetery."
Despite these efforts, most of the 33-acre tract at 18th and E Streets S.E. looks decidedly unkempt. Weeds grow knee-high; tree roots and vandals have dislodged headstones, dogs roam at will. In contrast the areas around memorials to members of Congress are regularly manicured by a government crew. Men from the Marine Barracks tend the graves of Navy men and Marines, including that of bandmaster John Philip Sousa. Other groups help from time to time. Last month, 30 members of Alpha Chi Rho fraternity worked for a week, with visible results in one section. Christ Church which is located at 620 G Street S.E. hopes to recruit work crews of parishioners on a regular basis. "If we can attract enough volunteers, the place may look better than ever," said Jones hopefully pushing a power sickle-bar. "Its the end of the grass-growing season, just about. And by the next growing season, we hope to have an active cemetery association."
Church lawyers, according to Jones, are drawing up papers creating such an association. The church hopes to attract cemetery buffs, plot owners, and other interested parties. The group would raise funds to maintain the cemetery. In July, the church vestry formally considered a proposal to close the cemetery, move the 60,000 bodies buried there, and sell the land for a townhouse development. "We rejected it overwhelmingly," said Don Brown, cemetery coordinator of the vestry.
For several years the church has tried to get the government to take over the cemetery.
The latest notable to be buried at Congressional was FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, who died in 1973. Others include Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, Capitol architect William Thornton, and Vice President Elbridge Gerry, of gerrymander fame.
Washington Star, May 20, 1977
Congressional's Unquiet Graves
The Congressional Cemetery is in trouble again.
Again? Yes, again, although it's true that the historic burial ground at 18th and E Streets SE never got out of its long-range troubles as a victim of neglect.
It never got rid of its weeds, its vermin and its vandals. It never got its retaining wall or the irrigation system it needs. But, as of six months ago, it had great expectations.
Last October, both houses of Congress passed a bill authorizing the Architect of the Capitol to spend $300,000 over the next two years on measures to preserve the cemetery where so much of the American past is memorialized. Everybody seemed to be for it -- the majority and minority leaders of both houses, as well as everybody officially or unofficially interested in preservation of the capital's landmarks. Even the 350 hardworking members of the Congressional Cemetery Association thought the battle was won.
They were prepared to raise money for maintaining the cemetery once such basics as a new retaking wall were taken care of. They wanted to look ahead to such possibilities as cenotaphs for Rep. Hale Boggs of Louisiana and Sen. Philip Hart of Michigan.
But now all plans are threatened by opposition in the House subcommittee on legislative branch appropriations. The nine members of the subcommittee must approve all appropriations before the money can be spent. In most cases, it's a fairly automatic procedure, but, now and then, there's a reminder that it doesn't have to be.
That's what's happening now. Rep. George Shipley (D. Ill.), who chairs the subcommittee, is negative about the cemetery appropriation. It's a vulnerable cause, of course -- who can't think of public needs more urgent than propping up old tombstones? Such vulnerability makes it a tempting pawn for any legislator bent on a show of power that won't make many important enemies.
And yet the Congressional Cemetery is worth preserving. A place of unique, nostalgic charm as well as solid history, it has something irreplaceable to give our city and our nation. And not the least of its merits is that it promises to be self-sustaining once a few basic restoration measures have been taken.
For the Shipley subcommittee to hold up the small outlay Congress has voted would be hard to interpret as even penny wisdom. Which wouldn't keep it from being a cheap gesture.
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