Week 26: Congressional Cemetery

Organization mission: The mission of the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery is to serve the community as an active burial ground and conserve the physical artifacts, buildings, and infrastructure of the cemetery; to celebrate the American heritage represented by those interred here; restore and sustain the landscape, protect the Anacostia River watershed, and manage the grounds as accessible community resource.

Partners in Preservation, an initiative by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is currently underway in the DC area. Twenty-four sites are competing for $1 million in grant funding, and individuals can vote daily as well as participate on social media.

The 24 sites include art museums and parks. There are Unitarian Universalist, Christian, and Jewish meeting places. There are houses that are, or would like to become, historic house museums. The list includes theaters, an observatory, and national monuments. There’s a cemetery where dogs are buried and humans will hang out (at the future education center for the Montgomery County Humane Society), and a cemetery where humans are buried and dogs hang out.

Congressional Cemetery - Mausoleum Row

Congressional Cemetery – Mausoleum Row

Four of these sites have previously been Weekly Museum Visits: National Museum of Women in the Arts, Arlington House, Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, and Mount Vernon. This weekend, I added another place to my list: Congressional Cemetery (where humans are buried and dogs hang out). Congressional Cemetery is competing for preservation funds for the restoration of the mausoleum row.

I visited on the day of Sousa Palooza, an all-day event honoring John Philip Sousa, who spent part of his life in DC and who is buried in the cemetery. Some of the activities for the day included music performances, a lecture by John Philip Sousa IV, docent-led tours, scavenger hunts, and a wine and cheese reception.

Congressional Cemetery - John Philip Sousa's grave

Congressional Cemetery – John Philip Sousa’s grave

Although these offerings focused primarily on interpreting the monument to Sousa, Congressional Cemetery has almost endless objects for possible interpretation. I realized as I walked around that every grave marking is its own work of art. Though not much art history information is available, the obelisks and statues and tombstones would lend themselves well to visual thinking strategies, in which visitors could look closely at one object in detail and really notice what makes it unique.

Additionally, every object has a history – indeed, a whole life story – behind it. The self-guide brochure points out some highlights, such as the chapel and the burial sites of prominent historical figures. There is also a newer section memorializing 9/11.

During funerals and certain daytime hours on weekends, dogs are not allowed in the cemetery, but otherwise, pooches are welcome as long as their people are members of the Congressional Cemetery Dogwalkers. After the Sousa Palooza events wound down, the four-legged visitors began showing up. It seemed appropriate – after all, I had learned from the lecture earlier that John Philip Sousa was a pretty big dog lover himself.


May’s blog theme is Preserving and Interpreting Creativity.


About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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