Posts Tagged ‘Historic Congressional Cemetery’

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The Grave of Charles Forbes

On this lunchtime bike ride I returned to Historic Congressional Cemetery (MAP) on Capitol Hill, one of my favorite lunchtime biking destinations. I like it because even after numerous rides there, there is still so much more history within the cemetery to be discovered and learned. This time I visited the grave of Charles Forbes, who I often think about whenever I make a mistake at work. Let me explain why.

Forbes was born in Ireland around 1835 and at the age of 26 started working at the White House in 1861, shortly after President Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration. He was one of several house servants assigned to President Lincoln. Quickly becoming a favorite with both the President and Mrs. Lincoln, Forbes became the personal attendant to the President, a position he held for approximately four years. He also occasionally watched out for Mary Todd Lincoln and Thomas “Tad” Lincoln III, as well.

And it was during this time working for the President that Forbes made one of the biggest mistakes on the job that anyone has ever made. Forbes accompanied the Lincolns to Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, the night that Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. That night Booth approached Forbes, who was seated outside of Lincoln’s box, and gave him his calling card. Forbes then allowed Booth to enter the door to the private box. Moments later the President was mortally wounded.

Forbes remains a mysterious figure in the events of that night. He never gave a witness statement nor did he ever leave a written or verbal account of the assassination of the President. But Mrs. Lincoln remained fond of Forbes, bore him no ill will for the evening’s events, and later presented him with the suit of clothes that Lincoln wore that night.

After Lincoln’s death, Forbes became a messenger for the U.S. Treasury Department and later for the Adjutant General’s office. He died October 10, 1885, at his home at 1711 G Street in northwest D.C., leaving his wife Margaret and a daughter, Mary. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Congressional Cemetery until 1984 when The Lincoln Group, a historical society, placed a marker on his grave.

So it was this mistake on the job of Forbes’ that makes me glad that the mistakes I make at work never result in the consequences his mistake did. Even the worst mistakes I could possibly make don’t result in altering the course of history, as his mistake did. So when I mess up, I just think of him and this bike ride, and I feel a little better.

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A September 11th Memorial Grove

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I chose to ride to a local September 11th memorial.  On past anniversaries of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, the World Trade Center in New York, and United Flight 93 which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, I have observed the occasion by riding to memorials to those killed on that day.  I have been to the National 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon, as well as The Victims of the Terrorist Attack on The Pentagon Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.  But the anniversary this year falls on a weekend.  So on today’s ride to end the workweek I rode to one of a number of local memorials here in D.C. – the September 11th Memorial Grove, located in Historic Congressional Cemetery (MAP).

Within the cemetery, the grove is configured as an alley, originating across from the gravesite of John Phillip Sousa and continuing southward down a hill to the far edge of the cemetery near the Anacostia River. Because the Sousa grave is the most visited area of the cemetery, the grove draws people in and leads them on a short walk through the memorial site.

The purpose of the memorial at Congressional Cemetery is threefold. First, as a cemetery, it was a logical place to memorialize. And the trees were especially fitting for the cemetery, fitting into its memorial tradition of the use of cenotaphs, or empty tombs. The second reason is because the memorial helps in creating a renewed awareness of the cemetery, to bring more people onto the site, thus continuing the tradition of a cemetery as a gathering space. The third reason for placing the memorial grove within the cemetery was to be part of a landscape plan to re-tree the cemetery.

At the entrance to the grove is a maker containing a poem entitled, “Remembrance”.  It reads,

“For those who no longer hear noisy leaves
shimmering in the summer breeze …
For those who might have sought shelter from the
mid-day sun under a nave of gnarled hornbeams …
For those who would grieve in the quiet space
amid a grove of flowering trees …
For those who perished on September 11, 2001.”

The September 11th Memorial Grove at the cemetery is the first of a series of nine memorial groves planned for the city, with one central and eight ward-based neighborhood memorial tree groves created both to remember September 11 and to celebrate the community that surrounds it.  So I guess I know where I can go on the next eight anniversaries of that terrible day.

