Congressional Cemetery Historic District

This graveyard is among the most notable resting places for early American historical figures and has since become important to the LGBTQ+ community.

The original four and one-half acre tract of Congressional Cemetery was purchased from the Government for $200 on April 4, 1807 as a private burial ground. On March 30, 1812, several years after Christ Church was built, Ingle, one of the buyers, deeded this tract to the church under the name of "The Washington Parish Burial Ground." On May 30, 1849, the vestry changed the name to "Washington Cemetery" which is its correct name today, although it has long been known as Congressional Cemetery because of its associations with the national legislature.

Congressional Cemetery's original plot, east and south of the Superintendent's lodge, contains many of the oldest and most interesting graves. Of particular note are the two large groupings of cenotaphs, one on the east side of the square, and one on the west. These cenotaphs, reportedly designed by Benjamin Latrobe, consist of square sandstone blocks on sandstone slabs and surmounted by short segments of columns topped with a squat cone.

From the time of its establishment in 1807 until the end of the Civil War, three Presidents, two Vice Presidents, seventy-five Senators and Representatives, as well as many high-ranking executive, judicial and military officers and Native Americans were interred in Congressional Cemetery. There are perhaps more early historical figures buried within this "American Westminster Abbey" than in any other cemetery in the country.

LGBTQ+ History

Congressional Cemetery is also home to an LGBTQ+ section known as “Gay Corner” — one of the only cemeteries in the world to have one. Leonard Matlovich was the first to be buried in this section. Matlovich was a closeted Air Force Sergeant who became the face of a Time magazine cover in 1975, following Dr. Franklin Kameny’s search for a case to test the military’s ban on gay service members. Matlovich’s name is not inscribed on his headstone. Instead, the headstone proclaims: “A Gay Vietnam Veteran: When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” Alongside Malovich are other LGBTQ+ figures, such as Kameny and Barbara Gittings, both of whom were leading activists against the federal government’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies, as well as Alain LeRoy Locke, a prominent 20th century African American philosopher.

DC Inventory: November 8, 1964 (Joint Committee on Landmarks)
National Register: June 23, 1969
National Historic Landmark: June 14, 2011

This is a stop on the DC's LGBTQ+ History Tour.

For more information about DC's LGBTQ History, please see the Historic Context Statement for Washington’s LGBTQ Resources.



Congressional Cemetery, cenotaph marking grave where John Quincy Adams was once buried, taken from southwest, April 1969tif / 2.50 MB Download
General overview of Congressional Cemetery with rows of cenotaphs in the middle ground, 1964tif / 2.74 MB Download


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