Friday Question of the Day – Is it Disrespectful to Run/Jog in a Cemetery?

Photo by PoPville flickr user hellomarkers!

This week’s question is a reader request:

“I live on the NE/NW border and am looking for some new running routes. The Glenwood cemetery is a large area of land that is open during daylight hours, but their website is not clear about a running and jogging policy. I have known of some cemeteries that permit this, given that you do not interfere with any ongoing funerals or processions.

What do people think about running in a cemetery? It is generally okay or is it disrespectful?”

While we once spoke about dog walking in a cemetery – do you think it’s ok to run in one?

140 Comment

  • Absolutely disrespectful. I would never consider running in a cemetery, and would be horrified if I saw someone doing it.

  • I thought Homeland settled this debate?

  • Disrespectful and disgraceful. Whether there is a funeral/processional or not, someone is usually there mourning a loved one. Surely, you can find a new route that doesn’t involve running through a cemetery.

  • I might find it unusual, but not disrespectful. Running can be a time of contemplation just as a mourner may be interested in time for contemplation. Cemetery might be a good place to do this… Many are often well maintained with beautiful trees/gardens. If the runner starts bringing friends and has loud conversations while in the cemetery… Then disrespectful.

  • In bad taste, it’s a big enough city. Find somewhere else to jog.

  • I used to live in the same area and would run in glenwood in the morning. Had the same concerns, but never saw a person there, except once, when two people were meeting each other and it didn’t appear to be related to a grave–they had some sort of trunk exchange (like in a movie) and then one guy sped off. it was pretty funny, but with the desolation my biggest caution against running in glenwood is that it is easy to be victimized. second biggest concern is that there isn’t a good place to actually run — you have to mix running the perimeter in some spots with running the narrow curvy hilly roads with bad visibility in others if you don’t want to run on the actual graves, which creeps me out. for the folks that find it offensive to run here, I completely understand, but I think running here is less disrespectful than say, running downtown on the sidewalk during the business day.

    • Context is really key – this isn’t a “one or the other” kind of issue. Dead people don’t care if you’re running, but mourners could. If it’s an old cemetery without a lot of visitors, you’re probably safe. If you see someone at a gravesite, turn around or avoid them and give them their space.

  • Wha?!?! These people are dead. If there is an active burial service – yeah, probably avoid it, but ppl jog and back in the day used to bike around Arlington National Cemetery – and Congressional is a DOG PARK – and is having a Goblin Run next weekend. Getting drunk, leaving booze bottles and pissing on graves ….that’s disrespectful – but jogging is not. I used to work at a funeral home/cemetery – we’d take joggers over drunks any day of the week.

    • Can we please not turn everything into a place that we use for our own purposes? People might be surprised how uplifting it feels to give respect to deserving people and places.

      • So cemeteries should be locked up all the time and only open to those with family members buried there? Is it different if I take a leisurely stroll through one rather than jogging?

        This insistence that burial plots are to be left only to the dead residents out of “respect” is a curiously modern phenomenon. Years ago when people lived most of their lives a few miles from where they would eventually be buried, families used to spend their leisure time IN the cemeteries. Walking around, socializing, having picnics. It was a way to keep the memory of the deceased alive and remain part of the community. That’s a pretty noble goal, right? Or should we just leave the names of the dead isolated and forgotten?

      • “Can we please not turn everything into a place that we use for our own purposes?”
        I think this is how a well-functioning city works, ideally. But in order for that to happen everyone needs to be respectful of how others are using the space as well and act accordingly.

        • Cemeteries need to have people goto them. Few people really visit, but people going to a cemetery for walking, running, dog walking, picnics, etc. gives an opportunity to see those who are passed. After time, relatives stop going. I’ve walked my dog dozens of times in Prospect Hill Cemetery. No many relatives are left to visit, which will eventually happen at all Cemeteries but being there allows me to read the markers of all the German Immigrants buried there and at least read and try to understand who these people were.

          • See, you’re a good example of someone using the cemetery for your own purposes but being respectful to others who are there specifically to visit a grave. Assuming your dog is quiet and well-behaved and you pick up after him, of course!

      • Victorians used to picnic in ceemteries and these were pearl clutchers who covered the legs of pianos for decency.

        Highbrow, garden cemeteries (the old high end places from the turn of the 20th century) often promote themselves, using their botanical diversity.

        Get a grip. There are all kinds of respectible uses of these places.

  • It’s strictly and specifically prohibited at Arlingtion National Cemetary, which is probably a good model of how to treat cemeteries. Alternatively, I think about it like going to church in terms of what you should wear and how you should act.

