It was not always this way. For a time in the 20th century, Congressional Cemetery was forgotten and neglected. The grass grew waist high, the stones crumbled and toppled, and the back corners of the property were dirty and dangerous. By 1997, Congressional Cemetery had the dubious distinction of being added to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of the most endangered historic sites.
A stubborn group of dedicated Washingtonians knew the cemetery was worth saving. Local Capitol Hill neighbors who walked their dogs on the grounds began taxing themselves to pay for grass mowing. Today, the K9 Corps at Historic Congressional Cemetery has hundreds of members who pay an annual fee to walk their dogs off-leash on the grounds. Their resources and volunteer work keep the cemetery clean and secure as well as lively and well loved. Other volunteers-including members of the armed forces, school groups, church groups, service associations, and descendant organizations-put in thousands of hours of work each year. They accomplish tasks the cemetery could never afford to pay for. Private donations, Congressional appropriations, foundation grants, and proceeds from gravesite sales have all allowed the cemetery to rebound from neglect and vandalism.
Now a National Historic Landmark, Congressional Cemetery is flourishing. The brick pathways and slate walks are restored to their original beauty. New trees are being planted and new gardens bloom. The cemetery stages regular educational events, tours, fundraisers, and even 5k races. Marching bands, including the world-famous US Marine Band, regularly play at the grave of John Philip Sousa. Genealogists, photographers, historians, dog walkers, birders, joggers, anthropologists, and Victorian scholars can all find something to love among the old stones.
And as an active cemetery, Congressional boasts some new stones, too, many of which are creative and surprising. Congressional Cemetery has seen the federal district along the Potomac River grow into a busy modern city. Washington, DC, now fills 61 square miles with 600,000 residents. As it enters its third century, the history of the city-and, indeed, the United States-will continue to be written on the stones of Congressional Cemetery.