Posts Tagged ‘Georgetown’

Bluestone Sidewalk Along Seventeenth Street

During today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped to rest on a bench on 17th Street, near President’s Park, just south of the White House. As I sat there for a few moments watching the tourists go by, I noticed that the sidewalk seemed different than what I usually see. In fact, I didn’t recall seeing anything similar here in D.C. Sidewalks throughout the city are typically formed walkways made out of cement. But the sidewalks where I was sitting were made of stone. So when I had a chance later I looked into it, and my research confirmed that they are both unique and historic.

The sidewalk is significant as the last remaining segment of an original streetscape feature used throughout President’s Park. While President’s Park South was filled and completed in the late 1870s, the side of the park along 17th Street was a low, badly drained area until new fill was added to bring it up to grade in the early 1880s. Then beginning in 1887, bluestone flag sidewalks were constructed along the front of the park bordering B Street, since renamed Constitution Avenue. While no date of construction can be firmly ascertained for the bluestone flag sidewalk on Seventeenth Street, it likely dates from this period or soon afterwards. A grassy strip between the sidewalk and the street was later added in the 1920s.

Most of the bluestone sidewalk surrounding President’s Park was eventually replaced with ones constructed with cement forms. As the stones cracked or fell into disrepair, it was decided that it would be cheaper to simply replace them with the same type of sidewalk that is present throughout the rest of the city. This was done everywhere except, for some reason, along 17th Street.

What stone sidewalk remains consists of rectangular bluestone slate flags, six-feet square, and extends along the east side of 17th Street from opposite C Street to opposite E Street (MAP). The sidewalk is separated from the granite curb by what was once a three-foot wide grassy strip, which is now filled in with granite pavers.

The sidewalk is not a tourist attraction. In fact, I doubt anyone walking on it even noticed it was different, let alone had any idea of its history. But I enjoyed seeing it, and thinking back about the way things were at the time when the bluestone sidewalks were constructed. The Civil War had been over for not all that long, and Grover Cleveland was the President.  The Washington Monument was almost completed and would open the following year.  The Catholic University of America was founded, and the first Woodward & Lothrop department store was built. Alexander Graham Bell built his Volta Laboratory in Georgetown. There were no automobiles, so the streets were used by horses and carriages. And form and quality were considerations in public building projects, not just price and practicality.

         
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The Church of Two Worlds

On this lunchtime bike ride I stopped by the building that houses one of the more unusual churches in the city, The Church of Two Worlds.  The church was founded in 1936 by the Rev. H. Gordon Burroughs.  Initially the church met all over the city, holding services in hotel banquet rooms and, for a time, even at the French Embassy.  In 1960 it bought the building where it currently resides, which was built in 1906 as a Methodist church, and then was the home of the Bible Presbyterian Church of Washington.

But what makes the church different is not its building.  The building, located at 3038 Q Street (MAPin northwest D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, has a tan brick exterior, stained glass windows, and large wooden doors that together give it the appearance of a typical local church.

What makes The Church of Two Worlds unusual is that it practices Spiritualism, whose philosophy holds to the doctrine that the spirit exists distinct from matter.  Now that may not be all that different from many other churches.  But where it begins to become unusual in comparison to most other churches is that one of Spiritualism’s goals is to prove the continuity of life by contacting the spirits of the dead, or “discarnate humans”, who they believe continue to maintain their individuality and personality after the change we know as death, and have both the ability and the inclination to communicate with the living.

Further, adherents of Spiritualism, also known as Spiritists or adherents of Spiritism, believe the spirit world is not as a static place, but one in which spirits continue to evolve and advance beyond where they were in this world.  And because they believe that contact with spirits is possible, and that spirits are more advanced than humans, they believe that spirits can provide followers with useful and practical knowledge about moral and ethical issues, as well as offer insights into the nature of God, whom they often refer to as Infinite Intelligence.

Other beliefs or practices of Spiritualism include belief in the power of their faith to cure diseases, healing with crystals or energy, and that healing can be helped by meditating on chakras.  They also believe in readings and past-life regressions, and that all reality is spiritual, not material.

