Christina and I spent about an hour in Ivy Hill this afternoon (30 June 2019) before dinner. This was our first visit, merely a quick survey. There aren’t mausolea, and the monuments are not terribly interesting or provocative. A closer look may correct this superficial impression. The grounds are pretty well tended and really pretty, which is a plus. There follow some things Christina and I noticed.

Anita Howard or her commemorators wanted you to know that she was inestimably fine. Not only does she have the DAR (founded 1890) marker, which is pretty common in this cemetery, but she’s played a decisive trump card. In the belief that “there is nothing like a dame,” she forefronts her membership in the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, founded in 1891. No simple American Revolutionary ancestor here—pah! These ladies “are descended from an ancestor ‘who came to reside in an American Colony before 1776, and whose services were rendered during the Colonial Period,'” to quote the Wikipedia page dedicated to them.

The Society of Colonial Dames has its headquarters in the beautiful Dumbarton House, a stone’s throw from the more famous Dumbarton Oaks, and to give them their due, they have done signal work in preserving historic houses. Nevertheless, Anita gives us valuable insight into how these societies with restrictive membership served as chess pieces in social competition. In the Mount Hebron Cemetery in Winchester, Virginia, I have seen a similarly ambitious grave, of the excellent Marie C. Bowman:

Monument of Marie C. Bowman, Mount Hebron Cemetery, Winchester, VA. Photo: author.

In this case, the deceased (or her commemorators) make what is for this cemetery a common claim to rise above the riffraff, membership in the UDC, the United Daughters of the Confederacy. But this was evidently still too common, and Marie wanted to establish her membership in the 1% with a badge of the DAR. The discovery of this kind of invidious competition makes cemetery prospectors like me fling our picks in the air like Yukon Cornelius striking a vein of peppermint.

Returning to Arlington, the monument of the Humes presents another variant of this competition which I’ve never seen before. William Haywood Hume was proud of his membership in the Freemasons, which is reasonably common, though he (or his commemorator) opted for the bronze badge instead of the incised symbol. But moving beyond that, there is the SAR (Sons of the American Revolution) badge which is balanced with Jean Emmons McCarty Hume’s DAR badge. I’ve never seen an SAR badge before, and I had a look on the pedia of wiki.

Unsurprisingly, the SAR consists of those who are lineally descended from someone who aided the American cause during the revolution. Interestingly, this can include people from France and other foreign nations. The wiki page, which I presume to have been written by someone sympathetic to the society, is at pains to distinguish the more democratic SAR (founded 1889) from the Sons of the Revolution (founded 1876) “an aristocratic social and hereditary organization” and “exclusive social club.” If you’re a member of one, you can’t be a member of the other.

Theodore Roosevelt signed the SAR congressional charter, and the pedia lists many US presidents who were members, and a few (Cleveland, Nixon, Clinton, Obama) who were eligible but never joined. Churchill (yes, that one) is claimed as a member (through his mother, I suppose), and Henry Louis Gates, jr., and (gulp) Normal Vincent Peale.

The Waldo monument, which is very recent, exhibits an army veteran badge I’ve not seen before in the form of a folded flag. Garrett Arbogast, who sadly lived not quite a year, merits mention because his commemorators avoided cliché in calling him a “Gentle Conqueror.” The Chauncey monument with its Uraeus is the only example of Egyptian imagery I saw.

Hugh Charles Smith (1804-1854) has an interesting long inscription with an added quote from 1 Corinthians: “From early life a professed follower of our Lord, he met the approaches of death with resignation. In his last hours when suffering the pangs of expiring nature, his language was ‘Not my will, but thine be done.’ For this corruptible must put on incorruption,” etc. The use of quotation marks clarifies that he did not go on for a paragraph during his expiration; his commemorators added the famous “death is swallowed up in victory” quotation. I read this as congruent with what Drew Gilpin Faust describes as ‘the good death’ in This Republic of Suffering.

Saint Paul has also been summoned to the monument of Seabury Denison Smith, who is recalled as having been a member of Company H, 17th Virginia Regiment. Smith was right in the demographic sweet spot for volunteers and draftees in the Civil War, having been born in 1841. At his death in 1892 his participation in the great conflagration appears still to have been (or nostalgically seemed to him) the greatest moment of his life, given his emphasis on his rank and unit and the C.S.A. that heads the tombstone. I sniff a bit of polemic in his quotation of Paul’s “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” It’s quite conventional, but in the Civil War context of this stone the first line comes across as pointed.

Confederate officers are not hard to find in Virginia cemeteries of a certain age. Eli Hamilton Harney, “Major, C.S.A. Attached to the Staff of Gen. Robert E. Lee” is the highest ranking officer I saw in Ivy Hill, and he, too, has a subscript which seems to me polemical in context despite its conventionality: “His work was a benefaction which itself will constitute his worthiest memorial.”

From a major in the C.S.A. to a Sturmbannführer in the SS: Wernher von Braun. No polemics here, and no flashy monument for an ex-Nazi, even if he did historically significant work later for the U.S. space program. The reference to Psalm 19:1 (“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handywork”) might be understood both as appropriate to a rocketeer, and for a man who converted first to (reportedly heartfelt) evangelical Christianity after the war, and then to Episcopalianism.

The stones on von Braun’s monument are common throughout this cemetery on gentile graves. I had thought it a Jewish custom to leave visitation stones, but it’s clearly more widely spread than I thought. I saw no coins except on this grave, though I’ve seen them elsewhere, most recently numerous pennies in the Oak Hill Cemetery near Rock Creek in the (open, barred) vault where Willie Lincoln (son of the president) was originally interred.

Carroll Mausoleum, Oak Hill Cemetery, Georgetown. Detail: plaque to Willie Lincoln and Lincoln pennies on the floor. Photo: author.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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