Tourist in My Hometown: Congressional Cemetery

I love a good cemetery. That’s why it’s a bit strange that in all the years we have lived in the DC area, I’ve never visited Congressional Cemetery. The day after Halloween, we finally made it over there for a look.

Congressional Cemetery is actually a nickname. The cemetery was founded by parishioners at Christ Church in 1807, and called Washington Parish Burial Ground. Because of its proximity to Capitol Hill, for about fifty years in the 19th century it was funded by Congress and 171 cenotaphs (empty grave monuments) of Congressmen were placed there. Other notable and/or wealthy citizens were buried there to keep them company.

It is interesting to compare it to Vienna’s Central Cemetery, with its enormous Art Deco church dedicated to a proto-Nazi, graves partitioned by religion, and desecrated Jewish section. Congressional Cemetery has just one plain little chapel, and is all mixed up, with Catholics, Jews, many Protestant denominations and followers of Native American religions all tossed in together. There are also some historical and political statements made by the monuments, as you might expect in a Washington, DC burying ground. I love it.

In the 20th century, the cemetery began to decline along with the rest of the city. By the 1970s, it was overgrown, and a hangout for drug dealers and hookers. A non-profit organization, the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery, was formed and gradually began to turn it around with the help of the local K-9 Corps, whose regular dog-walking helped chase away the drug dealers.

The cemetery is now a community institution, with many individuals and organizations contributing to its upkeep—including a herd of goats! You can read more of the history of the cemetery here. It really is an interesting place!


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