Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


Yes, Virginia, Arlington has an official song.

A friend recently passed me a copy of the sheet music for “Arlington,” written over four decades ago by the late Ernest K. Emurian, then-pastor of Cherrydale United Methodist Church.

I’d wager it’s sung or even recalled by very few of today’s august county residents, though there is a movement afoot to put the hymn back in the public consciousness.

Admittedly, Emurian’s “Arlington” is not the famous composition to emerge from our local streets. That stature belongs to Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Those immortal lyrics came to her in 1862 when, as an abolitionist, she visited Fort Ramsay in Arlington (now the Upton Hill Regional Park on Wilson Blvd.). On the carriage ride back into Washington she heard troops singing “John Brown’s Body.”

According to the regional park’s website video narrated by newsman Roger Mudd, a friend suggested to Howe that she compose new lyrics. She did so that very night, and they were published in the February 1862 in the Atlantic Monthly.

Flash forward to 1970.  Pastor Emurian, a musician of Armenian descent who spent nearly 20 years at Cherrydale Methodist on Lorcom Lane, was moved to write the Arlington song’s words and music that, after a bland introduction about love of hometown, delivers a chorus, sung “slowly, stately”:

On a northern Virginia hillside, where Potomac’s waters flow;

And where heroes lived, other heroes lie ‘neath the crosses row on row;

And a mansion of stately splendor tells of battles lost and won;

And adds her name to the nation’s fame, the name of ARL-LING-TON.

Among the many Emurian fans still active at the church is Virginia Dodge, wife of the late Arlington Judge Thomas Dodge. “He always said any place worth living in is worth singing about,” said Dodge, who has sung Emurian’s hymn regularly with the young teens social group Job’s Daughters. Emurian, who composed eight published hymns and wrote many books, once staged a drama based on Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” that is produced around the country.

It was in the fall of 1970 that Dodge’s daughter Mary and 22 friends donned colonial dress and performed Emurian’s Arlington song for the county board. Then-chairman Ned Thomas gave the girls a copy of Eleanor Lee Templeman’s county history after the board official adopted the song—printed and circulated by the Chamber of Commerce. The girls’ photo appeared in the Northern Virginia Sun.

Emurian, who served at churches in Lynchburg and Portsmouth, also wrote a song titled “Virginia Is for Lovers.” He died in 2004 and is buried at Columbia Gardens.

Recently I discovered I wasn’t the only sleuth tracking the story behind the Arlington song. Peter Golkin, an ace public information officer for the Arlington Public Library, several months ago chanced upon a copy of its sheet music at a flea market. “I don’t think many people remember it,” he told me. Golkin checked the library’s Center for Local History and found 40 copies moldering in a folder.

Golkin’s own history of the song was just published on the county website. He’s looking for singers to be videotaped performing the piece, which ends:

From the mansion one can gaze across the river;

into Washington, D.C., whose memorials and monuments remind us;

Of those who have lived to make men free.


Last Friday night I spotted an Advanced Towing truck speeding toward its quarry behind the Silver Diner in Clarendon.

Only a day earlier, Congress put the final touches on a highway bill that includes a provision giving localities such as Arlington new tools to curb predatory tactics used by tow companies. The State and Local Predatory Towing Enforcement Act, introduced by Democratic Reps. Don Beyer of Arlington and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, will allow regulation of “nonconsensual tows” often executed using “spotters” working at lightning speed around unclear signage.

Advanced Towing, which can count me among the many Arlingtonians it has burned, views the issue differently. On its website it turns the tables, asking, “Are predatory parking space poachers stealing valuable parking spaces from your private property, business or customers?  Call us today.”