Capitol Hill Garden Club In Washington, D.C., Since 1952

May Walk @ Congressional Cemetery

May 10, 2016 6:30 PM | Anonymous member

May Walk @ Congressional Cemetery

The sun peaked through a week-long cloudy city just in time for the Capitol Hill Garden Club to take a tour of Congressional Cemetery, one of our neighborhood’s most interesting attractions.

Since the founding of our city in 1790, Congressional Cemetery has been a final resting place for Washingtonians. Now a National Historic Landmark, the cemetery is flourishing with brick pathways, slate walks, trees, blooming gardens and of course, buried Washingtonians. It was the perfect spot for our May Garden Walk, where we were guided through the cemetery by cemetery board member and docent, Sharon Bosworth.

There are 17 different tours that can be taken at Congressional, each focusing on different aspects of the cemetery. From politicians to Native Americans to past mayors of Washington, each tour can be adapted for the people visiting.  Our tour focused on trees, plants and flowers, but with a bit of history added in.

Noteworthy about the trees is that the original stewards of Congressional chose varieties that would not be considered suitable for a cemetery today, e.g. magnolias, which are large and beautify and messy.  They will live out their natural lives, but will not be replaced.  Instead, future trees will include native varieties that will be allowed to produce a canopy over the graves.

Gardening enthusiasts were pleased to learn that graves can be adopte

d and landscaped by individuals and groups. So as you walk the cemetery, you occasionally notice a grave or group of graves that is just loaded with plants, flowers, and a plaque acknowledging the name of the person or persons responsible for establishing and maintaining

the space.The Talbert grave, see photo here, is particularly lovely and is manage by Club member Lynn Church.  Another fine example is the area around the Arsenal Monument which is managed by Joyce Palmer.

Other stops along the way included the graves of Elbridge Gerry (of gerrymander fame), J. Edgar Hoover (whose grave is planted and decorated by the FBI), Joseph Gales (former publisher and DC mayor), John Philip Sousa (the ‘March King’), and the Arsenal Monument (memorializing 21 Irish immigrant women killed in an 1864 dynamite explosion).

The Public Vaults were created as a temporary resting place for people whose families needed more time to plan their final arrangements.  Remember, there were no funeral homes or refrigerators back then, and so over 6,000 families paid a $5 fee to use the vault.  Members of Congress stayed there for free. Guests included John Quincey Adams, William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor.  Dolly Madison’s family got the most value for their $5, with a 5 year stay while her son worked his way through a family bankruptcy.

A reception was hosted after the tour by Joseph Purdy and Anthony Pontorno in the party room and courtyard at Jenkins Row condominium.

To find out more about Congressional Cemetery, go to their website where you can plan a short visit, make a donation, order an engraved brick with your name on it, or buy a plot for an longer stay.

Special thanks for this event go to Lynn Maloy, Program Director, Congressional Cemetery for helping us organize this tour;  Daniel Holcombe, Grounds Conservation Manager, Congressional Cemetery, who provided Sonia Conly, E. J, Truax and Sharon Bosworth with information on the challenges of managing trees in an historic cemetery; Sharon Bosworth, Board of Directors of the Association for the Preservation of the Historic Congressional Cemetery;  Sonia Conly for organizing this event;  Joseph Purdy and Anthony Pontorno for hosting the reception.

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