National Day of Service and Remembrance

In 2009, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act made September 11 an official, federally recognized holiday. Since then, Americans across the country have been volunteering with various organizations for the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance. The purpose of the day is to serve as a way to honor those who passed away in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and to reawaken the spirit of unity that brought people from all over the country together after the devastating attacks.

Every year, Congressional Cemetery serves as one of the host sites for the National Day of Service and Remembrance. This year was no different. On September 8, 2018, we hosted approximately 250 volunteers at the cemetery. The volunteers worked on a total of ten projects.

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Posing after completing their project. Photo taken by Sean McCoy.

One of the biggest projects was the creation of two gravel pathways in the eastern section of the cemetery. The pea gravel, which was a mixture of sandstone and sand, was selected based off of a poll that the cemetery posted on social media. One portion of the path had to have metal edging installed along the perimeter, which involved a lot of physical labor. Meanwhile, the portion of the path that leads to and surrounds the Methodist Memorial has brick edging that was dug up by our Grounds Conservation Manager, Kymberly Mattern. The bricks used in the brick edging are the same bricks that historically lined a gravel pathway around the memorial.

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Working hard to install the metal edging. Photo taken by Sean McCoy.

Another team was responsible for pulling weeds and re-mulching the flower beds on Mausoleum Row. If you visited in the cemetery in late July and August, you likely noticed that the flower beds were overgrown. The team pulled all of the weeds out of the flower beds, added a new layer to serve as a barrier for the weeds, and re-mulched the flower beds. Their work significantly enhanced the view of Mausoleum Row while also benefited the health of the plants.

A smaller team was also responsible for maintaining some of the abandoned plots in our Adopt-a-Plot program. They focused primarily on adopted plots near the gatehouse and around the chapel. Additionally, a different smaller team was responsible for pulling weeds in the historic cobblestone swales, near where the new pathways were created. This team went above and beyond—they also dug up some of the cobblestones that had been buried under years of sediment, dirt, and debris. Concurrently, another team worked on pulling weeds outside of the cemetery, near Barney Circle. This particular area was severely overgrown and was unsightly. Their efforts improved the view of the cemetery that people have when turning on to 17th Street.

In previous years, one of the projects was to paint the fence that runs along E Street and Potomac Avenue. This project was finally completed this year. A large group of volunteers applied a Rust-oleum black paint to the fence, which will help extend the life of the fence by acting as a protective barrier to the iron.

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The rain held out for us, so the fence was able to be painted. Photo taken by Sean McCoy.

Finally, another team worked on pruning trees around the cemetery. Trees in every part of the cemetery were pruned to approximately 6 feet in height, helping to restore the historic viewshed of the cemetery.

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Working together to trim some of the limbs off of a tree near the chapel. Photo taken by Sean McCoy.

The work done by the volunteers on Day of Remembrance always makes a huge difference on the grounds of the cemetery. Since there is a small staff and an even smaller grounds crew, the work that was completed on Day of Remembrance is equivalent to a year’s worth of work on the grounds—all done in a day. The cemetery wouldn’t be as beautiful as it is today without the hard work of all of the volunteers. It is our hope that this event instilled the same sense of unity and community that this country experienced after 9/11 and that the volunteers held the victims of 9/11 and their loved ones in their hearts while volunteering at the cemetery.

We are incredibly grateful for Frager’s Hardware Store and Subway for supporting the volunteers for Day of Remembrance by providing supplies and tools (respectively) for the event.

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People of all ages came out to volunteer last Saturday. Photo taken by Sean McCoy.

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Tombs and Tomes Book Club Celebrates Five Years

If I’m being completely honest – which I’ve decided to be – Tombs and Tomes book club was started on a whim. My former colleague Margaret and I wanted to be a part of a book club, and after perusing programming and events at other cemeteries, I discovered that there was in fact precedent for this, such as the Boneyard Bookworms book club at Laurel Hill Cemetery. With approval and participation from my boss, and a promise that it wouldn’t take up too much staff time, we searched for a whimsical name and began to recruit book club members. But since its admittedly selfish beginnings, Tombs and Tomes has grown beyond the bookish whims of a couple cemetery coworkers. Tombs and Tomes is still evolving, but for the most part, this programming mainstay is all grown up.

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HCC mascot Doug Graves at our first Tombs and Tomes meeting.

As luck would have it, the very first book club meeting coincided nicely with one of cemetery’s admittedly much higher-profile events: the first visit of the goats in 2013. As the entire staff fielded interviews that August, a reporter perused our list of events and honed in on our first book club meeting. Looking back at the WTOP interview, it’s both interesting and embarrassing to read between the lines – I didn’t have a clear vision of what the book club would be, only that we would read macabre books and well, discuss them. Luckily the reporter made it sound much better, and many of the attendees at the September 2013 meeting came because of that article.

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First Tombs and Tomes meeting.

Our first book selection was Stiff, by Mary Roach. It was a fitting selection for our off-the-wall book club, and it set the tone for our future meetings. From there on out, Tombs and Tomes primarily read non-fiction books, and we focused on the darker side of the genre: our early picks included Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty, and Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. The book club still meets every other month, and while I used to have to go through the “chore” of compiling a book list for members to vote on, now everyone sends more than enough recommendations to populate the voting ballots. We’ve even been lucky enough to have authors Skype in to our meetings (Hannah Nordhaus, writer of American Ghost, and Brady Carlson, writer of Dead Presidents, to name a couple) – and once, we even had the author show up to our meeting in person. We were all pleasantly surprised when author Sheri Booker showed up to talk about Nine Years Under in 2015.

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Meeting with author Sheri Booker (Nine Years Under)

This wouldn’t work for any other program, but not having a vision of what this program should be has contributed to its success. Tombs and Tomes has taken up a life and spirit of its own. We have a few original members, but many have also come and gone, and the life cycle of Tombs and Tomes has also begun to change the kinds of books the group selects. We’ve read quite a bit about funeral homes and serial killers (I told you it gets dark), and now the group has started to turn to a few fiction books for the selections, including Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. Tombs and Tomes has garnered Congressional Cemetery docents and volunteers, donors and event supporters – but honestly, that’s almost beside the point, even if it’s a wonderful side benefit. At its heart it’s the purest kind of program, without pretense. Tombs and Tomes isn’t a fundraiser, and it’s certainly not the biggest program the Cemetery hosts, but it brings together an interesting group of people to discuss a unique selection of books, with a little wine and levity on the side. So in closing: happy birthday, Tombs and Tomes! Here’s to another five years of cozy meetings about not-so-cozy subjects.

