Posts Tagged ‘cenotaph’

The Cenotaphs at Historic Congressional Cemetery

I have found that cemeteries are often bastions of history, especially here in D.C.  The graves of the many historic figures, politicians and famous people buried here provide a portal to the history that they lived.  But Historic Congressional Cemetery, located at 1801 E Street in southeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood (MAP), and which happens to be one of my favorite cemeteries in the city, also has a number of cenotaphs that also point to a wealth of history.  And it was the cemetery’s 165 cenotaphs that were the destination and purpose of my lunchtime bike ride today.

Traditionally, the word “cenotaph” is defined as A cenotaph is an “empty tomb” or a monument erected in honor of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere. It can also be the initial tomb for a person who has since been interred elsewhere.  As used at the Congressional Cemetery, the term cenotaph includes not only those that fall under the traditional definition, but also to monuments that mark the actual graves of representatives and senators who died in office during the first several decades of the nation’s history. Some congressmen are buried under a cenotaph, some are buried with a headstone instead of a cenotaph in a different area of the cemetery, and for some the marker is a true cenotaph. And one individual, a Revolutionary War soldier and Congressman from North Carolina named James Gillespie, who was reinterred in 1892, has a separate grave and cenotaph.

Designed by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who was then working on the new south wing of the U.S. Capitol Building, the cenotaphs are constructed of Aquia sandstone, as are The White House and the Capitol Building, and were likewise painted white, forming a visual connection with these nearby symbols of Federal government, and a contrast to the cemetery’s surrounding gravestones. They are grouped in rows in the older part of the cemetery near the main entrance, where they dominate the landscape.

A cenotaph was erected at Congressional Cemetery for each congressman who died in office from 1833 to 1876. The first was for Congressman James Lent from New York, who was initially interred in the cemetery. But after Congress appropriated funds and his monument was ordered, his family had his body brought back and reinterred in New York. Congress erected the monument in 1839 anyway, establishing the tradition of erecting cenotaphs.

After the Civil War very few congressmen were buried in the cemetery, as their bodies were commonly shipped to their home states or buried in the new United States National Cemetery System, in cemeteries such as Arlington National Cemetery. And cenotaphs were discontinued for the most part in 1876, after Massachusetts Senator George Frisbie Hoar stated that “the thought of being buried beneath one of those atrocities brought new terror to death.”

Since that time, only two new cenotaphs have been erected at the cemetery. After a 1972 plane crash in which their bodies were unable to be recovered, Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., the majority leader in the House at the time, and Nick Begich, a Congressman from Alaska, share a cenotaph. And the last one to date is for former Speaker of the House Thomas P “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., who was honored with a cenotaph in 1994, although it is not in the style of the Latrobe cenotaphs.

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Chaplains Hill and Monuments

On today’s bike ride I rode to Arlington National Cemetery because I had not been there for awhile, and because there is always something new to me to discover there. And as I was walking through the cemetery I saw some unusual gravestones, four of them together on the top of a small hill, that had large brass plaques on them. So naturally I went over to see them better and find out what they are.

It turns out they are on the top of what is called Chaplains Hill, which is located in Section 2 of the cemetery. And the four gravestones are actually cenotaphs, which are monuments erected in honor of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere, especially commemorating people who died in a war. The cenotaphs are dedicated to the memory of chaplains who have served in the United States Armed Forces.The four monuments on Chaplains Hill are to those lost in World War I, to Protestant Chaplains, to Catholic Chaplains, and to Jewish Chaplains, were dedicated at different times over almost a century.

The first of the four cenotaphs was dedicated on May 5, 1926, by chaplains who served in World War I. The monument honored the twenty-three chaplains who died in that war. Two quotations are inscribed on the cenotaph: “Greater Love Hath No Man Than This, That A Man Lay Down His Life For His Friends,” and “To You From Falling Hands We Throw The Torch – Be Yours To Hold It High.”

The second cenotaph is a memorial to the 134 Protestant Chaplains who died in World Wars I and II. It was dedicated on October 26, 1981, and the inscription reads: “To The Glory of God And The Memory Of The Chaplains Who Died In Services Of Their Country.”

A cenotaph to the 83 Catholic Chaplains who died in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam was dedicated and placed on Chaplains Hill on May 21, 1989. The monument is inscribed: “May God Grant Peace To Them And To The Nation They Served So Well.”

The remaining cenotaph is dedicated to 14 Jewish Chaplains who died while serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, and was dedicated October 24, 2011. One of the inscriptions on the monument reads: “Dedicated to the Jewish chaplains who have served our country in the United States Armed Forces. May the memory of those who perished while in service be a blessing.”