On a lesser scale, The Church of Two Worlds is different from many other churches in that it’s members can sleep in on Sundays.  But they may have a scheduling conflict during football season.  They meet on Sundays, but not until 2:00pm , when activities begin with ministers conducting a healing service.  Then at 2:30 p.m. a teaching service begins, in which ministers provide information and topics such as communication with spirits, meditation, prayer, and mediumship.  A message service then begins, which includes the availability of mediums who give messages from spirits to anyone who wants one.  This is followed by food and fellowship in the church’s Fellowship Hall.

Some famous Spiritists include author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, magician Harry Houdini, and the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates.  So if for no other reason, it might be interesting to visit The Church of Two Worlds on a Sunday afternoon to get a glimpse inside the mind of Sherlock Holmes, learn some of Houdini’s tricks, or find out what Hippocrates thinks about modern medicine.

    
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Georgetown’s “Swords Into Ploughshares” Fence

A while back I heard a story about an iron fence in Georgetown which was supposedly built using hundreds of rifles as the pickets.  Wanting to see for myself, I rode to Georgetown during today’s lunchtime bike ride and personally examined the iron fence in question, which surrounds the property at 2803 and 2805 P Street (MAP).

The story goes that in 1859, Hall M1819 rifles were being stored at an armory in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, while preparations were being made to ship some of them out west to San Francisco.  However, a famed abolitionist named John Brown and his militia, consisting of 21 men (16 white and 5 black),  had been watching the arsenal and planned to seize the shipment of firearms and use them to supply an army of abolitionists.  On October 16th of that year, the Brown militia marched into Harpers Ferry and took both hostages and control of the armory, and established what was briefly known as “John Brown’s Fort.”  However, Brown’s insurrection did not end well, to say the least, for the abolitionists.  A bloody battle ensued and U.S. Marines, led by Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee and his aide J.E.B. Stuart, recaptured the Amory.  Brown was subsequently hanged for treason.

For whatever reason, the raid prompted the military to cancel the shipment of Hall Rifles.  Instead they were auctioned off instead.  A Georgetown merchant and landowners named Rueben Daw purchased the guns and used the barrels to build a fence.  Census records from that time indicate that Daw had also worked as a gunsmith, making it tempting to think that he might have enjoyed constructing the fencing around his property with gun barrels.

So do do I think the story is true?  Well, on one hand there are other stories about the fence.  But none of the stories began until a half a century after Daw passed away.  So it’s really impossible to know for sure.  On the other hand, while I was unable to definitively determine for myself the accuracy of the story, the Harper’s Ferry arsenal one is the most plausible.  Additionally, when I examined he fence there were some signs that to me indicated that the fence was constructed using old rifles.  For example, there are cracks in some of the pickets that not only reveal that each picket is hollow, but also that the walls of the pickets are far thicker than is structurally necessary for a perimeter fence.  And the gun barrel fence is significantly more robust than other neighborhood fences, with each picket measuring about an inch in diameter.  Additionally, some of the pickets have small protrusions which, to me, very much resemble gun sights.  Finally, the pointy spiked tops are clearly separate inserts rather than wrought from the same piece of metal as the tubes.

So given my opinion that the fence is, in fact, made from recycled old rifles, and taking into account that the other stories contain inconsistencies or factual inaccuracies, I tend to believe the most plausible story about the Georgetown’s gun barrel fence.  And at this time in our country’s history, in which our society is in the midst of a heated debate about the 2nd Amendment and gun control, I think we could use more “swords into ploughshares” stories like it.

         

    
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The Georgetown University Grilling Society

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I rode across town to Georgetown University. I had seen a show recently on PBS entitled Neighborhood Eats, about a campus club that cooks out every Friday.  So I rode over there, and then rode around campus until I smelled the aroma of meat grilling. Then I just followed the smell and blended in with the eclectic crowd.

The GUGS (the first “G” is soft, as in genius) started out in December of 2002 with just four guys “with one mysteriously-acquired grill.  It has now become one of the university’s most popular social collectives.  The society’s creed  sums up the group.  It reads, “Beneath the trees which line the grounds of Georgetown, the Georgetown University Grilling Society strives to maintain the fundamental values of mankind through bonds and friendships forged in the very fires upon which we cook.”

