To Limbs Loved and Lost

Civil War buffs and fans of historical trivia know the story well. On July 2, 1863 during the Battle of Gettysburg, Union General Daniel Sickles was hit in the leg by a cannonball. The severity of the injury necessitated amputation, a common life-saving tactic employed by 19th-century surgeons. The general survived the operation and insisted on returning to Washington D.C. shortly after the battle. In a curious turn of events, Sickles decided to donate his severed leg to the newly-created Army Medical Museum, now the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland. According to lore, Sickles visited his leg yearly on the anniversary of the amputation, and reputedly favored bringing attractive young ladies to accompany him on his annual pilgrimage.

This curious anecdote from the annals of the history highlights an oft-ignored question: what happened (or happens) to amputated limbs?  We often think of amputations, as in Sickles’ case, occurring in times of war, but any number of incidents and medical situations can lead to amputation.  As Congressional Cemetery records show, it was fairly common in the 19th and early 20th centuries to bury severed limbs in cemetery plots. Faithful readers of the newsletter have likely noticed that interesting discoveries in the archives tend to occur in the search for something else entirely. In this case, a perusal of the cemetery’s digital records brought up the following entry: “Bergman, Frederick (Leg of),” an entry that was then confirmed in the daily interment log. And so the researcher goes down the rabbit hole.

Leg of Frederick Bergman Entry

Leg of Frederick Bergman Entry

The accident and resulting amputation that Mr. Bergman suffered ultimately cost him his life. However, while he lingered in the months after his accident, his leg was interred at Congressional Cemetery in the family plot, resulting in the “leg of” entry. Further inspection of the records revealed that Mr. Bergman died of his injuries, but as far as the records show, his body was not interred with his amputated leg. While his leg lies in Range 4, Site 248, the rest of his mortal remains are buried in Range 153, Site 228. Perhaps we’ll never know why poor Mr. Bergman was not reunited with his lost limb, but one can surmise that at the time of his death, there simply wasn’t any more room for a full interment in the family plot, which forced his family members to purchase an additional space.

In some instances, the owner of the buried body part was never interred alongside their amputated limb. The entry for Miss Anna Bell Lee reads “amputated leg only.” The records state that Anna was only nine years old when she lost her leg. Luckily, she survived the trauma and one can only hope that she went on to live a long and happy life. Wherever and however she lived, the rest of her remains are not at Congressional Cemetery.


Amputated Leg of Anna Bell Lee Entry

As far as the records show, it was far more common for the individual to eventually be reunited with their lost limb. J.A. Craig is one such individual who we can track through two newspaper articles. In the first, the 1904 Evening Star account describes the incident which cost Craig his legs: “He was employed on the P., W. and B. railroad as a brakeman and while cars were being shifted last night he fell and the wheels of one of the heavy vehicles passed over his legs. Both legs were so frightfully crushed that they had to be amputated after he reached Providence Hospital.” The article notes that his amputated legs were subsequently buried in 1904. Flash forward to over forty years later to a 1945 obituary, which details Craig’s final accident at the age of 63: “Police said Mr. Craig, who had artificial legs, got out of his wheel chair and lost his balance.” Craig unfortunately perished from these injuries and was interred at the cemetery alongside his legs.

So why do these records matter? Some might say it is cemetery trivia, albeit interesting trivia, but the interment of amputated limbs speaks to a larger historic tradition. For many of us, it can seem strange to bury a body part without the body, as in present-day it is typical for hospitals to dispose of amputated body parts accordingly. But the prevalence of this practice in the past reveals that these body parts were still viewed as an integral piece of the still-living human being, at least by some. Certain modern religious sects, including Orthodox Jews, still firmly believe that all body parts must be interred with the body, continuing this tradition.

The Sickles anecdote, then, makes a certain sort of sense. It is often recounted as an example of his eccentricities, but as we have seen in the Congressional Cemetery records and in some modern instances, it was and is not unusual to think of amputated limbs as an important extension of the person, even when these limbs are no longer a literal part of the whole.

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Looking for a Weekend Activity for the Kids?

Bring them to Congressional to learn in a unique setting!

If your kids are interested in geology, analyze the different types of stones and how they weather.

Biology?  Our headstones have fascinating clusters of biological staining, crusts, and lichen.

Our site has many statues and memorials that would be inspiring to sketch for artistic prodigies.

For the little ones just learning their numbers, how many cenotaphs sit in a line?  And for the more math-savvy child, can they figure out how old someone was using the dates on the memorials?

It’s probably obvious that we have connections to historical figures and the history of our nation.

But what about the stories “written in stone?”  Look at the symbols on headstones and think about what that broken rose bud, hourglass, or snake biting its tail might have meant to the family of the deceased.

An excellent book for exploring cemeteries with children was just published in 2014 by Teresa Straley Lambert.  In The ABCs of Gravestone Symbols, Lambert alphabetically describes iconography with photographs and rhymes that appeal to both adults and youngsters.  The Congressional Cemetery gift shop will soon have copies of this book for purchase, or you can order now at  Use the book as a guide for a scavenger hunt and see how many you can find at the cemetery.