Additionally, among the individuals honored at Arlington National’s Chaplains Hill include: the Army’s first Chief of Chaplains, Colonel John T. Axton of World War I; World War II’s Chief of Chaplains William A. Arnold, who was the first Chaplain to make General; and Major Charles Joseph Watters who served in Vietnam and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on November 19, 1967. Unarmed, Watters was rendering aid to fallen comrades, disregarding his own safety when he was killed by a bomb explosion. Watters is one of eight members from the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps who have been awarded the Medal of Honor: four from the Civil War; one from the Boxer Rebellion; two from the Vietnam War; and one from the Korean War.

Also honored are four U.S. Army chaplains who in 1943 gave up their life jackets and prayed together when their transport ship, the USAT Dorchester, was torpedoed eighty miles south of Greenland. The chaplains came from different faiths and backgrounds. John P. Washington was a Catholic Priest from Kearny, New Jersey; Rabbi Alexander D. Goode was a native of York, Pennsylvania; Clark V. Poling was a minister in the Reformed Church in America at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady, New York; and George L. Fox, a decorated World War I veteran, was a Methodist minister in Gilman, Vermont.

Chaplains have the rank of a military commissioned officer and serve the dual roles of religious leader and staff officer, but do not possess the duties or responsibilities of command. Service regulations further prohibit chaplains from bearing arms and classify chaplains as noncombatants. Article 24 of the Geneva Convention identifies chaplains as protected personnel in their function and capacity as ministers of religion. But despite this, 419 military chaplains have died in wars since the founding of this country. The breakdown, by war, is as follows: 25 in the Revolutionary War; one each in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War; 117 on Union side, 41 on the Confederacy side during the Civil War; 23 in World War I; 182 in World War II, 13 in the Korean War; 15 in the war in Vietnam, and one in Iraq/Afghanistan.
 

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The Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain

On this lunchtime bike ride I rode over to President’s Park, which encompasses The White House, a visitor center, Lafayette Square, and The Ellipse. There are a number of monuments and memorials located throughout the park, and on this ride I specifically went there to see the Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain, which is located just south and within sight of the White House, and about thirty yards northwest of The Zero Milestone, near the western junction of E street and Ellipse Road (MAP).

The fountain is a memorial to Archibald Willingham DeGraffenreid Clarendon Butt and Francis Davis Millet, believed to be the only officials of the United States government who perished, along with more than 1,500 others, when the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic hit an iceberg during its maiden voyage and sunk on the night of April 14th through to the morning of April 15th in 1912.

On May 16, 1912, just one month after the Titanic went down, Senator Augustus Octavius Bacon of Georgia submitted a resolution authorizing the constructing of a private memorial to Butt and Millet on federally owned land somewhere in D.C..  Bacon argued that Butt and Millet were public servants who deserved to be memorialized separately from the rest of the dead.  Initial press reports indicated that President William Howard Taft planned an elaborate dedication ceremony for the memorial.  But Taft was no longer president by late 1913, having lost the presidential election to Woodrow Wilson.  So the Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain was dedicated without ceremony on October 25, 1913.

The Fountain is 12 feet high, with an octagonal grey granite base which supports an 8 feet wide bowl made of golden brown Tennessee marble. Rising up from the bowl is a panel with two relief figures. The one on the southern side of the panel depicts a man in armor and helmet who is holding a shield, representing military valor and memorializing Butt. The figure on the north side of the panel depicts a woman with paint brush and palette, represents the fine arts and memorializes Millet.

Butt, known as “Archie” to his friends, was a United States Army officer. He served in the Quartermaster Corps during the Spanish-American War, where he gained notice for his work in logistics and animal husbandry.   Later, after brief postings in D.C and Cuba, he was appointed as a military aide to President Theodore Roosevelt. At the time of his death he was serving as a military aide to President Taft. Known as one of the most eligible bachelors in D.C., Butt never married and mystery surrounded his personal life as well as his death. There were many sensational accounts reported of Butt’s last moments aboard the Titanic.  But none of them has ever been verified. Although his body was never found, a cenotaph in the shape of a Celtic cross memorializes him in Arlington National Cemetery.

Millet was an accomplished painter, sculptor, and writer, and at the time of his death served as vice chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts, a committee with approval authority for the “design and aesthetics” of construction within the national capitol city. Some mystery also surrounded Millet’s personal life. Despite being married and a father of three, he is also thought to have had several same-sex relationships during his life.   Millet’s body was recovered after the sinking and was buried in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

Despite the mystery in their personal lives, both men were well liked in local social circles and among the D.C. elite. In Butt’s eulogy in The Washington Times, it stated that, “the two men had a sympathy of mind which was most unusual.” Noting that Butt was “mourned by Washingtonians of all walks of life,” the article claimed, “None could help admiring either man.” Some historians have also asserted that Butt and Millet were involved in a romantic relationship. They were close friends and housemates, often attending social gatherings and parties together. And they were aboard the Titanic because they were returning to the United States after vacationing together in Europe.  Quite possible an early example of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” they were together in both life and death.

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