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[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

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Headstone for Tip O’Neil

On my visit to Historic Congressional Cemetery during this bike ride, I happened upon a headstone for someone I knew of and remember, but didn’t know was honored at the cemetery – Tip O’Neill.  Located at 1801 E Street (MAP), in the southeast portion of D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the cemetery got its name when in 1830 the United States Congress appropriated money for improvements, built cenotaphs to honor representatives who had died in office, and purchased several hundred burial sites to be used for members of Congress.  Although the cemetery itself is privately owned, the U.S. government owns 806 burial plots.  This includes many members of Congress who died while Congress was in session.  And I now know that Tip O’Neill is honored there among them.

Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill Jr. was born, raised, and lived out almost all of his life as a resident of North Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It was also in North Cambridge where he got his start in politics. He first became active in politics at the age of 15, when he campaigned for Al Smith in the 1928 presidential election. Four years later, he helped campaign for Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Then, as a senior at Boston College, O’Neill ran for a seat on the Cambridge City Council. It was his first race, and his first and only electoral defeat. But the campaign taught him a valuable lesson that would later become his best-known quote: “All politics is local.” O’Neill’s first electoral victory came shortly after he graduated from college, when he was elected at the age of 24 to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. From there he would go on to become the first Democratic Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in its history. He remained in that position until 1952, when he ran for the United States House of Representatives from his home district, and was elected to the congressional seat vacated by Senator-elect John F. Kennedy.

O’Neill became a very outspoken liberal Democrat and influential member of the House of Representatives. He would be reelected 16 more times, and served for 34 years. In 1977, O’Neill was elected the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He served as Speaker until his retirement a decade later, making him the only Speaker to serve for five complete consecutive Congresses, and the one of the longest-serving Speakers in U.S. history.

One of the first things that comes to my mind when remembering Tip O’Neill, particularly during the time near the end of his career, was that it was a time when politics and governing was not the animosity-filled, adversarial process that it is today. Republicans and Democrats could have differing opinions and significantly different political philosophies, but at the end of the day they were congenial, and even friendly with each other. And no two people exemplified this type of relationship better than Tip O’Neill and the President at that time, Ronald Reagan. Despite O’Neill being described by his official biographer, John Aloysius Farrell, as an “absolute, unrepentant, unreconstructed New Deal Democrat,” O’Neill was able to have a friendly relationship with a President who rehabilitated conservatism, led the modern conservative movement, and turned the nation to the right. O’Neill and Reagan vehemently disagreed on almost everything, yet were known to occasionally have a beer together at the end of the day, or get together along with their spouses for dinner.

As I stood at the headstone and thought of those bygone days, I couldn’t help but lament the decline in the civility of the current political process in this country.  I find it impossible to imagine Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, along with Melania Trump and former President Bill Clinton, ever choosing to get together socially today.  I miss the days when politicians and people could disagree with each other, yet still respect the other person and their opinion.  And I think Tip O’Neill would feel the same way.

UPDATE:  I later learned that the maker in Congressional Cemetery is actually a cenotaph, not a headstone.  A cenotaph is a monument built to honor a person or people whose remains are interred elsewhere or whose remains cannot be recovered.  Tip O’Neill is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Harwich Port, Massachusetts.

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The Empty Grave of Frank Kameny

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped by Historic Congressional Cemetery, located at 1801 E Street (MAP) in southeast D.C.’s Barney Circle neighborhood, where I visited the gravesite of Frank Kameny. Known as “one of the most significant figures” in the American gay rights movement,” Kameny’s lived an impactful public life. But as was suggested by the title of this blog post, his story doesn’t end there.

Franklin Edward Kameny was born on May 21, 1925 to Ashkenazi Jewish parents in New York City. He grew up in New York City and graduated from high school at the age of 16, and went on to college to study physics. Before he could complete his education he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in the European theater throughout World War II. After being honorably discharged from the service, he returned to college and earned a degree in physics in 1948. He then went on to enroll in Harvard, where he studied astronomy and earned a master’s degree in 1949, and doctorate in 1956.

