A WALK IN THE CONGRESSIONAL DOG PARK WHERE DOG COMES BEFORE GOD:

4 Jan

It appears to be a recent phenomenon to blend God business with dog business.

230 dog walkers pay $100 annual dues, and $20 per extra pooch, for the privilege of exercising pets on empty-out runs in DC’s historic Congressional Cemetery located at 1801 E. Street, S.E. Before sunrise. clanking metal and baying amidst century-old tombstones, giveaway to shadowy figures approaching through the dawn. One. Three. Two. Dogs. And their humans. Late summer evenings, as soft light falls over Congressional’s 60,000 gravestones, four and two legged walkers amble weathered paths. Weekends and mornings, Capitol Hill residents and others meet, for bagels and downtime. The cemetery looks like a neighborhood Cosi’s. People chat while their dogs romp, albeit amongst graves. Dogowners are alone in their visits to this cemetery, except for the occasional bereaved. Once, the 191 year old graveyard, founded in 1807 by parishioners of ChristChurch place, was as big an attraction as ArlingtonNationalCemetery. Today, the 32 acre grounds, ½ mile from the Capitol, is a neglected patch of America’s history.

Congressional Cemetery aka Congressional Dog Park, is DC’s only fenced in DogPark. The grounds, still owned by nearby ChristChurch, has long been haunted by money problems. Congressional Cemetery stewardship, in a long reach, invited Dog to bring new life to the dead.

Dog walkers took over the cemetery following its decline in the ‘70’s. There was no one to stop petowners from exercising Rover alongside graves. The cemetery was in disrepair. Grass was overgrown. Drug deals were going down. Linda Donavan Harper, chair of the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery is quoted saying "In 10 years since the dog walkers, there has been no vandalism to the cemetery."  Petowner Jack McGrath told one journalist he tends to think the dead like their company. Ann Quarzo, told another, ``It's a beautiful way to start your morning. You can meditate, reflect, get your thoughts together.''  
 
The Committee For the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery describe dog and dead as a “symbiotic relationship” ensuring grass gets cut, and the grounds restored. Years after K-9 Corps was instituted to fundraise for repairs, fallen, broken tombstones still litter the grounds. Branches lie untouched for days at a time. Drivers weave around graveyard’s roads pockmarked with potholes and broken surface.  A quick visual suggests the K-9 club failed to accomplish the Board’s goals. Dogs race out of owner’s visual, amongst fallen tombstones, marking where dead lie. No one seems to enforce the K-9 corps golden rule ‘clean up after your pets.’ This rule appears made to be broken.
For people trying to get in tune with history, Congressional Cemetery was considered kind of the government burial ground  because of location proximity. There’s never been an official legal connection. Congress which neither owns nor administers the property. The vestry of Christ Church, Capitol Hill bought the original 4 acre site for $400. When Congressional was a parish, it cut its timber to sell and raise money. Cleared land was rented to farmers. While many churches prioritised serving their own members, Congressional Cemetery and Rock Creek Park, two largest Episcopal graveyards in the District of Columbia – opened their gates other denominations and faiths. In the mid-1800s the parish decided to expand its small burial ground into a public cemetery.  By 1812, land deeded to the church, was stipulated to include one quarter of the property be reserved for burial of the poor. The cost of a burial was not to exceed $2. Periodically over the years, Congress appropriated funds to upkeep the “Burying Ground.” A 1939 military report states that a series of congressional appropriations for the cemetery dating from 1823 established and supported the cemetery as "the first national cemetery created by the government." In 1846, a $500 appropriation was needed for repairs after heavy rains and flooding. Soon, interest waned. Burials take place on occasion. Plots are still being sold, with prices ranging from $2,000 to $4,000.
Over the years, Christ Church expanded the cemetery to the size it is today. The National Register of Historic Places listed Congressional Cemetery, on June 23, 1969. June 16, 1997, the National Trust for Historic Preservation declared Congressional one of America’s 11 most endangered historical sites. The church owned land is now managed by a private foundation –The Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery. The preservation group, seeking money from donors and support of Congress, wants to fully restore the cemetery by 2007, its 200th anniversary. The House Appropriations Committee fostered the bill, clearing Congress Sept. 25, providing $1 million in matching funds to clean the cemetery up. The National Trust administers the endowment established by Congress as well as the matching funds raised by the Association.  
June 1976, Vestry of Christ Church leased Congressional to the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery. APHCC is, until 2019, responsible for “operating, developing, maintaining, preserving and enhancing the cemetery grounds.” Congress authorized the Architect of the Capitol to assist with the cemetery’s care, providing oversight and an ex officio voting member to Congressional’s Board of Directors. Volunteers maintain grounds and buildings. In 1997, the Marine Corps sent a team of 100 to rake, cut trees and remove high brush. Fort McNair sent a crew to upright tombstones and organize cemetery records. In 1939 the Veteran's Administration surveyed Congressional's records and grounds, producing a list of over 1,100 veterans, in most cases provided the name, rank, unit, and type of headstone, too. Another project included cataloguing inscriptions from the cemetery's 20,000 headstones.  Yet another involved computerizing the names of everyone interred on the grounds, from handwritten logs dating back to the 1820s. The Board wants $28 million to repair roads, paths, preserve historic tombs, mausoleums, grave monuments, gatehouse building, chapel and plant hundreds of trees.
From its beginning, Congressional Cemetery was an official burial site for leaders of the new country and members of Congress. The cenotaphs, squat odd looking empty tombs erected for members of Congress buried elsewhere commemorate congressmen who died in office. In fact, 80 congressmen are actually interred there. Connecticut Congressman Uriah Tracy, of Connecticut, was interred at the cemetery in 1807. Between1816 and 1823, government reserved 500 plots, later adding an additional 500 spaces. 
 Funerals for three presidents, congressmen, war heroes, generals and prominent people were held at Congressional.  Luminaries include “Stars and Stripes” composer John Philip Sousa, Capitol designer William Thornton, Vice President Elbridge Gerry, a vice president who signed the Declaration of Independence is buried in range 29, near the FBI’s memorial to its director, J. Edgar Hoover (1895- 1972), Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Archibald Henderson, Choctaw Indian Chief called Push-ma-ta-ha, (1764-1824); civil war photographer Matthew Brady, the father of photojournalism (1822-1896), Tobias Lear, secretary to George Washington. One foreign minister from Prussia, 1 Catharine Bressone, wife of a member of the French legation in 1824. John Quincy Adams and Presidents Harrison and Taylor lay for months in the Public Vault, down the walk, before they were removed for burial elsewhere. Dolly Madison was there for a couple of years, too. Silent film star Mary Fuller, lies in a pauper's grave.

American military  in inscribed on tombstones. Veterans from the Revolutionary war, Tripolitan war, War of 1812, Indian Wars, Mexican War, Civil War, SpanishAmerican War, WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, Secretary of the Navy, Admirals of the Navy, Commander in Chief, Army, West Point Graduates stand silent guard for the Nation. Forgotten. At Congressional Cemetery aka Congressional Dog Park, where selfish wants of the living come before respecting the dead. And dog comes before God.

 

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