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)


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)


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)


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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Tragic Tales at Congressional Cemetery: Murder Victims

This blog series, Tragic Tales at Congressional Cemetery, recollects the tragic deaths of several people buried at Congressional Cemetery. The underlying themes are: murder victims, murder-suicides, murderers, suicides, and peculiar deaths. Please remember that these are real stories that happened to real people. All of these events occurred about 100 years ago, if not more. For most of these people, the family and friends are no longer around or alive. Consequently, these gravesites do not frequently get visitors. I encourage you to remember these people, remember their stories, and visit their graves next time you are at the cemetery. Leave flowers or a meaningful trinket at their grave sites to show that you were thinking of them. Or, consider adopting their plot as part of our Adopt-a-Plot program. Download our App, Historic Congressional Cemetery, on your smartphone and use the “Search” feature to find where these sites are located on a map of the cemetery.


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.


Catherine Carroll (Range 141, Site 226a)

Catherine Carroll

On December 14, 1920, William Joseph Carroll, 44, told his wife, Catherine Carroll, 41, that if she wasn’t home from work at the Washington Terminal Company by 5:00 p.m. that day he was going to kill her, likely because he suspected that she was being unfaithful to him. Unfortunately, Catherine did not arrive home by 5:00 p.m. because she didn’t go directly home from work. Around 7:45 p.m., William choked his wife, and she ran from their house at 1313 K Street to seek safety at a neighbor’s house. William then shot his wife in their yard. Three bullets entered Catherine’s breast, and she died instantly. Afterwards, William attempted to take his own life, but the pistol, which he purchased the day of the murder, misfired. When police arrived on the scene, they found William lying by his deceased wife with his arms extended towards her. He admitted his guilt to the police, allegedly telling police officers “She is my wife. I killed her; she did me wrong.” Their fourteen year old son, Martin, and their five-year old daughter, Margaret, were at home at the time of the murder.


Lee On (Range 99, Site 19)

            Lee On, a Chinese laundryman, was ironing a man’s shirt on the night of February 13, 1912. At 10:20 p.m., Lee On, was found by a policeman pounding a partition wall, crying for help, and with blood streaming down his face and into his eyes. At midnight, On died at the hospital before he was able to tell anyone what happened. On’s murder was initially a mystery because On had no known personal or political enemies.

An investigation of the crime scene, which was located on 14th Street, revealed that there were bloody fingerprints belonging to On at the crime scene. There were also two fingerprints likely left by the murderer in the snow. The washroom, bedroom, shop, and storeroom were in “shambles,” and blood was found everywhere, including on the floors, walls, furniture, and linens. Investigators discovered that On was struck at the place where he was ironing because there was a “great pool of blood on the floor in front of the ironing board [which showed] where On dropped in his tracks.” His body was then dragged out of sight from anyone passing by the shop on the street. The murderer had locked the front door, and hid the key under the bench in the front room so that nobody could enter the shop. After the crime, the murderer fled the scene out the back door, which led to a cluttered, narrow alley.

There was nothing at the scene that signified that the victim struggled, indicating that the first blow knocked On out and left him unconscious. On’s clothing had been searched. The cash drawer had also been rifled through, leaving officials to strongly suspect that robbery was the motive of the murder. A close friend of On claimed that On only made $5 or $6 a week, and a neighbor claimed that On frequently carried around a large roll of bills in his clothing.

An autopsy showed that On’s forehead was fractured by a blow. On also received a blow that fractured three ribs (and left one rib broken in many places) on his right side.

Nearly a year after On’s murder, Theodore Norris, 28, confessed to murdering On. Additionally, Nathan Johnson admitted to being a witness to the murder. Theodore Norris, Norris’ wife Hattie, and Nathan Johnson were all arrested due to their connection to On’s murder. Theodore Norris and Nathan Johnson were ultimately charged as prisoners, and Hattie Johnson was held at the “house of detention” as a witness.

Johnson’s confession revealed that Norris had dropped off a gray sweater in the laundry right before On was murdered. Norris asked On how much it would cost to have the sweater washed, and On told him ten cents. Then, Norris struck On on the head with a billiard cue as On reached for the sweater, knocking On to the floor. After locking the front door, Norris dragged On to the rear room and robbed him before hitting him several times while On was on the floor. Norris admitted to stealing about $5 from the cash drawer, and claimed that he burned the billiard cue after fleeing the scene.