The members of GUGS grill burgers and hot dogs between about 11:00am and 2:00pm every Friday in the campus’ Red Square.  And the burgers are quite unusual. Round like a giant meatball and grilled to perfection, the half-pound burgers are as delicious as they are unusual.  It might just be the best burger in town. And at just three bucks, it is almost definitely the best deal in town too.

It was a great bike ride today, and an even better lunch. What a way to end the workweek!  And I think I may have just begun a new weekly tradition as well.

         

         

         
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Saint Ignatius of Loyola Statue

A statue of Saint Ignatius of Loyola is located in front of White-Gravenor Hall (MAP) on the campus of Georgetown University.  And as I was riding around the sprawling campus on this lunchtime bike ride I stopped to check it out.

Born Inigo Lopez de Loyola, the man who would become known as Ignatius of Loyola entered the world on October 23, 1491, in Loiola, Spain.  At the time, the name of the village was spelled “Loyola,” hence the discrepancy in spelling.  Loiola is a small village at the southern end of Azpeitia, in northern Spain, and is where Inigo came of age.  Inigo was the youngest of thirteen children. His mother died when he was just seven, and he was then raised by Maria de Garin, who was the wife of a local blacksmith.  At about the age of eighteen Inigo began to refer to himself as Ignatius, a variant of Inigo, because he thought it sounded more dignified and would bring him wider acclaim and recognition.

During his lifetime he was many things, including a member of the aristocracy in a Basque noble family, a knight, and a hermit.  He was also an officer in the Spanish Army.  It was during this time in the military that he was struck by a cannonball in the leg.  Oddly, he thought that his leg had been set poorly after the cannonball incident and that, as a result, he wouldn’t look good in his courtier’s tights. So he had a doctor rebreak his leg and start over.  Eventually part of his leg had to be amputated and caused him to walk with a limp for the rest of his life.  It was during his time recuperating from his injury that he became a devout Christian.  And by the spring of the following year, Ignatius had recovered enough to leave bed.

On March 25, 1522, he entered the Benedictine monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat.  And beginning in 1537 he became a priest and theologian who would eventually go on to found the religious order called the Society of Jesus. Some people did not appreciate the Society of Jesus and dubbed them “Jesuits” in an attempt to disparage them. While the name stuck, by virtue of their good work the label lost its negative connotation.  The Jesuit Order served the Pope as missionaries, and they were bound by a vow of absolute obedience to the Pope.

The Jesuits would soon find a niche in education. Before Ignatius died, it established 35 schools and boasted 1,000 members. Today, the Jesuit Order is known for its work in educating the youth around the globe. Several universities have been founded in the name of Ignatius and in the traditional Jesuit spirit, including  Georgetown University, which is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit-affiliated institution of higher education in the United States.

Ignatius was beatified in 1609, and then canonized, receiving the title of Saint on March 12, 1622.  Saint Ignatius is venerated as the patron saint of educators and education, Catholic soldiers, the Military Ordinariate of the Philippines, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Jesuit Society, all spiritual retreats, the Basque country, and various towns and cities in his native region.  He died on July 31, 1556, his feast day in the Catholic Church, as a result of the Roman Fever, a severe case of malaria that recurred in Rome, Italy, at different points in history.

However, Ignatius was not always very saintly.  During much of his young adult life he was vain, with dreams of personal honor and fame. According to one of  Ignatius’ biographers, he was a fancy dresser, an expert dancer, a womanizer, sensitive to insult, a gambler, and a rough punkish swordsman who was arrested but used his privileged status to escape prosecution for violent crimes committed with his priest brother.  One time, upon encountering a Moor who denied the divinity of Jesus, he challenged him to a duel to the death and ran him through with his sword.  Another time, he allowed the donkey on which he was riding to determine whether he should follow and murder someone he thought had insulted the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fortunately, the donkey chose the path that led away from the insulter.  Ignatius is said to have dueled many other men as well, gaining a reputation in his time.  As some have noted, having been arrested for nighttime brawling with intent to inflict serious harm, he may be the only saint with a notarized police record.

