A Genealogical Find

A few days ago I bought In the Shadow of the United States Capitol: Congressional Cemetery and the Memory of the Nation, a history of the historic cemetery in Washington, DC, by Abby Arthur Johnson and Ronald Maberry Johnson.

I didn’t know of this book before Sunday; then I received a email about a sale on history ebooks and, in going through the 200-odd titles, this book piqued my interest. How could it not? I have, after all, visited several times, and my ancestors have been interred there for over a century.

Naturally, the first thing I did was to go through the photos in the book.

I have this thing: when I see photos of Congressional Cemetery — and there’s a photographer in DC who posts images of the cemetery about once a month on Twitter — I scour them for locations I know, particularly locations connected to my family.

I hit pay dirt in In the Shadow of the United States Capitol.

The photo on the left (or top, if you’re on a mobile device) is the photograph from the book (screenshotted from my Kindle) taken by Elisa Forbes Pachter in the 1970s, a time when Congressional Cemetery was neglected and overgrown. It’s of the graves Mary Ann Hall (left) and her sister (right); as I explained last year, Mary Ann Hall was a Civil War-era brothel owner, and her place of business was on what is now the National Mall.

The black and white photograph matches almost exactly in angle the photograph on Hall’s Wikipedia page.

While no one else in the world would know this, my great-great-grandfather William’s grave is in the background of both photographs, and, though unmarked, he’s actually easier to locate in the black and white photo from the 1970s than the color photo on Wikipedia because the angle is slightly better. My blog post from last year goes into detail I won’t recap here, but William Gardner is at the righthand edge of both photographs, about midway up the pillar on which the figure sits of Mary Ann Hall’s monument.

Using the search function, it appears that none of my relatives are mentioned by name in the book. Even Mary Ann Hall isn’t named; the photo caption doesn’t even mention her.

In the Shadow of the United States Capitol also featured a drawing that depicted the grave of 19th-century Speaker of the House and Associate Supreme Court Justice Philip Pendleton Barbour — namesake of the high school from which I graduated lo those many years ago — a grave which I visited in 2017. Looking at the drawing, I could recognize several of the monuments and I could picture in my mind, to within about five feet, where the artist must have been as he worked. It takes a special kind of nerd, I guess, to be able to identify a location in a century and a half old drawing like that. 🙂

I haven’t visited Congressional Cemetery since September 2019, almost two years. Maybe later this month or in October, before it gets colder, I’ll visit the cemetery again.

Hunt Valley, Maryland

Published by Allyn Gibson

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

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