Congressional Cemetery is essentially an outdoor museum.   With thousands of headstones serving as cultural resources, you could spend all day studying the headstones and gaining insight into the lives of founding fathers, influential women, military heroes, adventurers, architects, and your typical 18th through 21st century Washingtonian.

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Thinking of Warmer Days

Boston, we know. We’ve got nothing on you here in DC. But by anyone’s standards, it is brutally cold here in the nation’s capital. The wind is howling outside the cemetery gatehouse, and the staff feel lucky to be able to hunker down and view the beauty of the cemetery from the comfort of our heated offices.

The best way to combat the winter blues is to look forward to spring, and with that in mind it’s time to highlight our biggest spring event, Day of the Dog on May 2, 2015. Don’t worry, we won’t wax poetic about how amazing and fun this event is (see our August Day of the Dog post if you’d like some of that), but it is time to put this on your radar as an event that you’re *hopefully* looking forward to. This year, we’re also putting on a 5k race in conjunction with the festival, and we’re especially excited about seeing local runners racing through the cemetery with their pups.

Dog lovers, just keep thinking about the better and warmer days that are on their way, and save the date for this special day. And if you’re not a dog owner, but potentially thinking of getting one in 2015? We’ll leave you with this. We dare you to say no to this face.


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Mayors of the City of Washington

In the late fall of 2014, Historic Congressional Cemetery was honored to be chosen as the final resting place of Marion Shepilov Barry, Jr. (1936-2014), who served two terms as mayor of Washington, DC.  He is considered to have served as the capital city’s second mayor from 1979 to 1991 and its fourth, from 1995-1999.  Like all politics in Washington, DC, it’s not that easily defined: Throughout the evolution and growth of the city, many don’t realize that the City of Washington had dozens of mayors in its early history from the time it was granted a formal government in 1802.  Congressional Cemetery happens to be the final resting place of a total of eleven former mayors, including Barry.

The early Mayor of Washington had authority over city services, appointments, and local tax assessments, however, the duties of the mayor mostly consisted of requesting appropriations from Congress to finance the city.  From 1802 to 1812, the mayor was appointed by the President of the United States; between 1812 and 1820, the city’s mayors were selected by a city council.  From 1820 to 1871, the mayor was popularly elected.  Congress formed a territorial government headed by a governor appointed by the President.  Due to alleged mismanagement and corruption, including allegations of contractors bribing members of the District legislature to receive contracts, the territorial government was discontinued in 1874.

From 1874 to 1967, the District was administered by a three-member Board of Commissioners with both legislative and executive authority, all appointed by the President.  In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson presented to Congress a plan to reorganize the District’s government.  The three-commissioner system was replaced by a government headed by a single mayor-commissioner, an assistant mayor-commissioner, and a nine-member city council, all appointed by the President.

Walter E. Washington was appointed the first mayor-commissioner, and Thomas W. Fletcher was appointed the first assistant mayor-commissioner.  Since 1975, the District has been administered by a popularly elected mayor and city council, with Walter Washington being elected in 1975.


In the summer of 2014, a German citizen named Wolfgang Berret visited the cemetery looking for the gravesite of his great grandfather, James G. Berret (1815-1901) who just happened to have served as the 18th Mayor of the City of Washington.  The young Berret was thrilled when HCC staff showed him the impressive final resting place: the Berret mausoleum, the first impressive structure along our mausoleum row.  Wolfgang Barret is pictured here in front of the granite structure.

James Gabriel Berret was an American politician who served as a Maryland state legislator from 1837 to 1839 and as Mayor of the City of Washington from 1858 to 1861, when he was forced to resign from office after being jailed by the Lincoln administration for sedition.

Berret was born in Maryland on February 12, 1815.  When he left the Maryland legislature he was appointed to an office in the US Treasury by President Martin VanBuren.  He served in the Treasury until 1853, when President Franklin Pierce appointed him Postmaster of the District of Columbia.  He served on the inaugural committee for Presidents James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln.

James G. Berrett

James G. Berrett

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Republicans in the US Congress pushed through legislation that required all public officers in Union territory to take oaths of allegiance to the United States.  When Berret refused, insisting that his oath as mayor of the nation’s capital should suffice, Secretary of State William H. Seward had him arrested, jailed in the Old Capitol Prison, then sent to Fort Lafayette, New York.  Three weeks later, when no evidence of collaboration with the enemy surfaced, Seward had Berret released and returned to Washington – on the condition that he immediately resign as mayor. Berret telegraphed his resignation to the Washington City Council, who had already elected Richard Wallach to replace him.

Berret eventually became friends with Lincoln, although he declined when the President offered to appoint him commissioner of the emancipation of slaves in the District of Columbia. However, he accepted Ulysses S. Grant’s nomination to the board of police commissioners in 1872.  He later served on the inaugural committee for President Grover Cleveland.   Berret died April 14, 1901.  His last residence in Washington was at 1535 I Street N.W.

