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.

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(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.

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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

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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:

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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.”

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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.

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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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Congressional Cemetery’s Not Kidding Around: Environmentally-Sensitive Invasive Plant Removal in a Historic Setting

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Investigating the ever-present issue of invasive plant removal in a historic setting, the techniques of weed management, and the effects of these methods, the Association of the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery combined forces to conceive an innovative strategy that took into consideration the environmental, historical, and societal needs of the site.

Approaches to invasive removal, such as the use of chemicals, mechanical equipment, and natural resources, were examined and compared in regard to impact on the Anacostia River watershed, the safety and well-being of visitors, employees, and the cemetery’s K9 Corp dog walking community, in addition to the integrity of the historic monuments scattered throughout Congressional Cemetery’s 206-year old cultural landscape.  Viewed as an outdoor museum, the cemetery is the resting place of remarkable D.C. residents and persons of national significance, from the first decade of the nineteenth century to the present, and the setting for an impressive display of funerary iconography and architecture from an array of different cultures.  With such significant resources, it became apparent that action was necessary to prevent the decaying, vine-covered trees from falling on these invaluable historic memorials.

With the research collected, the association was able to arrive at an educated decision to employ fifty-eight “Eco-Goats” from Sustainable Resource Management, Inc.  Although this method was routine in past centuries, it is not commonly selected for cemetery maintenance in present day.  The goats, after grazing for eight days on invasive plants in the dense thicket along the southern perimeter of the site, were able to eradicate countless invasive species, including but not limited to Virginia creeper, poison ivy, and kudzu.  Due to the goats systems’ ability to break down the seeds’ physical properties, the plant’s ability to regenerate is significantly limited.  Spanning a 1.6 acre section of land, the Eco-Goats devoured the majority of the vegetation to approximately six feet off of the ground while also providing fertilization.

This creative and innovative solution efficiently produced the result desired and, in the process, also generated an influx of positive interest from the local community, city officials, social media, and press on the national and international level.  By exploring commonly used methods and impacts, the association was able to remove problematic plants and vines, decrease their environmental impact, and protect the cemetery’s historic resources, as well as educate the public about the harmful effects of herbicides on multiple levels.  The goats made it possible to protect the Anacostia River, the people and canines roaming the site, and the historic stones standing proud, all of which are iconic features of Congressional Cemetery.  This presentation illustrates Congressional Cemetery’s process of determining the appropriate techniques for removal of invasive plant species on a historic, publicly-used site with the objectives of having little environmental impact, protecting valuable historic resources, and educating the public about the benefits of choosing a natural alternative.

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Civil War Tour Schedule Available

Mark your calendars! The 2014 Civil War tour schedule is now updated. All tours are free and are led by Civil War expert Steve Hammond. Note the special tour on June 21st, when Congressional Cemetery will hold a memorial service for the victims of the 1864 DC Arsenal explosion.

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Decoding a Military Hero’s Memorial

Imagery on memorial artwork, especially in the 19th century, was a mode of artistically expressing symbolic meaning and would have been effortlessly understood and recognized by onlookers.

With an enduring military history, starting at the age of sixteen and best known for his victory at the Battle of Plattsburg in 1814, Macomb was a well-respected and beloved man, focusing much of his time on the betterment of those in need.  Resurrection is an overarching theme illustrated on the monument indicating that Macomb was an optimistic man and a strong believer in the continuous cycle of life.  The symbols illustrated on the monument greatly exemplify Alexander Macomb’s military importance and his philosophies and values in life and death. 

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For further information about Macomb’s ambitious and captivating endeavors, visit Congressional Cemetery’s website.

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Tombs and Tomes

Book Club copy Oddly enough, there are a few cemeteries that host book clubs. Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia has Boneyard Bookworms, and Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, NC has Read in Peace. A book club in a cemetery must have a clever name, and the title of our nascent book club is Tombs and Tomes.

