News & Politics

5 Famous People (and 1 Famous Dog) You Probably Didn’t Know Were Buried in Washington

Lee Marvin. Helen Keller. Petey from ''Little Rascals''!

Helen Keller, seen here feeding swans in 1913, is buried at Washington National Cathedral. Photograph via Library of Congress.

It’s no surprise that many politicians, statesmen, and media types are buried in the Washington, DC, area. But you may not know how many famous people–or famous dogs, for that matter–enjoy their eternal slumber in the region.

Lee Marvin—Arlington National Cemetery

Lee Marvin’s grave at Arlington. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

Lee Marvin was one of Hollywood’s biggest action stars in the mid-’60s. He was also a World War II veteran who was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery after he died in 1987.

Marvin enlisted in the United States Marine Corps when he was 18 and the US was fighting the Second World War. He fought in the Pacific Theater and, on June 18, 1944, was shot twice during the Battle of Saipan. He earned a Purple Heart and spent more than a year in military hospitals before being medically discharged.

After the war, he worked as a plumber at a local theater and, as the Hollywood legend goes, an actor at the theater fell ill one night. The director spotted the tall, burly Marvin fixing a toilet and put him in the show. Marvin’s career went on to span three-and-a-half decades, ending with his final 1986 film Delta Force with Chuck Norris.

F. Scott Fitzgerald–St. Mary’s Church Historic Cemetery

Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald and his equally famous wife Zelda may be more associated with Long Island or Paris, but they are actually buried Rockville, at St. Mary’s Church Historic Cemetery. The was because the Fitzgerald clan had roots in Maryland.

F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald’s grave in Rockville. Photograph by JayHenry/Wikimedia Commons.

During the mid-19th century, Scott Fitzgerald’s grandfather owned a small farm named Glenmary near present-day Rockville. In 1853, Scott’s father, Edward Fitzgerald, was born on the farm. Later in life, Scott would frequently recount his father’s Civil War stories about helping Confederate spies. In the 1870s, Edward moved west to St. Paul, Minnesota, where his son F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in 1896. In fact, Scott’s own name was another connection to his family’s history in Maryland–specifically to a distant cousin who wrote the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

On December 21, 1940, Hollywood gossip columnist Sheilah Graham found the 44-year-old Fitzgerald dead from an apparent heart attack. Despite their at-that-point tenuous relationship and her own health troubles, Zelda Fitzgerald arranged for Scott to be buried in his family’s plot owned by a Catholic church. But they church wouldn’t let him due to his reputation, saying he was “unfit to be buried alongside good Catholics in consecrated ground.” So, Zelda had him buried down the road in Rockville Cemetery. In 1975, the Rockville Woman’s Club brought the case to the Archbishop of Washington, William Baum, who agreed that Fitzgerald should be buried with his family, saying that he was “an artist who was able with lucidity and poetic imagination to portray the struggle between grace and death . . . His characters are involved in this great drama, seeking God and seeking grace.” Today, the Fitzgeralds lie together eternally.

Helen Keller–Washington National Cathedral

Helen Keller in 1904. Photograph by Whitman Studio/Via Library of Congress.

Helen Keller’s determination and the devotion of her loving teachers helped her become a national icon. After becoming the first deaf person to earn a bachelor of arts degree, she became an advocate for those living with impairments across the world. Later in life, she also became an “impassioned socialist’’ and supported several Communist causes.

After living a long and prosperous life, she died in her sleep at her Westport, Connecticut, home in June 1968 at the age of 87. After a private cremation ceremony, her ashes were transported to Washington National Cathedral to be interred in the columbarium in the Cathedral’s crypt, steps away from former President Woodrow Wilson. Twelve hundred mourners showed up for her funeral service, including Chief Justice Earl Warren. Today, her urn containing Helen Keller’s ashes lies next to the remains of her teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy.

Petey the Dog–Aspen Hill Memorial Park

Matthew Beard, Pete the Pup, and Bobby Hutchins in the 1930 film School’s Out. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

One of the brightest stars of early-20th-century cinema rests peacefully nowhere near Hollywood. Petey the Dog, the slobbering star of the popular series of comedy shorts “Little Rascals” (known earlier as “Our Gang”) Buried in Aspen Hill Memorial Park, about five miles from Rockville.

Famed for having a ring around his eye (which was part natural and part make-up), Petey appeared alongside the Little Rascals kids for 15 years. He was so beloved and famous that a whole new breed of dog may have been recognized thanks to Petey–the American Pit Bull Terrier. Much like Lassie, there were several Peteys. Aspen HIll, which is run by the Montgomery County Humane Society, is believed to be the nation’s second oldest pet cemetery.

Abner Doubleday–Arlington National Cemetery

Abner Doubleday in 1862. Photograph via the Brady National Photographic Art Gallery/Library of Congress.

Though historians are now in universal agreement that he did not invent baseball, Abner Doubleday is still synonymous with America’s pastime. In fact, the “Doubleday Myth” is so pervasive that the Baseball Hall of Fame is located in Cooperstown, New York, where Doubleday supposedly traced a diamond in a cow pasture and called his new game “baseball.”

The story begins with baseball’s rise as a sport in the early 20th century. Very early on, a debate raged if the game was US-born or an evolution of the British game of Rounders. Albert Spalding (yes, of sporting goods fame) insisted it was an American game and found evidence of this in the form of a 1905 published letter in the Akron Beacon-Journal that declared Doubleday, a Civil War hero, the inventor of the game. The English-born baseball writer Henry Chadwick claimed the game actually came from Rounders, since the two games were remarkably similar. Using his sporting goods riches, Spalding organized a “commission” to prove his theory. Sure enough, and much to the chagrin of Chadwick, the commission declared that “The first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best evidence available to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, N.Y. in 1839.”

Doubleday was unable to contribute to the debate, having perished more than a decade earlier. He received a proper military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.

Upton Sinclair–Rock Creek Cemetery

Much like Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is required reading for many high schoolers. Shining a very bright spotlight on Chicago’s meatpacking industry, the 1906 novel made the 28-year-old Upton Sinclair a legend in his own time. Also like Fitzgerald, Sinclair is buried somewhat unexpectedly in the Washington D.C. area, in the 86-acre Rock Creek Cemetery.

Upton Sinclair. Photograph via Bain News Service/Library of Congress.

One of the greatest social activist writers ever, Sinclair wrote 90 books, taking on everything from the prosecution of Sacco and Vanzetti to the rise of the Third Reich in Germany. Sinclair also ran for governor of California in 1934 on his EPIC program, short for “End Poverty in California.”

On November 25, 1968, Sinclair died in his sleep in a New Jersey nursing home at the age of 90. He’s buried in Rock Creek next to his third wife, Mary Willis.