tv Oak Hill Cemetery CSPAN November 6, 2016 3:07pm-4:01pm EST
capital of georgetown neighborhood come with a cemetery serves as a resting place for many politicians and revolutionary war veterans. the smithsonian associates hosted this 50 minute event. >> as i mentioned our topic's oak hill cemetery. of the property on our street where you see the beautiful redwood chapel, or if you dip into rock creek park, the gravestones coming down the hill down towards the creek. our guest today is david jackson, he is the superintendent of oak hill cemetery. please join me in welcoming him here. [applause] .r. jackson: hello is this which don? -- is this switched on? no?
, 1, 2, is that better? my name is dave jackson. i have a great privilege of serving as superintendent at oak hill cemetery. i am in my fifth year. my predecessor was there for 28. i do not think i will be there that long, but i will be, but not as superintendent. that's another story. [laughter] mr. jackson: i wanted to talk about oak hill and its history and how it came to pass. i want to invite you to visit oak hill. the best way to experience oak hill is to come and visit. our price is right, unless you make longer arrangements. it is really quite a place to see. hope the late today, you will learn a little bit more about it and why it is there. and you will see even more on the fifth of november when we tour around the place of it. so, as mentioned, this is a
picture of the main gate at 30th and r street. before i talk about that to my want to explain a bit about the garden movement of the cemetery and how it began. in about 1820, late 1820's or certainly 1830's, there was a group in boston, cambridge really, who started the first of the cemeteries who really started the romantic or the garden cemetery movement at mount auburn cemetery. the reason that that happened was that our society in general recognized that the old concept of the churchyard graveyard, or church graveyards, was becoming unworkable. they were becoming crowded, there was development around them, and it was a need to look at cemeteries and how we commemorate those who are passed in a different way.
there were a group of gentlemen who put together mount auburn cemetery, it is about one to or acres. 150 it is quite large. they started a movement of cemetery development that went up and down the east coast into the midwest. the idea was a large area that had open spaces that were landscaped to one extent or another that utilized monuments as art and gave a place, in those days in the 19 century, for families to celebrate the lives of those who had passed. it was common in 19 century for families to visit on sundays, visit the family plot.
they would bring a blanket and picnic and those things. they would all gather at the family plot. certainly at mount auburn, also oak hill. there were other cemeteries that sprang up as part of this movement. greenlawn, -- i'm sorry, green hood, a large one in philadelphia, hollywood cemetery down in richmond. cave hill in louisville, there is one in st. louis, another in cincinnati, cleveland. they sprung up all over the country from the 1830's or 1880's timeframe as that
concept for cemeteries. if you visit one of those cities, without -- now that i know you're interested in cemeteries, and you look for one of those historic cemeteries, go and visit it. there are all interesting. they're all very pleasant spaces to be in. oak hill, i show this picture not only to say this is the entry in probably the way you are mostly familiar with. this is the main gate. those pillars where the gates are my look familiar to you guys there are a similar set of three just south of the castle. it turns out these were originally at the smithsonian. for whatever reason they were rejected and which of them. -- and we took them. they were a renwick design. they were re-created. the ones of south of the castle were put in place. they are the same material that was used extensively in washington construction in the
19th century. a local quarry of the potomac river. it was used extensively, that is the stone on these pillars. it was also used to trim a couple of the buildings in the cemetery. the smithsonian castle is this red sandstone. when you go by, you will see our gate. there is looking at it from the other side, a gatehouse behind it. you can see an little bit of that sandstone trim on the gatehouse here and some other places, but not in this picture. when you come in there is a sign that says welcome in here is what you can and cannot do. i guess all places have that. when you think about oak hill, what happened was -- this is william corcoran. he was a great washington
philanthropist and made his first money financing the mexican-american war in the 1840's. his first large philanthropic project in washington was oak hill cemetery. he came up in 1849 and he bought 15 acres of land from martha washington descendents and he hired an engineer to lay the cemetery out and design an extensive drainage system. he hired the architect to design the chapel. it so happened that at that same period of time, he had bought a house unlawfully at square that was about 40 years old. daniel webster lived there before him. he hired the architect to do that project on his house. i have a feeling there was a conversation between the two of
them that went something like, by the way james, would you please design this little chapel for the cemetery project? and of course he said yes. what he designed was a very, gothic revival style building , but mr. corcoran was our founder. i will finish a story. the other thing he did was he went to congress. in those days, the business of the district was done in the u.s. congress. he had a not-for-profit and a charter, and he donated land and all the improvements for the not-for-profit entity. we have operated that way for 167 years. i work for a board of four volunteers, all of who have an interest in the cemetery. we have about six generations at oak hill.
