5 Reasons to Come to Congressional Cemetery on August 30th

It’s that time of year! As we approach fall here at Congressional Cemetery, like many other DC sites we are heading straight for the busy event season. We absolutely must take advantage of the good weather, and that means you’ll be hearing from us a lot: whether it be about the upcoming Day of the Dog, conservation workshop  Operation Conservation, the first concert in our Notes from the Crypt Chamber Music Series, our 4th Annual Dead Man’s Run, or Ghosts and Goblets, the best Halloween party in town.

Like the not-so-subtle paragraph that attempted to mention all of our events at once?

So brace yourselves. You’ll be hearing from us a lot, but it’s only because these events are so very fun, and we want you to know about them (and the program director, the humble author of this blog post, can’t help but be overly enthusiastic about each and every event). Next up to bat is Congressional Cemetery’s second annual Day of the Dog on August 30th from 11 to 5. It’s a day-long festival that celebrates everything we love about dogs – with vendors, rescue organizations, good music, food, and beer. As with a past event, the best way to get you all to come out is to give you five reasons why it will be incredible. So here goes:

1. It’s FREE.

Although we’ll sell tickets for the raffle, activities, and beer, it’s absolutely FREE to get in. So pack up the pup and come in and wander around. But we guarantee that you’ll be tempted to buy a few tickets (only $5 for 10 tickets) to participate in some of our fun activities (see #3).

2. The cutest, most lovable dogs available for adoption.


Yes, this dog was seriously up for adoption at last year’s event.

Probably the most successful part of last year’s event: over 8 dogs were adopted at Day of the Dog. Are you looking for a friendly pup to join your family? Look no further, as many adoption organizations will be at Day of the Dog: WARL, Washington Humane Society, Lucky Dog Rescue, Rural Dog Rescue, Greyt Expectations, Sleepy’s Dream, and DC Shiba Inu Rescue.

3. Bobbing for hot dogs. Say what?








Yes, your dog can bob for hot dogs at Day of the Dog. And compete in musical hoops. And get his picture taken as John Philip Sousa, who just so happens to be interred here. That’s not enough for you? We’ll have activities for kids too: chalk drawings, lawn twister, lawn scrabble…really, the list goes on and on. You’ll just have to check it out.

4. We’re going to fit it all in this one: dog vendors, tasty food and local brews.








Credit: Erin E Murray Fine Art: https://www.facebook.com/erinemurrayart

We couldn’t do Day of the Dog without our amazing sponsors: the Hill Rag, Howl to the Chief, Atlas Vet, Metro Mutts, Anytime K9, District Veterinary Hospital, Perfect Pet Resort and Peter Grimm of the Smith Team Realtors. In addition to these sponsors, we’ll have other pet vendors here with goodies. And pet portraits courtesy of Erin E Murray Fine Art. And non-profit organizations putting on demonstrations. And did we mention food trucks? Or the tasty brews from two local brewing companies, Port City and Atlas Brew Works?

Really, that was too much to fit into number 4, but such is the drawback of promising only five reasons.

5. The last and best reason: why our events matter.

Cemeteries - Loved

All proceeds from our events benefit the preservation of a National Historic Landmark. So whether you come out for a bit just to enjoy the scenery, or spend all day doing all the activities: we hope that you can make it this Saturday, August 30th. And if you happen to be out of town this Labor Day weekend, be sure to check out the full schedule of upcoming events at Congressional Cemetery. There are so many ways to support your favorite (we hope!) historic cemetery.

End of plug. Until next time…

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Flee the British 5k and Fun Run

On August 24 at 8 a.m., Congressional Cemetery will be hosting the Flee the British 5k to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of the Burning of Washington!  Runners will chase Dolley Madison as she rescues the famous portrait of George Washington from the flames during the War of 1812.  Those bringing up the rear will feel the British troops hot on their heels as runners are chased past the graves of many of those actually involved in the War of 1812.  Directly after the 5k, Congressional Cemetery will be hosting a 2k kids’ fun run.  Registration for the 5k will be $40 and includes a t-shirt.  Registration for the kids’ run is $10.  Runners can run solo, create their own team, or join up with a DC Metro War of 1812 Partner.

