Newspaper Clips (1980-1989)

May 25, 1980: A Cemetery and Our Past
July 4, 1980: The Rambler Visits Grave of Signer
Apr. 22, 1988: Where the Past is Prologue
Aug. 25, 1988: Cemetery Officials Protest D.C. Jail Guards' Gunfire
Oct. 11, 1988: Weddings in the Cemetery

The Washington Star, May 25, 1980
A Cemetery and Our Past


The effort to save Congressional Cemetery goes on. This time, the vehicle is a Memorial Day service honoring 20 women killed in a Civil War explosion at the Washington Arsenal. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow, guides will be on hand to point out where the women -- workers preparing cartridges for the Union armies -- are buried. The guides will also show the historic gravesites that were expected to begin a tradition making this cemetery America's Westminster Abbey.

As any tour of Congressional makes all too clear, it hasn't happened that way. Even without its usual living population of street people and others of dubious calling, the cemetery has become a scene of picturesque ruin -- toppled tombstones, weeds and evidences of vandalism are everywhere. The Westminster Abbey look, no.

Christ Church, the oldest religious institution in this area, which acquired the cemetery in 1812, does not have the resources to maintain it. Although there is a vigorous preservation society dedicated to raising money, lobbing for federal aid and pitching in with their own hands to arrest the deterioration wherever possible, it's more often than not a losing battle.

Granted that an old cemetery doesn't rank very high on most people's investment agendas. Yet, among the causes vying for money and attention, the preservation of such an area ought to be able to hold its own.

It is obvious that tangible remains of the past are fragile and irreplaceable. It is perhaps less obvious but no less true that they have something irreplaceable to give. Without a living sense of the past -- and who can have it without the sight and feel of actual stones? -- the present and the future are flat, two-dimensional, lacking in the resonances of true civilization.

To be sure, there are some parts of the world where the past overwhelms the present. The glory of the Renaissance is too much for present-day Florentines.
    Like the children of brilliant and famous parents, they can be stunted by life in the mighty shadow.

Florentines, at least, have a sense of continuity with past magnificence. In China where the Cultural Revolution is still an uneasy ghost, the strands of historic connection have been cut. While the Chinese government is committed to fostering archaeology as a matter of international prestige, the people no longer know how to react to the artifacts of their past.

America, in its comparative youth, has neither of these problems. Just the relative upstart's shortage of family heirlooms. And a tendency to be lax about taking care of the few we do have.

Congressional Cemetery keeps offering us chances to change our ways. It's easy to find at 1801 E Street SE, within easy reach of the Stadium-Armory Metro stop. It's worth a look, and it's worth a contribution.


The Evening Star, July 4, 1980
The Rambler Visits Grave of Signer


By George Kennedy

Happy Fourth of July!
In order to write a piece appropriate for the day, the Rambler visited the Congressional Cemetery and was shown the grave of Elbridge Gerery, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The cemetery, which is on the north bank of the Anacostia just below the District General Hospital, morgue and jail, is worth a visit at any time.

It is the oldest burying ground in the old city of Washington. It is the property of Washington Parish which was authorized by the Maryland Legislature in 1795 when the Episcopal Church was still the established church of the State as the Church of England had been.

The cemetery itself dates to 1812 when Commodore Tingey of the Navy Yard bought two blocks of the new city for $200 and donated them to the church.

It owes its name to the purchase by Congress of a number of lots for the burial of Senators and Representatives who died in Washington. In the 1840s there was an appropriation for the construction of a cenotaph of red sandstone for deceased members of Congress.

There are 17 of them, all identical. They are of unfortunate design, sepulchral monstrosities suggesting the tombs along the Nile. Cenotaph means a memorial for a person buried elsewhere, and this is true in this cemetery for many of the members memorialized in stone are buried in their home states.

A Sign on the Gate
Reads "Choice lots for sale." Al Johnson, the manager, confirmed this. It was an historic day at the cemetery for the Army Quartermaster Corps is resuming the care of the many grave sites owned by the Government.

Walter Chaney, the foreman who has been at the cemetery for 41 years guided us to the Gerry memorial.

Not one to close the closet doors on skeletons, he pointed out the unmarked grave of David Herold on the way. David, who was not too bright, accompanied John Wilkes Booth on the flight from Washington, was captured at the Garrett farm and hanged at the Washington Barracks (Fort Lesley J. McNair).

The Gerry memorial is not one of the cenotaphs, but an impressive structure of granite with a stone flame rising from a lamp at its peak.

Gerry (the name is pronounced with a hard G as in Gary, Ind.), was Vice President when he died on November 23, 1814. He was on his way to the brick Capitol in his carriage to preside over the Senate when he was stricken with a hemorrhage of the lungs. He was 70.

That was a few weeks after the British took Washington and burned the Capitol and the Executive Mansion.

That Must Have been a bitter blow to the old man.

On July 4, 1776, he was a member of the Continental Congress from Marblehead, Mass. He left Philadelphia on that day, but returned and signed the engrossed document in September.

Gerry was Jeffersonian in his insistence on democracy. What he feared most was the establishment of an aristocracy on this continent.

But he was Hamiltonian in his support of the moneyed classes. He and his father were good businessmen, shipping dried cod in their own vessels to Spain.

He was a slender little man, of polished manners, but contentious. He took offense at an action of the Continental Congress and while nominally a member, stayed away for three years.

He was Governor of Massachusetts when he put through the bill that added a word to our language. It was a redistricting of Essex County that gave the Republicans an advantage. The Federalist towns were placed in a compact two-member district while the Republican town of Marblehead was placed in a grotesquely shaped three-member district. Someone said it looked like a salamander. "It's a Gerrymander," said another (using the hard G).

It worked. In the next election the Federalists polled 51,000 votes against the Republicans' 50,000. But they elected only 11 Federalist Senators against 29 Republicans.