all of those folks have one interest or another in the cemetery. but mr. corcoran started it. he was our great benefactor. this is a map, and you cannot see anything on it, i understand that, it is to detail. but i want to point out a couple things. just to orient you -- here we go -- that is r street now, that is where the main gate is now come at 30th. the back order is a long the creek. when you drive rock creek park way and you look up and see the cemetery, you looking up along this area here and looking at the area right of this corner of the cemetery. then to further orient you, the house backs up to that spot.
q street is here. then the estate is here at 28 in this area. dumbarton house here, 30th street and another entry here. it has the same pillars, the red sandstone pillars, but the main entry is here. when mr. corcoran first bought land, he only bought about 15 acres. the border of which was probably right about here. then about 10 years later, the family who owned at that point -- the davidsons, they fell on hard times. they sold their land which extended back here. another 10 acres. now we have about 25 acres over
about the first eight or 10 years of the cemetery's life. today there is about 19,600 souls buried there. we average 45 or 50 burials a year. either casket burials or cremation burials. this is the elipse entry. this is the chapel. i'm going to show you a lot more pictures of that area. this handsome gentlemen, i like his hairline. it is james renwick jr. i think this is a later picture, but he was only about 30th this point.
-- 30 years old at this point. he was the fellow who designed our chapel. now, the materials on that, i would just touch briefly on. the instructions to him were they wanted a nondenominational structure. that is what it is. but he was very careful to select some materials that had to friend meanings and different religions. for instance, the purple roof, it is vermont purple slate, purple has different meanings in different religions. same thing with the red sandstone. that is what the trim pieces are here. this is a blue granite called gneisse. it came from another quarry up river, i think on the virginia
side. but he selected those colors for a reason, and there are also shapes within the interior of the chapel that also mean different things across different religions. i guess i'm in my fifth winter, and every time a season comes around -- i am not a great photographer but i start walking outside and seeing things, and you start taking pictures of everything. i have a million pictures of different things. i will show you different things about the chapel. i will come back to this in a few minutes. but you can see how striking this little chapel is. that is the back. very striking stained-glass angel in the back that is shown
here. and then on the inside, you can see how that angel lights up. the pictures do not do this place justice, but it is quite striking. we just did a fairly extensive restoration project on this building about three years ago. when you come on november 5, i am going to tell you stories about that. i am not going to go into that extensively today, but hopefully i'm giving you a look. it was quite interesting to do. the cornerstone in the chapel is 1850. took three years to build. as i say, the materials and some of the shapes of the windows and so forth -- i do not mean to do that -- the shades of the
windows and so forth were designed to be nondenominational. we do have some christian things in the front that we take out from time to time if necessary. we still use the building for cemeteries. we have community association meetings in those things from time to time. we do a wedding in there occasionally. we still use it just as much as we possibly can. that is the altar just below the stained-glass window. it was a nice picture. when you stand at the altar and turn around and look back out the door, that is what you see. and one of the things that is also prominent when you come into the cemetery, which is
right there, is this statute. you will not be able to read the name of that statute, but this is a statue of john howard pain, who wrote a song in the 19th century called "home sweet home." it was part of a play that he wrote in the 1820's were 1830's, and it was a song from the play. it became tremendously popular in the 19th century. so much so that it was sung during the civil war. the troops saying it. it finally got to a point where the general on both sides discouraged the troops from singing it. because if they did a lot of people would wake up and there would be a whole a lot of deserters who went home.
