Family members have not yet set a date for the funeral of writer Gore Vidal, who grew up in Washington and died this week at his home in Hollywood. What is known is that he will be buried at Rock Creek Cemetery in a plot that will be shared with his longtime romantic partner, Howard Austen, who died in 2003. Also, it is near the grave of Jimmie Trimble, his St. Albans classmate and apparent high school crush, and reportedly the reason Vidal chose this particular cemetery. But beyond those two men who meant so much to him, Vidal will be keeping company in death with a wide range of notables.
One Washington insider noted today that as far as cemeteries go, “once upon a time, Rock Creek was the place to be. Gawler’s practically ran a shuttle service.” He said anybody who was anybody wanted to be buried at Rock Creek.
According to the cemetery’s website, the “residents” include Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, who died in 1980; the creator of Wonder Bread, Charles Corby (1926); and Gilbert H. Grosvenor, the mastermind of the National Geographic Society and its magazine (1966). Others include Sumner Welles (1961), a patrician diplomat who served his friend President Franklin D. Roosevelt as undersecretary of State; Harlan Fiske Stone (1946), a Supreme Court justice who also served as dean of the Columbia University law school; Montgomery Blair (1883), who was President Abraham Lincoln’s postmaster general; and founding father Abraham Baldwin (1807), who, in addition to being a signer of the Constitution, also served as a Georgia congressman and senator and as president of the University of Georgia.
There are others: Tran Van Chuong (1986), whom Ngo Dinh Diem appointed as Vietnamese ambassador to Washington; and Pulitzer-winning author Upton Sinclair (1968). Actor Robert Prosky, who died in 2008, made Washington his home while enjoying a thriving career as a character actor in films (The Natural, Broadcast News) and TV (Hill Street Blues) and theater, particularly Arena Stage. Melville Bell (1905), the father of Alexander Graham Bell, is buried there; as is Patricia Roberts Harris (1985), who, as President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was the first African-American woman to serve in the Cabinet.
Rock Creek Cemetery is also noted for its attractive monuments by sculptors including James Earle Fraser, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, William Ordway Partridge, and Gutzon Borglum, who, interestingly, created the heads of the Presidents at Mount Rushmore. The cemetery is owned by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and the first burials date back to the mid-18th century. It is located at Rock Creek Church Road and Webster Place, Northwest, and is open daily from 8 AM until 6 PM.