Mary “Emily” Faithful (Range 8, Site 185)


On February 7, 1920, Edgar Randolph Perrygo, a 17 year-old newsboy, went to Washington D.C. to get a marriage license to wed Miss Mabel Hill, 17. Perrygo claimed that he became sick on the street before he reached the clerk’s office. A stranger then gave him a drink to help him feel better. Instead of continuing his journey to the clerk’s office, Perrygo decided to go to Congress Heights, picking up an 18” iron bar from the road along the way. Emily Faithful, 63, whom Perrygo knew, lived nearby, and Perrygo decided to pay her a visit. Before reaching Faithful’s front door, Perrygo slipped the iron bar up his sleeve and in the pocket of his raincoat. After welcoming Perrygo into her home, Faithful introduced him to William Collins, who lived with his wife in a room on the upper floor. Then, Collins returned upstairs to his room. Minutes later, both Collins and his wife heard Faithful moaning loudly. Collins went back downstairs to investigate, and ended up dodging a bullet aimed at him. Running full speed upstairs, Collins retrieved a pistol and started running after Perrygo. However, Perrygo managed to escape. Faithful was taken to the hospital and treated for a fractured skull. Unfortunately, the physicians correctly predicted that Faithful would not recover from her injuries. A pocket in Mrs. Faithful’s belt was slashed and the contents were missing. Detectives ultimately recovered $50, which Perrygo admitted to taking. Nurses at the hospital also discovered $2,470 sewed into Faithful’s skirt.

Mrs. Faithful, who was notorious for carrying several thousand dollars on her at all times, was beaten on the head with the iron bar because Edgar Perrygo wanted the funds to wed Hill. Initially, Perrygo told police officers that he hit her because he was suffering from “the effects of a drink given [to] him by an unidentified man on the street.” Later, Perrygo changed his statement, admitting that he wanted to wed Hill and didn’t have the money to do so. When told of her death, Perrygo sobbed, revealing that he “kind of expected it.” Meanwhile, Mabel Hill was not affected by the news of Faithful’s death.

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Marguerite Lamott DuPont Lee

When you come across a name such as Marguerite’s, you might expect a certain type of person: blue-blooded, wealthy, and perhaps a little haughty as a result. And to a certain extent, Marguerite Lamott DuPont Lee was very much a product of her prestigious name. Born to the wealthy DuPont family from Delaware and married into the Virginia Lees, much of what she accomplished in her life was due to her circumstances and her birthright. But there was more to Marguerite than meets the eye, as the saying goes.

I ran across Marguerite’s story when I first started working at Congressional Cemetery, and I became enamored with her. Rebecca Roberts, a fellow Marguerite groupie, clued me in to her incredible story. Ms. Lee’s story elicits admiration because while parts of her life follow an established and predictable timeline, other aspects are completely unexpected. It seemed that although she outwardly conformed to many societal stereotypes for much of her life, she also found a way to do exactly what she wanted.


Image courtesy of Hagley Museum and Library.

Marguerite grew up in the Wilmington area of Delaware near the DuPont family powder mills. Her childhood was disrupted when she was just 15 years old, when both of her parents died within the same year. Marguerite’s mother, Charlotte DuPont, was committed to an insane asylum, where she died in August 1877. Just a month after Charlotte’s death, Marguerite’s father Éleuthère died of consumption.

Charlotte and Éleuthère left behind five children, Marguerite included, and all the children lived in a house on DuPont mill property. Plans were made to break the family up and relocate the children, but the story goes that the family put up a resistance when their uncle came to tell them the news. While the story may be apocryphal as it is a little too adorable, the children met their uncle armed to the teeth – Marguerite with a rolling pin, Alfred with a shotgun, Annie with an ax, Maurice a pistol, and Louis a bow and arrow. They were allowed to remain in the house together.

A few short years later, however, Marguerite married her wealthy cousin Cazenove Gardner Lee and moved to Washington, D.C. They lived in a large house on New Hampshire Avenue, NW and both lived the lives “high-society” people are expected to sustain. That being said, towards the end of their marriage Marguerite also became actively involved in the women’s suffrage movement and marched in the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C. 