You can find out more about Tombs and Tomes, including our reading lists, at http://hccemetery.wixsite.com/tombsandtomes.

Lauren Maloy, Program Director

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The Public Vault

 

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In the middle of the cemetery, there is a vault like no other vault in a U.S. cemetery. This vault is called the “Public Vault,” and, unlike receiving vaults at other cemeteries, its construction was fully funded by Congress in the mid 1830s. The Public Vault was intended to be used as a temporary holding place for bodies while funeral arrangements could be made. Anyone had the ability to use the Public Vault. However, the general public paid $5.00 to use the Public Vault. $1.50 of this $5.00 went towards the sexton for his services, while the rest of the money went towards the improvement and maintenance of the grounds. Congressmen, on the other hand, had free access to the Public Vault. The remains and bodies of over 3,000 people have been placed temporarily in the Public Vault. Most bodies only stayed in the vault for one to two days because the vault was never meant to be a permanent burial-place for anyone.

The bodies of several notable people have been placed in the Public Vault, including Vice President John C. Calhoun, First Ladies Louisa Adams and Dolley Madison, and Presidents John Quincy Adams, William Henry Harrison, and Zachary Taylor. President William Henry Harrison’s body was in the Public Vault longer than he was in office. First Lady Dolley Madison’s body remained in the vault for about two years before James Causten, Dolley Madison’s niece’s father-in-law, had her body moved to the Causten family vault across the pathway. Dolley Madison remained in the Causten vault until her interment at Montpelier in 1858.

The Public Vault was made out of Aquia Creek sandstone. This particular type of stone was readily available along the Potomac River, could be easily carved, and had “warm tones.” Unfortunately, the stone is not the most durable.

In the 1930s, the Public Vault fell out of regular use. This is, at least in part, due to the increasing popularity of embalming and the use of funeral homes along with advancements in transportation. 

In 2003, the Public Vault was in “sad shape,” with doors hanging by a “thinning strip of a wrought iron hinge.” Consequently, the federal government allocated funds to pay for the restoration of the Public Vault.

The doors of the Public Vault recently had improvements made to them, and a railing was added to the stairs on the interior of the vault. Additionally, the interior and exterior both received a fresh coat of paint (using a lime-based paint), and dirt was removed from the top of the vault to allow the plaster to breathe. Today, the vault is used for various events at the cemetery, and is a popular stop on tours through the cemetery.

Written by Kymberly Mattern

Sources:

Johnson, Abby Arthur., and Ronald Maberry. Johnson. In the Shadow of the United States Capitol: Congressional Cemetery and the Memory of the Nation. Washington: New Academia Publishing, 2012.

Roberts, Rebecca Boggs., and Sandra K. Schmidt. Historic Congressional Cemetery. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2012.

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Celebrating Pride at Congressional Cemetery: the Lives of Kenneth Dresser and Charles Fowler

In March, I traveled to New York City to attend a short training course located at Woodlawn Cemetery. Having done an extensive amount of research on LGBTQ+ history for my Masters thesis, I made sure that visiting Stonewall Inn was a high priority during my stay in the city. I choose a table in the corner to sit at. I casually looked around, taking everything in and reflecting on the importance of the place I was in and its role in LGBTQ history. When I glanced behind me, I noticed the picture of Leonard Matlovich’s headstone hanging on the wall in Stonewall Inn. For those of you who don’t know, Leonard Matlovich is one of several LGBTQ+ people buried at Congressional Cemetery. Leonard Matlovich was a Vietnam War veteran who became the first active service person to out themself to the military to fight the military’s ban on LGBTQ+ people. A photograph of Matlovich was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in September 1975, making him the first openly gay person to appear on the cover of a widely circulated magazine. Seeing the picture of Matlovich’s headstone on the wall of Stonewall Inn was what made me truly understand that Congressional Cemetery also plays an important role in LGBTQ+ history due to its association with several people who were important in LGBTQ+ history, including Leonard Matlovich, Franklin Kameny, Alain Leroy Locke, Barbara Gittings, Kay Tobin Lahusen, Peter Doyle, Cliff Anchor, and several other people.

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Photo taken by “DC Bike Blogger.”

Congressional Cemetery has a section of the cemetery that has been dubbed the “LGBT corner.” This corner began in 1988 with the burial of Leonard Matlovich, and has since expanded to include several LGBTQ+ people. During the peak of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s, which had a huge impact on the LGBTQ+ community,. Many funeral homes refused to work with HIV/AIDS patients, and many cemeteries may have banned HIV/AIDS patients from being buried on their grounds. Leonard Matlovich was one of the many victims of HIV/AIDS, and his burial at Congressional Cemetery has surely inspired several other LGBTQ+ people to purchase plots at Congressional Cemetery.

Kenneth Dresser and Charles Fowler, who were partners, are two of the several LGBTQ+ people also buried at the cemetery. In celebration of Pride month, information about their lives are being shared to highlight some of the other LGBTQ+ people buried at Congressional Cemetery.

Kenneth Dresser was born in 1938, grew up in Westwood, MA and passed away at the age of 57 on September 8, 1995 in Washington, D.C. He shares his final resting place next to his partner, Charles Fowler. Their headstone is in the shape of a cube that is tilted on its axis so it appears as if it is standing on one of its corners. The stone can be seen right off of the main road when you enter the cemetery through the main gate.

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Photo taken by Paul McClure.

Kenneth Dresser worked as an independent creative consultant, and was well-known for designing the Electric Light Parade at Disneyland, the Electric Water Pageant at Epcot, and the Fantasy of Lights at Callaway Gardens in Georgia. His designs have also been featured at the Kennedy Center, Super Bowls, world fairs, presidential inaugural balls, the Tournament of Roses, the Radio City Music Hall in New York, Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, and in France and Japan. Dresser’s work was not limited to light shows; Dresser also created illuminated costumes, neon lights, fiber optics, and special effects that incorporated stage fog and other computerized graphic effects. Dresser lived in Washington, D.C. with Fowler from 1964 until 1995. Like Leonard Matlovich, Dresser also suffered from AIDS, which ultimately resulted in his death.

