Flee the British at Congressional Cemetery

On August 25, 1814, British forces marched into Washington DC and set fire to the White House, U.S. Capitol, and other federal buildings.  Whatever you may think of the current occupants of those buildings, this was not a good thing.

In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the event, Congressional Cemetery in DC sponsored the Flee the British 5K.  Best. Race. Ever.

The race began with British troops firing their rifles. Or muskets.  Or whatever those things are.

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Dolley Madison, wearing a pair of orange running shoes but riding on the back of a golf cart, took off.  Did you know that the painting that she saved from the White House (which now hangs in the East Room) wasn’t even the original? The original hangs in the Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.  Gilbert Stuart, who painted the original, also made several copies of  the work.  The White House version was one of the copies. They know the copies from the originals because, on the copies, Stuart purposely misspelled the title on the books that are under the table in the picture.

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The runners chased after Dolley and British soldiers chased after the runners.

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There were also British soldiers stationed at points along the race route, taunting the runners.  “Your houses are burning,” shouted this one.  “Why are you running?”

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Congressional Cemetery started in 1807 as the burying ground for the local Anglican church.  For reasons now unknown — though it probably had to do with its location on Capitol Hill and the fact that prominent citizens (Thomas Jefferson, George Washington) attended services there — it was, from the start, the final resting place of choice for congressmen and other government official who died while in office.

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It went into more-than-a-few years of disrepair from the early 19th century through the mid 20th.  They say that it was FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s funeral in 1972, in the derelict and overgrown property, that prompted action.  Today, it’s upkeep is the responsibility of a nonprofit, called the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery.  I must say, they do an awesome job.

Anyone can purchase a plot there and there’s a dazzling variety of grave markers cum modern art works.

Its 35 fenced acres is also a dog park. For $225 a year plus $50 a dog (for up to 3 dogs per family), plus mandatory volunteer hours, a family can run their dogs in the cemetery leash free.  There’s a waiting list of dogs to join the park.

The cemetery sponsors several races a year, to raise funds for cemetery upkeep.  The next 5K is around Halloween.  It’s  called Dead Man’s Run.

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8 Responses to Flee the British at Congressional Cemetery

  1. m19flanagan says:

    I loved this cemetery! We went last fall and really enjoyed walking around on a chilly, gloomy, late October day. It definitely put me in the Halloween spirit!

  2. Seems the staff at the British Embassy in Washington overdid the celebration – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-28929626

  3. This sounds like a really fun race! And the British embassy tweet – hilarious! I agree, people need to lighten up…

  4. Kathie Shattuck says:

    Recently PBS had a segment where they ‘covered’ the invasion of Washington and the burning of the unfinished Capital building and the White House as they would have – if they had been there. Really interesting! Have always loved the story about how Dolley courageously loaded up as much as she could save. But somehow we never include that they did this in revenge for the Americans having burned the Canadian Capital the year before.

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