For a bustling, thriving capital of a world-class superpower, Washington, D.C. offers a surprisingly lively scene for the nonliving as well.
In addition to the Capitol, the White House and the Mall, history-minded visitors to the city can track the nation’s political, military and cultural course through the quiet final resting grounds of the famous and near-famous who lived and died here, from former presidents and generals to authors, Indian chiefs and famous lawmen.
Five historic cemeteries offer visitors a brief escape from the present and a chance to pay homage to remarkable figures from the country’s past, often far from the tourist hordes.
Washington National Cathedral
Perhaps the most prominent of the locations is Washington National Cathedral, the Episcopal cathedral that is the sixth-largest in the world, occupying a site at the highest point in the city, atop Mount St. Alban in Northwest Washington.
The tomb for the only U.S. president interred within the city’s borders can be found inside the cathedral doors: Woodrow Wilson, whose two terms were highlighted by World War I and the unsuccessful fight to have the U.S. join the League of Nations, was buried here following his death in 1924. The grave of his wife, Edith, who died much later in 1961, is next to his.
Though the cathedral is not officially a cemetery, several other notable persons are interred here as well. Deaf-mute author and advocate Helen Keller and her longtime tutor and friend, Anne Sullivan, were placed here in 1968 and 1936, respectively. Famous Spanish-American War hero Adm. George Dewey was interred here in 1917.
Historic Congressional Cemetery
Across town and along the shores of the Anacostia River lies Historic Congressional Cemetery, the oldest national cemetery, with origins dating back to 1807.
More than 55,000 persons are buried in the cemetery grounds, many of whom helped in solidifying Washington as the capital city in the early 1800s. The cemetery also contains several lawmakers who died while Congress was in session. The grave of Elbridge Gerry, vice president under James Madison who unwillingly gave his name for the dubious practice of gerrymandering, can be found here.
One of the biggest attractions is the monument to founding father George Clinton, the vice president for both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who died while in office in 1812. The grave of J. Edgar Hoover, who grew up nearby and was the first director of the FBI, is another point of interest.
One of the cemetery’s more arresting attractions, though, is the grave of a respected American Indian chief: Pushmataha, a Choctaw leader at the time of the War of 1812 who fought alongside the U.S. and was buried with full military honors.
Mount Olivet Cemetery
Two people convicted of conspiracy in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln are buried in Northeast Washington’s Mount Olivet Cemetery, which has gained notoriety for some of the controversial figures laid to rest there.
John Lloyd and Mary Surratt, who became the first woman executed by the U.S. government, were convicted of aiding in Lincoln’s murder by concealing in a local tavern carbine rifles, ammunition and rope intended for use in the plot hatched by John Wilkes Booth.