Charles Fowler was an American writer and a consultant in the arts, focusing his efforts on advocating for arts education. Throughout his career, he wrote over 230 articles, books, and reports. From 1974 until 1989, Fowler served as the Education Editor of Musical America Magazine. Fowler also wrote several pieces of educational material for the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Additionally, Fowler wrote the grand opening of Epcot Center for Walt Disney Productions and the grand opening of Knoxville World’s Fair. He also was the writer for the annual Christmas pageant at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, several National Public Radio programs, and he prepared scripts for Gerald Ford among several other notable people. Fowler passed away at the age of 64 on June 11, 1995, almost exactly three months before his partner passed away.

Congressional Cemetery is hosting a few Pride events to commemorate the LGBTQ+ people buried at the cemetery, including Kenneth Dresser and Charles Fowler. These events include:

  • The Pride 5K on June 8 at 7:00 p.m. This event is now full, but you are welcome to come out to cheer on the runners.
  • An LGBT Tour on June 9 and on June 10 at 12:30 p.m.
  • A special Notes from the Crypt concert with Laura Tsaggaris on June 10 at 6 p.m. in the chapel


See http://www.congressionalcemetery.org/ for more information.

 

Nathan Paxton wrote an article on the representation of the HIV/AIDS endemic at Congressional Cemetery. His article can be viewed at: http://www.washingtonblade.com/2014/11/25/walking-among-hivs-dead-congressional-cemetery/.

The information for this entry came from Kenneth Dressler’s obituary and the introduction to Charles Fowler’s papers.

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Normal or Obsessive? The Case of Charles Larner

Death is making a comeback. Granted, it never left, but awareness and acceptance of death, mourning, and cemeteries is certainly on the rise. Congressional Cemetery staff are generally more aware of this since we’re in the “business” (said in an ominous voice), but all you have to do is attend one of our programs to see this public interest firsthand. It’s especially apparent at our more macabre-themed programs, such as Rebecca Roberts’ lecture on grave robbing, or our Tombs and Tomes book club meetings. People are curious about death and the topic itself is becoming less taboo.

This culture shift is heralded most notably by an organization called The Order of the Good Death, founded by Caitlin Doughty. The Order promotes what they have termed as the “death positive” movement, which is exactly what it sounds like. Being death positive doesn’t mean that you’re unafraid of death. Instead, being death positive holds to certain tenets, such as “by hiding death and dying behind closed doors we do more harm than good to our society,” and “the culture of silence and death around death should be broken through discussion, gatherings, art, innovation, and scholarship.” The Order of the Good Death hosts an annual event called Death Salon which brings together people to – you guessed it – learn and talk about death.

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Congressional Cemetery staff members meet Caitlin Doughty at the 2015 Death Salon.

Historically, an interest or even fascination with death is nothing new. Victorians were famously obsessed with death and all things macabre. This obsession as a society lives on in the material culture, from iconography on headstones to mourning jewelry and postmortem photography.  It’s no coincidence that Congressional Cemetery’s heyday (other than right now, of course!) was the Victorian era, when visitors made cemeteries everyday destinations rather than forgotten landscapes designated solely for funerals. Fear, or more aptly, avoidance of death has more modern roots as death has slowly been sanitized and monetized in the twentieth century.

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Song sheet cover, 1880-1890. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O130717/little-sisters-gone-to-sleep-print-unknown

 

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Victorian brooch made with hair, 1842. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O130484/brooch-forrer-a/

 

While it may be incorrect to say that the Victorians embraced death, they acknowledged the omnipresence of mortality with a curiosity and creativity that puts their 21st-century counterparts to shame. Given this general acceptance, the case of one Charles Larner is all the more notable. Congressional Cemetery’s 2017 Programming, Writing, and Research Intern Katelyn Belz came across Larner’s file during a perusal of our archives and flagged it for future exploration. Unfortunately, the contents of his file are slim: they contain a simple obituary and a single Washington Post article from August 29, 1896. But the article speaks volumes about an unusual man absolutely obsessed with funerals.

In present day, Charles Larner would be labeled as having an intellectual disability; the 1890 article instead described Larner as “a child mentally up to the day of his death.” But the most interesting thing about Charles Larner is that he absolutely loved attending funerals, and was noted throughout Washington, D.C. for his fascination with the “obsequies of the dead.” The headlines for the article about Larner read:

His Fad Was Funerals

“Poor Charlie” Larner Will Go from the Next in a Hearse

All the Undertakers Knew Him

For Years He Delighted in Attending Obsequies of the Dead,

and When Young and Active Would Follow the Body to Its Last Resting Place –

Preference for Funerals When There Was Music – –

Much Funeral Display Always Pleased Him

Nineteenth-century newspaper articles didn’t mince words, and it’s understandable why this particular file caught Katelyn’s eye. The article goes on to paint a vivid picture of a man obsessed with attending funerals. He even went so far as to frequent undertakers’ businesses to inquire as to when funerals were scheduled, a practice often met with irritation and sometimes hostility. He loved walking in funeral processions, although later in life his “stout” figure prohibited extensive walking. Charles favored funerals which featured music or grand displays.

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Hearse and Congressional Cemetery Chapel, 1913.

The most admirable aspect of Charles Larner, or at least as much as we can glean from a century-old article, is that he didn’t go to funerals to bear witness to tragedy or grief : “There was no morbid curiosity about him, and he seemed not to be impressed with the mournful side of such affairs. Apparently he found a genuine pleasure in being present at a funeral, and when the entire ceremony was over he appeared as much satisfied as if he had achieved something of great benefit to the community at large.” The last line of the article – and a dramatic one at that – speaks to his uncomplicated viewpoint on mortality: “Charlie has said a hundred times to Undertaker Gawler: ‘You’ll bury me when I die.’ And so he will.”

Let it be known (disclaimer here!) that no one is advocating that people pop in to funerals at any cemetery unless specifically invited. But a less literal interpretation of Charles Larner’s approach might be encouraged. Perhaps we can learn from the Victorians and their attitudes towards death, particularly Larner’s straightforward approach to the inevitability of his own demise. Regardless of personal interest in diving into this uncomfortable topic, at the very least this might temper any judgement about someone interested in learning about death. And if you are interested? Know that you’re not alone, and that there’s precedence for and now solidarity with your curiosity about the inevitable.

–Lauren Maloy, Program Director

Resources:

The Order of the Good Death: theorderofthegooddeath.com

Full article about Charles Larner: http://bytesofhistory.org/Cemeteries/DC_Congressional/Obits/L/Obits_Larner.pdf  

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Tragic Tales at Congressional Cemetery: Strange Deaths

This week’s blog post, which is about strange deaths, concludes the “Tragic Tales” blog series. The “strange deaths” category focuses on people who died in an unusual way. There are several people whose stories fit this category, but only four of them will be shared in this post.