The DC Metro War of 1812 Partners/Flee the British teams include Historic Congressional Cemetery, Dumbarton House, Alexandria War of 1812, Naval Historical Foundation, Dolley Madison team (sponsored by the Octagon House), and Washington Walks.  These partners will be presenting their own festivities later in the day to help commemorate the Burning of Washington.

Register in advance online here or at the cemetery day-of!

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Summer Intern – Jennie Black

My name is Jennie Black, and I’m spending seven weeks interning at Congressional Cemetery this summer. I’m a native of Chicago and recently graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. The past few weeks, I’ve gotten the chance to be involved with many aspects of the cemetery and work on several different projects.


One of the first projects I worked on after arriving here was the reformatting of the self-guided cell phone tour. Currently, those taking the tour call a phone number indicated on signposts throughout the cemetery and listen to a recording telling guests about the notable people interred here. I created a webpage for each stop on the tour and ordered new signs that include brief descriptions and QR codes. Once the signs are installed, visitors will be able to scan the QR code with their smartphones and be directed to the webpage, where they will be able to read about our notable “residents.”

In addition to the new cell phone tour, I used existing cemetery information and my own research to create new tours about LGBT activists and African-Americans in relation to the cemetery. The LGBT tour will include such LGBT rights advocates as Leonard Matlovich, the first military service member who came out in protest of the policy against open homosexuality in the military and was the first openly gay person featured on the cover of a US magazine, and Barbara Gittings, who helped found the first gay caucus in an organization, the American Library Association, and was involved in achieving the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental disorders by the American Psychiatric Association.

A metal object found on the grounds

A metal object found on the grounds

The other tour features information about the history of slavery in Washington, DC, as well as some of the slaveholders, slaves, abolitionists, Underground Railroad associates, and free African-Americans who are interred in Congressional Cemetery. Congressional Cemetery is recognized as part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program thanks to the work of “residents” William Boyd, John Dean, Hannibal Hamlin, and David Hall.

In addition to developing tours, I’ve had the opportunity to work with the cemetery’s archives and collections. I’ve been involved with sorting and cataloging electronic and paper news releases about the cemetery as well as documentation and historical information about some of our “residents.” I was also able to update the collections inventory catalog and photograph the majority of our artifacts.

A piece of a sign found on the grounds

A piece of a sign found on the grounds

Finally, I have completed condition assessments on many of our historic monuments and markers. Filling out a condition assessment form includes transcribing the inscription, location, and characteristics of the marker, assessing the marker’s level of damage and risk to itself or others, determining the urgency of restoration, and taking photos of the marker.

I am very fortunate that I’ve been able to be involved in so many different aspects of the cemetery’s preservation and management, and I am looking forward to what the next three weeks will hold for me!

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Operation Conservation

Remember our post about cemetery nerds? (If not, see here). Same applies to this. If you love conservation, cemeteries, archaeology or preservation, this workshop is for you.

More information here: http://www.congressionalcemetery.org/operation-conservation

We hope to see you there!

Operation Conservation Ad (2)

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Remembering the Washington Arsenal Explosion

Today, we should all take time to recognize the sesquicentennial of the Washington Arsenal explosion.  In fact, the weather was very similar to the conditions in DC today on June 17th, 1864. The explosion was precipitated by fireworks laid out to dry by the Arsenal’s superintendent. The hot June day caused the fireworks to explode into the choking room where workers were filling cartridges with gunpowder. The resulting explosions and fire claimed the lives of 21 women, many of them young Irish immigrants working as the sole providers for their families.  17 of these victims are interred at Congressional Cemetery. 15 women were laid to rest beneath the Arsenal Monument, and two are interred separately in family plots.

Aftermath of the Arsenal explosion

Aftermath of the Arsenal explosion. Library of Congress.