Georgetown Waterfront – 1910s or 1920s. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Cazenove Lee died in 1912, and after his death Marguerite snubbed society and turned her energies to other pursuits. And not in the typical way that you might expect, doling out funds from the comforts of her own home to charities. Marguerite sold her New Hampshire Avenue home and moved to Georgetown to start a settlement house. Those of you who know D.C. may think to yourself, “Sounds like Marguerite moved to a pretty swanky part of town.” But the Georgetown of yore did not resemble the manicured streets and high-end stores of today’s charming neighborhood. Instead, Georgetown during Marguerite’s lifetime was often referred to as a slum, which is exactly why Marguerite wanted to found a settlement house in the neighborhood. Settlement houses were common in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Often founded by wealthy women, these houses provided educational programs to the urban poor, mostly catering to women and children. The settlement house Marguerite founded included a kindergarten, a mothers club, and offered classes on social issues such as labor and suffrage.


Marguerite eventually retired from her work at the settlement house in the best way possible – she moved into a suite at the Powhatan Hotel. She collected and dabbled in other interests; specifically, she indulged her fascination in the supernatural and went so far as to author a book on Virginia ghosts.  Marguerite gave up fashion when she gave up on society, and continued to wear old-fashioned Victorian lace-up boots, until the last Washington cobbler who knew how to make them finally died. Marguerite Lamott DuPont Lee died in 1936.


I’ll leave you with two things: first, a ridiculous picture of me (the author) portraying Marguerite along with other “residents” at our 2012 Ghosts and Goblets, as well as a hopefully more profound closing. I’m the one in the big hat (Marguerite probably wouldn’t have been caught dead in that).


I was eager to learn more about Marguerite and portray her because I found her story intriguing – but really, I think everyone should. If you pushed past the pretentious name and made it this far, I think you might agree. It’s a lesson I think we all need to learn and re-learn, that the outward trappings of a person aren’t the sum of who they are, or what their legacy should be. Let’s all raise a glass to Marguerite, who bucked tradition, society, and expectations, and made her own way.

Lauren Maloy, Program Director


Engel, Andrew. “Marguerite Du Pont Lee – A Voice for the Poor.” Hagley Museum Blog, January 22, 2014.

Krepp, Tim. Ghosts of Georgetown. Charleston, SC: Haunted America, 2013.

Roberts, Rebecca. Uppity Women Tour of Congressional Cemetery.

Preface to Virginia Ghosts, 1966.

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The “Zincers”

As you walk through the cemetery, you may have come across a grave “stone” that is bluish-grey in color. These stones are called white bronze monuments, but they are actually made out of zinc.

Dodge Zincer

This example of a “white bronze” monument is located in Congressional Cemetery, near 17th street.


       The Monumental Bronze Company from Bridgeport, Connecticut manufactured most (if not all) of these monuments. Beginning in the 1880s, the company expanded and had locations in Detroit, Chicago, Ontario, Des Moines, and Philadelphia. However, most, if not all of the monuments, were manufactured in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The company expanded rapidly after the Civil War (in circa 1874) and closed down during the Great Depression (circa 1829). Sales of white bronze monuments peaked in circa 1888. The plant that produced these monuments was taken over during World War I so for the manufacturing of gun mounts and ammunition. Additionally, fashions changed during the war, and demand for white bronze monuments declined, leading to the downfall of the Monumental Bronze Company. Even though the Monumental Bronze Company formally closed down, the company still continued to cast tablets and plaques that allowed family members’ names to be added to the monuments after their deaths.


“Monumental Bronze Co. Bridgeport, C.T.” is engraved on many of the “white bronze” monuments. This particular example is found on a monument located in Congressional Cemetery near the “dog spa.”

        These monuments are made of 99% pure zinc, and they develop zinc carbonate when the monuments are exposed to air. This creates the bluish-grey color and serves as a protective coating. These monuments are hollow and they have been sandblasted. The monuments were cast from a wax model along with busts and bas reliefs from portraits and photographs. A plaster cast was then made from the wax model. The plaster cast was used to make a plaster duplicate of the wax model. The second plaster cast was utilized to make the sand castings that became the monument. This plaster cast was cut into pieces, and the monument was cast in pieces, which gave the monument sharp details. The pieces were fused together by clamping the pieces together and pouring zinc into the joints. Heat melted the surface of the cast pieces, fusing them together and making them inseparable. Later white bronze monuments were sand blasted to make the surface resemble stone and to lighten the color. The bottom section of a white bronze monument has four inner tabs with holes in them so that pegs could be put in the holes to attach the monument to a cement or granite foundation. Customers likely made their own foundations.

Zincer with plaque

This monument has plaques on it that could easily be added to the monument when the person passed away. This monument is located in Congressional Cemetery, near the “dog spa.”

