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.
The efforts of the association appear to be bearing some fruit. “It seems like they’re doing more to orient it as a cemetery,” said Marc Olano, a neighborhood resident and a longtime dog walker of his foxhound Patience. “I think the cellphone tours are pretty cool,” he said.
A Historical Pedigree
Erin Harms, who is married to Olano and shares dog-walking responsibilities for Patience, said the association has been good about balancing the dogs and the needs of historical preservation, noting that the group banned dog toys.
“I think they had to do it, to protect the tombstones,” she said, explaining that any number of dogs could chase a tennis ball right into a 200-year-old headstone.
The cemetery, which opened in 1807, has a long history of honoring or interring the Washington elite. In its earliest days, it operated without a formal name. It became Washington Parish Burial Ground after being deeded in 1812 to the vestry of the Christ Church on Capitol Hill.
People began referring to it as Congressional Cemetery toward the middle of the 19th century, after Congress purchased plots to memorialize its Members who had died in office.
It is these stretches of the grounds that contain some of the cemetery’s most notable architectural structures, the cenotaphs, that mark the passage of some of the Capitol’s most famous denizens.
There are about 170 cenotaphs, or “empty tombs,” here. They are, mostly, short, squatty blocks, topped by stone cubes with domes and were designed by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe.
Among the cenotaphs are markers for the likes of President John Quincy Adams, who also served in the House and Senate, Speaker Henry Clay and Vice President John C. Calhoun. Reps. Hale Boggs and Nicholas Begich, who disappeared while on the same campaign flight in 1972 from Anchorage to Juneau, Alaska, share a cenotaph. Speaker Tip O’Neill, who died in 1994, is the last Member of Congress to have a tomb marked for him on the grounds, although his marker has a different form than most and looks like a more contemporary gravestone.
Aside from the empty tombs, 80 Members of Congress are interred at the cemetery, according to the preservation association, including Elbridge Gerry, the only Founding Father to be buried there.
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
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