Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

pic19634

 Consider the other Arlington cemeteries.

This March, the graveyard at the Calloway United Methodist Church in the Halls Hill neighborhood gained status as a historic district for its newly confirmed graves of former slaves in Arlington.

It’s an overdue reclamation of lost history that got me thinking about the quiet messages local cemeteries send out.

A tour of notable graves in Arlington must begin with the seminal Ball family. That means the 18th-century markers at the Ball-Carlin cemetery at the Glencarlin Library on South Kensington Street, and a larger site, the Ball family graveyard on Washington Boulevard at Kirkwood Road (enter next to the historic sign near Baird Automotive). Buried with the big landowners’ relations rests a Revolutionary War veteran, Ensign John Ball (1748-1814) of the Sixth Virginia Infantry.

Another Revolution-era veteran lies at the Shreve-Southern Cemetery, on North Harrison Street near St. Ann’s Catholic School. John Redin died at age 80 in 1832 and is interred in a chain-link enclosure alongside stones for five generations of Shreve and Southern families.

Forward to the War of 1812. A colonel Samuel Birch bought an Arlington tract stretching from Little Falls Road to Lee Highway. He’s there in the Birch-Payne cemetery, which I pass regularly at Sycamore and North 28th streets. It contains about 20 graves, Samuel and two wives, children, grandchildren, and five or six “colored servants,” as described by Arlington historian Eleanor Lee Templeman in 1959. She lamented damage to the site by Arlingtonians seeking Christmas decorations and rocks for gardens. (Last week, two humongous trees felled by the storm lay across the property.)

The oldest active church in Arlington, Mount Olivet at Glebe and North 16th Street, boasts a cemetery dating to 1854. Its graves include Civil War vets, and it was used as a hospital during the conflict. The cemetery has lots of Donaldsons and is the final resting place of Sue Landon Vaughan, who was key to creating Memorial Day after she began decorating the graves of Civil War soldiers.

A spinoff Methodist church stands as Walker Chapel at Old Glebe and new Glebe roads. Though the church didn’t open until 1876, the graveyard is labeled circa 1848. I used to walk by it at dawn as a 12-year-old delivering The Washington Post and was spooked by graves for such Arlington families as the Marceys and the Gutshalls.

A modern-era must-see is Columbia Gardens, founded in 1917 at the 3400 block of Arlington Blvd. Longtime Arlington auto dealer Bob Peck rests there with a Chevrolet logo on his stone. There’s a mausoleum for Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who lived in Arlington. Down the pathway likes a black stone for blues guitar genius Roy Buchanan. Though he grew up in Arkansas and California, he made Washington, D.C., his base in the late 1950s. Buchanan was residing in Reston and battling alcohol issues when he died in 1988, an apparent suicide.

The 146-year-old Calloway church at 5000 Lee Highway names as its oldest the grave of Margaret Hyman, born into slavery in 1853, dying in 1891. There’s also Hesakiah Dorsey, a once enslaved man who served in Union Army, and perhaps as many as 100 others unmarked.

Our rapidly filling planet doesn’t have room for each of us to rest under our own gravestone. But cemeteries do leave us with a durable community record. 

 


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at [email protected]