I hope that you will reflect on all of the stories that were shared today and over the past few weeks. All of these stories were difficult to read (and difficult for me to write). Take some time to reflect on these people and their stories. I hope that you remember each of these people and, if you get the chance, visit their gravesites

Please remember: The information that was gathered for each of these stories was pulled from historical newspapers, mainly The Evening Star. Back then, newspapers contained a lot more information about tragedies than we see today, including detailed information about how people were injured and/or killed. With that being said, please note that some of these stories contain information that can be considered graphic. All of these stories are sad. Read at your own risk.

John H. Yonson (Range 4, Site 25)

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On April 29, 1871, Samuel Shreeve, a “druggist” (pharmacist) was in the middle of charging a soda fountain, specifically “pouring the vitriol,” when, suddenly, the fountain burst because the generator exploded, which caused pieces of the soda fountain to go flying. Fragments of the casing struck Shreeve in the left breast of the pharmacist, likely causing a fatal injury. An 18 year old clerk, John H. Yonson, was also in the store at the time. Yonson also received a fatal injury: a portion of the casing struck him on the legs, nearly severing the right leg and inflicted “ghastly” wounds on his left leg, likely requiring Yonson to get his leg(s) amputated. Drs. Coombs, Latimer, and Winston tended to the survivors. Initially, Shreeve’s recovery was extremely doubtful, and his condition improved. However, all of the doctors agreed that Shreeve would not fully recover from the accident. Yonson, on the other hand, ultimately died as a result of his injuries.

James Doughty (Range 7, Site 15)

            James Doughty worked as a flagman on a gravel train on the Baltimore and Potomac railroad. While aboard a train on February 20, 1875, he noticed that the switch was out-of-place and motioned for the train to stop. He then jumped off of the train to correct the switch. Unfortunately, there were icy conditions on that particular day. Doughty slipped on the ice and fell under the train. The wheels of two train cars passed over his head and the upper part of his body. Doughty left behind his wife, but the couple did not have any children.

 

William Grantham (Range 147, Site 215)

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William Grantham, 35, worked at the plant of a gas company in SE D.C. While working at the coal chute, Grantham fell about 25 feet from a trestle and struck the ground. Grantham fractured his skull and his body was covered in cuts and bruises. Unfortunately, Grantham died in the hospital as a result of his injuries.

Howard Mack (Range 107S, Site 255)

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            Howard Mack, 12, worked at Golden, Love, & Company, a box factory. During his lunch break on September 26, 1904, Mack was playing in the elevator shaft with his friends. Mack was descending a ladder and lost hold of the rungs, ultimately falling three stories. Mack severely injured his head, and ended up dying from his injuries about an hour later.

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Tragic Tales at Congressional Cemetery: Suicides

This week, four stories will be shared, all of which focus on people who, sadly, committed suicide. There were a wide range of known reasons why these people each committed suicide, including mental illness, heartbreak, work, and illness.

We now have far more resources available for people struggling with suicidal thoughts and mental illness. If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1‑800‑273‑TALK (8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your confidential and toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals. You can also call 1‑877‑SAMHSA7 (1‑877‑726‑4727) to get general information on mental health and locate treatment services in your area. 

Please remember: The information that was gathered for each of these stories was pulled from historical newspapers, mainly The Evening Star. Back then, newspapers contained a lot more information about tragedies than we see today, including detailed information about how people were injured and/or killed. With that being said, please note that some of these stories contain information that can be considered graphic. All of these stories are sad. Read at your own risk.

Anna Angell (Range 15, Site 223)

            On September 14 or 15, 1912, at the young age of 18, Anna Angell committed suicide by shooting herself right below the heart with a pistol that she borrowed from an unnamed young man. The pistol that she used was so close to the gown Angell was wearing that it caught on fire and was still on fire when police arrived on the scene. Angell died about an hour after later. Before she committed suicide, she wrote a note addressed to John Kashouty, a Syrian, which shed some light on why Angell may have killed herself. The note, which was round on a dresser in Angel’s room, said: “Dear John, Consider what I have done a mistake if you want to, but forgive me and remember it was all your fault. I loved you better than anyone else, even better than my life. You know, dear, if you had married me when you promised to this would not have happened. It is too late now. John, remember that I loved you better than any other girl ever will.” Angell had told her friends that she was engaged.

Angell worked in a fruit store on G St in NW DC and had recently moved closer to her work. On the day she committed suicide, Angell had asked her employer if she could leave early from work and ended up leaving around 3:30 p.m. She went up to her room and wrote the letter and changed into the gown before shooting herself a few minutes before 4:00 p.m. There were other boarders in the building at 728 10th St NW at the time of Angell’s death.

Thomas J. Rusk (Range 60, Site 93c)

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Thomas Rusk, a Texas Senator, committed suicide by shooting himself in the forehead on July 29, 1857. Senator Rusk had suffered from depression after the death of his wife. He was also recovering from a severe illness and had a “rising on the back of his neck.” Rusk’s body was found on the ground behind the gallery at the back of the house, and there was a rifle underneath his body. Rusk was buried with Masonic honors.

Marie L. Jolley (Range 71, Site 276)

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Marie Jolley was employed in the gathering room at the government printing office. Some of Jolley’s friends speculated that she feared losing her job because the force was being reduced. Jolley had also been separated from her husband, B.B. Jolley a doctor who had moved to Fauquier County after their separation. According to some of her friends, Marie Jolley was having a hard time handling the separation. Regardless, Florence Jolley, Marie Jolley’s high school-aged daughter, noticed something off about her mother on the night of May 14, 1907. Consequently, Florence Jolley decided to take her mother on a walk. The mother and daughter had an “affectionate good night” before going to bed that night. Around 7:30 a.m. on May 15, 1907, Florence Jolley went to wake her mother up so that she would make it to work on time when she discovered her mother’s lifeless body. When Marie Jolley was found, there was the end of a gas tube in her mouth, which was hooked up to the stove. Florence Jolley screamed, and other people in the house at the time ran to Florence Jolley’s side. It was determined that Marie Jolley had been dead for several hours before her body was found. Marie Jolley left no note, so the reason why she committed suicide was unclear.

