My six year old self would have shuttered to know I was going to a graveyard just to explore and read the historic names on the tombstones. But my much older self enjoyed wandering through the lovely setting known as Congressional Cemetery.
Established in 1807, it’s officially the Washington Parish Burial Ground and is owned by Christ Church. In 1807, Senator Tracy (Federalist from Connecticut) was interned and until the mid-1830s, almost every Congressman who died in Washington was buried in the cemetery. Since it was associated with US Congress members it became the first National Cemetery (50 years prior to Arlington Cemetery). The cemetery occupies 35 acres and is the only place in Washington DC where a person can be buried within L’Enfants’s original city-plan.
Congressional Cemetery is a feel-good story, other than the fact that it’s filled with dead people. It went through a period of neglect in the 20th century and, by 1997, it was added to the list of most endangered Historic sites. Thankfully, a group of dedicated Capitol Hill Washingtonians started taxing themselves for walking their dogs on the grounds. The taxes paid for mowing.
Currently, the K9 Corps of the Historic Congressional Cemetery numbers in the hundreds. They pay an annual fee to walk their dogs off-leash. Other volunteers including service organizations, members of the armed forces and school groups have put in thousands of hours bringing the cemetery back to it’s original state. It’s designated as a National Historic Landmark and the association has regularly scheduled tours, fundraisers and 5k runs. The US Marine Band plays often at the grave of John Philip Sousa. Sousa enlisted into the Marines at age 13 by his father, after Sousa attempted to join the traveling circus. He excelled in the Marines, becoming the conductor for the Marine Corps Band. After the Marines, he started his own band and wrote “Stars and Stripes Forever”
Cenotaphs are monuments erected in honor of someone whose remains are buried elsewhere. There are 165 Cenotaphs for many famous people such as Henry Clay, John C.Calhoun, Tip O’Neill, etc.
And then there are the visiting goats.The Browsing Green Goats have been brought into the cemetery (paid for by an anonymous donor) for two weeks to control invasive species including poison ivy. Rather than use herbicides or expensive landscaping crews, the goats offer a wonderful alternative to battling the invasive plants. Plus they leave a good bit of helpful fertilizer.
- Congressional Cemetery is located at 1801 E Street, SE, Washington, DC
- Cemetery hours are 9 am-5 pm
- Goats can be seen from Dawn until Dusk
- Goats will be at the cemetery until August 20, 2015
- For more information about events (including the goats), click here