       Although many of these monuments are around a hundred years old, most are in much better shape than granite and marble stones. This is partially due to the durability of zinc. The biggest threat to white bronze monuments is creeping. This occurs when the weight of the zinc at the top of the monument puts pressure on the lower section, causing the monument to slowly move over time. This can cause a crooked base line on a monument or cause tiny cracks. The best way to address this solution is to install an inner armature to help the base of the monument support the weight of the top of the monument. Additionally, sometimes the weak or brittle parts of the zinc break or separate from the seam. This can be fixed by soldering the pieces together or using an epoxy or resin.

       White bronze monuments were made to order. The prices ranged from $2 to $5,000, depending on the design of the monument. Many cemeteries only have one or two white bronze monuments. Congressional Cemetery has at least four. The reason why there are so few white bronze monuments in cemeteries is because the monuments were sold by agents through catalogues or by having clients look at existing white bronze monuments. Agents did not solely sell white bronze monuments. If there are around a dozen white bronze monuments in a cemetery, it is likely that there was a local agent who sold white bronze monuments, which was most likely the case at Congressional Cemetery.

This post was written by Kymberly Mattern, Grounds Conservation Manager.

This information came from:

Rutundo, Barbara. “Monumental Bronze: A Representative American Company.” In Cemeteries and Grave Markers: Voices of American Culture. Umi Research Press, 1989.

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Dust to Dust: A Guide to Green Burials at Congressional Cemetery Part Four

Over the course of the next few weeks, Congressional Cemetery will be sharing information about green burials and the funeral industry’s role in the sustainability movement. The fourth section, Part Four, discusses vegetation and pest management.

Vegetation and Pest Management

Aerating the soil after digging a grave and the nutrients released through the decomposition of the body can promote plant growth above the grave after a fresh burial. The surface soil, or humus layer, in forested and grassy areas can be removed in [mostly] intact sections and later replaced. This can reduce any damage to both the surrounding root systems and microbial colonies, while also encouraging healthy plant growth post-burial. Planting trees and shrubs is the most effective way to mitigate the potential uptake of decomposition materials. Tree roots can incorporate any viruses, bacteria, and heavy metals from the soil and store them in the woody plant tissue without causing any harm to the tree or surrounding soil. Additionally, tree roots can draw water up from the soil, which can lower the water table.

Groundskeepers and lawn mowers are at risk of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and several other respiratory and neurological diseases through exposure to toxic pesticides and herbicides. Rotational grazing by sheep or goats has proven to be a successful technique at controlling weed and invasive species growth. At Congressional Cemetery, we have used goats to help remove weeds and invasive species, and we have plans to continue this practice in the future. We also do not use pesticides or herbicides due to the health risks the harsh chemicals have on dogs and humans alike. Using a brush hog, mowing the lawn, or undergoing prescribed burns are also used at green cemeteries to help control invasive species and weed growth.


A goat maintaining the grounds at Congressional Cemetery.

Creating an Integrated Pest Management system can be used to prioritize threats and ensure balance amongst the vegetation in cemeteries since green cemeteries strive to emphasize and restore the natural biodiversity. The Green Burial Council requires that a certified natural burial ground has an implemented Integrated Pest Management system in place that must be designed, operated, and maintained to create a naturalistic appearance of the landscape based on the strategic use of plants and materials native to the region and by adhering to localized patterns of landscape. Non-native and invasive plants will likely require a long-term management plan. Invasive species are a global concern and can have detrimental effects on ecosystem processes because they can transport diseases, interfere with natural reproductive processes, and damage other plant and animal species’ habitats. It is essential for green cemeteries to develop a monitoring and creating a regional-specific mapping plan that is compatible with catchment areas, feeding and watering routes, vegetation communities, soils, transitional zones, and travel corridors. The most effective way for green cemeteries to control unwanted animal species, including deer, groundhogs, and squirrels, is through modifying their habitat by making the area unappealing to the specific species. Other management options include using non-damaging traps and relocation systems, utilizing natural repellents such as chili peppers, using glue traps that can be dissolved in vegetable oil, the use of sonic nets, and fencing.


Webster, Lee, ed. Changing Landscapes: Exploring the Growth of Ethical, Compassionate, and Environmentally Sustainable Green Funeral Service. Green Burial Council International.

