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Congressional Cemetery

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan

legislator photo

Mr. President, I call to the attention of the Senate and the country something that is important. Some while ago I went to what is called the Congressional Cemetery here in Washington, DC. I want to state why I did that.

I went to visit a gravesite of a man named Scarlet Crow, an American Indian. He came to Washington, DC, in 1867 with some other American Indians from my part of the country, a member of the Wahpeton-Sisseton Sioux Tribe. He came here to negotiate a treaty. He was found under the Occoquan bridge one morning, dead. The death certificate said Scarlet Crow committed suicide. I actually got a record of the investigation of Scarlet Crow's death--remember, now, this is 1867--and discovered the police reports in Alexandria, VA, and the investigator who investigated Scarlet Crow's death seem to suggest that Scarlet Crow was murdered. He did not commit suicide, in fact, he was murdered. He was found lying under a bridge with a blanket neatly folded over him. They say he hanged himself. The police investigators said the branch from which they allege Scarlet Crow hanged himself could not have held a 6-year-old child.

That was a different time. American Indians came to this town to negotiate treaties. This man, Scarlet Crow, never returned to the Dakotas because he died under the Occoquan bridge under mysterious and strange circumstances. It appears his death was not fully investigated or resolved. The death certificate simply says he committed suicide.

Because I was interested in this and because he came from a part of the country where I reside, I went to the cemetery one day to find Scarlet Crow's gravesite. Here is Scarlet Crow's tombstone. It is at a place called the Congressional Cemetery. The Congressional Cemetery is a place I had not previously visited. It is here in Washington, DC. It holds the bodies of many Congressmen and Senators and others. It was founded in 1807 by a group of citizens residing in the eastern section of the new Federal city of Washington. Immediately, it became the sole burial place in Washington for Members of Congress. For over 60 years, Members of Congress and other Government officials were interred at what was known as Congressional Cemetery. The Government appropriated money to help construct some buildings, roads, and walls and to make other site improvements.

Other than relatively small and very infrequent Federal dollars, Government support ended many decades ago and the cemetery has fallen into disrepair. It is a rather forlorn place, as a matter of fact. I will show some pictures. This is the entrance to Congressional Cemetery. You can see the beat-up roads. Let me show an example of the roads inside the Congressional Cemetery. This, one would think, would be a place of honor, a place that is repaired and made to look presentable. Instead, here is what the Congressional Cemetery appears like to those who visit it. Roads in desperate disrepair. This does not look like a cemetery that has been maintained at all. It has not been.

Here is another picture of what the cemetery looks like inside. Roads in disrepair, grass growing out of the middle of those roads.

One wonders why, with a Congressional Cemetery, which was the burial place for so many Members of Congress, and many others over so many years, why the Federal Government and Congress would not restore it to its place of honor.

I am pleased that some of my colleagues, at my request, included some small amount of money in the Legislative Branch appropriations bill in FY2002, and a bit earlier, as well.

As we begin the appropriations process this year, I think in the honor of those who are laid to rest in that Congressional Cemetery, we really do need to do what is necessary to make that cemetery a place of honor.

Let me discuss a couple of the people who are buried at this cemetery. Vice President Elbridge Gerry is buried at the cemetery. I have a picture showing his tombstone. This is a tombstone of former Vice President of the United States Elbridge Gerry. He is buried in the cemetery.

There is a term, ``gerrymandering,'' in politics that many will recognize. Gerrymandering comes from Elbridge Gerry.

His marker describes he was born in 1744, died in 1814. It quotes on his words on his grave marker:

It is the duty of every man, though he may have but one day to live, to devote that day to the good of his country.

These words describe how Gerry lived. In fact, the day that Gerry died he had to get to the temporary Senate Chambers in the Patent Office building so he could preside over the Senate. British troops burned the Capitol in the War of 1812 and the Senate was functioning from a temporary location in 1814. In those days, the Vice President presided over the Senate almost daily because the President pro tempore did not have a continuous office. On November 23, 1814, determined to preside over the Senate, Gerry suffered a fatal stroke.