These dates and facts seem very straightforward, albeit sad. However, in the short time I’ve been working at Congressional Cemetery, I’ve noticed that the Arsenal explosion  has a way of captivating historians and casual visitors alike. It is a vivid moment in history and a tragic insight into Civil War-era Washington, D.C. The Arsenal monument is one of the most striking monuments here at the cemetery, but I must have passed it dozens of times before I truly realized the impact of the tragedy. When I finally took the time to read Brian Bergin’s book, The Washington Arsenal Explosion, I truly understood the scope and heartbreak of the disaster. Bergin was able to immerse himself, and his readers, so completely in 1864 Washington, D.C. and the lives of these young women that it is impossible to read this book without being affected by the enormity of what happened. I can’t recommend Bergin’s book enough for those who wish to learn more about the disaster.

Arsenal Monument in 1913.

Arsenal Monument in 1913.

Congressional Cemetery will also be hosting two ceremonies to commemorate the Arsenal explosion. On Wednesday morning (June 18th), the Irish Deputy Prime Minister Gilmore will lay a wreath on behalf of the Government and people of Ireland in honor and recognition of the Irish women who died so tragically 150 years ago this week. The public is invited to attend this historic occasion, and the ceremony and wreath laying will begin at 9:45 a.m.

Civil War historian Steve Hammond is another man who has worked tirelessly to recognize and memorialize the young women killed in the Arsenal explosion. As a result of his efforts, the cemetery is hosting a ceremony this upcoming Saturday, June 21st at 1 pm to honor the victims. Erin Bergin Voorheis, Brian Bergin’s daughter, will also speak about her father’s book and the Arsenal disaster. Please join us in commemorating and remembering the sacrifices of these young women.

- Lauren Maloy, Program Director, Historic Congressional Cemetery

For more information about the ceremony: Congressional Cemetery website

For more information about the Arsenal explosion:

The Washington Arsenal Explosion, by Brian Bergin.

Ghosts of DC Blog: Twenty-One Killed in Explosion at Washington Arsenal


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Nerds unite!


Vice President Margaret Puglisi and Doug Graves at their nerdiest.

And when we say “nerds,” we most certainly mean it as a compliment. This comes directly from the cemetery staff members who have had in-depth conversations about their dream tombstones, hold firm opinions about their favorite “residents” in the cemetery, and whose idea of a good time on Friday night includes sipping cocktails in the Public Vault at a book party. If all this sounds fun to you, come join us! We’re hosting two special wine and cheese lectures in the next month that should be right up your alley.

Cemeteries - Loved

On Tuesday, May 20th from 7-9 pm, HCC is pleased to host archaeologist Ruth Trocolli and architectural historian Anne Brockett from the DC Historic Preservation Office. Their lecture, entitled “Cemeteries We Have Loved, Lost, and Rediscovered,” will describe the history and typology of cemeteries in the District as well as the demise of many of the cemeteries that are now gone. They will also explain the process of moving cemeteries when they are closed, and what happens when burials accidentally left behind are rediscovered during later development. This is pretty interesting stuff (especially if you’re a cemetery, history, or archaeology nerd), so please join us on Tuesday to learn more about the cemeteries of DC – above and below ground. For the full description and more information, please see the event listing.

Knickerbocker Theatre. Image: Library of Congress.

Knickerbocker Theatre. Image: Library of Congress.

On Tuesday, June 3rd from 7-9 pm Kevin Ambrose will give a lecture entitled “The Knickerbocker Mystery at Congressional Cemetery.” Kevin is the author of “The Knickerbocker Snowstorm” and is a freelance writer and photographer for the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. His lecture explores the mystery surrounding the grave of a 17 year-old boy in Congressional Cemetery, who was killed in the Knickerbocker Theatre disaster. The boy’s grave prompted a long and fascinating research effort to find the boy’s family and uncover the story of what happened to the boy and his family after the roof of the Knickerbocker Theatre collapsed under the weight of a record-breaking snowstorm.  Want to find out what happened next? You can get more details about the mystery and the lecture here.

Both lectures will take place in our historic 1903 Chapel, with an informal wine and cheese reception following the lecture. Suggested donation of $5 cash at the door to help keep us in wine, so to speak. RSVP for both lectures to lmaloy@congressionalcemetery.org.