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Dust to Dust: A Guide to Green Burials at Congressional Cemetery Part Three

Over the course of the next few weeks, Congressional Cemetery will be sharing information about green burials and the funeral industry’s role in the sustainability movement. The third section, Part Three, focuses on burial containers.

Burial Containers

 One character defining feature of green burials includes the use of biodegradable caskets, urns, and shrouds. These can be made locally, which can result in a smaller carbon footprint. Additionally, coffins that are made exclusively out of a simple biodegradable wood from a renewable resource, such as pine, or the use of a cloth shroud can have financial benefits. Locally sourced wood is more sustainable because the wood does not have to be imported, which saves energy and reduces our carbon footprint because less fuel is used to transport the wood. Using locally crafted wood also financially supports local communities and craftsmen. Sometimes, people make their own caskets. For example, cardboard caskets or caskets made out of recycled paper are able to be used at some green burial grounds, including at Congressional Cemetery, as long as the caskets are sturdy enough to support the weight of the corpse. Some people choose to purchase carbon credits to offset the environmental effects of the selected container.

Forgoing a concrete vault is an opportunity to be more sustainable for coffin burials. A concrete vault is used to help maintain a level ground for mowing, minimize soil settlement, and prevent the grave from collapsing. Instead of using a concrete vault, extra dirt can be placed on top of the ground to help level out the soil, which makes lawn mowing easier and quicker. While concrete is made from natural resources, the mining, manufacturing, and transporting of concrete can result in environmental harm due to carbon emissions and because the production of concrete requires a lot of energy. Additionally, vaults create a barrier between the casket and the earth, which can extend the amount of time it takes for a body to decompose. While some people have expressed concerns about the health ramifications of forgoing the use of a concrete vault, there has been no evidence of any negative health consequences for coffin burials that do not have a vault. Additionally, green burial cemeteries undergo scientific tests and enforce parameters to ensure that water sources and surrounding infrastructure do not get contaminated. The soil itself also serves as a natural filter. On the other hand, cement is impermeable, and cement vaults were never intended to contain germs or chemicals.

Some people choose to minimize the use of heavy equipment, such as metal lowering devices. Bodies can be lowered to the ground through the use of straps or ropes, instead of using heavy equipment.

In a true green burial, casket and urn decorations should be biodegradable. Additionally, caskets should not be coated in polyurethane or stained with any petroleum-based product. The preferred natural darkening agent is linseed oil.

In a green burial, emphasis is placed on shrouds, urns, and caskets that are plant-based, recycled, natural, animal, or made out of unfired earthen materials. This includes the shell, liner, adornments, fasteners, and handles. Consumers should be mindful of finishes and adhesives on coffins and urns that can introduce toxic by-products into the ground. Many of these finishes and adhesives contain plastics, acrylics, and other synthetic polymeric materials. Look for products that have some form of green certification that backs up the claim to very that the product is truly environmentally friendly. Be mindful of greenwashing, which can have false misrepresentation or contain misleading information to consumers. The Green Burial Council created a verifiable set of eco-standards for cemetery operators, funeral homes, and product manufacturers. Material data sheets and life cycle analysis can also be used to verify the environmental benefits of various products.


The diagram illustrates the difference between a conventional coffin burial and a green coffin burial. Image courtesy of “Green Burial.” A Sacred Moment. Accessed September 28, 2017.


Webster, Lee, ed. Changing Landscapes: Exploring the Growth of Ethical, Compassionate, and Environmentally Sustainable Green Funeral Service. Green Burial Council International.

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Dust to Dust: A Guide to Green Burials at Congressional Cemetery Part Two

Over the course of the next few weeks, Congressional Cemetery will be sharing information about green burials and the funeral industry’s role in the sustainability movement. The second section, Part Two, focuses on embalming and preserving a corpse.

Preserving a Corpse/Embalming

Embalming is used as a way for a corpse to be prepared by chemicals in order for a body to be preserved for extended viewing. The practice of embalming became popular during the Civil War, and it has been popular ever since. Surprisingly, embalming has not changed much over the past 100 years, and toxic chemicals, such as heavy metals and formaldehyde-based solutions, are still major components of the embalming practice. Many people are unaware that embalming is not required by law anywhere in the United States. Furthermore, all bodies eventually decompose after death, regardless of whether the body has been embalmed or not. With that being said, many people still choose to embalm their loved one’s body for viewing.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has identified formaldehyde, a main chemical used in embalming, as a human carcinogen that is dangerous to people. For example, inhaling formaldehyde can increase a person’s risk for myeloid leukemia and Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), which is especially dangerous for employees who work in funeral homes. There are also concerns about the neurological and respiratory consequences of formaldehyde-based chemicals. Embalming fluids also contain phenols, methanol, and dyes. The strength of embalming fluid varies in strength from 5 percent to 50 percent, and the embalming fluid is typically introduced into the vascular system of the deceased person. In addition to embalming fluids, there are also topical sprays, gels, and powders that can are used to preserve a corpse.

