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Newspaper Clips (1990-1999)
The Washington Post, June 16, 1991 (p. C16)
Cult Ties Suspected in Church, Grave Thefts
Skulls Stolen in D.C., Religious Articles Taken in Southern Md.;
Two Facing Charges
By Paul W. Valentine and Avis Thomas Lester
Police in Maryland, Virginia and the District are investigating possible cult links in the disappearance of skulls from a vault in Washington's historic Congressional Cemetery and thefts of religious paraphernalia from six southern Maryland churches.
The investigation so far has yielded arrests of two suspects and seizure of $30,000 in crosses, Bibles and church vestments at the home of one suspect in St. Mary's County, Md.
Investigators said bones, including several skulls believed taken from the Congressional Cemetery vault, also were found recently in a remote section of Prince William County.
"It appears to be a cult relationship here," said Lt. Phillip Cooper, of the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Department. "There is some evidence that indicates a cult or satanism is involved."
Investigators said there were no signs of vandalism at any of the six churches burglarized in Maryland.
Christopher W. Shriver, 23, of Mechanicsville, Md., and Kim A. Jurek, 22, of Springfield, were arrested June 4 on charges stemming from the church thefts. Shriver remained jailed under $60,000 bond. Jurek was released June 6 after posting $10,000 bond.
St. Mary's County deputy sheriffs, working from an informer's tip, also searched Shriver's home where they said they seized a wide variety of candleholders, crucifixes, robes and other items taken from four Roman Catholic and two Protestant churches in the central and northwestern sections of the county on May 5.
Investigators are trying to link other paraphernalia at the Shriver home with thefts from other churches, according to Detective Julian Schwab, of the county sheriff's office.
He said the office has notified police agencies throughout Maryland, Virginia, the District, Delaware and Pennsylvania, but so far it has heard only from the District and Prince William County police about the Congressional Cemetery theft.
Cemetery administrator, John S. Hanley said the vault of the William W.G. White family was broken into and at least four caskets disturbed within the last two months. He said several skulls and some larger bones, possibly arms and legs, along with unspecified personal effects were taken.
Hanley said the vault holds the remains of about two dozen members of the White family, including children, who were interred from the 1840s to 1921.
He said intruders broke a metal cord and padlock on the vault's door to gain entrance.
The then replaced the cord and lock to make it appear that they had not been tempered with, he said. "They very carefully rummaged through, not as pranksters or drunks, and took what they wanted," he said.
The 184-year-old cemetery in Southeast Washington, the target of periodic vandalism in the past is the resting place for several members of Congress, as well as Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and composer John Philip Sousa.
Staff writer Eric Charles May contributed to this report.
The Washington Times, February 23, 1992
Man Pleads Guilty to Robbing Graves
One man pleaded guilty and another is pending trial on grave robbery charges stemming from a series of raids on Congressional Cemetery in Southeast Washington last spring when bones and body parts were stolen for black-magic acts.
Brian Greer, 23, formerly of Centreville, pleaded guilty Friday to three counts of felony grave robbery. He faces a maximum sentence of nine years in prison at his sentencing June 12. His alleged accomplice, Christopher Shriver, 22, of Mechanicsville, is awaiting trial on grave-robbery and burglary charges.
Greer was indicted in November for breaking into the cemetery three times between April and June and stealing skulls, leg bones and kneecaps with Mr. Shriver's help. Greer stole the remains "for use in occult practices," including fashioning necklaces from the body parts, according to U.S. Attorney Jay Stephens. A search of Shriver's home revealed numerous crucifixes and satanic books and nine tombstones hidden under a bed.
Washington Post, June 16, 1997; page C1
Resting In Pieces
D.C.'S Dilapidated Congressional
Cemetery Is In A Fight For Its Life
Mandy Stadtmiller Washington Post Staff Writer
Jim Oliver stands quietly in mourning. A very frustrated mourning. Not because he's surrounded by 32 1/2 acres of death, almost two centuries old. Oliver likes all of that. He treasures the story of each grave as he would an old autograph or campaign button. No, the death is all right. What gets him down is the decay.
Congressional Cemetery, "America's Cemetery," Washington's first cemetery, at 1801 E St. SE, is rotting. Twenty blocks from the U.S. Capitol, weeds thrash across rusted open family vaults, dirt envelops the statue of an angel who weeps over a child's buried remains, and tombstones tip uneasily. This is what happens when history is abandoned.
You may not have heard of Congressional Cemetery. It's no Arlington. Still, it abounds with famous final restings: FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, "March King" John Philip Sousa, Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. Here lies Belva Lockwood, the first female candidate for president to receive votes. Also here: David Herold, hanged for his role in the Lincoln assassination, and James Crowhill Hall, the doctor who cared for Lincoln in his final hours. Seventy-eight members of the House of Representatives are here, along with 19 senators. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, the only signer of the Declaration of Independence buried in Washington, rests beneath a massive headstone.