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The Devil’s Chair Footbridge

During this lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding on the Rock Creek Park Trail near the southern end of the park, I rode over Rock Creek on a bridge usually referred to as the Devil’s Chair Footbridge.  Located near Waterside Drive at a point approximately one-fifth of a mile northwest of where Q Street passes over the trail (MAP), with its eastern abutment just 30 feet from the southbound lanes of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, the bridge’s name intrigued me.  So later after I got back from my ride I researched it to find out more.

Also called the Lyon’s Mill Footbridge, Devils Chair is the most notable of a series of eight footbridges built in Rock Creek Park as Public Works Administration projects during the Great Depression. It was completed in 1934, with the concrete, rustic-style bridge constructed in the style advocated by Albert H. Good, an architectural consultant to the National Park Service, in his sourcebook Park Structures and Facilities which was published the following year. The bridge lies in the shadow of Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery on its western side, with its eastern abutment built on a remnant of the original Lyon’s Mill which had been located on the eastern bank of the creek.

The term devil’s chair usually refers to a memorial sculpture common in this country during the nineteenth century, when cemeteries sometimes included carved chairs for the comfort of visitors. In this function, the object was known as a mourning chair. Some carved chairs, however, were not intended for use as anything but monuments.  Anyway, once the original purpose of these chairs fell out of fashion, superstitions developed in association with the act of sitting in them. In a typical example, local young people dare one another to visit the cemetery, most often after dark, or on a certain night, such as Halloween. Variously, the stories suggest the person brave enough to sit in the chair at such a time may be punished for not showing due respect or rewarded for their courage.

So I assume the name Devil’s Chair is connected in some way to nearby Oak Hill Cemetery. But I have been unable to find one in the section of the cemetery near the footbridge. The rocky and hilly cemetery is both gothic and beautiful, but I have not found a devil’s chair anywhere in the cemetery. And despite researching it, I have been unable to find an explanation for the name. So the origins of the Devil’s Chair Footbridge’s name continues to be shrouded in mystery, at least for now.  So if anyone knows of the story behind the name, please contact me.  Otherwise, I may just have to go back there on Halloween next week, at midnight, and see if I can figure it out firsthand.

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The Abner Cloud House and Mill

For this outing I decided to go for a leisurely ride on The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Towpath.  Starting in Georgetown at the eastern end of the towpath, I rode west until I got to Fletcher’s Cove and Boathouse.  From there, the destination for this ride was just across the canal – the Abner Cloud House and Mill.

Located on the canal near where Canal Road, which parallels the canal and the Potomac River, intersects with Reservoir Road in northwest D.C. (MAP), the house was built in the 1801.  Nestled near the former Little Falls Skirting Canal, it is the oldest structure on the canal.  In fact, it actually predates the canal project itself by more than two decades.

A miller from Pennsylvania named Abner Cloud was the original builder and occupant of the house, and the operator of the flour mill which he built about two hundred yards upstream from it.  He and his family lived on the upper floors of the house, and used the basement as a storeroom for the flour and grains he shipped from his mill to Georgetown.

Interestingly, a Cloud mill worker married one of Abner Cloud’s sisters, and they constructed a mill not too far away in Rock Creek in 1801.  That mill is Peirce Mill, which I ran across during one of my previous bike rides.

Although Cloud died in 1812, his widow, Suzanne, continued to live there until she passed away forty years later, in 1852.  The mill continued to provide an excellent quality flour called “Evermay” to D.C. until it closed in 1870.  Ruins of the mill, located west of the house and for a long time obscured by overgrown brush, were uncovered through the efforts of volunteers as part of an annual event called Canal Pride Day, which is a day of restoration, revitalization, and fun in conjunction with the C&O Canal Trust, the official non-profit partner of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park.

In 1970, a restoration project of the Abner Cloud House was begun.  Completed in 1976, the house is now maintained by the Colonial Dames of America.  Today, the headquarters of the Colonial Dames of America, Chapter III, occupies the top two floors of the house.  The organization shares the house with the national park, and conducts interpretive programs for visitors.