Many embalming chemical companies have created formaldehyde-free fluids that can be utilized to preserve the body, which are both safer for employees who work in funeral homes and ultimately safer and better for the environment. Additionally, ‘green’ or eco-embalming fluid not only still preserves and disinfects the body, but it also helps clear discoloration of the corpse. The objective of eco-embalming is to delay the body’s natural decay process, not to stop it. Eco-embalming solutions have low fuming properties, but note that many of these embalming fluids are still toxic. There is only one embalming chemical company, The Champion Chemical Company, that produces a non-toxic embalming fluid, powder, and spray, which is approved by the Green Burial Council. The chemical, called the Enigma Eco-embalming chemical, is relatively safe to use and emits a vanilla or clove odor. The Enigma Eco-embalming fluid contains vanillic aldehyde, guaiacol, eugenol, and propylene glycol. Eco-embalming chemicals do not make the deceased body as rigid as traditional formaldehyde-based solutions, allowing families to keep the remains in an acceptable state for viewing for 2-3 days. An added benefit of using Eco-embalming fluid is that the chemicals will have a minimal impact on the earth.

There are other alternatives that can be used to help preserve the body. The National Home Funeral Alliance recommends the use of polymer refrigerants due to their long life, reusability, lack of off-gassing and condensation, size versatility, and ease of activation and use. The polymer refrigerant sheets can stay effective for up to 3-4 hours once activated. When the body cools, the time of effectiveness extends to the extent where the use of polymer refrigerants is no longer required.

Dry ice, the solid form of carbon dioxide, can also be used to help cool and preserve the body. An advantage of using dry ice is that it can reach a lower temperature than water ice and does not leave any residue. However, dry ice is extremely cold and sublimates into carbon dioxide gas. Dry ice should also not be handled without the use of protective gloves. While carbon dioxide is not toxic, it can build up pressure and change the chemistry of the air so there is a lower percentage of oxygen in the room. The body absorbs most of the cooling from the dry ice during the first day of use, so dry ice does not necessarily always need to be used on the second day. However, dry ice will likely need to be used on the third day.

An Australian company has created a nontoxic, FDA-approved product called Techni-ice, which is reusable, safe to use at home, and will not emit any carbon dioxide.

Other alternatives include: opening windows, relying on refrigeration, or using air conditioning to preserve the body. The temperature required to keep a body from decaying above ground for three days before a burial is 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Before the Civil War, people used the colder temperatures to help preserve the body after death. An extra benefit for these alternatives is that these options are generally less expensive than embalming.


Webster, Lee, ed. Changing Landscapes: Exploring the Growth of Ethical, Compassionate, and Environmentally Sustainable Green Funeral Service. Green Burial Council International.

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Dust to Dust: A Guide to Green Burials at Congressional Cemetery Part One

Over the course of the next few weeks, Congressional Cemetery will be sharing information about green burials and the funeral industry’s role in the sustainability movement. The first section, Part One, serves as an introduction to the topic.

Each year in the United States, 22,500 traditional cemeteries put the following into the ground:

  • 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid
  • 30-plus million board feet of hardwoods
  • 90,272 tons of steel
  • 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete
  • 14,000 tons of steel
  • 2,7000 tons of copper and bronze

Furthermore, a typical ten-acre American cemetery has enough casket wood to make forty houses, at least nine hundred tons of steel from caskets and casket hardware, twenty thousand tons of vault concrete, and enough embalming fluid to fill a small swimming pool. Since Congressional Cemetery is composed of roughly 35 acres, take those numbers and multiple them by 3.5 to understand approximately how much wood, steel, concrete, and embalming fluid is under the ground at Congressional Cemetery.

