Getting the Run of the Place at Congressional Cemetery
On Saturday, those resting in peace at the cemetery on the edge of Capitol Hill will be able to kick back with a temperature-protected brew as their two- and four-legged neighbors gather for the latest Day of the Dog. Food trucks, two local breweries — Atlas and Port City — and local pet vendors and services will be on paw for the celebration of all things canine.
Dogs will even be able to see their humans lope around the grounds for a change, at the inaugural Day of the Dog 5K and 2K runs. And they won’t even have to throw a slimy tennis ball to see the bipedals giddyup.
The races complement the growing repertoire of competitive feats at the cemetery, joining the recent Flee the British 5K, which marked last August’s 200th anniversary of the burning of Washington by British forces in the War of 1812, and the annual Dead Man’s Run, which is held around Halloween each year.
Maybe the Public Vault will even be open, and visitors can see where any number of the departed were stored in days past before their permanent dirt nap.
To make sure we would leave no gravestone unturned, Where Roll Call Dares asked Tim Krepp to guide us.
Krepp is a former congressional candidate, resident of Capitol Hill, author, proudly hirsute eyebrow displayer, Girl Scout dad, history/ghost tour guide and one of the cemetery’s Dozen Decent Docents.
When Roll Call, which has previously documented the cemetery’s doings, including utilizing goats to eat away the invasive plants that plague the perimeter, decided to dig a little deeper into the grounds’ ghostly ways, Krepp was a natural choice. After all, he’s the author of “Capitol Hill Haunts” and “Ghosts of Georgetown,” and a noted authority on the supernatural and macabre in the nation’s capital.
“The ghost thing, I kind of stumbled into. Needed to do something in the fall,” Krepp explained.
The cemetery, operated by the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery and owned by Christ Church on Capitol Hill, recently marked one of its many anniversaries, as any place that’s been around for two centuries is wont to do. Its first customer, a stone cutter for the Capitol named William Swinton, died on April 11, 1807. The grounds have been open for business ever since.
“Hopefully when we open this door, we won’t see anyone inside,” Krepp said, brandishing a skeleton key in front of the Public Vault that has (temporarily) housed past-their-expiration-date citizens of the capital. First lady Dolly Madison reposed here, there and other wheres in the cemetery before being finally being put in the ground.
Inside, it’s kind of cold, definitely weird.
“First one in — bravest,” Roll Call Editor-in-Chief Christina Bellantoni declared as she entered the depths.
It was also perfect for newish social media.
“Oh, she’s gotta Meerkat it,” Copy Editor Kaitie Kovach said of Assistant Managing Editor and Social Media Editor Cyra Master’s efforts to document our newsroom field trip.
Perhaps Master was simply trying to distract herself from her own phobias. Of all the fears that take hold of an individual, being buried alive is her No. 1. “Maximum creep,” she said.
On a follow-up visit on an open-house day for the cemetery, I headed into the Public Vault solo. It’s a quieter, more stark experience than with colleagues and experimental social media. Still cold. Empty, save the cave crickets hanging upside down, ready to pounce.
Once back outside, the cozier aspects of the cemetery are not far off. Among them, re-enactors in tri-corner hats for Revolutionary War Living History Day, one of whom drove to his designated spot in a Ford sport-utility vehicle.
Near the caretaker’s house, there is a table set up with nicknacks for sale — the coozies, of course, as well as Krepp’s books. There also is a collection of recipes dubbed “A Cookbook for Presidents & Residents Alike.” It’s helpfully divided into seven funereal-themed sections, from “The Visitation: Appetizers and Beverages,” to “The Reception: This & That.” This is the tome from which one can get hold of Hannah Amos’ Turtle Soup a La Hutchison or, ahem, Ima Goner’s Oh-So-Simple Meat Marinade.
It’s all part of the cemetery’s expanded gift shop offerings — with “City of Silence” branding prominent.
For the morbidly curious, there is information on plots. There is so much going on at the cemetery it’s easy to lose track of the fact it’s still an active grave site. According to the association’s 2014 annual report, there were a record number of site sales last year, with income from purchases of graves, benches and funerals clocking in at $325,000.
“I actually might buy a plot. Prices are going up, just like everything on Capitol Hill,” Krepp said.
Sage guidance indeed.
Congressional Cemetery is located at 1801 E St. SE. Day of the Dog activities start Saturday at 10 a.m. and run until 3 p.m. Admission is free. If you want to participate in one of the runs, you’ll need to cough up some dough. The 5K starts at 11:30 a.m., and the 2K kids’ run starts at 11:35 a.m. The 5K costs $40 and the kids’ run is $10.