What more could you ask for? Come get nerdy with us!

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Maibockfest at Congressional Cemetery

Guest post from author Garrett Peck (check out his website).

Did you miss out on getting tickets to Savor? Never fear: Historic Congressional Cemetery is throwing a Maibockfest on Saturday, May 10 from 3:00 – 6:00pm – and you’re invited.

George Beckert (far left) may have been the first to brew lager in DC. He and his wife Theresa (middle) are buried in Congressional Cemetery. Their brewer son-in-law, Hermann Richter, is the adjacent white obelisk. Photo credit: Garrett Peck

George Beckert (far left) may have been the first to brew lager in DC. He and his wife Theresa (middle) are buried in Congressional Cemetery. Their brewer son-in-law, Hermann Richter, is the adjacent white obelisk. Photo credit: Garrett Peck

This will be the funnest beer festival you’ve ever attended in a cemetery. Congressional Cemetery is fun, quirky place full of interesting people in what is a Victorian park in the Hill East neighborhood. It isn’t solemn like Arlington National Cemetery, but a place that turns its Public Vault into a cocktail lounge for public events. Last summer the cemetery employed a herd of goats to clean out a section of land along the Anacostia River, rather than using herbicides.

And thus we come to our theme: the Maibockfest, or May Bock Festival. Bock is a hearty lager, traditionally the beer of Lent, and it also means billy goat in German. Thus Bock beer uses a goat as its symbol. Three local breweries will be opening their taps to supply us with Bock beer:

- Capitol City Brewing’s Subjugator Doppelbock

- Port City Brewing’s COLOSSAL THREE (their third anniversary beer)

- Mad Fox Brewing’s Elixer Maibock

A humorous image showing the Bock (billy goats) routing the feeble cold-water temperance men while upstanding beer-drinking men cheer the goats on. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

A humorous image showing the Bock (billy goats) routing the feeble cold-water temperance men while upstanding beer-drinking men cheer the goats on. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

We’ll also be doing the “ribbon cutting” for the Brewers Tour. There are nineteen people related to DC’s historic brewing industry who are buried at Congressional Cemetery, and they’ve been mapped out in a self-guided tour brochure. Maibockfest attendees will be the first to take the tour. On the day of the festival, red Solo Cups will be displayed at each of the brewer’s graves.

There’ll be copies of Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C. on hand for purchase and signing.

Registration for the event is $25, and participants can buy tickets on the Congressional Cemetery website. In order to partake in the featured libations, ticket holders must be 21 or older. ID is required.

Bock beers are higher in alcohol than regular lager. Please consider public transit options or having a designated driver (car, cab, Uber). The Potomac Avenue and Stadium Armory Metro stations are only a few blocks away. Congressional Cemetery is located at 1801 E Street, SE in Washington, D.C.

Garrett Peck is the author of Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C. 

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5 Reasons to Come to Congressional Cemetery on April 19th

Congressional Cemetery holds its Annual Meeting every year on the third Saturday of April, timed to coincide with the blooming cherry blossoms that populate the cemetery’s landscape. The public is invited to hear about the state of the cemetery and listen to plans for the upcoming year. This year the Annual Meeting will take place on April 19th at 11 a.m.

In 2013 Congressional Cemetery launched a Revolutionary War living history event to coincide with the Annual Meeting. It was a great success, and this year we have even bigger and better plans to grow this event. Let us pitch it to you with five reasons to mark your calendar for April 19th. If we pique your interest, check out the event on our website: http://www.congressionalcemetery.org/annual-meeting-and-revolutionary-war-living-history-day

1. It’s FREE.

We really don’t need to explain this one.

2. The history is here.


I-Jackson_James-1s    I-Tracy_Uriah-1s

(Left to right – Vice President Elbridge Gerry, General James Jackson, Senator Uriah Tracy)

Although Congressional Cemetery wasn’t founded until 1807, well after the Revolutionary War, many of the movers and shakers from the American Revolution are interred here. Vice President Elbridge Gerry signed the Declaration of the Independence, and he is the only signer buried in the Washington, D.C. area. General James Jackson defended Savannah during the war, and Senator Uriah Tracy (first Senator interred at HCC) was part of the company that responded to the famous Lexington Alarm in 1775. These stories aren’t even the half of it (literally), and you can learn all about the veterans and patriots here on a tour of the notable graves, scheduled at 11 am and 2 pm.

