At Congressional Cemetery, you'll find the famous alongside those whose interesting stories have been forgotten. Photograph by Andrew Lightman
Tucked into a little-visited corner of the District up against the Anacostia River, a couple of blocks from RFK Stadium and across the street from the DC jail, Congressional Cemetery holds nearly 60,000 graves.
Come at dusk and the light is surreal, the sun setting over the city like a red-hot tear. Come at midday and you might be the only person here, walking the grounds as if it’s your own private estate. It feels far away from the Washington power games.
Which is odd because it’s Congressional Cemetery. It’s just 18 blocks from the Capitol and is the resting place for scores of people from that more famous place.
But once they come here, they seem to disappear. There’s a man named Stephen Pleasonton, buried near the main entrance, who rescued the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence from being captured and burned by the British in the War of 1812. He crammed the documents into coarse bags, commandeered a few rickety carts amid the general panic, and took off for Georgetown with minutes to spare. Had he not made it, how different would our history be?
When my girlfriend, Leah, first asked me to meet her at Congressional Cemetery, I was skeptical. To hang out at a graveyard seemed morbid and strange.
“There’s nothing to do there,” I said.
“There’s history,” she said.
“History? That’s over by the Mall.”
“Meet me at the entrance.”
Next: The final resting place of the first female presidential candidate