Nicholas Wolf

Data + History

Oct. 13, 2009, 7:50 p.m.

Burial Vault Restoration at Congressional Cemetery

A few weeks back I had the good fortune to pitch in over at Congressional Cemetery here in southeast Washington, DC by helping with the latest burial vault restoration being undertaken at this historic site. Between this project and another volunteer opportunity I had with the cemetery earlier in September, I am beginning to appreciate just how much work goes into keeping these types of landmarks in top shape. Once the site of over fifty brick burial vaults, neglect in decades past and disintegrating mortar joints have caused the collapse of nearly half of the cemetery's vaults. Since 2008, the cemetery's directors have been working to preserve the remaining vaults by restoring the brick and replacing missing mortar, and already a number of them have been successfully repaired or are nearing completion.

Despite some occasional rain threats, our day with the Keyworth vault seemed to proceed without a hitch. Patrick Crowley, the cemetery's executive chair, managed to document the event nicely, and I left with an even more heightened appreciation of the expertise of the sciences of archaeology and bone forensics. Moreover, the experts from Smithsonian who led the project were most patient with a historian like myself who rarely gets a chance to leave the world of microfilm and old documents for a real-world immersion in material history. For a story on the project, check here.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Image of Congressional Cemetery Public Vault