Skip the Washington Monument: Rock Creek Cemetery

September 25, 2014 — I always talk about how much I love New England cemeteries—their age, their abundance, their macabre iconography, but that doesn’t mean other places don’t have cemeteries worth being buried in (I’m going to have to be divvied up into tiny parts to be buried in all the cemeteries I want to be buried in). Take my old stomping grounds in DC. When you think DC cemeteries, you probably think of the uniform whiteness of Arlington Cemetery. Maybe good old honorable Congressional Cemetery. But to me, the best DC cemetery is Rock Creek Cemetery.

Rock Creek Cemetery was first established in 1719 as a church cemetery. In 1840, it was turned into a public burial spot. Today, its 86 acres at 201 Allison St NW are full of some of the most awe-inspiring funerary sculptures in the entire country. And that’s the big reason to go there.

I mean, it has an impressive legacy of worms below—political and military leaders, businessmen, journalists, professors, but there are few whose names most of us would recognize. Writers Upton Sinclair and Gore Vidal certainly. Maybe actor Robert Prosky…actually you’d know him by face not name, unless you’re a giant fan of Gremlins 2: The New Batch. How about Evalyn Walsh McLean, the last private owner of the fabled Hope Diamond and whose life featured a series of events ill-starred enough to give the stone’s curse new life in modern times.

The last time I visited Rock Creek Cemetery, it was for my book Poe-Land, to see the grave of Rosalie Mackenzie Poe, only sister of Edgar Allan Poe. Her marker is just a stone plaque, the grave of a woman who ended as a pauper, selling baubles she claimed belonged to her famous and dead-for-a-quarter-century poet brother. She’s in the middle of Section D, at the end of a line of similar stones. The most interesting part about her marker is that her birth year is listed as 1812, a year after the death of her mother. That’s an Edgar Allan Poe plot.

Still, the reason to go to this land of monuments within the land of monuments that is D.C. are the funerary sculptures. Let me show you some.


These last two photos are of the Adams Memorial, the most famous funeral sculpture in the cemetery, the city, and perhaps the country. I've wanted to discuss the full story behind this monument since OTIS started, but there are five sites connected to it, and I've only been to four. One more and I can do justice to my favorite grave marker on the planet.