Thomas Hunter Ware (Range 135, Site 244)

            Thomas Ware, 23, moved to Anacostia in circa 1892. Ware was a driver in one of the Anacostia cars before he became a horse dealer. Two years later, he met and almost instantly fell in love with Cora Lane, 18, who was described as a “pretty brunette, petite in figure, and with large, expressive dark eyes, jet black eyebrows, and curly black hair.” Lane and Ware’s worlds collided as Ware was friends with Lane’s uncle. Lane lived with another one of her uncles, Isaac Lane, who didn’t allow his niece to have company. Therefore, Ware and Lee secretly wrote letters to each other, and a young African-American boy, a “protégé” of Ware’s, delivered the letters. Ware and Lee signed and addressed the letters using numbers: Lane used No. 25 and Ware used No. 18. The couple had written over 200 letters to each other. However, the letters were burned. Lane’s aunt and uncle eventually discovered the letters and the relationship, and strictly refused Lane to continue to communicate with Ware. Consequently, Ware proposed to Lane. Lane then spoke to her father, an assistant pastor of a Methodist church in Baltimore, who decided that Ware and Lane could wed if Ware left the Catholic Church, which he was raised in, and became a Methodist. Essentially, Lane’s father could not and would not consent to her marriage to a Catholic, and Lane refused to disobey her father. Ware said that his Catholic ideas couldn’t be changed. Nevertheless, Ware still continued to pursue Lane to the extent that he threatened to commit suicide multiple times because Lane refused to marry Ware. Lane persuaded Ware multiple times not to commit suicide. On another occasion, Lane’s aunt convinced Ware not to commit suicide because she reminded him of his family and his family members would feel. On March 26, 1895, Ware visited Lane. He left her house around 4 p.m., likely after another rejected marriage proposal, and went to an office at C. Dodge’s livery stable on Harrison St. Once at the office, Ware wrote a note, which he then thrust in an unlit stove. The note said “Mr. Dodge: I have given George my key to my trunk and he will give it to you, and I don’t want you to give it to no one but my mother, and tell her that my letters in m trunk…let no one see them.” Herbert Martin and Ed Ferguson were also in the office at the time. Ware pointed a .32 caliber pistol with six chambers at his head, and told Martin and Ferguson that he was about to shoot. Martin told him not to shoot, and Ware hesitated. Sadly, Ware changed his mind and put the pistol to his side. Ware then fell forward on his face, and his clothing caught on fire from the blaze of the pistol. After six or seven gasps for air, Ware died. Friends of Ware’s revealed that about a week before Ware’s death, a valuable horse of his died, and an even more valuable horse went lame. Ware had also recently attempted suicide on two separate occasions. The first attempt was two Sundays before his death. The owner of the boarding house Ware lived at took the pistol from him. The second attempt occurred on the Sunday before his death, but, again, the owner of the boarding house he lived at took the pistol from him. Lane claimed that Ware once threatened to kill her if she didn’t marry him.

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Tragic Tales at Congressional Cemetery: Murder-Suicides

This week’s blog post focuses on murder-suicides. The story of a murder victim in a murder-suicide, and the stories of murderers in two failed murder-suicide attempts will be shared. Love, or infatuation, and jealousy seems to play a role in  several of the stories that have been shared. In several instances, the victim has been a young woman and the perpetrator has been a young man. Have you noticed any other similarities between all or many of the stories so far? How do these stories compare to the stories that we see today?

Please remember: The information that was gathered for each of these stories was pulled from historical newspapers, mainly The Evening Star. Back then, newspapers contained a lot more information about tragedies than we see today, including detailed information about how people were injured and/or killed. With that being said, please note that some of these stories contain information that can be considered graphic. All of these stories are sad. Read at your own risk.

 

Elizabeth Harbin (Range 151 Site 205)

            Elizabeth Harbin, 41, had been separated from her husband, Daniel Harbin, for three months. Before and during the separation, Elizabeth Harbin had an intimate relationship with Frederick Kramer, a 21-year-old who was Daniel Harbin’s partner in a wood and coal business years before he became a tinner. Initially, Daniel Harbin ignored the frequent visits of his former business partner to his home. However, Daniel eventually got fed up and told his wife that he was planning on finding another place to live and assured her that their seven children would be provided for. Daniel Harbin had also told several of his friends that he was going to make amends with his wife. The news reached Kramer, who confronted Elizabeth Harbin on January 13, 1909. Before Kramer’s confrontation, Daniel Harbin visited his wife. After discussing the challenges in their marriage, the couple both agreed to forget their differences and live in peace together. Kramer than left the house and went to his work at the naval yard. Right after Daniel left the house, Kramer visited Elizabeth Harbin, demanding an explanation from Elizabeth, who told him that she was tired of her estrangement from her husband and wanted to live with her husband. Kramer desperately tried to convince Elizabeth to stay away from her husband, but he failed. Elizabeth Harbin left her house and went for a short walk near her home, perhaps in hopes that Kramer would leave. Elizabeth Harbin returned about fifteen minutes later. Around 5:15, John J. Welsh, who lived in a room on the second floor, heard two gun shots. A minute later, Welsh heard another shot. Welsh walked downstairs and checked the street and rear yard, but he didn’t see anything. Welsh didn’t hear Elizabeth return from her walk, so he didn’t check her room. Two of Harbin’s children entered the house and found their mother and Kramer lying across the bed in their mother’s room. The children immediately went searching for police. When police arrived on the scene, Elizabeth Harbin and Frederick Kramer were already dead: Harbin had two fatal wounds in her breast, and Kramer had a gunshot wound in his head. The police also found a 5 chamber .32 caliber revolver with three discharged shells at the scene of the crime.

 

Charles Knott (Range 80, Site 76)

            In the morning of July 9, 1985, Charles Knott, 30, arrived at the home of George and Catherine Morris. George Morris had already left for work for the day, and Catherine Morris, 22, was with a neighbor, who left as soon as Knott appeared. Knott and Catherine Morris knew each other, and Knott asked Morris for a picture of his that she had. Catherine went to a back room in the house to retrieve the photo from a photo album and Knott followed her into the room. As Catherine turned around to see what he wanted, Knott raised a seven-shooter Victor pistol and fired three shots at her. One of the shots missed Catherine. One bullet entered Catherine’s skull near the temple and the other passed through her lungs. Catherine rushed to the back yard to the back gate screaming for help with blood flowing from a wound in her head. She escaped out of the yard and into the arms of Mr. Cross, a railroad gateman who heard her screams. Catherine was able to tell neighbors and workmen that the shooter was still in the house. Meanwhile, Knott walked to another room in the front of the house, most likely the parlor, shot himself in the head, and died instantly. Police officer Rauke discovered Knott’s body. Dr. Herbert was able to remove the bullet from Catherine’s lungs, but he wasn’t able to remove the bullet from her head. However, the doctor stated he thought her youth and health were in her favor, but the chances were against her. It is unknown if Catherine ultimately died from her wounds or not. Catherine’s husband was working about 200 yards from the house at the time of the crime, and he was one of the first people to arrive on the scene. Knott was seen by railroad workers watching her. Some workers believed that he was waiting for the chance to go to the house without her husband seeing her.