    • Not sure Arlington is a good model regarding jogging policy. They banned it because it borders Ft. Myer and a lot of military personnel were using the cemetery for jogging, so it wasn’t an occasional lone jogger. And there are still multiple burials a day at Arlington, with the honor guard and all the ceremony of a military funeral, so it’s a little different than most other cemeteries.

  • This was also discussed on Shut Up + Run: I agree with her points: If there is a funeral procession or a sign explicitly prohibiting running, it’s better to stay away. The important thing is to be respectful of your surroundings.

  • It doesn’t particularly bother me, but then again it’s not my land. You don’t have the right to jog anywhere you want, so if it bothers people who actually have the right to be there, go find somewhere else.

    • What do you mean by “people who actually have the right to be there?’ Of course, mourners have a “better” reason to be there, but it doesn’t mean joggers don’t have the right to be there, as well.

  • Good grief. As long as you aren’t interrupting a burial service, who cares.

    All these comments about it being disrespectful are ridiculous! Cemeteries worldwide are tourist attractions for goodness sake! Have you people never been to New Orleans? Hordes of tourists visit the cemeteries there. How is a gaggle of tourists snapping photos and tour guides giving tours more respectful than a lone jogger running through? Same goes for Savannah where cemeteries are part of a city park.

    • Emmaleigh504

      +1 Some people even have picnics in cemeteries, like on All Saints Day. Just be respectful of funerals.

    • I think it depends on the culture of the cemetery. Some are known tourist attractions. Usually those ones are the sites of the long-departed who don’t have visiting friends or family anymore.
      And in some parts of the world it’s normal for people eat, dance, or do whatever near the graves of loved ones.
      But in most US cemeteries where the recently-departed are buried, the visitors are seeking, and expecting a reasonable degree of, peace and quiet.

  • justinbc

    I see nothing wrong with it, as long as you’re staying on the provided paths. I also don’t believe in an afterlife though, so I’m rather indifferent about rotting corpses.

    • I am too, but I do care about the people that care about the rotting corpses.

      • justinbc

        Agreed. So many of these huge DC cemeteries though are never/rarely visited by family, and are filled with bodies from the 1800s. I actually think that’s part of their charm, it’s more history than actual mourning.

        • I was referring more to the cemeteries where people are actively visiting the graves of loved ones and might not appreciate some fitness maniac disrupting their quiet moment. That’s where I have a problem with joggers. In an old historic cemetery I think it’s ok.

          • justinbc

            It seems like in DC though the only ones with enough land to actually get a useful jog out of are the more historic ones. I can’t imagine any of the ones built in the last few decades providing more than 5 minutes worth of run time, and even that wouldn’t be very scenic.

          • You’re probably right.

  • If I were in a cemetery, I would want there to be life around. I think it’s awesome that Congressional has all the dogs.

    Run there if you want.

    • Sounds as if you have never been in a cemetery.

    • Sorry, if I were buried in a cemetery…

      • I agree. How lame to be buried in a place where you are visited/acknowledged only a couple times a year? Would much rather it be a happy and utilized, if respected, place.

    • Exactly! Me too! Kids having picnics, and by all means: bring the dogs! I mean; the cats, squirrels, birds and the rest all come do their business, so what’s a little dog pee? I used to walk my dogs in RCC cemetary – used to augment their groundskeepers by picking up a lot of trash too! I almost NEVER ran into a burial and only occasionally mouners. I picked up the poo (and other stuff) and generally just enjoyed the space (helped myself to a beer left at Tim Russert’s bench). This is the most respectful way to treat the dead – to continue life.

  • I run in Glenwood all the time. The few times I’ve met the actual caretakers on the grounds we’ve exchanged pleasantries. If they had a problem with it I would imagine they wouldn’t be so friendly. I often also stop to admire some of the gorgeous grave sites and monuments. I think people and families of those who are buried there would think that strangers learning a little bit about them wouldn’t be disrespectful. Plus, where else in DC can you see a giant dragon statue carved out of a tree trunk!

  • In a city with so few safe and pedestrian friendly places, it would be crazy to not jog in a beautiful old cemetery. Why is spending time in a cemetery disrespectful just because someone is jogging? I never see anyone. It’s like I am the only one visiting anymore.

  • wOw. “their website is not clear about a running and jogging policy” That’s because there are just some things you never even imagine having to address. LOL I can’t even form an opinion because it’s not even something you think about. i guess I agree with Anonymous 10:57–it’s UNUSUAL but not disrespectful. As long as you’re quietly running, minding your business and not doing leg stretches on someone’s tombstone.

  • When I was a kid, I used to rollerblade in the town cemetary all the time. It was the only place with decent paved paths. I don’t see why running would be any different as long as you’re not running through the middle of a funeral. Not so sure why everyone is so up in arms, they sound like a bunch of old farts to me.

