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Pic of the Week – A Look inside the Public Vault at the Congressional Cemetery

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A shared fascination with Washington D.C.’s history draws people from across the world to visit the United States Capitol, the Library of Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court and the District’s many museums. One site that visitors frequently overlook is the final resting place of many of the authors of Washington’s early history, the Congressional Cemetery. Contrary to what the name might suggest, the Congressional Cemetery is not a government cemetery, and people continue to seek plots there today. According to the Cemetery, you do not need to be a member of Congress to be buried there, “You only need to be dead.”

The Cemetery contains an eclectic cast of characters, from signer of the Declaration of Independence and Vice President, Elbridge Gerry to the silent movie actress Mary Fuller, who appeared in the first film adaptation of Frankenstein. Our picture of the week is a look at the public vault at the Congressional Cemetery. Before modern refrigeration and funerary techniques were available, when someone passed away, the Cemetery housed their remains in the vault while they awaited transportation to the location where they would be buried. These walls housed the remains of First Lady Dolley Madison, as well as Presidents William Henry Harrison, John Quincy Adams, and Zachary Taylor, just to name just a few, until the vault fell out of use. You can learn more about the history of the vault and why Dolley Madison’s remains were kept there for a long period of time by watching this C-Span recording.

The Public Vault is a sandstone-colored structure with black, iron doors.
Outside the Public Vault at the Congressional Cemetery. Photo by Robert Brammer.
The inside of the Public Vault contains a flat brick surface with a white arched ceiling.
Inside the Public Vault at the Congressional Cemetery. Photo by Robert Brammer.


We hope you have a safe and happy Halloween, and enjoy revisiting some of our posts from Halloweens past.

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