Congressional Cemetery goes to the dogs

Congressional Cemetery is nice in the fall. The air is crisp. There are pretty colors. You can hear car stereos and police sirens, but only as background noise behind the rustling of leaves. The one thing taking away from the scene is a dog peeing on my father’s tombstone.

Unfortunately for Congressional Cemetery’s markers, dog urine has become a common problem. The cemetery has lately been filled with dogs. Over 450 dog owners are registered to use the cemetery, which amounts to over 650 dogs. The dog-walking crowd is credited with helping make the cemetery nice again through donations and volunteer work. The grass is mowed, the litter is gone and the graves are tidy.

But you can’t walk 10 feet without noticing an unmistakable drippy stain on somebody’s tombstone. Some people think it’s inappropriate that dogs are romping here at all, in this sacred place next to the D.C. Jail in Southeast Capitol Hill.

“It’s getting to be too much for the grounds,” says Patrick Crowley, board chairman of the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery. “We’re now concerned about maintaining the cemetery both as a physical and as a sacred space.”

The cemetery’s popularity is partly due to the fact that D.C. suffers from a shortage of enclosed places where dogs can run off-leash. City law says dogs must be leashed at all times in public, but several parks on the Hill and around town have become de facto doggie areas. Some dog owners have wanted to keep quiet and let things stay this way, while others have been pushing for the city to make rules that will allow for the creation of official dog parks.

The District proposed rules earlier this year that most people thought were overly restrictive. After a lengthy public comment period, the Department of Parks and Recreation on Oct. 12 released revised guidelines that satisfy the pro-dog park crowd.

“I’m pretty psyched,” says Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commission member Bill Schultheiss, whose entire career as a neighborhood servant has been driven by the dog park goal. “I’ve been working on this for three and a half years.”

Schultheiss can’t retire yet, though. Some of the most popular parks for Hill dogs — such as Lincoln and Stanton parks — are federal property. In contrast, Congressional Cemetery is privately owned, despite its name, and the National Park Service so far has not been interested in accommodating dogs.

“I want the congressmen who live here to look at the issue of the National Park Service’s relationship to the citizens of urban areas where they own land,” says Schultheiss, who believes Lincoln Park shouldn’t be subject to the same rules as Yellowstone. “It’s not fair.”

Still, the new guidelines for dog parks on District-owned land are good news for Congressional Cemetery’s registered dog-owning patrons. They might need a new place to go, after all: Crowley says his board is considering capping membership.

Maybe it’s good news for my father’s tombstone, although the man himself probably wouldn’t mind the canines. He had a sense of humor — he used to say of one of Congressional Cemetery’s most famous residents: “Here lies John Philip Sousa, decomposing.”

And this year, a new tombstone moved next to Delaney’s, for one John William Fulcher. According to the inscription, Mr. Fulcher is “At Home with the Dogs.”


An evening of topical humor


There were plenty of good jokes at Southeastern University’s eighth annual fundraiser gala at the Hilton Washington Hotel, most of them inscrutable to anybody not immersed in local politics. For the uninitiated, WRC-TV (Channel 4) reporter and master of ceremonies Tom Sherwood had this to offer:

“How do you know you’re in bed with a snowman? You wake up wet.”

If anybody has information on what this joke means, please e-mail:

Titled “As the District Turns: A Humorous Spin on the City We Love,” the gala brought in about $600,000 for the private university, which is located in Southwest D.C. (not Southeast). The event featured songs, dances, and skits by local politicos, entrepreneurs and TV reporters. Southeastern president and former D.C. Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis encouraged attendees at the $250-per-ticket gala to open their hearts and wallets for scholarship funds and facilities improvements at the school. 

Most of the humor was pretty tame, except for two drug jokes directed at former mayor and current Ward 8 D.C. Councilmember Marion Barry. Council Chairman Vincent Gray read a series of actual statements uttered on the council dais, including one Barry gem, from a speech on children, that everyone should get “a piece of the rock.”

In a video message for the event’s 900 attendees, presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said she regretted that she couldn’t attend.

“I’m not able to cackle alongside you this evening because I’m being held in an undisclosed location by Eleanor Holmes Norton.”

Clinton also expressed interest in local real estate, noting that she had her eye “on a little house downtown” with “off-street parking for a helicopter.”

For her part, Del. Norton (D-D.C.) told the audience that she had obtained an updated list of names from the alleged D.C. Madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey. Thank God for the Madam, Norton said — some of the senators opposed to D.C. representation may soon be heading to scandal rehab, and it could pay off for the city. “I think we’ve got those three votes we need for D.C. voting rights!”


Don’t tread on me


The quickest way from point A to point B is a straight line. That’s why every day hundreds of people cut across the lawn next to the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building by Union Station. This summer, like every summer, foot traffic killed all the grass in a straight line between points A and B. But this year groundskeepers are putting up a fight. First came bigger “Keep off” signs, then, for a short period, orange fences went up as a strip of new sod took root.

“People have been taking shortcuts across lawns in every community in America since the dawn of time,” says David Sellers, spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the largest tenant of the building. “All we’re trying to do is not re-sod every other week.”

The goal, then, is to change the course of American history. There have always been small “Keep off the grass” signs around the Massachusetts Avenue lawn, and scofflaws have always ignored them. But on a recent afternoon, people were observed respecting the new grass and keeping to the sidewalks.


Unannounced evacuation drills ahead


As a courtesy to the locals, the Library of Congress notified southeast Capitol Hill’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission that sometime this week thousands of librarians will storm the neighborhood.

“Please be aware that the Library of Congress will be conducting two unannounced evacuation drills in the next two weeks (Oct. 22-31),” the notice says. “Each drill is expected to occur between 10 a.m. and noon, and will involve the evacuation of 2,000-3,000 people from the Library to the parks in the neighborhood for 1-2 hours.”

“Of course, announcing unannounced evacuation drills has its ups and downs,” writes Library spokesman John Sayers in an e-mail. “We did really want to give the neighborhood a heads-up when we know in advance that a couple thousand Library employees go walking through the streets.”