  • If you have to ask, its probably not the best idea. But you’ll probably be able to get a straight up/down answer from the cemetery itself, so that’s the best place to start if this is something you want to do. That said, I don’t think its inherently disrespectful, but I realize there are some people out there who would find it disrespectful.. and its much more likely that you’ll encounter those people in the cemetery than me. I guess the real question is: If you are running in the cemetery and someone expresses their view to you that you’re being disrespectful, will you tell that person that you asked around on PoP and the general sentiment was that it wouldn’t be disrespectful?

  • If you think it’s disrespectful, don’t do it.

    If you don’t think it’s disrespectful, go ahead.

    • Yep, perfectly ok to “go ahead” with anything as long as YOU believe its ok……nothing wrong w/ that way of thinking at all………………………

      • If the only victims are people with pretentious attitudes, yes, go ahead. As evident by people posting here, people have different cultures, customs, and perceptions of what is respectful and what is not. You can’t live your life worrying if anything you do is going to offend somebody, cause odds are, whatever it is, it will.

  • Cemeteries are also places where we celebrate lives lived. In some churches the order of a burial or memorial service is called “a service of thanksgiving.” In some countries, people picnic or stroll their baby carriages in cemeteries. I would want my loved ones to carry on normally and happily after I’m gone – if it means jogging past my headstone or sitting on a nearby bench with a good book..

    • But it ain’t your loved one, dear. it’s some selfish person in tech clothing wearing earbuds. Big difference.

      • So only relatives can pay respect to the dead or make use of land adjacent to where they are buried? I’d want as many people as possible to (quietly) enjoy the land where I am laid to rest. Your community isn’t only made up of your extended family.

        • “I’d want as many people as possible to (quietly) enjoy the land where I am laid to rest.”

          And jogging doesn’t fit into that category.

          • justinbc

            How loud do you think jogging is?

          • It’s not the loudness but the nature of the noise. Have you never been startled by a jogger coming up from behind, especially in a place where you weren’t expecting it?

          • justinbc

            No. I mean if joggers want to be total DBs and start charging at people standing around in the cemetery then yeah, I could see that being annoying. But most cemeteries are laid out in open expanses, and it sounds like this guy/gal is already cautious about being there so I would imagine they wouldn’t have that mentality.

          • I haven’t been to the cemetery in question, but a lot of the ones I’ve been to have graves close to the main paths.

  • How would you feel if you were at the cemetery visiting a grave? Personally I’d be bothered by a jogger if I were there trying to pay my respects to a loved one. Picnics and quiet dogs would be comforting, but joggers are disruptive. As with anything else, you need to think about how others might feel. I think it would be okay if no one was there, or you could take a route that avoids coming near any mourners, but otherwise I wouldn’t do it.

  • I run in Rock Creek Cemetery all the time. Checked with the caretaker once and she said it was fine.

  • My general rule is, if I have to ask if something is disrespectful (or illegal), I generally don’t do it. Stick to your old running routes or find one that doesn’t go through a cemetary.

    For one thing, imagine how you might scare the daylights out of someone when you suddenly come run towards them from around a bend at a cemetary?

  • Next you are going to tell me I can’t pray in school!

  • My grandmother is buried in Glenwood Cemetery. I don’t mind the runners and I don’t think she would either.

  • I don’t have a hard time with death; it happens, people die. god forbid when someone has to spend money on my corpse. Ash me up and pay respects at home if you so desire and create more parks with cemetery land. just my opinion, I guess I can;t relate to people that need to go see a grave

  • I grew up a few houses away from a cemetery in the DC area and people ran and walked in it all the time. No one seemed to consider it disrespectful. However, when there was a funeral or people were clearly there mourning or grieving, runners/walkers gave them a wide berth as this particular cemetery was large enough and with long enough vistas that you could see what was going on across a wide expanse and plan accordingly. It worked for everyone, for decades. Probably still does, I just don’t know as I haven’t been there in a while.

  • I live near Glenwwood too. It has BEAUTIFUL views from up there. Walking dogs I can see as not good, as dogs never just walk, they are gonna do something else, which is the disrespectful part.

    If there is a funeral going on, never ok to put yourself in the situation for any reason unless you are at the funeral, so no go there, but otherwise, I think it is ok. I walk through there all the time. It is quiet and peaceful and beautiful, especially in the fall. Caretakers drive through every once in a while to see who is in there but they have never stopped to say anything to me about it. This cemetery is really old and rarely has new burials, and if so they are almost always in the far rear of the property so very easy to avoid it.

    I say use common sense, be respectful, and enjoy the place paying homage to all the lives that came before you as you do.