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Dog Tag Bakery

When I stopped during a recent bike ride to take a photo of a mural I saw on the side of a building, I met a very nice young woman named Andrea, who was also there photographing the mural. As we talked I found out that she had been discharged from the Marine Corps, and had moved to D.C. from Texas to go back to school. During the course of our conversation I also found out that she works at a place called Dog Tag Bakery. My initial thought was that it was probably one of those trendy boutique bakeries that makes dog treats and caters to wealthy pet owners. But when she went on to explain the background and purpose behind the bakery, I found it very interesting. So on this bike ride, I decided to go to the Dog Tag Bakery, located just off Wisconsin Avenue at 3206 Grace Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, and check it out for myself.

While it might seem like the idea behind the bakery is to sell delicious baked goods, the Dog Tag Bakery is really all about giving back to those who have served in the military.  The bakery is just a storefront for a larger program run by Dog Tag Inc., a nonprofit organization founded by Rick Curry, a Jesuit priest and adjunct professor of Catholic studies at Georgetown University, and Connie Milstein, a successful attorney, real estate investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist. The program utilizes baking and running a bakery business as a way to help ease the transition of entrepreneurial-minded wounded veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and their spouses, back into civilian life by providing an innovative training program and leadership development opportunities.

The Dog Tag Program is made up of courses that are tailored to the business focused goals of the participants.  The courses include accounting, principles of management, communication, corporate finance, marketing, business policy and entrepreneurship. Participants who successfully complete the six-month program earn a Certificate of Business Administration from Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

Dog Tag’s Grace Street facility not only contains the bakery and storefront, but a classroom and office space as well. It also contains a stage, which is where veterans participate in occasional spoken-word events in which they address audiences about their experiences as part of their training in communication. Not to be missed if you stop by the bakery is the chandelier that hangs above the stage. The Dog Tag chandelier is made from 3,456 individual military dog tags. The unique display is intended to honor all the servicemen and women.

One of the best aspects of the Dog Tag program is that it helps the participants to focus on their abilities and not the ir disability. The program helps them to not look at a disability as a hindrance. And Father Curry may be the ideal man for such a program. Despite being born with only one arm, Father Curry believes that disability is a gift. He has said. “It can be difficult to accept, but in the long run to accept your disability as a gift is positive.”

Second only to the graduates the program produces, the Dog Tag Bakery also produces delicious baked goods.  Open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:00am until 6:00pm, their menu not only includes a variety of breads, cookies, brownies and pastries, but breakfast and lunch items as well.  The breakfast menu includes items like breakfast sandwiches, fruit cups, a parfait with yogurt and homemade granola, or a veggie fritatta.  However, I stopped by for lunch.

Having to choose among the various sandwiches and salads on their lunch menu was difficult, but on this ride I chose was the Turkey, Brie & Cranberry Mayo on fresh-baked Honey Wheat Bread.  The softness of the bread combined with the moist, flavorful turkey combined with the sweetness of the cranberry mayo was perfectly complimented by the saltiness of the sea salt kettle chips they served with it.  I splurged and also got a slice of carrot cake for dessert.  It was moist and perfectly spiced.  It is a nut free bakery, so there were no walnuts in the carrot cake, which was to my liking because I prefer it without nuts anyway.  I also got some mini quick bread to go.  They offer banana, cranberry and pumpkin spice.  I chose the latter.

Although I have only been there once so far, everything I had was delicious, and everything else I saw looked equally appetizing.  So I’ll be going there again soon, and I recommend that you do the same.

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The Georgetown Labyrinth

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a labyrinth as “a place that has many confusing paths or passages” and asserts that it is synonymous with a maze. But that definition is incorrect. A labyrinth and a maze are not the same. There is a distinction between the two. A maze is multicursal and refers to a complex branching puzzle to be deciphered with choices of path and direction, dead ends and either no exit or one that is difficult to find. A labyrinth, on the other hand, is unicursal, with a single, unambiguous path leading to the center and back which is not difficult to navigate.