3. Reenactors & living historians: they’re much more than a punchline.


People like to make fun of reenactors, but these people know their stuff.  Last year we were proud to host the College Company of William and Mary (check out their Facebook page here), and this year they will be returning yet again. History is their passion, and they’ll be more than willing to tell you all about what it was like to live in the eighteenth century in America. We’re also excited to have a surgeon’s interpretation this year courtesy of Doctor William Clift, and we’re told that if the weather holds the good doctor may even bring leeches. And The Monumental City Ancient Fife and Drum Corps will be performing, and who doesn’t like hearing a good fife and drum corps?

4. Firing Demonstrations


The College Company will offer three firing demonstrations (12:30, 1:30, and 2:30), and they’ll tell you a little bit about 18th-century guns and warfare. And then they shoot. It’s fun!

5. Cherry blossoms

The cemetery will look like this:


We kid you not. After a long winter, enjoy the beauty of Congressional Cemetery in full bloom.

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UGRR Network to Freedom Grant

Recently, the National Park Service awarded a $6,500 matching grant through the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program. The grant will provide funding for four interpretive granite and bronze footstone markers at the grave sites of William Boyd, John Dean, Hannibal Hamlin, and David Hall.

Historian Sandy Schmidt has completed countless hours of research into the connection between these individuals and the Underground Railroad, and has advocated for their inclusion in the Network to Freedom program. Thanks to her, Congressional Cemetery is included on the Network to Freedom. Sandy wrote the article below for inclusion in Congressional Cemetery’s Fall 2013 Newsletter, and you can learn more about her research on Washington, DC history at her website, http://bytesofhistory.org/.

Congressional Cemetery and the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom

By Sandra Schmidt

Congressional Cemetery was first accepted to the Underground Railroad (UGRR) Network to Freedom in March 2010. An amended application including 2 more individuals was approved this September. As a site on the National Register of Historic Places, Congressional qualifies as the burial site of four individuals associated with the UGRR – William Boyd, John Dean, David A. Hall and Hannibal Hamlin.

The Network to Freedom is a national network of sites, programs and facilities with a verifiable connection to the Underground Railroad. Its purpose is to educate the public and encourage documenting, preserving and interpreting UGRR history. The Network to Freedom was authorized by the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-203) and is managed by the National Park Service. The website (http://www.nps.gov/ugrr) and application process were officially launched in October 2000. Since then nearly 500 sites, programs and facilities throughout the U.S. have been accepted by the Network’s review board.

William Boyd (1820-1884, R5 S222) was a “conductor” on the UGRR. In November 1858, he was caught near the Pennsylvania border with two escaped slaves concealed in the back of his wagon.  It is not known how many other slaves he helped to freedom, but at his trial, witnesses testified they had seen his wagon on other occasions. Boyd was sentenced to 14 years in the penitentiary for stealing slaves. He had served only 3 years when 54 members of Congress –  all of the officers of the Penitentiary and other prominent citizens of the District – petitioned for his pardon. President Lincoln signed the pardon on October 3, 1861. Boyd’s efforts on behalf of the black community did not end there. During a riot in June 1865, when a crowd of rowdy soldiers began looting and beating the black residents in Southwest D.C., Boyd was hit in the head with a brick. A soldier was about to strike him with an axe when a group of black women intervened. He lost an eye and was so severely wounded doctors gave no hope for his recovery. He did recover, but never fully. He went on to serve on the Board of Common Council in 1869, and was a leading member of the Republican Party in Southwest Washington, where he argued for the rights of the black community.