The previous winter, George Morris was away a lot because he had taken up boating. Knott frequently visited the house, but Catherine Morris informed Charles Knott through his mother that she didn’t want him to visit her unless her husband was at home, too. Morris’ relatives believed that Knott was insane. It was also believed that he had a strong attachment to Catherine, and that jealousy prompted the tragedy.

 

Wellington B. Herbert (Range 143, Site 181)

            In September 1907, Wellington Hebert went to Annie Nothey’s house on 3rd St in SE Washington D.C. Nothey was the sister of Herbert’s wife, whom he was separated from at the time. Herbert asked the sister to see his wife and he was invited into Nothey’s house. Herbert insisted that his wife step to the door to talk with him, but she refused to. Herbert sat down on the porch. Nothey said that Herbert seemed nervous and excited. Herbert again appeared at the door after the people inside the house moved downstairs to the basement. In desperation, Herbert walked into a room filled with people, including his wife, and asked his wife to come back and live with him, but his wife told him that she was afraid to. When he realized that his wife was firm in her decision to stay away from him, he reached into his back pocket, drew a .32 caliber revolver, and aimed it at his wife before anyone could stop him. Herbert then fired three shots in quick succession. The bullets passed near Mrs. Herbert’s head, and one bullet passed Annie Nothey, burning the skin on her arm. Clearance Goldsmith, who was one of the many people in the room at the time, rushed to Herbert and grabbed his arm, preventing him from firing more shots at his wife. Herbert violently wrenched his arm away from Goldsmith’s grasp long enough to press the barrel against his chest and pull the trigger. The ball entered Herbert’s flesh nearly over his heart. However, the ball struck his rib and ricocheted off instead of penetrating his heart. Herbert believed he was fatally wounded and kept saying “I’m going to die. I’m going to die. Get me a priest.” A priest was taken to him, and Herbert was informed that the wound was a superficial one. Herbert died eight years after the attempted murder-suicide.

 

 

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Tragic Tales at Congressional Cemetery: Murderers and Murder-Suicides

For the past two weeks, the stories that have been shared focused almost exclusively on murder victims. However, Congressional Cemetery is also the resting place to murderers. Since the line between murderers and murder-suicides isn’t clearly defined, partially because many murderers end up committing suicide, murderers and murder-suicides have been grouped together.

 

Please remember: The information that was gathered for each of these stories was pulled from historical newspapers, mainly The Evening Star. Back then, newspapers contained a lot more information about tragedies than we see today, including detailed information about how people were injured and/or killed. With that being said, please note that some of these stories contain information that can be considered graphic. All of these stories are sad. Read at your own risk.

 

Mena Untermehle (Range 27, Site 210)

            Mena Untermehle and Emmeline Lackey had been romantically involved and lived together in the “Northern Liberties.” The couple were known to have had issues in their relationship, and they fought a lot. For example, Untermehle had been “in the habit of ill-treating” Lackey. He also cut her head with an axe and hit her in the head with a pair of tongs (two months before Lackey was murdered). A neighbor reported that he heard blows between the couple and frequently “heard the cry of murder.” In January 1854, a jury accused Untermehle of murdering Lackey due to “intemperance, ill-treatment, and cruelty.” The Justice of the case, Justice Smith, found that the evidence “elicited nothing very positive about the case,” and committed Untermehle to prison so he could await a trial in front of a grand jury. Around midnight on January 11, 1854, Untermehle died in prison. A coroner identified the cause of death as “mania-a-potu,” which is a mental disorder associated with alcohol consumption.

Estelle E. Yates (Range 113, Site 210b)

Yates

On February 7, 1905, Blanche Jackson, Estelle Yates’ sister, attempted to enter his sister’s home, but struggled to because the doors were locked from the inside. Once Jackson was able to enter the house, she discovered the lifeless bodies of Theodore Fisher, a 35 year-old bartender at Reagan’s Saloon, and Estella E. Yates, 25, in the dining room of Estelle’s house. Yates’ feet rested across of Fisher’s legs. Fisher had a bullet wound in his brain, and Yates had a bullet wound over her breast, near her heart. A small .22 caliber revolver, which was owned by Fisher, was found on the floor a few feet behind Yates. The revolver had three empty shells in the chamber. When police reached the scene of the crime, they were not able to explain how either victim could’ve thrown the revolver, and police questioned whether a third person was involved in the crime. A napkin saturated with blood was also found near the bodies, indicating that someone had attempted to wipe blood off of at least one of the victims. A bullet likely smashed a glass stand on the sideboard, and there was a broken lamp on the floor. The condition of the furniture suggested that there may have been some kind of a struggle or fight that broke out. There were three goblets on the table, and two of the goblets contained a small amount of beer, which indicated that at least two people probably had been drinking beer before the crime occurred. There were also several empty bottles in the rear yard, suggesting that a speakeasy had been conducted at the house. Fisher was wearing an overcoat and a muffler, and Yates had on a housecoat.

Yates was described as being “desperately in love” with Fisher. Yates had a “crayon” of him hanging on the wall, and letters that she had received from Fisher were placed on top of the bureau in her bedroom. Yates was married to Robert Yates, who conducted a blacksmith shop in Georgetown, but the couple had been separated for around two years.

Blanche Jackson reported that Yates and Fisher had known each other for about two years and had been “close friends. According to Jackson, Yates had been trying to break off the relationship for two months, but Fisher violently beat her each time she asked him to leave. Jackson revealed that Fisher had claimed that he was epileptic and, therefore, never remembered harming her. Jackson also denied the speakeasy, and told officials that Yates never drank. Jackson denied that the bottles that were discovered belonged to Yates. Instead, Jackson said the bottles belonged to Yates’ brother, who worked at a brewery and kept the beer at Yates’ house for his friends whenever they came to visit.