After a year teaching at Georgetown University, he obtained a civil service job as an astronomer with the U.S. Army Map Service in July of 1957. It wasn’t long afterward that an investigator from the U.S. Civil Service Commission came to question him about reports that he was a homosexual. That fall, only a few months after being hired, he was fired for being gay.  And in January of 1958, he was barred forever from Federal government employment. Kameny formally appealed his firing, first through formal channels, then all the way to the House and Senate Civil Service Committees, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  After not prevailing through those channels, he filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court to get his job back. But he lost that too, as well as a subsequent appeal in the Federal Court of Appeals. Then after being abandoned by his lawyer who declared his cause hopeless, Kameny personally brought and represented himself in a landmark albeit unsuccessful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Although he lost the case, the proceeding was notable as the first known civil rights claim based on sexual orientation pursued in a U.S. court.

For the vast majority of people during that time, homosexuality was seen as abhorrent, sinful, and criminal. Even most homosexuals thought so too. So there were not any gay rights organizations in D.C. for Kameny to turn to. So in a move that would begin a lifelong role as an organizer and an advocate, Kameny decided to start one of his own. He was a cofounder of the Mattachine Society of Washington, and later the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the National Gay Task Force, and the National Gay Rights Lobby, which was the first national political lobbying organization for the gay and lesbian community. He also led the first gay rights protests at the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Civil Service Commission, and at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. He would also become the first openly gay person to run for Congress, help lobby the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness, create the first test case against the military ban on gay service by Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, and be appointed a Commissioner of the D.C. Commission on Human Rights, thereby becoming the first gay municipal appointee.

In 2007, Kameny’s death was mistakenly reported by The Advocate, an American LGBT-interest magazine, alongside a mistaken report that he had HIV. The report was retracted with an apology. A little over four years later Kameny died from natural causes due to arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease.  He died on October, 11, 2011, coinciding with National Coming Out Day, an annual awareness day pertaining to the voluntary self-disclosure of one’s sexual orientation.  His body was subsequently cremated, and Timothy Clark, his legal heir, took possession of the ashes. Because Clark and the Kameny estate lacked the financial means, a burial plot was purchased by a LGBT charitable group named Helping Our Brothers and Sisters. But Clark would not allow the interment of the ashes to take place until ownership of the cemetery plot was signed over to the estate. And after years of fighting between the Kameny family, friends, and Clark, his ashes have still not been interred in the plot. However, the headstone, along with a footstone bearing the slogan, “Gay is Good,” which Kameny coined in 1968, were placed at the plot last year. Clark subsequently interred the ashes at an undisclosed location, and has asked the public to respect “his wishes and his privacy.”

The area of the cemetery where the Kameny memorial headstone is located has in recent years become somewhat of a tourist attraction, particularly to those in the LGBT community.  Kameny’s plot is located right behind that of Leonard Matlovich, as well as the nearby gravesites of J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson.  A growing number of other out gays, including veterans and couples, have also chosen to be buried in the same once obscure graveyard such as gay rights pioneers Randy Wicker, Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen.  Also, members of American Veterans for Equal Rights have purchased eight nearby adjoining plots to create a LGBT veterans memorial.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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General John A. Rawlins Statue

On this lunchtime bike ride I visited Rawlins Park, which is located between 18th Street, 19th Street, E Street and New York Avenue (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.  Located on the eastern end of the park is a statue of General John A Rawlins, and it is the a focal point of the park named after him.  The monument and park are owned and maintained by the National Park Service.  The statue was installed in 1874, and was relocated in 1880, and then again 1886, before eventually being located in Rawlins Park.  The bronze statue, which rests on a granite base, is part of a group entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city.  They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

John Aaron Rawlins was born on January 13, 1831, in Gelena, Illinois.  When his father left the family and departed for California for the great gold rush in 1849, the teenaged Rawlins became the head of the family.  Despite receiving little formal education,  he became a lawyer and was admitted to the Illinois State Bar a few years later in 1854.  He began practicing law, and  became involved in state politics.  This led t0 becoming the city attorney in the city of Galena beginning in 1857.

Rawlins was a Douglas Democrat, and was a successful politician with a passion for military life by the time the Civil War broke out on April 12, 1861, when troops attacked Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.  Two days later, President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers, and a mass meeting was held in Galena to encourage recruitment. Recognized as a military professional for his prior service, an unassuming ex-captain of the Army, who also clerked for Rawlins’ brother in his leather store, was asked to lead the ensuing effort.  That man was named Ulysses S. Grant.  Grant would soon

Rawlins became Grant’s aide-de-camp and his principal staff officer throughout the Civil War.  Rawlins also became Grant’s most trusted advisor and , according to Grant, nearly indispensable.  But perhaps Rawlins’ greatest contribution was being instrumental in keeping Grant, who was known to be a heavy drinker, from excessive imbibing throughout the war.  Within eight years Grant would become President of the United States, and appoint Rawlins his Secretary of War.