–Paul K. Williams, President

Mayor’s interred at Congressional Cemetery include:

Term                                        Name                                       Death Date     

1812-1813                               Daniel Rapine                            May 11, 1819

1817-1819                               Benjamin Grayson Orr            April 10, 1822

1819-1822, 1824                     Samuel N. Smallwood            September 29, 1824

1824-1827                               Roger Chew Weightman        February 2, 1876

1827-1830                               Joseph Gales                           July 21, 1860

1840-1850                               William W. Seaton                  June 16, 1866

1852-1854                               John Walker Maury                 February 4, 1855

1854-1856                               John Thomas Towers              August 11, 1857

1858-1861                               James G. Berret                       April 14, 1901

1868-1870                               Sayles Bowen                         December 16, 1896

1979-1991, 1995-1999            Marion S. Barry                      November 23, 2014

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A Call for Arms

NowThough an elegant lady still honors the eternal resting place of Catherine J. Weller, her graceful arms outstretched to a cross have long retired to the basement of the gatehouse.  It is unclear how long the statue’s arms have been displaced, but evidence of previous failed repairs can be seen on the broken pieces.  Standing proudly on the sloping hill of the Barney Circle overlook, this memorial is visibly in need of restoration.  The Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery is launching a fundraiser much like the campaign three years ago that secured Marion Ooletia Kalhert’s statue back into her high-buttoned boots.  With your generous donations, Marion returned to her site for the first time in thirty-one years.  Catherine Weller’s statue, witnessing this altruistic act, has politely requested the return of her own missing parts and pieces.


Howard Wellman of Howard Wellman Conservation LLC has provided the cemetery with a cost estimate and treatment proposal to return the statue’s cross and arms to their rightful home.

The cost estimate for such intricate and skilled conservation work comes in at $8,000.  With your support, we will be able to raise the funds to preserve Catherine Weller’s marker.  When you send in a donation, please indicate that you would like it to be set aside for A Call for Arms Campaign. 

And it won’t even cost you an arm and a leg. Just an arm and an arm.


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Let’s Play a Game, Shall We?

We have a friendly challenge here at Congressional Cemetery: give us an American historical event and we’ll find you a connection to a cemetery resident. No promises on how relevant or direct the connection will be, but we’re able to find an abundance of tidbits and trivia that can connect most events in American history to the cemetery or one of our 65,000 residents. You can call it our version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

For instance, if we flip the game and connect an individual to an event, let’s consider the Hon. Warren Ransom Davis. At first glance, his obituary seems rather standard for a 19th-century Congressional Representative. Studied law, practiced in South Carolina, elected to Congress and served until his death. Buried at Congressional Cemetery.

Cenotaph for Hon. Warren Ransom Davis

Cenotaph for Hon. Warren Ransom Davis

However, closer inspection reveals he has a connection with one of the more dramatic stories from American history, the very first assassination attempt on a President of the United States. Davis wasn’t actually around to witness the attempt, but that’s neither here nor there, as President Andrew Jackson was attending Davis’ funeral at the Capitol when the incident occurred:

From the National Intelligencer, Saturday, January 31, 1835

“As the President of the United States (Jackson), who was present at the solemn ceremony of the funeral, came into the portico of the Capitol from the Rotondo, a person stepped forward from the crowd into the space in front of the President, and snapped a pistol at him, the percussion-cap of which exploded without igniting the charge! This person was struck down by a blow from Lieutenant Gedney, of the Navy, who happened to be near; he also received a blow promptly aimed at him by Mr. Secretary Woodbury; but, before receiving either blow, snapped a second pistol at the President. The cap of that lock also exploded without igniting the charge!”

"JacksonAssassinationAttempt" by Original uploader was Bonus Onus at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

“JacksonAssassinationAttempt” by Original uploader was Bonus Onus at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Other versions of the event claim that Jackson, who was at that time well into his 60s, went after the perpetrator with his cane after the first shot. Either way, dear old departed Mr. Davis, a future Congressional Cemetery resident, was part of this bizarre and dramatic moment in American history.

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Amazon Smile: An Easy Way to Give

We understand that it’s the time of year when you might be a little tired of giving. The “season of giving” includes a lot of requests for time and money, and the multitude of end-of-year letters from non-profits can be overwhelming. While December might be the time to donate, January certainly seems like the time to sit back and save.

However, if you are inspired to do a little shopping for yourself, there’s a way you can help us out. Amazon Smile is an easy way to give back to your favorite non-profit. When you shop at, part of the proceeds from your purchases can benefit your favorite charitable organization. In the words of Amazon, “When you shop at, you’ll find the exact same low prices, vast selection and convenient shopping experience as, with the added bonus that Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization. You can choose from nearly one million organizations to support.”

And we hope you’ll choose us! Next time you’re inspired to purchase a Kindle book or whatever else your heart may desire on Amazon, we hope you’ll think of us. Click the link below to support Congressional Cemetery the next time you shop on Amazon Smile.


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A Year in Review (aka The Long-Overdue Blog Post)

This gallery contains 38 photos.

Blog posts are like New Year’s resolutions. It all starts out with the best of intentions, but before you know it’s easy to let things slide a bit. In our case, we let a few weeks or, er, months build … Continue reading

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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:

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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