 

So the question is: Who did it?

 

The coroner had discovered that the revolver had been fired two or more feet from Fisher when he was shot due to the large area of powder marks on his face. Additionally, the coroner stated that the blood on the napkin was Fisher’s. The coroner ultimately concluded that the shooting was done by Yates.

Initially, police officers believed that Fisher may have found Yates with someone else and got jealous. However, the police investigation ended up supporting the coroner’s conclusion that Yates most likely killed Fisher after a serious fight between the couple. The police made their claimed based off of the woman’s position. Yates had placed her arm under Fisher’s head in an attempt to get Fisher to stand up. However, Yates had discovered that Fisher had died. As a result, Yates turned the gun on herself. The police were also able to explain how the revolver ended up a few feet behind Yates: after a person receives a fatal wound, the arms sometimes contract and then violently stretch out. Additionally, the police claimed that Yates had fired the first shot in an “act of passion.”

After listening to a testimony from a number of witnesses, a verdict was reached by a six man jury. The jury found that Fisher was shot and killed by Yates, before Yates took her own life. Blood that was discovered on Yates’ shoes showed that Yates had walked in Fisher’s blood. The wound in Fisher’s head had gone straight through to his brain, killing him instantly. His eyes were believed to have been open at the time of his death. Yates did not have any external hemorrhaging after she shot herself, and the blood that was on her was from Fisher. Additionally, the details of the case disclosed that Estelle’s mother had the revolver in her hand when police arrived on scene, therefore she had tampered with the evidence. Fisher’s boss’s testimony revealed that Fisher had not been at work since that Friday night. Additionally, Yates’ neighbor, who took the milk left at Yates’ door when she was away from her home, took in Saturday morning. These two details indicate that the murder happened late Friday night or early Saturday morning.

However, it was Maggie Prue’s testimony that uncovered the most details surrounding the murder. Maggie Prue did Estelle Yates’ washing and laundry. According to Prue, on that Friday night, Prue had gone to a drug store to send a telephone message to Fisher. Prue then returned back to her house, and Fisher arrived at the house immediately her. Yates proceeded to question Fisher about his whereabouts, and Fisher told Yates that she had been standing on the street corner talking to someone. This answer angered Yates, and she accused Fisher of talking to a red-haired girl. The couple fought, and Prue heard Fisher say “Stella, you don’t love me anymore. Stella responded, saying “No, I don’t.” Yates asked Fisher if he preferred the red-haired girl over her, and he said that he didn’t know. Prue stated that Fisher was sober, but Yates had consumed several glasses of beer and “milk punch” that night. Around 10:00 p.m., Yates and Fisher asked Prue to go downtown and get Chinese food from a restaurant and Prue did not return to the house until around an hour late. Once she returned, Fisher said he was going to get a bucket of beer, but said that the saloon had closed when he returned. Yates didn’t believe him. Yates picked up a lamp and started ascending the stairs to her room with the lamp still in her hands. When Fisher asked if she was going to bed, Yates stammered, saying “The…I am.” Prue kept encouraging to stop fighting, and she claimed that eventually they did after declaring their love for each other.

Moses Sexton, a pharmacist who sent the telephone message, also testified. He disclosed that Yates threw carbolic acid on Fisher’s face because, according to Yates, he had had a spasm and she mistook the acid for water. James Filgate, the manager of Regan’s Saloon, testified that Fisher had received multiple injuries from Yates, including scratches on his fingers and face, a broken nose, a cut in the throat and head, and he had gotten bitten by her in his hand.

Theodore Fisher is buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery.

 

Arthur J. Sackett (Range 56, Site 319)

         Sackett

On June 17, 1913, Arthur J. Sackett, 25, was walking with his wife, Flora 20, when the couple stopped in front of the house at 109 E St NW. Arthur Sackett then pulled out a revolver and shot Flora twice before shooting himself in the head. One bullet entered Flora’s face, passed through her left jaw, and shattered her shoulder. Flora was stunned and fell to the pavement right before another bullet passed into her chest. Arthur died instantly after the bullet penetrated his brain, and Flora died at the hospital. Max Tass, a 19 year old tailor, witnessed the shooting, which occurred outside of his house. A policeman was not even 100 feet away from the Sackett’s when the shooting occurred.

The couple had two children: Ruth, 3.5, and John, 1.5. J.M. Harrington, Flora’s mother, took custody of the children, and revealed her intentions to adopt them.

Flora wed Arthur when she was 16, and initially believed that he was a physician at Providence Hospital. However, she later discovered that he was only an orderly. Arthur ran away from Wisconsin when he was a boy and enlisted in the navy. After moving to D.C., Arthur got the endorsement of a western senator and obtained a position in the Navy Department. Then, Arthur became a clerk in the stables in the street cleaning department, and then was employed at a theater. The couple had been separated because Flora felt that Arthur had failed to provide for her and their children. However, he admitted that he was jealous and suspected she was seeing another man.

There was a letter found on Arthur that explained his motive and identified the victims. The letter was addressed to Flora’s aunt. The letter said:

 

Dear Mrs. Sanger:

I have decided to end everything, as I think it will be the best for Flora. She is not doing the right thing and I can’t let the children suffer for her faults. I am sure that Ruth is well taken care of and I hope you will adopt her, and I am sure that in later years she will be a comfort to you and Mr. Sanger. As to little John, I don’t know what will become of him, but I wish you could try and have a good family adopt him. Please notify my mother at 157 Sheboygan St, Fond du Lac, Wis. She is the beneficiary of an insurance policy for $2,000 and I think you can see her about money for Ruth’s and John’s education. I regret this very much, but I have endured as long as I can, and I cannot stand the separation from the children. I hope the young man Flora thought so much of will in the future not go between any more married couples, as he certainly broken up ours. I must close now, as I am to see Flora soon. With love to Ruth and hoping you and Mr. Sanger will always remain devoted to each other, as it is the only way.

 

Sackett had a criminal history, and had been arrested twice: once on charges of alleged dishonesty (but the case was dropped); and the second time due to Flora’s complaint for failing to support her and the children. As a result of the second charge, Arthur had been sent to “Occoquan.”

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Tragic Tales at Congressional Cemetery: Murder Victims and Murder-Suicides

This week, I will continue sharing stories of victims of murder who are buried at the cemetery. Last week, the murderer’s motives ranged from robberies to jealousy and unfaithfulness. In this week’s post, all of the murder victims were killed due to an intimate relationship, either between the murderer and the victim or a love triangle. This is a recurring theme that will appear in several other stories in future posts.

