While Congressional Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 55,000 people, it was the temporary resting place for thousands of others, including one of our original first ladies and three presidents who were interred in the public vault until other arrangements could be made. According to the cemetery’s website, the public vault had remains of more than 6,000 individuals over the years.
Financial trouble forced Dolley Madison’s remains to remain at Congressional for five years (we saw her final resting place at the Madisons’ Virginia home, Montpelier). The public vault also held the remains of presidents Zachary Taylor, John Quincy Adams and William Henry Harrison (coincidentally, we visited Harrison’s grave in North Bend, Ohio, the same year as the Montpelier trip).
While the vault is empty, I still felt creepy about stepping inside, so I took a picture from the stairway.
The online tour on “Educators, Agitators and Lawyers” says that Abigail Adams was in the public vault. However, I can’t figure out how that happened. She died in Quincy, Massachusetts, which is where she is buried. Not sure why her body would be brought to Washington, and my Internet searching failed to find anything definitive. It’s just another reason to visit the Adams homestead in Quincy!
Another prominent figure at Congressional Cemetery is J. Edgar Hoover, the famous/infamous first director of the F.B.I. So many people were interested in seeing his grave that I actually had trouble getting a picture without people or dogs getting in the shot (we visited during the annual Day of the Dog event). Hoover’s grave is pretty easy to spot with the fence and F.B.I. emblem.
We listened to the cell phone tour at the plot of the Hall family, final resting place of Mary Ann Hall, who ran one of 19th century Washington’s most famous brothels, conveniently located near Capitol Hill. Hall’s memorial reads, “Truth was her motto, her creed, charity for all.”
Oh, the tales this woman could probably tell. She ran the brothel for decades, passing away in 1886. According to the cemetery’s tour, “at the time she died, she had no debts and was worth well over today’s equivalent of two million dollars.” That meant the family could afford some remarkable sculptures for their memorials. And, look at the back of the plot, there is a headstone that says, “Welcome.”
There are so many famous people buried at Congressional, there’s no way to address them all. From John C. Calhoun to Henry Clay to Eldridge Gerry, I kept thinking, “I know that name.” And then I had to go look them up!
There are also many fascinating stories with the names of people you probably don’t know as well. You can get lost in the stories just scrolling through tours on the cemetery’s website.
I don’t think you’ll get lost in the cemetery itself (it’s pretty open), but I did appreciate having a map. You can check out our Nerd Trips “On the Map” page for details on visiting the cemetery.
While strolling through the grounds, be sure to check out some of the amazing and detailed monuments. I will leave you with pictures of some that caught my eye.