Oliver, who spends his days among the most powerful people in Washington as a manager of the House Republican cloakroom, spends his off hours as head of the private association now responsible for the graves of the once powerful.
Today his battle will get a scrap of recognition. The cemetery will be cited as one of the nation's 11 most endangered historic places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Since 1988 the National Trust has issued the "11 most endangered" list to bring attention to historic sites at risk; this will be the first time a cemetery has ever been included.
Congressional was chosen partly to highlight the plight of historic graveyards all over the country that must fight both natural decay and human depredations. "It's not just the wrecking ball to buildings that is a threat" to landmarks, said National Trust President Richard Moe, who visited the site back on Valentine's Day. "I was really struck by the vandalism and theft that has taken place."
The cemetery was started in 1807 by Christ Episcopal Church. In this century the church fought a long, losing battle with vandalism and litter, and in 1978 turned the operation of the place over to the private Association for Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery. From 1982 to 1990, Congress provided $327,000 to help restore the cemetery, but has not provided funding since.
Six months ago the cemetery association was so strapped it let the last of its workers go. Now the grass is not being cut. Restoration work has been suspended. One of the most striking examples of destruction is the statue of Marion Kahlert. Said to be the first traffic fatality in Washington, Marion died when she was 10, struck by a bread truck in 1904. A marble statue inside a glass dome at her grave site showed the girl in Victorian dress. In 1981 the statue was destroyed. Now her grave site has only the tiny pair of marble shoes. The cost of restoration is estimated at $10,000.
One of Oliver's first projects when he got interested in preserving the cemetery eight years ago was indexing the 60,000 names at the site. Lately his work has been a lot more basic. He now busies himself with the day-to-day chores of garbage removal and lawn care. He has even gone so far as to arrange burials. The pin that he keeps on his desk at the cloakroom is a little too literal lately, he said. "I dig Congressional Cemetery," it reads.
But even when one task is completed, another problem always seems to arise. "Just when we thought things were on an even keel, then bam, somebody bumps into the gate down there and we've got another $10,000 project on our hands," Oliver said, pointing to the toppled black iron fence and uprooted concrete curbstone on the side of the cemetery. Even the cemetery's lawn mower is currently indisposed due to a malfunctioning fan belt.
Oliver walks along the weedy paths of the expanse, pointing out details being washed away or hard to find among the tangles of ivy and crab grass. One marble monument is dedicated to 21 women who died in an explosion at an arsenal they were guarding at what is now Fort McNair while the men were off to war in 1864. Rain has caused the marble to sugar, but the meaning is still visible.
"There's an hourglass with wings on it like your time has run out," Oliver says. Wisdom about the nature of life abounds at Congressional. Oliver pointed to the grave of John H. Purviance, with a mini-Washington Monument on top. He admired the brevity of the epitaph: "A clean record and a good name."
Tobias Lear, George Washington's secretary, lies here with a long lament written by his widow after he committed suicide. Acid rain has rendered it unreadable. "City of silence" is barely legible at the end.
Leonard Matlovich, a gay Vietnam veteran who died of AIDS in 1988, had his tombstone specially inset with two pink triangles and the message: "When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."
Despite his intensive work at the cemetery, thoughts of his own mortality rarely haunt Oliver, who turns 47 next month. He guesses a plain flat marker would suit him best. Nothing special. Just big enough so that it couldn't be lost in the weeds.
USA Today, September 8, 1998 (1st ed., Section: NEWS, Page 17A)
The Living Are Playing Among The Dead Again
By Haya El Nasser
It was a romantic setting for Wendy and Roger Kaiser's wedding last April: a chapel amid acres of landscaped greenery, winding roads, majestic marble monuments and a lovely lake.
But there was also something unsettling about the bucolic backdrop: acres of tombstones and mausoleums.
``It's a stunning cemetery,'' says Wendy Kaiser, 40, who was married at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo. ``It's a place that my husband and I would go to have lunch on occasion. It's quiet. You can take walks and have privacy, and the tombstones are fascinating.''
More and more people are finding nothing morbid about frolicking among the dead as cemeteries become the new social gathering places in cities around the country. From weddings, Boy Scout camp-outs and picnics, to foot races, carnivals and concerts, cemeteries are becoming playgrounds for the living, not just resting places for the dead.
Many are opening their gates not only to heighten awareness of a community's history but also to raise money for maintenance. And in many congested cities, cemeteries provide rare open space and natural beauty.