Conventional burials, which typically include: preserving a corpse through the practice of embalming, public viewing at a funeral home, transporting a corpse to a funeral home and a cemetery, and a casket burial, have numerous lasting negative effects on the environment. For instance, greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the use, manufacture, and transportation of embalming fluids, caskets, grave liners, and the frequent mowing of cemetery lawns. Metal caskets are a major concern in acidic soils due to the threat of leaching heavy metals, specifically iron, copper, lead, and zinc, into the surrounding ground and water sources. Wood caskets often consist of preservatives, varnishes, and sealants, many of which contain arsenic and other harmful chemicals. Vaults made out of concrete, fiberglass, and asphalt, all of which are pollutants, also off-gas and leach pollutants. Furthermore, the harvesting, manufacturing, processing, and transportation of casket and vault materials also contribute to high energy use.

The process of cremation, which is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, is considered to be not as harmful for the environment when compared to conventional burials. Cremated remains, or “cremains,” are bones that have been processed into tiny particles after cremation. The process of cremation removes organic matter and bacteria from the bone, thus stopping the body’s natural decomposition process. Ultimately, bones become stabilized and do not change when the cremains are scattered.

Cremations release greenhouse gasses and other toxic chemicals into the environment. For instance, each cremation releases between .8 and 5.9 grams of mercury per cremated body. This totals to between 1,000 to 7,800 pounds of mercury released annually in the U.S. 75% of this mercury goes into the air and the remaining 25% of the mercury settles into the ground and water sources. Cremated remains consist of elements essential for plant and microbial life, including: nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and sodium. However, there is no probiotic potential for any of the elements in cremains due to high levels of sodium and a high alkaline pH of 11.8. Additionally, the average cremation uses 28 gallons of fuel to burn a single body, which emits about 540 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A person could drive about 4,800 miles on the same amount of energy that it takes to cremate one person. Essentially, the chemical properties of cremains can minimize or prevent the natural nutrients found in bones from becoming active in the environment because ashes in their natural form are toxic to plants. Despite the environmental consequences of cremations, the Green Burial Council still recognizes cremation as a green burial option.

In the U.S., we have a growing consciousness about the importance of living sustainably and making environmentally friendly decisions. But what about after life?

Do not fear—green burials are here! While there is a limited number of green cemeteries in the United States, we are proud that Congressional Cemetery is an active green cemetery.

But what exactly is a green cemetery? A green cemetery is a cemetery that allows green burials. The main objective of a green cemetery is to create an environment that appears and functions like a natural environment. Green burials have many characteristics including: disposing of a corpse without using formaldehyde-based embalming; foregoing the use of environmentally harmful concrete burial vaults; utilizing a locally sourced and biodegradable shroud (a cloth used to wrap around a corpse), casket or urn; minimizing heavy and large equipment for burial and landscaping; reducing the use of gas-powered equipment, such as lawn mowers, fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides; encouraging native plant growth; using natural means of weed and pest control, such as the use of goats or burning; and maintaining a gravesite that is marked with an engraved fieldstone or no stone at all. Some green cemeteries let native plants grow freely in the field to reduce the amount of fossil fuels required for mowing and maintaining the lawn. Regardless, with green burials, people tend to make efforts to plant native species that capture carbon and beautify the surrounding landscape. It is important to note that each individual cemetery decides where they are on the spectrum of “green,” and no two “green” cemeteries are alike.

There are three main types of green cemeteries. A hybrid cemetery is part of an existing cemetery that scatters green burials amongst other burials or a cemetery that dedicates a section solely to green burials. Hybrid cemeteries offer the option of burial without the need for a vault, a vault lid, concrete box, slab, or partitioned liner. Additionally, hybrid cemeteries do not require embalming and allow for an array of eco-friendly burial containers. Congressional Cemetery is an example of a hybrid cemetery because we have green burials scattered throughout the cemetery.

Congressional Cemetery is an active hybrid cemetery, where green burials and conventional burials are scattered throughout the cemetery.

The second type of green cemetery is a natural cemetery, which is a new cemetery that exclusively utilizes and enforces green burial principles. Natural cemeteries typically take on two forms: an open grassed or wildflower meadow, and a woodland. Full body burials are recommended to take place only in a meadow or open grass setting because full body burials can be detrimental to the health and longevity of the trees and plants in woodland settings. Natural cemeteries require the implementation of energy-conserving practices, minimize waste, and do not require the use of toxic chemicals. Natural cemeteries do not allow the use of vaults, vault lids, concrete boxes, slabs, or liners. Furthermore, natural cemeteries prohibit the burial of people who have been embalmed and do not allow burial containers that are not made from natural or plant-based materials.