so, the generals would not let them sing. payne did a lot of things, not only a playwright, and actor, a writer, but he was appointed counsel general for the united states to northern africa and he served in tunisia for many years, and he died in the late 1850's, i believe. he was buried in tunisia. this statue was put up in his honor. about 1880, our friend mr. corcoran thought that his remains should be at oak hill cemetery. he made arrangements to ship, to exhume the body, ship the remains and the statue back to the united states. there was a story in "the new york times" at the time that said that payne's casket came in
and stayed in the newark city hall for a week. tens of thousands of people came by to pay their respects. the next step was, it was brought to washington. it was set in what we know as the renwick gallery today. there were tens of thousands who came to pay their respects. when the time came to re-inter his remains, there was an event put together, and it was something like 3000 people who came to the event, and it included the president and congress members and congressional members and supreme court justices. john sousa's band played. the neighborhood was jammed.
it was quite an event to do this reinterment of his remains. if you think about it, he was really a rockstar of the 19th century. we are very proud that he is part of this entry feature at oak hill. that was done in 1883. there is part of what happened at that point in conjunction with that event that ties the chapel, and i'm not going to tell you about that today. you're going to have to come in november to hear about it. but that was a great event for oak hill. another feature, there is mr. payne's statue again.
somewhere, somebody -- when the statue was originally done, it showed payne with a beard. it got here and mr. corcoran said i never knew him with a beard, take it off. so, he does not have a beard here. what mr. corcoran wanted, he always got. that is why there is no beard. the other gentleman honored is wayne pygmy, who is a well-known clergy person in the mid-atlantic area. he was an episcopal cleric who was very well thought of and did a lot of things in this area. as a matter of fact, he presided at the event honoring john payne. unfortunately he died a week
later. he was another good friend of mr. corcoran, so he had the statue put in place to honor the reverend. this is a picture of the gatehouse. if you remember when you driving at 30th street, on the left is a gatehouse. this is the gatehouse. my guess on this is that this is about 1900 or so. i am saying that because this section back here, which is the kitchen, was added in the 1890's. the gatehouse was built for the superintendent and his family to live in from the get-go. the office of the cemetery is in the lower floor in the front right here. the rest of it was living quarters for the cemetery. my wife and i and our cats and
dog live there. it is great. it is living in an old house, but it is really great. the neighbors are quiet. [laughter] it has just been a real joy to live in the community and be there all the time. i am asked from time to time, do you ever see a ghost? and the answer to that is no. i think the reason for that is, other than the circumstances of death or religious belief, i think everyone who is at oak hill is happy. what better place could they be? so, no, we do not ever see anything like that. now, this is looking at the gatehouse from inside, kind of the back of the house. i think this is probably in the 1920's or 1930's. we do not have air conditioning
although we do have air windows, plumbing, electrical. this is probably one of those sunday afternoon things where a group of folks out here taking life easy and being in a very pleasant space in the cemetery. in the back of the house, at that point it is not changed at all. there is a bell that rings every hour on the hour every day between 9:00 and 5:00. it resides in this tower. it did not work for a while. i got it back on and the neighbors came inside. everybody was excited about that. every once in a while. i try to take a nap in the room right there. i can take a one hour nap. a nap until 2:01, and when the bell goes off at 3:00, you don't have any choice. you get up. the flooring and so forth is original.
it is mostly original. we are going to have some drawings in short order. we are going to record as much of the original conditions of the house as possible and over the next few years or so we will do some renovation upgrading to some extent. i do not know how much yet, but we are starting down that path. when you walk around in the cemetery, there are several monuments that are significant, and i like to talk about some of these. and maybe, if there is some significance to the monument. this piece of stone is probably about 12 feet tall. you can see the angel image in it. this is for the spencer family, and sam spencer was president of the railways at the turn of the century, and he passed at 1906.
