Events Mark Congressional Cemetery’s 200th Anniversary

Posted September 11, 2007 at 3:37pm

It was only a decade ago that Historic Congressional Cemetery was on a list of 11 endangered national historic sites, but this weekend the cemetery will show how far it has come as it marks its 200th anniversary on Sunday.

The cemetery will commemorate its bicentennial anniversary with a full day of programming. Events are open to the public, although special invitations were sent out to a host of affinity groups including the Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Masonic Lodges, among others.

The public is invited onto the cemetery grounds starting at 11 a.m., with an hour of honor beginning at 1 p.m. for those families who wish to visit the burial sites of their deceased relatives. Visitors also are invited to a remembrance service led by House Chaplain Daniel Coughlin, followed by a formal military wreath laying. Other events include a concert performance by the U.S. Navy Band and docent-guided tours of the cemetery.

Home to 30,000 burial sites across a stretch of 32.5 acres in Southeast D.C., Congressional Cemetery is the resting place for such notable figures as the first director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, and suffragist Belva Lockwood.

Founded in 1807, the cemetery predates the prominent Arlington National Cemetery by 70 years. Congressional Cemetery, which is privately owned and managed by the nonprofit Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery, is the burial place for 19 Senators and 71 Representatives.

Among the other notable figures interred at Congressional Cemetery are Vice Presidents Elbridge Gerry and George Clinton, George Washington’s personal secretary Tobias Lear, Architect of the Capitol William Thornton, 10 mayors of Washington and several American Indian leaders who died in the District during the duration of diplomatic transactions.

Since the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed Congressional Cemetery as one of 11 most endangered national historic sites in 1997, the APHCC has worked to restore the burial grounds. To improve the site, 500 graves were reset, 300 trees were planted, and 20 percent of the brick vaults have been restored.

More than just a graveyard, Congressional Cemetery also is notable for its cenotaphs, which means “unoccupied grave,” according to cemetery manager Tom Kelly. Visitors can admire more than 150 monuments designed by Benjamin Latrobe that honor the Members of Congress who are buried at the site and others who died while in office.