Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

An array of Arlington’s historic notables are buried across our southern border in Falls Church City.

I received a tour of the open-to-the-public Oakwood Cemetery just off Roosevelt Blvd. behind Eden Center. Manager Michelle Hatim boasts two decades as a cemetery professional, and though a New Englander of Irish ancestry, she’s eager to show off a heritage site shared by both Arlingtonians and Falls Churchians.

Oakwood was founded around the mid-18th-century Fairfax Chapel, which attracted prominent Methodist bishops, with the first burial done in 1779.

During the Civil War, its Broad St. side was home to Taylor’s Tavern, headquarters of Union Gen. Daniel Tyler. In 1927, Oakwood was incorporated with a board of 10 trustees from five Protestant churches. In the following decades they would sell parts of land to builders of the Oakwood Apartments and to Koons Ford.

I go there mostly to view tombstones for Arlington-area key names like Birch, Munson, Shreve, Febrey, Torreyson and Crossman. (The cemetery’s “roads” carry some of those names).

Revolutionary War veteran Samuel Shreve (1750-1815) and his family originally were interred in Arlington under now-worn-down markers behind St. Ann’s Catholic Church. In 1970, Shreve’s great-great-grandson had the bodies moved to Oakwood with new inscriptions.

Hatim directed me to markers for veterans of the Confederate Army, dedicated after the war by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and allegedly by Robert E. Lee “in loving memory of the Confederate Soldiers buried in Oakwood.”
Also viewable is the once-moved grave of plantation and slaveowner Bazil Hall (namesake of Hall’s Hill), his two wives and a “servant.”

By my count, the family with the most names visible are the Febreys, major landowners whose slave-owning patriarch Nicholas (1800-68) built a now- demolished home on N. Madison St. Sons Henry and John also built important Arlington homes, as did his nephew Ernest (only Henry’s home, on N. Powhatan St., survives).

I spotted stones for Febreys named William, Belinda, Robert, Elizabeth Ball, Mary Francis, Grace and Lewis.

Don’t miss the marker for Margaret Febrey, who died in 1913 of tuberculosis at age 14, and whose ghost is said to have haunted the clubhouse at Overlee swim club.

Hatim shows me handwritten records indicating the graves of Arlington farmers George Crossman and wife Nellie, explaining also that his father Isaac Crossman (namesake of a Falls Church park) died in 1900 at 76 of cancer of the stomach.

She helped me find the grave of Harry A. Fellows (1866-1943), mayor of Falls Church as well as the first chair of the Arlington County Board.

“Not everybody gets a headstone, and some stones fall apart,” Hatim reminded me. Not all make it on the online site “Find a Grave.”

She (with groundskeeper Luis Hernandez) helped manage the recent burials of Falls Church denizens such as Sheriff Stephen Bittle and civic activists Barbara Cram and Jerome Blystone.

The cemetery is “nearly full,” Hatim tells me, with most remaining space on the eastern patch closest to Eden Center. Soon Oakwood will be pure history.

The county board announced plans to vote July 17 to remove Robert E’s name from Lee Highway and rename it Langston Blvd.

That tribute to the freedman abolitionist, attorney, Congressman and education reformer (for whom a once-segregated school in Hall’s Hill is already named) will cost the government about $300,000, according to a staff report.

That doesn’t include private expenses (business cards, maps, directories).

Is this change of habit worth it? Amortizing the cost of justice over centuries of history, I’d say yes.

Another vestige of the Confederacy in Arlington also bit the dust. In late June, the new climbing wall opens at the Upton Hill Regional Park.

The construction — which included the controversial cutting of trees to add parking — also eliminated long-standing Civil War “Quaker cannon” replicas installed years ago by Boy Scouts. Quaker cannon were simply logs painted brown to fool distant Union troops.

In fact, historians say, such devices were used nearby at Munson Hill, but not at the fort at Upton.