The Washington Post, April 22, 1988
Where the Past is Prologue


By Mariah Burton Nelson

"Hold your breath!" my big sister would demand when we drove by a cemetery. "Hold your breath or you'll wake the dead!"

At the Congressional Cemetery, the dead are probably awake. Picnickers unfurl blankets and gab over fried chicken and Coke; neighbors weave through the tombstone maze on morning jaunts; and dogs, mine included, sniff the ground like anteaters, searching for crumbs.

As a child I played in church cemeteries so I feel at home here, at once relaxed and reverent. "Graveyards remind you that everyone dies and it's okay," my friend Nancy summarizes. Especially here, where earth and sky are vibrant with chattery birds, one can't help but feel moved, fortunate, and very much alive.

Created in 1807, the cemetery originally provided plots for senators and representatives who died in office; no railroad existed then to transport remains to their home states. Eighty congressmen are either buried or commemorated here with cenotaphs (empty tombs). Read the inscriptions on these large cubes of sandstone and you see how young these men were: "The Honrable William Ramsey, Representative from Pennsylvania, died 1840, aged 30 years." "George Kinnard, Representative from Indiana, died at age 33 years." The fathers of our country were kids!

The cemetery soon expanded to accept people from all walks of life, which is evident from the other gravestones. In contrast to Arlington National Cemetery's stones, which queue up as if ready to demonstrate the Domino Theory, Congressional stones display unique personalities. A fat baby angel lounges atop one; another boasts a stone Bible.

The old ones are my favorites. Some have been worn smooth from centuries of wind and rain, but you can still decipher passionate eulogies to women with names like Hattie, Hannah, Matilda, Ethel, Gertrude, Minnie. If survivors were ever relieved at a family member's death, there is no hint of that here. "Beloved," they say. Beloved husband. Beloved daughter. Listen to Edward de Krafft, whose 23-year-old wife died in 1815: "Oh lov'd Maria! What can repay me for the gem I've lost?" You don't see much of that in contemporary graveyards.

The men who built the Capitol are buried here, as are leaders from 10 Native American nations and even a few Revolutionary War soldiers. Children are here. Sometimes you see whole families, presumably wiped out by epidemics: bubonic plague, typhoid, typhus, influenza.

Short of a miracle, Leonard Matlovich, who is suffering from AIDS, will be buried here because of this modern-day epidemic. Matlovich, the first active-duty military man to acknowledge openly his homosexuality, already has placed a tombstone on this land. The black marble stone, decorated with pink triangles, is inscribed 'A Gay Viet and Veteran-They gave me a medal for killing two men, and a discharge for loving one."

"I expected negative reactions to that stone, but they haven't come," says cemetery administrator Lee Jenney. "The other day a group of Vietnam vets . . . took their families to the stone, and they all came back to my office in tears. Even older folks, like the DAR women, have been moved.

The ashes of Harvey Milk, the gay San Francisco supervisor who was slain in 1978 are scheduled to be transferred later this year to Congressional. Some other famous residents:

    * Former F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover
    * Marine Corps Band director John Philip Sousa
    * Belva Lockwood, a lawyer who was nominated for president of the United States in 1884 by the National Equal Rights Party. Though women were not allowed to vote until 1920, she received 4,000 male votes.
    * Adelaide Johnson, an ardent suffragette and artist whose sculptures are in the Capitol. At her wedding, she had her sculptures of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton serve as bridesmaids. A woman minister performed the ceremony, and the groom took the bride's name as "the tribute love pays to genius." She died in 1955 at age 96.
    * Pushmataha, a Choctaw Indian chief who came to Washington in the 1820s seeking the debt owed to his nation by the government.

The Washington Post, August 25, 1988
Cemetery Officials Protest D.C. Jail Guards' Gunfire


Officials of the Congressional Cemetery Association called on D.C. Mayor Marion Barry yesterday to investigate what they called "random gunfire" that they said endangered several cemetery employees Monday when a correctional officer at the D.C. Jail fired at a fleeing prisoner.

The prisoner, Raymond Taylor, 21, was captured by several officers chasing him on foot as he reached the far side of the historic burial grounds at 1801 E St. SE.

Margaret Dawson Hobbs, chairwoman of the cemetery's board, said at a news conference in the cemetery near the neighboring jail building that the association found the shooting into the cemetery "unacceptable" and that the group had written the mayor asking for a "full explanation of policies concerning escaping prisoners."

Lee Jenney, cemetery administrator, said grounds superintendent John Hanley was working in the cemetery when he heard "bullets whistling through the trees near the chapel." She said he and two other workers took cover behind tombstones.

"We are outraged," she said. "That guard could have killed any of us who work here or any visitors to the cemetery. Not only do we have to worry about the threat of escaping prisoners, we now have to worry about being shot by an employee of the jail."


The Washington Post, October 11, 1988
Weddings in the Cemetery


The wedding last May at Congressional Cemetery was not the first in its history, as The Post reported [Metro, Sept. 22]. That distinction belongs to us. We were married there June 29, 1985, as the cemetery's staff will confirm.

At the time, volunteers were rehabilitating the cemetery's chapel. We went in the day before our wedding and swept and vacuumed the plaster dust from the floor and woodwork. We cleaned and polished the pews, mopped the floor, repaired the organ so our friend Diane Edwards could play it and got enough flowers and potted palms from "Olivia's" on Capitol Hill to make the little chapel look nice.

The cemetery is pleasant and interesting-a fascinating place to spend a Sunday afternoon. Volunteers looking after Congressional have done wonders to restore it. It's an important part of America's history-its first national cemetery. It needs financial help from people interested in preserving America's history.
    Russell T. Forte
    Marcella M. Hilt
      Washington

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