the headquarters was here in d.c. after he passed, the headquarters was moved to new york in the family went up there. all of the family members who have passed since then are brought back down, and there are new markers for them individually made of a similar style and size and so forth. we call that a ledger stone, that lays flat on the ground. but in 1927 or so, the spencer family had this stone commissioned by tiffany. and my historian friends tell me they have not seen another tiffany stone in a cemetery like this.
but if you look on the backside of the stone, there is the little tiffaniy symbol you see on jewelry. it is quite a unique piece, as far as cemeteries and tiffany goe. i sort of think the stone was put in place and that the artist came and did a lot of the work on-site. that would still be a large piece of stone to handle during that timeframe. it was probably in the 1927 to 1928 when it was done. now, this young fellow is willy lincoln. willy lincoln was the middle child, middle son, of the lincolns. he passed away in 1862, in february of 1862 of yellow fever.
at the time of his passing, there was a family whose last name was caroll, who had just recently completed a cave mausoleum. if you remember from my map, the northern border of the cemetery runs near the creek. it looks out over the creek. there is a row of these cave mazza mausoleums built over there. when he passed, it was the plan that he would return to illinois when abe finished his service. the story was there was a large funeral in a church near the white house. after the funeral, the hearse
brought the casket over oak hill, and there was another shorter service in our chapel. and mrs. lincoln was too overcome in order to tend to the second ceremony. but mr. lincoln and robert, the oldest son, and some other close family people did come. and then the casket was taken down and put into the carol family mausoleum, which is right there. and then, the story goes further. this boy was really mourned by both of his parents. from time to time, a blank in would get on a horse -- from time to time, abe lincoln would get on a horse and ride down to oak hill and sith with the boy. this happened on several occasions. i do not have a picture of this, but i am told after the
assassination, you know there was a long train procession that went through a large part of our country with the flag draped casket of abe lincoln on a rail car. i am told there is a picture that shows that casket and a much smaller flag draped casket next to it, which was willy. now, there's another piece to that story that you are going to have to come on november 5 and hear as well. [laughter] >> now, this greek-style structure is a family mausoleum. on this side it says eustis. on the other side it says corcoran. that is the corcoran family mausoleum. there is a crypt under that
structure where the caskets go. it is corcoran on this side and eustis on the other side. there is only one child that became an adult. mr. corcoran certainly has a significant structure within our cemetery. it is quite pretty. and as i say, sits also overlooking the creek. van ness, john john van ness, he was the 10th mayor of washington dc they lost a young daughter in the 1820's or 1830's. this building was erected, i believe it was on 9th street. and her remains were put there. and the rights to the building over a couple of generations
moved their descendents. those descendents then have the building taken down and redirected on a knoll at oak hill. there are other family members that are entered there. this is a case where the internment are in a crypt below the structure. but that is a very significant structure. you can kind of get an idea of its scale and so forth from this picture. it is certainly distinctive because of its roof. this is one that you can see if the leaves are off of the trees from rock creek parkway.
but don't stop and try throw brick. i would also point out to you, and maybe you have noticed from some of these pictures, a very popular monument in the 19 century. i think in washington dc for obvious reasons. we have them in various stages of decoration and size. most obelisks are granite. well, some are marble. there are other decorations, but you will notice that the obelisks are very prevalent here.
in other cemeteries, i see them, but not to the extent we have in oak hill. mr. stanton, is buried at oak hill. in of course, he was lincoln's secretary of war. he was the one, at the time of the assassination was inside the room. and when lincoln passed, there is a line that goes on with the ages, i know i am not saying it right, but i am sure you will recognize me stumbling through that quote. thank you very much. and this was, i think it was from the last museum. i have tried to find a picture that worked better and this seems to be the best one. there is his monument. this is an obelisk.
