Congress

The Congressional Cemetery: Forgotten and Found

View of the Congressional Cemetery in the 1930s

In the 1970s, the Congressional Cemetery was in trouble. After years of neglect, it looked abandoned: broken headstones littered the ground, family vaults caved in, and the grass was waist high. Fifty years later, the cemetery has undergone a stunning transformation. As well as being an active burial ground, it serves as a community garden, urban wildlife sanctuary, place of remembrance, and historic site. Volunteers, many from the local Capitol Hill neighborhoods, work tirelessly to keep up the grounds and reverse the damage of decades past. Because, as it turns out, the Congressional Cemetery has always been a people’s effort. Despite its official-sounding name, and despite its importance to national history, its story is much more local.

Commissioner Melvin Hazen and William Van Duzer, putting the first nickel in the parking meters ordered by Congress for a test in Washington in November 1938.

When Parking Meters Were a Hot Controversy in Washington

Washington, D.C., has 17,000 parking meters, and the necessity of feeding them is one of those annoyances that urban drivers grudgingly accept. Though it may be difficult to fathom today, there was a time in the early 20th century when the idea of collecting fees for parking spaces was opposed by the American Automobile Association and motorists who saw it as unfair taxation. As a result, it took several years to get approval to install the first meters on District streets.

 

Cooling Off in the Tidal Basin

Swimmers of all ages enjoy the Tidal Basin Bathing Beach in 1922.

The National Building Museum’s new indoor beach may be making headlines, but it’s not D.C.’s first seashore. For a period of time between 1918 and 1925, Washingtonians dipped into the Tidal Basin to experience some summertime heat relief. Now I know what you’re thinking: you couldn’t pay me to swim in that water today. But with a serious lack of public pools, and no air conditioning, citizens back then were pretty desperate.

Bread Kneaded on Capitol Hill

Union soldiers billeted at the Capitol practice drills in 1861. (Photo source: Library of Congress)

As congressmen convened for a special session in July 1861, they were welcomed into the Capitol by the smell of baking bread. Just months into the Civil War, the building had already seen thousands of troops pass through its doors, and now it was the site of one of the largest bakeries the world had ever known. Twenty ovens, each with the capacity of holding hundreds of loaves of bread, were housed in the basement, and multitudes of men spent hours tending yeast and kneading dough. Having been in recess for less than four months, the congressmen were astounded, and some even annoyed, with this new mammoth bakery occupying their space. But a lot had changed for the country – and for the Capitol – in that short period of time.

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