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Washington’s historic cemeteries: Where the nation’s past lives
Also buried in Mount Olivet is Henry Wirz, the Confederate officer in charge of the brutal Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp during the Civil War. The camp at one point held as many as 32,000 Union soldiers, and as many as 13,000 died there during the war. Wirz ultimately was captured and executed by Union soldiers under charges of conspiracy and murder.
Despite some of the disreputable persons buried there, the roughly 85-acre cemetery is home to the graves of more than 100,000 others and is the largest Catholic cemetery in the area. The original architect of the White House, James Hoban, is also buried in Mount Olivet.
No tour of Washington’s cemeteries would be complete without a trip through Arlington National Cemetery, perhaps the country’s best-known burial ground.
More than 400,000 graves of military veterans stretch across 624 acres of beautiful landscape along the Virginia bank of the Potomac River, directly across from the Lincoln Memorial. The cemetery dates back to the outbreak of the Civil War, when the Union Army took possession of property on the estate belonging to Confederate General Robert E. Lee and used a portion of it to bury its dead.
Today, the cemetery remains an active burial ground for approximately 7,000 veterans and notable U.S. leaders each year. The cemetery is second in size only to the Calverton National Cemetery in New York.
Arlington National Cemetery draws visitors year-round and is home to the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame, the memorial at the slain president’s grave site, where he lies alongside his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Another U.S. president, William Howard Taft, also is buried at Arlington.
The Tomb of the Unknowns commemorates all U.S. soldiers who died in conflicts without their remains being identified. The tomb sits atop a hill that overlooks Washington and has been guarded perpetually by service members since 1937.
Oak Hill Cemetery
Far less well-known but worth a visit is Oak Hill Cemetery, which sits on 22 acres in Georgetown and also features a large botanical garden. The cemetery is centered around a Gothic-style chapel built in 1850.
Despite the cemetery’s relatively small size, the graves of dozens of former lawmakers and leaders can be found within its grounds.
Among the most notable is that of Dean Acheson, master diplomat and secretary of state under President Truman who redefined foreign policy during the Cold War, helped author the Marshall Plan after World War II and played a key role in the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Oak Hill’s historic chapel was designed by architect James Renwick, whose other works include St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and the Mall’s Smithsonian Castle. Former Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, former ABC newscaster Howard K. Smith and David Levy Yulee, the Florida lawyer believed to have been the first Jewish member of the Senate, are among the other notables buried in the bucolic setting.
A final notable cemetery in the District spans 86 acres just blocks away from onetime Civil War site (and now Metro stop) Fort Totten. Rock Creek Cemetery dates back as early as 1719, when it was established as a churchyard for the Rock Creek Parish, an Episcopal church that still stands and is the oldest religious institution in the D.C. area.
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