oak hill cemetery

As I start gearing up for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler round two (hopefully followed by a half marathon in Charlottesville a few weeks later!), I’ve been doing a lot of running along the Rock Creek parkway.  One of my turn-around points is this quaint little bridge, and a few weeks ago I noticed for the first time that the bridge actually lines the back side of a cemetery.  On each of my runs since then, I’ve been looking closer and closer trying to get more details of what lies behind the ivy-covered cemetery fence. 

Simply looking was not enough to satiate my curiousity, so I embarked on an intense Google search for more information.  The cemetery is actually called Oak Hill and is a sprawling, romantic place that was established in 1848 by Mr. Corcoran (of The Corcoran Gallery fame, which, p.s., has a STUNNING Degas exhibit in town right now).  The website describes the cemetery as “a major example of the 19th Century Romantic movement, the natural and not formal English garden, an acceptance and blending of nature rather than a geometrical imposition.” 

Of course, I had to visit.  I went on the first Friday I had off that offered decent weather, and was lucky that my friend who owns a real camera was interested in accompanying me.  (No more iPhone pictures, yay!) 

{click on any of the images to make them bigger!}

Oak Hill is beyond beautiful.  It has all these cracked stone paths and crumbling gravestones, and I think because it had been sunny all week, teeny little flowers were starting to bloom all over.  It was quiet in the way that places warranting respect tend to be, and I felt my mind immediately go calm.  There were intricate wrought iron benches tucked away throughout the cemetery, and I could easily picture myself on one of them, curled up with a book on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

In an eerie way, I find cemeteries to be very romantic.  One gravestone of a soldier who had died in the Civil War was etched with: “For all eternity, I will love you.”  What a searingly beautiful tribute to your relationship–we should all be so lucky to have someone write that on our gravestones! 

Even wilted flowers seemed so tender resting on a tombstone, a remnant of a visitor who had been thinking about someone they lost. 

We saw an old couple wandering the cracked paths, him in a three piece suit and a cane, her in a lovely black pillbox hat and gloves, and simply observing them, I felt like I was infringing upon the most private of moments; they had an obvious connection to the cemetery and I couldn’t help but wonder who they were visiting. 

I am in no way an expert on cemeteries, but it seemed to me that Oak Hill had some extraordinary details in its’ graves, perhaps because of the era in which it was founded.  I particularly loved the gravestones that had been worn away by rain and were thus unreadable, they lent such an air of mystery to who was buried there.

I was drawn to the intricacies of the stones, and wondered if such handiwork can still be found in headstones today.

Death is actually what I am most afraid of.  I try to never think about it, because it makes me extremely anxious.  It’s funny a little because doing things where I have a chance of dying, like skydiving, doesn’t scare me at all; rather, I relish those activities.  But the actual thought of being dead is really tough for me to wrap my head around.  Sometimes I think about my life and how it is so much to lose–it scares me and I start to worry a lot. 

Just a little pause for introspection here, sorry.

This is the Corcoran mausoleum (the guy who founded the cemetery, if you remember from earlier). He lost almost all of his sons in WWII. The mausoleum was designed by one of the architects of the U.S. Capitol.

I thought these flowers in the tree were so striking, such a pop of color against all the gray. I wonder if someone planted them in the hole, or if the seends were blown there over time and grew all on their own.

Oak Hill has a very eclectic list of people who call it their final resting place. Notables include Jefferson Davis and his infant son; Bettie Duvall, a confederate spy who hid messages in her hair; Joseph K. Barnes, the surgeon who attended President Lincoln on the night of his assassination; Joseph Henry, who discovered electromagnetism; and Dean Acheson, President Truman’s Secretary of State. Unfortunately I didn’t print out the cemetery map beforehand, so I didn’t actually get to see any of these graves. Next time, though.

Do you enjoy spending time in cemeteries?  I’ve been thinking about Oak Hill ever since I went, and I’m surprised by how much I feel like I miss it.  I bet that would change if I was actually going to visit someone, but maybe not. 

I hope you enjoy your week.  It’s been staying light outside later and later, which THRILLS me.  I think spring is just around the corner.


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