However, Rawlins’ health declined after taking office.  and he would serve as Secretary of War for only five months.  Rawlins was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a disease that claimed the life of his first wife, Emily Smith, nearly eight years earlier.  He died in D.C. at the age of 38 on September 6, 1869.  He was survived by his second wife, Mary Hurlburt, and two of his three children.  He was originally buried in a friend’s vault in Congressional Cemetery, but was subsequently moved to Arlington National Cemetery.

Note: If you stop by Rawlins Park soon, you will have the added benefit of seeing the statue of General John A. Rawlins flanked by a grove of some of the most beautiful magnolia trees in our nation’s capital.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Holy Rood Cemetery

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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John Philip Sousa's Birthplace

John Philip Sousa’s Birthplace

On this bike ride I went by some of the places in D.C. that have a connection to “The American March King”, John Philip Sousa.  Because the bandmaster and composer was born in D.C., spent much of his career here, and eventually was buried in D.C., there are many connections between him and the national capitol city.

John Philip Sousa was born to Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus, a Bavarian immigrant, and John Antonio Sousa, a Spanish immigrant of Portuguese descent.  His parents moved to D.C. in 1854 where his father became a trombonist with the U.S. Marine Band. John Philip Sousa was born later that year, on November 6th.  At one point in time Sousa aspired to be a baker, but a career in music was almost inevitable.  Besides having a father who was a musician, Sousa started his music education by playing the violin as a pupil of John Esputa and George Felix Benkert for harmony and musical composition at the age of six. He was found to have absolute pitch. During his childhood, Sousa studied voice, violin, piano, flute, cornet, baritone horn, trombone and alto horn.

His early education and training would serve him well throughout the rest of his life.  Sousa was enlisted at the age of 13 by his father as an aprectice in the Marine Corps in order to prevent him from running away and joining a circus band.  He stayed in the Marine Corps for seven years, but at the age of 20, Sousa received a special discharge from the Marines and embarked on a career as a professional musician.  He toured with two companies and a vaudeville show, worked at two Philadelphia theaters, taught music, composed operettas, and even corrected proofs at a publishing company.  In 1879, Sousa conducted Gilbert and Sullivan’s immensely popular H.M.S. Pinafore. Under his masterful orchestration, the amateur company at his command was able to turn professional.  Its success led to a season on Broadway where famous composers took in Sousa’s production.

Word of the young music director’s accomplishments did not escape the attention of his former employer; and in 1880, the 25-year-old Sousa returned to the U.S. Marine Band when he was named its 14th leader.  He remained as its conductor for the next dozen years.  Sousa led “The President’s Own” band under five presidents from Rutherford B. Hayes to Benjamin Harrison, and played at two Inaugural Balls, those of James A. Garfield in 1881, and Benjamin Harrison in 1889.  He left the Marine Corps again the following year.

After leaving the military, Sousa organized and started his own band in 1892 , named The Sousa Band.  He and his band spent the next 39 years touring and playing concerts in America and around the world.  It was during this time that Sousa composed the vast majority of works in his voluminous musical portfolio, which included 136 marches, such as:  “The Washington Post,” for the celebrated newspaper of the same name; “Semper Fidelis”, the official march of the United States Marine Corps, and; “Stars and Stripes Forever”, officially designated by an act of Congress as the national march of the United States.  It was also during this period, in 1917, that Sousa became the leader of the U.S. Navy Band and directed concerts to raise money for World War I.  The Sousa Band performed at 15,623 concerts, including at the World Exposition in Paris, at which time the Sousa Band marched through the streets to the Arc de Triomphe – one of only eight parades the band marched in over its nearly forty years.

Interestingly, Sousa held a very low opinion of the emerging and upstart recording industry. Using an epithet coined by Mark Twain, he derided recordings as “canned” music.  In fact, Sousa’s antipathy to recording was so strong that he almost never conducted his band when it was being recorded.