The Labyrinth Society is a international organization whose mission is to support all those who create, maintain and use labyrinths.  According to the Society, a labyrinth is a tool for personal, psychological and spiritual transformation which is also thought to enhance right brain activity. Labyrinths have been an important part of many cultures spiritually for thousands of years, and have also been used to create decorative art. Walking through one is usually intended to be a meditative and contemplative act, and many religions, including some Christian churches, integrate walking meditation into their spiritual practices. For others, labyrinth walking is simply a great way to unwind on a beautiful day and clear your mind.

There are a number of labyrinths in the greater D.C. area – a dozen, actually. Two are nearby in Virginia. One is indoors, the other outdoors, and both are located at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria. There are also two in Maryland, one at the Hallowood Retreat Center in Dickerson, and the other at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton. There are also eight which are located in D.C. proper. One is located on the rooftop terrace of a commercial office in northeast D.C. which houses the American Psychological Association.   There are also labyrinths located in some of the city’s churches. These include The Church of the Epiphany, Westminster Presbyterian Church, St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, and at Washington National Cathedral. The remaining labyrinth is the one I chose to visit and walk during this lunchtime bike ride.

Located in the Georgetown Waterfront Park, located at the southern end of 33rd Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, The Georgetown Labyrinth is the only labyrinth located on public property in D.C.  It was provided by the TKF Foundation, a private grant-making foundation whose purpose is to create “Open Spaces, Sacred Places.”  The Georgetown Labyrinth is meant to “foster human spirituality and connections for people of all beliefs, faiths, and cultures.”

No one knows for certain the exact number of labyrinths in the United States, but in addition to the seven in D.C. there are 112 more in Virginia, and another 71 labyrinths in Maryland. There are labyrinths located in every state, with some states having 400 or more. So if you’d like to visit and maybe even experience a labyrinth walk for yourself, but you’re not in the local D.C. area, there is bound to be one near you. You can find one using the online World-Wide Labyrinth Locater. And you don’t have to wait until World Labyrinth Day (which is the first Saturday in May) to do it.

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Holy Rood Cemetery

Holy Rood Cemetery was established by Holy Trinity Catholic Church in 1832. Originally named Trinity Church Upper Grave Yard for the first three decades of its existence, the first burial there was recorded on April 22nd of the following year.  The cemetery was active from the mid-nineteenth century, when it was enlarged between 1850 and 1870, into the early twentieth century. In the early 1980s, the Holy Rood notified holders of burial rights that it would not accept more burials. But the holders sued, obtaining a consent decree in 1984 that forced it to keep the cemetery open and honor all contracts. A few burials subsequently took place there in the late 1990s, and it still has an occasional burial, making it the oldest active Catholic cemetery in D.C.

When Holy Trinity Church, which was founded by the Jesuits of then-Georgetown College, was transferred to the Archdiocese of Washington in 1942, Holy Rood remained in the care of Georgetown University. Over the years, the university has appeared at times to be a reluctant cemetery owner, skimping on maintenance and fighting with owners of burial plots. In the 1970s the university proposed that the Archdiocese take over the 7,000 graves, but the deal fell apart when the archdiocese proposed to charge the university $2 million. Then in the 1980’s, the university sought to disinter the bodies and remove the graves so that the land could be developed. This was blocked, however, by a legal action brought by the remaining holders of burial rights.

Georgetown University continues to reluctantly oversee the cemetery, which today reflects years of disuse and neglect. Many of the tombstones are toppled, damaged or overgrown, and grass and weeds grow up through large cracks in the lone asphalt walkway leading through it. The deplorable condition of the cemetery today is particularly unfortunate in light of the history contained within it.

Unlike Capitol Hill’s Historic Congressional Cemetery, there are no known famous politicians or dignitaries buried in Holy Rood Cemetery. Most of the graves hold Catholic hoteliers, butchers, laborers, maids, war veterans, mothers who died in childbirth, victims of the 1918 influenza epidemic and many others. However, it also includes the graves of as many as 1,000 Catholic free and enslaved African Americans, and may be the best-documented slave burial grounds in the greater D.C. area. Unfortunately, most are in unmarked graves or were buried with wooden markers that rotted away many years ago. Georgetown University libraries maintain the burial records, but if restoration of the cemetery does not occur soon, there may be little left to which the records can be matched.

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