Photograph of a stone and burial in a natural cemetery. Photograph courtesey of: “Natural Burials: Questions & Burial Options.” The National Network of Cemeteries & Burial Lots. Accessed September 28, 2017.

The third type of green cemetery is the conservation cemetery, which a cemetery that teams up with land trusts and nature preserves to preserve the land from other types of development. A conservation cemetery must protect an area of land specifically for conservation, and it must include a conservation organization that possesses a conservation easement or has deed restrictions enforced.

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Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery is an example of a conservation cemetery. Photograph courtsey of: “Prairie Oaks Memorial Eco Gardens Offers Green Burials.” Whats New This Month from Natural Awakenings. Accessed September 28, 2017.

In a 2014 poll conducted by the Green Burial Council, 72% of families who choose a green burial were satisfied with their decision to undergo a green burial for their loved one.

Selected Glossary:

  • Conservation Burial Grounds: A type of cemetery that is established in conjunction with a conservation organization and protects the land through deed restrictions or conservation easements
  • Conventional Cemetery: A cemetery that requires the use of a concrete or fiberglass grave liner and a hard-bottom casket
  • Cremation: The process of reducing a corpse to bone fragments and ashes through the use of high heat
  • Ecologically Appropriate Features: natural elements of the landscape, including: rocks, water features, native vegetation, and un-vegetated ground
  • Embalming: the process of removing blood and other bodily fluids from a corpse and inserting preservatives, surfactants, solvents, and coloration to slow decomposition and improve the look of a corpse for up to two weeks; organs are pierced and drained of fluid using a sharp tool (trocar) and waste is typically disposed of in a standard septic system or a municipal wastewater treatment plant
  • Embalming Fluid: a combination of chemicals including benzene, methanol, ethyl, alcohol, ethylene glycol, and formaldehyde.
  • Fieldstone: a naturally formed stone harvested from the earth, which can be engraved or left in its natural form
  • Green Burial: a burial system that allows full-body internment into the ground in a way that does not stop or inhibit the decomposition and decay process
  • Green Funeral: requires the use of nontoxic preservation techniques and organic materials that have minimal carbon footprints.
  • Green embalming/Professional Green Body Preparation: prioritizes non-invasive, natural means of cleaning and preparing the body for burial, sometimes with public visitations of un-embalmed bodies; a biodegradable, non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, and formaldehyde-free alternative to conventional embalming fluid
  • Green burial: full body internment into the ground in a way that promotes natural decomposition; three major character defining features include: absence of a vault, non-toxic preparation of the body, and use of containers made of organic materials.
  • Greenwashing: the act of deceptively marketing goods or services by hiding negative consequences the good or service has on the environment.
  • Hybrid Burial Ground: a conventional cemetery that offers the same aspects of a green burial throughout the cemetery or in a designated section
  • Integrated Pest Management System: a system where biological, cultural, mechanical, chemical, and physical factors are analyzed to create a long-term pest management plan that minimizes danger to people, property, and the environment
  • Invasive Plants: plant species that can damage native plants and change the surrounding ecological balance because they aggressively adapt to the environment or reproduce excessively
  • Life Cycle Analysis: the evaluation of the potential environmental impacts a particular product, process, or service has during its lifespan, including its extraction, production, manufacturing, distribution, consumption, and disposal
  • Life Cycle Costing: the evaluation of the economic possibilities of a product, good, service, or system over their useful lives by analyzing the costs of operation and maintenance
  • Meadow Burial: Burial in a field, where grasses are allowed to freely grow and the lawn is rarely mowed
  • Natural Burial Grounds: a cemetery that offers the character defining features of a burial ground and enforces protocols that conserve energy, minimize waste, and do not require the use of toxic chemicals
  • Natural Viewing: the viewing of an un-embalmed body
  • Restoration Ecology: the practice of renewing, restoring, or assisting in the recovery and management of degraded, deteriorated, destroyed, or damaged ecosystems or habitats
  • Restored Green Cemetery: an unused cemetery that has been purchased, deeded, gifted, or transferred to be repurposed through green burial
  • Shroud: fabric or cloth that is wrapped around a corpse for burial
  • Woodland Burial: a burial that occurs in a forest amongst the trees

Webster, Lee, ed. Changing Landscapes: Exploring the Growth of Ethical, Compassionate, and Environmentally Sustainable Green Funeral Service. Green Burial Council International.

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