At that time, Members of the Senate gathered in their chairs at the customary hour. Upon hearing the reports that Vice President Gerry had died, the body voted to send two Senators to the Vice President's home to ``ascertain the fact.'' When they returned with confirmation, the Senate appointed a joint committee to ``consider and report measures most proper to manifest the public respect for the memory of the deceased,'' and then the Senate adjourned. On the following day, the Senate ordered that the President's chair ``be shrouded with black during the present session; and as a further testimony of respect for the deceased, the members of the Senate will go into mourning, and wear black crape around the left arm for thirty days.''

Gerry is the only signer of the Declaration of Independence buried in Washington, DC. On the Fourth of July, there is annually an event at his tomb in the Congressional Cemetery with the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution.

There is another person buried at the cemetery who is an interesting person. His name is Issac Bassett. He was the second page who served in the U.S. Senate. He came to work in the Senate at age 9 in 1831. He never left. He worked there until 1895. He came to work at age 9 as a page in the U.S. Senate, and he worked here for 64 years. One wonders whether any of the current pages will work continuously for the next 64 years. I don't expect so. He was here even longer than the longest serving U.S. Senator, the late Strom Thurmond. He is buried at the cemetery. Right next to him is a larger marker for Alexander Bache, the founder of the U.S. Coastal Survey and a charter member of the National Academies of Science and its first president. In addition to the nearly 80 Members of the House and Senate buried in the Congressional Cemetery, there are also 128 cenotaphs erected to honor former Members.

Here is what they look like.

The latest cenotaphs were for Speaker Tip O'Neill, Hale Boggs, and Nicholas Begich. It is something that has been done for quite some while. There is currently some interest in placing a cenotaph for our recently departed colleague, Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

These cenotaphs were designed by the distinguished Capitol Architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe.

As transportation improved, it became custom to remove remains to a congressman's home state for burial, but a cenotaph was placed in the Congressional Cemetery in their memory. The practice ceased in 1877.

It is my hope that this Congress will take a look at this cemetery and understand that the Congressional Cemetery is the final resting place of nearly 80 Members of the House and the Senate, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and two Vice Presidents. It is where you will find the grave of John Phillip Sousa. You will see the gravestone of J. Edgar Hoover. It is quite a remarkable cemetery.

Let me again show a photograph that shows the entrance and the roads in this cemetery. It is in desperate, desperate disrepair. The Congressional Cemetery ought to be a place of honor. It is the final resting place for many who served this country with great distinction for so many years.

As this Congress considers what our responsibilities are and what we can and should do, it is my hope that we will invest the small amount of resources necessary to once again provide the honor and majesty that should accompany this monument of ourselves called the Congressional Cemetery.

Cemeteries have a way of casting personalities. Everywhere you go at the Congressional Cemetery, you can't help but notice strong personalities who served this country over its more than two centuries.

I indicated when I started that this cemetery doesn't belong to the U.S. Government. It is run by a nonprofit organization. But when the cemetery was started in 1807, it received financial support from the federal government. It was created by a group of citizens who wanted it to become the sole burial place in Washington, DC, for Members of Congress. And over nearly two centuries--Senators, Congressmen, and public officials who served this country in a remarkable way have found their way to this final resting place in the Congressional Cemetery. It is a shame, in my judgment, for it to have fallen into such desperate disrepair.

My hope is that in the coming couple of weeks in the appropriations process, we may once again continue to make some progress to address it. I have spoken with Mr. Byrd, the Senator from West Virginia, at some length about this and with other colleagues. I think all recognize that this is something to which we should pay some attention. I know there are many other very big issues we deal with here in the Senate. But this is something that I think is important to the memory of who we are, who served our country, how we treat them in death, and how we respect their memories. We can and should do better to bring a sense of repair and majesty to the Congressional Cemetery.

It is not too far from this building. I encourage all of my colleagues to go to the Congressional Cemetery and drive down those roads full of potholes in great disrepair and ask yourself if we don't have an obligation to do something about it. I hope so.

I yield the floor.

The Senator from Delaware.