that is another rather significant monument within the cemetery. uriah forrest. by the way, he is the most senior of our presidents ancestors in the cemetery. he was a revolutionary war figure. i understand he was on washington's staff during the revolutionary war and later became the mayor of georgetown. and he died in 1820 or 1830. as was the case in other places, he was buried first somewhere else and then moved to oak hill. and so, what happened in cemeteries across the country was this movement i described earlier. as development took over,
cemeteries, existing cemeteries, were eliminated. the remains were moved elsewhere and the spot was developed. mr. forrest was originally buried in the presbyterian burial ground in georgetown, which today is a park. we have a number of folks who were moved to oak hill from full to parkvolta park. mr. forrest was one of those folks who were moved. when you walk around, you will see commemorations for revolutionary war soldiers. there is at least one doesn't or moredozen or more. that is how they ended up at oak hill. we also have a number, as you might guess, of civil war folks
from both sides. there are several stories about them and spies and all kinds of things that you will have to come on november 5 to see. there is mr. forrest. now, these folks aren't nearly as prominent in history and so forth. but they lived in georgetown for a long time the for the moved to bethesda. they were in bethesda for the last 10 or 15 years of their lives, but they knew a lot of people in georgetown. they were always worried about where they were going to park. on their stone, if you can't read this says, "we finally found a place to park in
georgetown." [laughter] >> you will see that on the tour. i put it on every tour. we all understand what it means, but i thought that was a cute thing for them to do. these are some old pictures of the cemetery and when the cemetery was started, the land that mr. corcoran bought was called parrot's woods. it was very heavily wooded. there were some 35 or 36 larger trees that started there. over time, those trees have gone away. these were pictures taken during the 19th century, obviously because you know, here is a horse-drawn something looking back over his shoulder. you can see some of the monuments and such. i think that is van ness, but i am not sure. this is looking east. there is the chapel.
you can see there are trees s thatthat shaded that area. it started off much more forrest than it is today. this is another monument that i s part of a family plot for the howards. this happens to be a piece that was bronze. mr. howard was the inventor of the ibm punchcard, and he had a very sizable house in georgetown i think on 29th street. i spoke with the gatehouse. these are some interior pictures taken by one of my predecessors at the end of the century. i think i am the 15th or 16th superintendent.
but this gentleman and his wife, and i think young son, this is in the living room or library in the house. i can identify where they are. of course, the wallpaper has changed and the light fixtures have changed. i think this was a gas fixture in the living room here, which of course is no longer there. i don't know how they dressed like that and lived in d.c., but they did, obviously. [laughter] >> now, we have a camelback ridge part of the cemetery, down in the southeast corner. several years ago, we built a new structure for cremation and urnments. it was sort of a waste area up until that time.
and our board looked at that and said, let's do something with that. we found the stone, and the way to set that up. if you want to find a contemplation spot like no other other, and there are several like this in the cemetery, but it is just as pleasant as it can be. i show you this picture, it is a winter picture, and you can see how the walkways go. this is looking up the hill. when the cemetery was laid out originally, most of it was laid out in family plots. the idea was that families would buy sections of the cemetery and several generations would be buried there. and so, many of the monuments that are sizable monuments have several inscriptions on them with names through the years, through the generations.
but when the cemetery was built, a very expensive drainage system was put in. these pathways were put in, with the stone gutters and so forth that collected the drain water and sent it to another line downhill and eventually into rock creek. when you walk around in oak hill, you will be these markers, like this. may angle is not very good right here. they are metal square pieces, and they go down to the ground. they have numbers on them and that is how we define the lot numbers. and so, our records have a file for each lot and a diagram of that lot.
and within that diagram, there are site numbers measured off, it is not to scale, but pretty close, measured off to individual casket size. the practice there and has always been that we bury one casket over another. so, we will know that uncle george, and then autnnt sue is on top of him. so, we have a diagram of all of those sites and who is where. it has been pretty accurate. i have only had one surprise now in about five years when somebody was not obviously documented the way it was actually done. but it has been pretty accurate. someday we will get those up online where they can be looked at. however, we do have a website which is oakhillcemeterydc.org. on that website, it locates those interments by lot number.