Both David A. Hall and John Dean were attorneys who provided legal aid to freedom seekers and other participants in the UGRR. David Hall (1795-1870, R34 S63) arrived in the District in about 1820 to study and practice law. There are numerous examples of cases heard before the DC and MD courts in which Hall defended or negotiated on behalf of freedom-seekers. Among them are the petition he wrote which Rep. Joshua Giddings presented in Congress on behalf of a black Virginian who had been falsely imprisoned as a runaway slave and was about to be sold to pay his “lodging” expenses. In 1848 he was the first attorney to come to the aid of the officers of the Pearl and the escaped slaves found on board. His daughter’s recollection of his funeral is a fitting tribute to his worth. Nothing was “so impressed upon my memory as the sight of the little group of weeping black men and women that gathered around my father’s casket, and in sobbing tones spoke of his goodness to them in the old days of slavery, when he saved them from being sold and separated from kith and kin.”


National Republican article by Dean

John Dean (1813-1863, R83 S181) arrived in DC in 1862 to take a position in the Treasury Department. He immediately became involved in a series of fugitive slave cases that, because of the interest of persons on both sides of the slavery issue, were covered extensively by the newspapers. His primary focus was to test the applicability of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Because the law referred only to slaves escaping from one State to another, Dean argued, unsuccessfully, that the law did not apply to the District or the Territories. Over the next year he represented 7 freedom-seekers, 4 of which were ordered returned to their owners. A fifth, Andrew Hall, enlisted in the army and thus escaped recapture. As a result of his work Dean was extremely unpopular among the Maryland slave owners. He began to fear for his life, and an altercation with Hall’s owner resulted in his being charged with assault. Dean contracted and died of pneumonia before the case could be heard in court.

NFRA_StatementOf Purpose

NFRA Statement of Purpose bearing Hamlin’s name

Hannibal Hamlin (1809-1862, R64 S75) was a cousin of Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s first vice president. He arrived in DC in 1861 to accept a position in the Treasury Department. By early April 1862 it was generally believed that President Lincoln would sign the bill to emancipate the slaves living in the District. Already freedom seekers from Virginia and Maryland were arriving in large numbers in the hope of obtaining freedom and seeking work in the military units occupying the city.    In late March/early April Hannibal Hamlin served as chairman of a committee to discuss the formation of the National Freedman’s Relief Association (NFRA) of D.C. whose mission was to provide food and clothing to the refugees and prepare them for freedom. The group met on April 9th to formalize the organization and Hamlin was elected their President. He worked tirelessly, soliciting contributions from his Boston and Quaker friends, acquiring provisions and organizing medical services. In the fall he traveled to Fortress Monroe to observe conditions among the contrabands there. Ignoring the advice of family and friends, his health gave out and he died in November 1862.

Congressional is proud to have such men interred on our grounds.  We hope you will visit their burial places, and keep their stories alive.

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Columbaria Obelisk Option at Historic Congressional Cemetery

ImageAt the last International Cemetery, Cremation & Funeral Association (ICCFA) conference, HCC President Paul K. Williams was struck with the aesthetic of a tall granite obelisk that reminded him of the many historic monuments located on the grounds at Congressional.  Except this one was different: a modern rendition that is pre-assembled and designed to hold cremains.  Standing nearly ten feet tall, the columbarium was impressive indeed.  

The obelisk has a total of 20 companion niches, each holding between two and three urns or cremated remains.  Ten compartments are located on each side, with individual panels that can be engraved with names and dates when the ashes are placed.  The monument is manufactured by the Eickhof Company of Crookston, Massachusetts.  The ten foot model can be owned by a cemetery and placed on common ground and the compartmentImages sold to individual families as needed; other models as small as four niches can be purchased by families and installed on a purchased plot.

Currently, the only option for cremated remains at Congressional is burial, unless you own a family vault.  HCC sells 1/3 size plots for this purpose, or families can bury up to nine cremains atop a traditional casket burial.  HCC Staff have located an idyllic location for a potential obelisk at the end of Congress Street, south of the chapel.  The surrounding area would be landscaped with bench spaces incorporated.  So far, three individuals have expressed interest in purchasing space in the obelisk, and as soon as several others also express interest, the cemetery will welcome the newest obelisk addition to its grounds.  Contact staff@congressionalcemetery.org to find out more details.       

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