Roxy the Doberman pinscher takes a stroll among the cenotaphs empty tombs that honor deceased Members of Congress at the Historic Congressional Cemetery. The graveyard has become a haven for dog walkers, who help pay for the upkeep of the grounds.
One of the liveliest places on Capitol Hill is, ironically, Historic Congressional Cemetery, a more than two-century-old resting ground wedged among the stretch of institutional ephemera that includes the local jail and the decaying remains of D.C. General Hospital. But plopping down about 700 dogs and their attendant humans can liven up just about anywhere, even a 35-acre plot populated primarily by the remains of the dearly departed.
It might seem a little weird, even sacrilegious to some, to unleash the hounds in the permanent resting place for “Cabinet members, Generals, merchants, indigents; native Americans and foreign diplomats,” as the dead are described by publicity materials of the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery. But the dogs and dead coexist in an arrangement that works for both of them, particularly when it comes to the graveyard’s operating expenses.
About 25 percent of the cemetery’s operating budget — preserving 200-year-old marble monuments and mowing 35 acres of grass doesn’t come cheap — comes from the dog-walking membership known as the K9 Corps at Historic Congressional Cemetery.
“Generally, I explain to people that it’s a lively place,” said Patrick Crowley, former chairman of the association’s board and now interim senior manager. “Unlike where my folks are buried, which is a memorial park. That’s really a dead place. It’s bleak. There’s no life to it. This is a very lively place.”
The cemetery is still an active burial site. Dog walkers keep the place hopping, primarily before and after human work hours, the prime canine exercise time for their owners. And the site is home to an increasingly active amount of historical appreciation.
The association provides maps for walking tours, among them a “War of 1812 Tour,” a “Building the Federal City Tour” and a “Men of Adventure Tour.” The association also will find a docent to lead you around, and there is even a cellphone tour for dialing up according to historical markers across the grounds. In October, there is even a foot race: the “Dead Man’s Run.”