On weekend mornings, parts of Congressional Cemetery in Washington sound and look more like a scene outside a neighborhood Starbucks. Lawyers, journalists, congressional aides and other residents of nearby Capitol Hill meet for bagels and coffee, read newspapers and chat while their dogs romp among the graves (owners must pick up after them). They're members of a dog-walking club that helps pay for the upkeep of the 191-year-old cemetery.
``It's a beautiful way to start your morning,'' says Ann Quarzo, a writer who walks her dog Maggie every day at Congressional, the only public space in Washington that lets dogs run without a leash. ``You can meditate, reflect, get your thoughts together.''
These happy gatherings in the midst of the dead may strike some as disrespectful. But cemetery historians and the people who are rediscovering the peaceful beauty of cemeteries disagree.
``I tend to think they like the company,'' says Jack McGrath of the dead buried at Congressional, who include FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and entertainer John Philip Sousa.
Just how many cemeteries allow nontraditional events on their grounds is unclear. But the ones that do have had few complaints. And cemeteries are careful not to schedule events on holidays or when there are burials.
``It's a wonderful trend because it's a celebration of the past,'' says Susan Olsen, a gravestones and cemeteries expert on Congressional's board.
``When you go to the graves, it's not just the names, it's the epitaphs. Everything carries a meaning, and people are trying to get in tune with history.''
Many of the cemeteries that welcome spirited activities were originally intended to do just that. In the early 1800s, cemeteries evolved from small, overcrowded graveyards next to churches to majestic gardens outside the city.
The rural, or garden, cemetery movement created beautiful parks on hundreds of acres to provide a gathering place for the community -- a place to pay respects to the dead while celebrating life. Families would spend Sundays taking carriage rides, picnicking by the lake or bird watching.
But that was a time when people were accustomed to facing up to their own mortality. Dead relatives were almost always laid out in people's homes for viewing, usually in the parlor. The outlook on death changed dramatically this century. Funeral homes opened. Viewings were held there instead of at home, and people began calling their parlors ``living'' rooms. At the same time, advances in medical research put the spotlight on living longer -- not dying.
So why the sudden revival of interest in cemeteries among the living? The shortage of open space and park-like settings in congested areas, for one. But it's also largely because the corporations and nonprofit groups that run cemeteries need public support and can gain from attracting visitors. Getting people to fall in love with a cemetery is a good way to get them to buy a burial plot.
Kaiser, for example, already knows she wants to be buried at Forest Lawn. She envisions this epitaph on her tombstone: ``I got married here, and I got buried here.''
Mount Emblem in Elmhurst, Ill., is owned by Service Corporation International, the world's largest funeral and cemetery company. It welcomes couples who want their wedding photos taken there and families who want to picnic by the lake.
For nonprofit cemeteries, visitors help with fund-raising. Privately owned cemeteries such as Congressional rely on donations to preserve the cemetery. When families of those buried there die themselves, the money often stops flowing.
Last year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation declared Congressional one of the 11 most endangered historic sites in America. The grass was overgrown, weeds masked tombstones and people were afraid to visit the cemetery, which is in a risky neighborhood next to the city's jail.
Volunteers have joined to restore and maintain the cemetery. One of the ways to raise money is the dog-walking club. The 150 members of the dog-walking club pay dues of $100 a year, plus $5 per dog.
Crown Hill in Indianapolis, a 550-acre cemetery three miles from downtown and the largest urban cemetery in the country, is a favorite of athletes. Butler University's cross-country team trains there. Every March, the cemetery hosts The Race Through Hoosier History, a 5-mile run and 3-mile walk that highlights historic figures buried at Crown Hill, including President Benjamin Harrison and bank robber John Dillinger.
At Mount Auburn Cemetery outside Boston, visitors can buy or rent a 60-minute audio cassette tour of the grounds. Mount Auburn is a botanical garden that attracts students from kindergarten to college, and plenty of lovers. It's on a list of the most romantic places in the Boston area.
``I've had people tell me they were proposed to at Mount Auburn,'' says Janet Heywood, director of interpretive programs for the cemetery. ``I've also had someone tell me this is where they decided to get divorced. I guess it works both ways.''
Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx honors the musical giants buried there -- including Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and George M. Cohen -- by organizing concerts.
And in Cleveland, Boy Scout troops camp out at Lake View Cemetery, a perfect site for ghost stories. Every year, the cemetery hosts a Heritage Weekend in honor of President James Garfield, who is buried there. But rather than being a somber weekend, families enjoy food and ice cream sold by vendors and children get their faces painted.
Kaiser, the newlywed, says, ``What better way to celebrate life, to celebrate that we're all living.''
Reprinted from USA Today
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