One of the challenges with this blog series is that, in some instances, there is no clear line between murders, suicide, murder-suicide, and strange deaths. The third story for this week is a good example of where those lines start to blur.

Please remember: The information that was gathered for each of these stories was pulled from historical newspapers, mainly The Evening Star. Back then, newspapers contained a lot more information about tragedies than we see today, including detailed information about how people were injured and/or killed. With that being said, please note that some of these stories contain information that can be considered graphic. All of these stories are sad. Read at your own risk.

 

John L. Ford (Range 12, Site 22)

            Around 5:00 p.m. on August 7, 1896, John L. Ford, a 19-year-old blacksmith, visited Lillie M. Cooper, a 30-year-old mother of three who had been separated from an engineer aboard the USS Maine for about a year, at the home she shared with Columbus “Lum” Fearson, a 64-year-old rigger with a “shady” background due to his involvement with the robbery of a paymaster. Ford stayed at the house for about an hour before going back to his house. Around 8:00 p.m. that night, Ford returned to Cooper’s house. Ford was hesitant to knock on the door due to two previous encounters with Fearson: the previous Saturday when Ford and Fearson had an altercation which resulted in Ford striking Fearson with a stone; and the previous Sunday, when Fearson threatened Ford with a pistol if he ever showed up at the house again, to which Ford boldly responded that he would visit the house as often as he pleased. Consequently, Ford decided to whistle for Cooper instead of knocking on the door. Unfortunately, instead of meeting up with Cooper, Ford faced an angry Fearson, who aimed a revolver out the window towards Ford and fired two shots in rapid succession. One ball hit Ford on the right side of his abdomen, passed through his bladder, and lodged in Ford’s intestines, while the other ball missed Ford. Fearson stayed on the scene after the shooting, but Cooper fled the scene. Ford was rushed to the Emergency Hospital, where he died on the morning of August 10, 1896. Ford had a few periods consciousness while he was in the hospital, and was unable to recall the events that occurred the night he was shot. However, he was able to tell officials that his back was turned to Fearson when he was shot.

Fearson and Cooper had known each other for about six months, and Ford and Cooper had known each other for about three months. Ford and Cooper had been “quite intimate,” and Fearson did not approve of their relationship to the extent that Fearson began to threaten Ford. As a result of the threats, Ford’s sister, whom he lived with, begged her brother to stop seeing Cooper. Clearly, Ford did not listen to his sister.

 

Mary Ellen Hamilton (Range 146, Site 242)

            On the night of November 26, 1907, Harry L. Holmes (alias Schryfogle and “Ducky”) went to Marry Ellen Hamilton’s home and asked her mother, Mrs. Grove, for Hamilton’s location. Holmes was then told that Hamilton had likely gone out with another man, and Holmes told Mrs. Grove that he was going to try to find her. Hamilton was at a “cheap show” with a one-armed man. Eventually, Holmes found her. Hamilton told Holmes that the man “conducted a restaurant,” but Holmes did not believe her. Then, Holmes told Hamilton that he wanted her to go home with him, and she agreed to leave with him. After Hamilton left the one-armed man behind, Holmes and Hamilton went to a Chinese restaurant. Holmes stated that Hamilton consented to go home with him, and they boarded a streetcar together. On the way home, Hamilton rested her head on his shoulder and she slept until they reached their stop. He claimed to have had carried her all the way home. What happened next is unclear because Holmes said his mind was “all blank.” However, it is known is that Hamilton was shot three times by a pistol–one bullet passed through her heart, one bullet pierced her liver, and a third bullet caused a flesh wound in her neck. Holmes admitted to shooting Hamilton, although he didn’t know how it happened. Additionally, Holmes claimed the motive was that Hamilton “abused” her mother and everyone else in the house.

Holmes was arrested in Glenburnie after he was found by detectives in a closet of a house owned by Howard Watts, a superintendent of the Baltimore and Annapolis railroad. Previously, Holmes lived at Glenburnie and was a prominent baseball player, and Watts and Holmes knew each other because they had played baseball together.

Mrs. Groves described the crime as “cold-blooded murder.”

 

Sarah H. Allen (Johnson) (Range 92, Site 104)

allen.jpg

Sarah Allen’s stone. Take note that Sarah’s stone says that she was the wife of “O. C. Allen.”

In the mid-afternoon of May 17, 1889, Oswald C. Allen hired a cab on Pennsylvania Avenue to drive him to a school building called the Jefferson Building where his wife whom he was separated from, 42 year-old Sarah Allen, taught third grade. As he left the cab, he instructed the driver to wait for him. Oswald proceeded to walk to Sarah’s all-female third grade class, approached her desk, told her “Now I’ve got you; you can’t escape me,” and then summoned her to the cloak room adjoining the classroom. Oswald put his left arm around Sarah’s neck, and, pressing the pistol close to her head, shot Sarah Allen in the left temple with a pistol before turning the gun on himself. Oswald still had his arm wrapped around Sarah when they both collapsed to the ground. Additionally, the pistol, a British Bulldog .32 caliber, was lying on Sarah’s cheek. The ball entered Oswalds’ temple and went to the top of his brain, killing him three minutes after police responded to the scene. Although the bullet passed into Sarah’s left ear and came out at the right side of her head, Sarah was still alive when police arrived to the scene. The children, who had witnessed the murder, were in panicked frenzy and blocked the sidewalk, making it difficult for the police and emergency responders to enter the building. William H. Robertson claimed he heard the shots about two minutes after he arrived at the school building, which was around 3:00 p.m., the same time that school was letting students out for the day.

Sarah and Oswald had been married for about 13 years. However, Sarah’s family and friends opposed the marriage. Sarah, who had been a teacher since November 1870, financially supported her husband, who was described as a “worthless fellow.” Sarah had formerly been a teacher in the Potomac Building, where Oswald frequently annoyed and threatened Sarah to the extent that she called the police on him several times. One of Sarah’s colleagues reported that Oswald thrashed his wife in her classroom and frequently made threats against her life. The couple were described as having had “some difficulty” and they hadn’t lived together in a while. Oswald had also been sent to jail for abusing her, and Sarah was pursuing a legal divorce from Oswald at the time of her death. Sarah’s brother, Robert Johnson, had “some trouble” with Oswald about a week before her murder, and Johnson had warned Sarah to be on the lookout for Oswald.

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