In an essay that was recently published on Narratively (The Silence that Whistles Through the Tombstones), author Christopher Haugh describes his personal exploration of Washington, DC’s Congressional Cemetery.
Haugh takes us with him as he wanders through the tombstones. He offers an excellent overview of the significance of the cemetery as well as offering his own personal insights and reflections.
Now its rows are home to soldiers, musicians, Congressmen, Senators, Vice Presidents, and Choctaw and Apache chiefs. The bodies of Presidents John Quincy Adams and Zackary Taylor were kept in the public vault. Some claim President Lincoln’s assassin crouched low to avoid capture here amongst the stones and geraniums, only a matter of years after Lincoln gave a eulogy on these same grounds. Some of the slaves who built the Capitol, its stonecutter, and its architect are buried here, too. And in a grove of flowering trees is a plaque for the victims of September 11th… Read the full story
Congressional, or Washington Parish Burial Ground, is indeed, an important place. It’s list of internments reads like the index of an American history book. The list includes J. Edgar Hoover, Matthew Brady, and John Philip Sousa. More than 65,000 individuals are buried there and the cemetery is still active. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2001.
Founded in 1807, Congressional Cemetery has gone from four and a half acres to a sprawling near-forty covered by thousands of headstones, columbarium niches, footstones, graves, and crypts. Fashioned in the nineteenth-century rural cemetery style, the grounds share characteristics with a public park. Benches, pathways, and groves of trees mark its hillocks and flats. Once, Antebellum Washingtonians spread blankets on the grass and dozed under parasols in and amongst some of the nation’s most illustrious departed.
Among the programs that makes Congressional Cemetery unique is its active dog walking community. Membership is by application (there is currently a waitlist). Once accepted, members may permit their dogs to walk off-leash. The group is extremely important to the cemetery as the funds it raises cover a significant portion of Congressional’s maintenance budget.