So far, we’ve met three times and discussed three very different books. Stiff, a hilarious book by Mary Roach, dealt with cadavers and the ways in which they have been used in history and in science. Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, delved into the terrifying mind of serial killer H.H. Holmes in conjunction with the production and creation of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Last night, we discussed Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell’s humorous exploration of three presidential assassinations.

The discussions have been lively, due in part to the requisite wine but mostly to the interesting group of people who have gathered every other month in our historic Chapel. And although last night was a little chilly, we warmed up with mulled wine and chowed down on delicious brownies that have now become a mainstay of our meetings.  If you’d like more information about our book club, please see our website: http://www.congressionalcemetery.org/tombs-and-tomes or check out the WTOP article about Tombs and Tomes. And if you’re interested in attending a meeting, send any queries to lmaloy@congressionalcemetery.org. Our next meeting is March 19th at 6:30 pm, and we will be discussing Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. Come chat with us!

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Romance and Tragedy at Congressional Cemetery

We’re excited to announce a special upcoming event at Congressional Cemetery in honor of Valentine’s Day. And as you might imagine, it’s a tad unorthodox:

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As the advertisement suggests, the tour won’t be your usual saccharine and sappy fare (although no offense to those who enjoy that sort of thing). Any self-respecting Valentine’s Day event in a cemetery has a different standard to live up to, of course. Sure, you can cuddle up with Love Actually and a bottle of wine with your hubby, or you can save that for a rainy day and travel to an unusual venue to hear real tales of failed romance and true love from the past. If you attend the event on Thursday the 13th, we can promise the following:

  • An unusual and enlightening evening in the company of like-minded souls
  • Tragic tales of doomed romance
  • Stories of true, enduring love, albeit with unusual twists
  • A delicious cocktail or two to savor while you travel back in time: either sour or sweet, depending on the mood

And all this for a suggested donation of $20. To reserve your place for this special tour and soiree, simply email staff@congressionalcemetery.org to save your spot, as space is limited. Bring your quirky significant other, a friend, or just yourself and enjoy an evening with 65,000 quiet souls who have stories worth telling.

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Capital Campaign for the Main Sousa Gate

SousaHistoric Congressional Cemetery has kicked off a $195,000 capital campaign to restore and reinstall the original front gate at the main entrance to the cemetery.  You can donate HERE.  The heavy wrought iron gate was installed in 1856, but was moved to another area of the cemetery in 1923 when the gatehouse was erected.  A much less ornamental gate replaced it, along with a curved nameplate which serves as our logo; this gate was subsequently destroyed by a delivery truck in 2010, and replaced with the current, temporary gate.

The cemetery has landscaping and architecture plans completed that call for moving, restoring, and reinstalling the original gate at the main entrance, incorporating the curved nameplate sign from 1923.  In addition, two pedestrian gates will be created matching the original on either side, along with a short rec recreation of the original fence, electronic opening and other security features, a new handicapped accessible path leading tot he gatehouse door, completion of the cobblestone road, and a small new side porch for weekend gate checkers and hearse reception are all part of the plan.

1236307_530905980318659_29877811_nOn top of the new side porch will be a recreation of our original circa 1856 bell tower and cupola that will once again provide a home for our historic funeral tolling bell, which has recently been restored by the original foundry in Baltimore, thanks to a $2,000 grant from the Capitol Hill Community Foundation.  Previously designed plans by Bell Architects have been approved by the Commission of Fine Arts, with recent updates from Moody Landscaping.

Work can begin as soon as $195,000 is raised for the completion.  Thanks to your contributions and a generous $10,000 matching grant from Board member Edward S. Miller, as of January 1, 2014, $38,729 had been raised.  Mr. John Philip Sousa IV, the great grandson of the Marine Corps Band Director and composer by the same name has graciously agreed to be Honorary Chair for the effort.  The detailed architectural drawing of the original gate and 1923 sign is pictured below.

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