For the first stop on my bike ride I went by the house, located at 636 G Street (MAP), in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Southeast D.C., where Sousa was born.  Over the years the house has gone through a number of private owners. It was most recently purchased in 2008 by Gunnery Sergeant Regino Madrid, a violinist with “The President’s Own.” Founded in 1798 by an Act of Congress, “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band is America’s oldest continuously active professional musical organization. Today, “The President’s Own” is celebrated for its role at the White House and its dynamic public performances. “The President’s Own” encompasses the United States Marine Band, Marine Chamber Orchestra, and Marine Chamber Ensembles, and performs regularly at the White House and at more than 500 public performances across the nation each year.

On this bike ride I also road over and back across The John Philip Sousa Bridge, which carries Pennsylvania Avenue across the Anacostia River in Southeast D.C. (MAP).  It has partial interchanges with unsigned Interstate 695 at its western terminus and with District of Columbia Route 295 at its eastern terminus. The first bridge at that location was built in 1804.  Later, it was replaced by an iron, underslung truss bridge on masonry piers which was built between 1887 and 1890. The same masonry piers were used in the construction of the present bridge, which was named after Sousa in 1939, and completed in 1940.

Lastly, I stopped by Sousa’s final resting place at Historic Congressional Cemetery, located at 1801 E Street (MAP), which is also in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Southeast D.C.  Sousa’s gravestone is inscribed with a fragmant of his greatest march, “Stars and Stripes Forever”, and is located within a family plot that includes graves for his wife and three children.   Although he lived a full life and had enjoyed an incredibly successful career that took him all over the world, his gravesite is located within sight of the bridge named in his honor, and just a mere mile away from the house where he was born.

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[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

Mary Ann Hall and Her Brothel

Mary Ann Hall and Her Brothel

On this bike ride I rode to one of D.C.’s brothels, which are also sometimes known as a bordellos, dens of iniquity, houses of ill repute, cathouses, houses of ill fame, bawdy houses, call houses, houses of assignation, and houses with red doors.  However, it was closed.  Actually, it closed well over a hundred years ago, but I stopped by the location where it once stood.

Despite being single and in just her early twenties, Mary Ann Hall settled, started a business, saved her money, and eventually built a large, three-story brick home at 349 Maryland Avenue (MAP) in the downtown area of southwest D.C., about four blocks west of the U.S. Capitol Building.  A 19th century entrepreneur, Mary Ann ran a successful brothel from the 1840s through the 1880s at this address, which was located on the site where the National Museum of the American Indian is currently located.

During a time when D.C. was largely devoid of economic opportunities for single women, Mary Ann’s business was very successful.  Of the 450 registered brothels in D.C. employing almost 5,000 prostitutes during the Civil War (with several thousand more in Georgetown and Alexandria), Mary Ann employed far more prostitutes than any other brothel in the city, and was the most successful.  It was also considered one of the finer establishments of its kind in D.C.

Life was good for Mary Ann.  From everything that is known about her, she enjoyed a varied and nutritious diet, including substantial amounts of meat, poultry and fish, as well as exotic fruits like coconuts and berries, foods which were for the most part unavailable to most people at that time.  She was also known to enjoy large quantities of French Champaign, and often vacationed at her summer home in Virginia’s “Alexandria County,” which is present-day land in Arlington where Marymount University is now located.

Mary Ann died where she lived her life here in D.C. in 1886 at the age of 71.  She never married nor had children, and because she had no heirs, a family feud erupted over her estate.  It is because of this that we have a detailed account of Mary Ann’s possessions.  D.C. court records show that at the time of her death, Mary Ann had no debts and was worth well over two million in today’s dollars. The records also show a list of her belongings, which included Belgian carpets, oil paintings, an ice box, numerous pieces of red plush furniture, as well as an inordinate number of sheets, mattresses, blankets, feather pillows and comforters.

When Mary Ann’s mother died in 1860, she was buried in Congressional Cemetery, where previously only members of Congress had been allowed to be buried.  Mary Ann’s highly ranked political connections from the brothel arranged for this.  When Mary Ann died six years later, she was also buried at Congressional Cemetery, near her mother, as well as her sister and other family members, at a family plot marked by “large and dignified” memorials.  So on today’s bike ride, I also stopped by Historic Congressional Cemetery (MAP) to visit her gravesite, located in section 67, not far from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s grave.

