Friday, May 25, 2018

Congressional Cemetery, dogs, and communicating with the Dead

I cannot imagine that one of you reading this has not had some type of desire to establish contact with the spirit world at some point in your life. It is a natural human desire to believe or even hope that there is more after this.

Spiritualism is just that. It is the belief that communication extends beyond this world and into the next. In America, it began in the 1840s. Mark Lause argues, in Free Spirits, “[Spiritualism] grew from the boredom of two youngsters who started entertaining each other…” These girls were the Fox Sisters who, learning of stories that their own house was haunted, popped their toes on the wooden floors to make rapping sounds, which they allowed others to believe were spirits communicating with them. The stories of these communications with the spirit world took on a life of itself. The proximity of those seeking religious reform helped create a perfect storm.

While I am fascinated by this, I am also a skeptic. My seeking is more for fun, certainly not to disprove anything. Yet, I have had my share of weird communication from the other side including a “show” in Eureka Springs in 2016 where Juliana Fey connected with the spirit world enough to give me the chills. You can read all about it if you’re interested (just click on the linked text above).

I have been thinking about Spiritualists this week because I am teaching a summer course on cemeteries. Instead of communicating with the dead, I am communicating about the dead and about our historic cemeteries. 

One of our visits is to Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Established in 1807, Congressional Cemetery is one of my all-time favorite cemeteries, and not just because it is overrun with dogs. I have to admit that that helps though. It is one of the liveliest and most-energetic places in the district. The people there are social and friendly, as are their K-9 companions. Before you scoff at the idea of dogs in a cemetery, I invite you to read up on how they pretty much saved the place, along with a group of human volunteers.

Congressional Cemetery offers several self-guided walking tours including one that focuses on their LGBT section. They also have yoga, 10K events, and a movie night. If I lived nearby, I would be there weekly for sure.

Another reason that I adore Congressional Cemetery is that they have a book club called Tombs and Toms. They also have a blog, which I follow and where I discovered that Spiritualists are buried within the cemetery. In 2015, they wrote about these individuals; and, their walking tour “Women of Arts and Letters” mentions two Spiritualists who visited the White House to conduct seances.  

Now when I visit Congressional Cemetery, I visit a few of the Spiritualists who reside there.

Using the expression “translated” implies a belief in spiritualism while noting one’s position as president explicitly shares one’s belief. 

It is not just the epitaphs in cemeteries that communicate  messages. The graves communicate visual messages about the health of the cemetery. While I was there, volunteers were planting annuals. Clearly someone is tending to those markers in danger of being lost to nature. What a difference a year makes! Below, a blue stone was nearly covered when I saw it last year. This year, it has been unearthed. It's a beautiful marker for Warwick Martin.

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