there is a map that shows you by section where those particular lot numbers are. if you are that curious when you come over and want to find somebody, look on the website first and find a lot number. if not, stop by the office and we will point you in the right direction. this is another really pretty picture of a lane that has to ulip magnolias on one side and cherries on the other. things really start blooming around the same time and one of the great times to come visit oak hill is about that springtime timeframe because there is just lots of blooming
material. it is just so pleasant to be in there. and now i'm going to show you some azaleas. i always liked that one because it does this around the stone. this may be the same one i showed you a minute ago. that's from a different direction. that is the gatehouse. and even in the winter. it becomes real pretty. one of the things i think is interesting is there are some sculptures. i mentioned the augustine'stus piece. we have a what i mentioned a minute ago.
it was designed so that it covers our 12 inch stone covers that are about this thick. we are encouraging families to become more artful in how they memorialize themselves or a loved one on that piece of slate. we have a stonecutter doing the work. there are 400 of these niches within this structure. eventually, it will become a really interesting sculpture display. no two will be the same. they will all have different things on them. we have a palm scene on one of them. another family wanted a face portrait of their mother. there is just all kinds of
things that families are coming up with to put on this cover for that spot. over time, it will be an interesting display of sculpture. these five gentlemen --and i am really proud of these guys. i'm the rookie. 27 years, 47 years, 14 years, and five years. these guys do a lot of good things. the interesting thing i think about oak hill, we don't own a backhoe or a riding mower. we mow everything we can with walk behind mowers. when it comes time to dig a grave, and we do, it is pitching shovels.
wehen we do it nine feet, it is nine feet down. none of those guys is nine feet, but they know how to dig that, and they are great diggers. we are very fortunate to have those gentlemen. they just do great stuff. so, i have spoken probably more than i should have. i guess i am supposed to take questions. does anybody have any questions about oak hill? [laughter] >> i was the general manager at country clubs and city clubs for about 2030 years. my wife was related to the superintendent at oak hill for many years. and if you are a d.c.
resident, you might remember, joe was the volunteer police officer who was killed while he was directing traffic in wisconsin. after his passing, his wife, who also worked in the office, was made the superintendent. when she decided she wanted to retire, one thing led to another and here we are. my wife and i have gone back to indianapolis. we have decided the only way we want to come back to d.c. was, she wanted to live in georgetown and i did not want to have a commute. [laughter] >> so, check, check. that is how it worked out. yes ma'am? [indiscernible] >> actually, you can drive in. those gates are open for the week until 4:30.
the walk-in gate is open on the weekends on saturdays between 11:00 and 4:00 and on sundays, 1:00 to 4:00. and you can drive in, park inside, and walk the grounds. you have to remember, we are laid out in horse and buggy days. if you are going one way and the other guy is going one way, it gets a little sporty, but if you come in and park and learn your way around, we would be glad to have you. yes ma'am? >> [indiscernible] >> if you come in and ask for us to show you something, we will do that. >> [indiscernible] >> that is a very good question. thank you for asking me that. there is no requirement of any
kind. oak hill was started as a nondenominational cemetery open to all. over the years we have had various amounts of space that is available. during some periods of time it has been pretty limited. if i go out on our street and stop people and say, did you know there is space available on oak hill, nine out of 10 of them will say, it has been full for years, but it is not. there is not a requirement of any kind, other than it is georgetown real estate. it is a little pricey. [laughter] >> yes ma'am?
>> thank you very much. >> anyone else? thank you. [applause] >> visit our website, c-span.org/history. you can see our upcoming schedule. road to the white house rewind, lectures in history and more. >> as the nation elects a new president on tuesday, will america have its first american -- first foreign-born first lady since luisa adams? c-span's first ladies, now available in paperback. us a lookes gives leaders into the lives and impacts. it features interviews with the nation's leading first lady
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