There are no known photographs to know exactly what Mary Ann looked like. And she didn’t keep a diary or write a memoir, nor did she leave a collection of personal or business correspondence, so that we could know her personality.  What is known about Mary Ann was learned from court records, census bureau documents, newspaper articles, and an archeological analysis of the area where her home once stood when it was excavated in 1999 so that the American Indian Museum could be built.

So although we know a lot about her life, we know very little about the person she was.  We do, however, get a glimpse of her from her obituary published in D.C.’s Evening Star newspaper, which sang her praises.  It reads, “With integrity unquestioned, a heart ever open to appeals of distress, a charity that was boundless, she is gone; but her memory will be kept green by many who knew her sterling worth.”

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Gravesite of Leonard Matlovich

Gravesite of Leonard Matlovich

On this bike ride I stopped by the gravesite of Sergeant Leonard Matlovich.  A vietnam era veteran, Matlovich was eligible to be buried in the cemetery most people identify with veterans, Arlington National Cemetery.  But he chose Historic Congressional Cemetery instead.  Located at 1801 E Street (MAP) in Southeast D.C., he discovered the cemetery on one of his frequent walks near his then Capitol Hill home.

Sergeant Leonard Matlovich was the first gay service member to purposely out himself as a homosexual in an attempt to fight their ban on gays serving openly in the military.  He did so by hand-delivering a letter to his Langley Air Force Base commanding officer in March of 1975.  His challenge became public knowledge a couple of months later, on Memorial Day, through an article on the front page of The New York Times, and in a story that evening on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.  During his fight to stay in the military, his case became a cause célèbre within the gay community, and resulted in numerous articles in newspapers and magazines throughout the country, television interviews, and a made-for-television movie.  Matlovich also appeared in his Air Force uniform on the cover of Time magazine above the headline “I Am a Homosexual.”

Despite his exemplary military record, tours of duty in Vietnam, and high performance evaluations, Matlovich was subsequently given a “General,” or Less than Honorable, discharge in 1975 by the U.S. Air Force.  He continued his fight after being separated and won a much-publicized case against the Air Force in 1979, which ordered him reinstated into the Air Force and promoted. The Air Force offered Matlovich a financial settlement instead, which he accepted, and his discharge was upgraded to “Honorable.”

After being discharged, he moved from Virginia to D.C., then to San Francisco, and then Guerneville, California. After then moving to Europe for a few months, he returned briefly to D.C., before moving back to San Francisco again.  He remained active in the gay rights movement throughout the rest of his life.  On June 22, 1988, less than a month before his 45th birthday, Matlovich died in Los Angeles of complications from HIV/AIDS.

Matlovich personally designed his internationally known tombstone, incorporating the same kind of reflective black granite that was used in the construction of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.  It is inset with his famous quote, which reads, “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”  The headstone also incorporates pink triangles in reference to the emblem used to mark gays in Nazi concentration camps.  What the headstone does not include, however, is his name.  That is because he meant to be a memorial to all gay veterans.  His last name inscribed at the foot of a granite grave border is the only indication that the grave is his.

Matlovich chose historic Congressional Cemetery because he loved its variety of individual stones versus Arlington’s hundreds of thousands of identical markers. He also was amazed to learn that Peter Doyle, Walt Whitman’s great love, is buried there.  He also couldn’t resist the last laugh of being buried in the same row with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s gravesite, and Hoover’s associate director, longtime best friend, heir, and some believe romantic partner Clyde Tolson.  Hoover was staunchly anti-gay, although speculation and rumors had circulated beginning approximately 30 years before his death that Hoover was homosexual.  Tolson’s grave, marked by a pink granite stone, is just five plots to the right of Matlovich’s, and the Hoover family plot is a few yards further down.

In a tribute no one anticipated, a growing number of other out gays, including veterans and couples, have since chosen to be buried in the same once obscure graveyard such as gay rights pioneers Randy Wicker, Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen, and others.  Members of American Veterans for Equal Rights have purchased eight nearby adjoining plots to create a LGBT veterans memorial. And at his graveside every Veterans Day, there’s a gay veterans memorial service.  His gravesite has also been the scene of protests, vigils and ceremonies for LGBT rights activists, and even a same-sex wedding.

His gravesite and the surrounding vicinity within the cemetery, and the activities that have taken place there, would certainly be pleasing to Matlovich, who once said, “I believe that we must be the same activists in our deaths that we were in our lives.”

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Mathew Brady's Gravesite

Mathew Brady’s Gravesite

On this bike ride I stopped by the final resting place of Matthew Brady.  His gravesite is among those of the many historic and public figures buried in Historic Congressional Cemetery, located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood at 1801 E Street (MAP) in southeast D.C.

Mathew Brady was one of the most celebrated American photographers of the 19th century, and was well known for his portraits, particularly of public figures.  His first portrait studio in New York City was highly publicized, and in it Brady began to photograph as many famous people of his time as he could, which included Daniel Webster, James Fenimore Cooper, and Edgar Allan Poe.

A few years later he opened a second studio in D.C., where he continued his portraiture of public figures and prominent politicians, such as Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and 18 of the 19 American Presidents from John Quincy Adams to William McKinley.  The exception was William Henry Harrison, who died in office only a month after his inauguration, and three years before Brady started his photographic collection.  Among his presidential photographs, Brady famously photographed President Abraham Lincoln on several occasions, and it is his portraits of Lincoln that are on the five dollar bill and the Lincoln penny.

As famous as he is for his portrait photography, Brady is even more widely known for innovative use of photography to document the Civil War.  Initially, at the outbreak of the war, Brady’s photography business sold portrait images to transient soldiers.  Brady also marketed to parents, encouraging them to capture images of their soldier sons before going to war and possibly being killed.  He even ran an advertisement in The New York Daily Tribune that read, “You cannot tell how soon it may be too late.”  However, he was soon taken with the idea of documenting the war itself. Eventually it was this photography that earned him the moniker of “The Father of Photojournalism.”

Seeking to create a comprehensive photo-documentation of the war, Brady organized a group of photographers and staff at his own considerable expense to follow the troops as the world’s first embedded field photographers.  Brady even bought photographs and negatives from private photographers in order to make the collection as complete as possible.

Almost as skilled at self-promotion as he was at photography, Brady held an exhibition during the middle of the war in his New York studio entitled “The Dead of Antietam,” in which he graphically displayed the carnage of the war with photographs of the battlefield before the dead had been removed.  A New York Times article in October of 1862 captures the impact of the exhibition, stating, “Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.”

Following the war Brady continued to work in D.C., but the Civil War project ruined him financially.  He had spent over $100,000, much of it on credit, with the expectation that the U.S. government would want to buy his photographs when the war ended.  But when the government refused to do so, he was forced to declare bankruptcy and sell his New York City studio.  Unable to even pay the storage bill for his negatives, they were sold at public auction.  Ironically, they were bought by the U.S. War Department for $2,840.  Through lobbying by friends, Brady was eventually granted by Congress an additional payment of $25,000, but it was only a fraction of what he had spent on the project, and he remained financially destitute for the remainder of his life.

In addition to his financial problems, Brady also became depressed over the deterioration of his eyesight, which had begun years earlier.  He also became very lonely after the passing of his wife.  Then in 1895 Brady suffered two broken legs as a result of a traffic accident.  He never fully recovered, and died penniless and alone in the charity ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York City on January 15, 1896.  Without enough money left to bury him, his funeral, and burial next to his wife at Congressional Cemetery, was financed by the New York 7th Regiment Veteran’s Association.

During my visit to the cemetery, as I took photographs of his grave with my cell phone, I couldn’t help but wonder what Brady would have thought of the current technology used in photography, and how widely accessible and relatively affordable that technology has made photography.  I also wondered what he would have thought of the number of photographs that people take these days. It’s estimated only a few million pictures were taken in the 80 years before the first commercial camera was introduced.  Photography then became more widespread when the Kodak Brownie was released in 1900, four years after Brady’s death.  Brady and his staff took approximately 10,000 photos during the Civil War, an enormous number at that time.  Today, we take more than 380 billion photos a year.  I imagine Brady would be absolutely astounded.

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