  • Well, for starters, it’s private property. It’s private property where people go to peacefully mourn. A lot of responses seem to focus on the need for open green space for activities such as jogging and dog walking. That’s what public parks are for. So to me, a big part of the “respect” issue is that it’s not appropriate/respectful to use someone else’s property however you might like to – just because it’s inviting and appears “empty”. If you wouldn’t go running on someone’s private estate or private golf course, or country club grounds, why would it be okay to run in a cemetery? So I’d leave it up to the cemetery to set the policy — to invite people in for recreational activities — rather that assume that it’s okay just because it’s an inviting space.
    I’m leaning in the direction of running in a cemetery being disrespectful — because it’s turning what, in my mind, should be a place of reverence and peace into a playground. And because we live in an era when if you give people an inch, they tend to take a mile — and argue about their rights to do so. So walking quietly then opens the door to flinging frisbees during a funeral.

    • “So walking quietly then opens the door to flinging frisbees during a funeral.” Hi straw man, how ya doin”?

      • Walking quietly opens the door to walking with a bunch of friends talking quietly, which opens the door to jogging with a bunch of people talking loudly, which opens the door to packs of people acting like they’re in a playground. Sorry, I thought most people would have the imagination and the experience to fill in the blanks for themselves.

        • Right, and now that gay marriage is becoming more widely accepted people are TOTALLY going to think it’s OK to start f*cking their dogs. I’m sure you have the imagination and experience with our society to fill in the blanks on that logical progression.

        • I say ride the slippery slope all the way down: After frisbees, it’s just one more step to Burning Man II right in the middle of the cemetery–drugs, costumes, taco trucks, you name it. After that, we’re looking at uncontrolled chemistry experiments and finally, Jonestown II–all right in this little cemetery, all because of a few selfish joggers. Take your running shorts elsewhere, good sirs!

          • Emmaleigh504

            I want to be buried in the Burning Man II graveyard. That sounds awesome! Throw some Mardi Gras beads on my ginormous angel on top of a table tombstone and have a party. /totally serious

          • saf

            I love your username.

            Also, I live cemeteries and think that treating them as garden parks is good. Walk, jog, picnic. Just don’t act like crazy people.

        • Anyone else going to BYT’s Tweed Zombie 80s Dance Party in Rock Creek Cemetary this weekend?

  • Congressional cemetery is hosting a run next weekend and it allows dogs to play off leashes. Also, Arlington Cemetery has a number of power walkers there on lunch time breaks (closer to the Marine Corps Memorials than main entrance). If there are no signs explicitly forbidding it, I think running is OK in the cemetery as long as you stick to the roads are not interrupting services.

  • I used to live in Ventura, CA and there’s a huge open park there that overlooks the ocean. It’s mostly open grass area with trees around the perimeter. People take their dogs to play off leash (oh my, so scary) or picnic or play catch. Everyone gets along, no one rants about off leash dogs, dog owners clean up after the dogs, and it’s a beautiful place to go.
    It is also on top of 3000+ graves. In the 1960s the city decided to turn the cemetery into a park, pulled up all the headstones, left the graves, and a park was made. Oh the horrors. People are picnicking and dogs are playing on graves!

  • Victorian era cemeteries were the only real city park in those ages, and a relief from hot, muddy smelly streets during the summer. Families would often spend all day in a cemetery, whether they had relatives there or not. There are monuments at Congressional in the form of picnic benches and tables that were specifically designed to attract people to visit and have events, parties, or just a basic lunch, and thats exactly what they do!

  • Our big problem is the cultural taboo of death in general. Death is a part of life, we should be comfortable enough with this to be able to incorporate such lovely places as cemeteries into a running route. If you don’t think a cemetery can be a lovely place, well there you go, that’s your self-limitation, please don’t impose it on those who will be respectfully passing through on a run.

    • You might not agree with the cultural taboo, but would it kill you to be respectful of those that do? There are other places to run but only one place your neighbor’s departed husband is buried.

      • The great thing about people who are offended by the presence of non-mourners in cemeteries is that they are never there themselves! So they don’t ever get to see the terrible behavior that has them clutching pearls. It’s a win-win.

        • How do you know that?

        • I see. So I’m a pearl-clutcher because I’m concerned about shitty things people do that don’t affect me directly? Should I stop working to prevent sex trafficking because I’ve never actually been trafficked myself?

          • As if jogging and sex trafficking are the same thing. A respectible pearl clutcher would find the logic wanting.

          • But the logic behind the statement is the same.

          • The problem with that argument (and it’s a big one): as evidenced in this thread there are many people who don’t care about people jogging in cemeteries, and some people who actively ENCOURAGE people to take advantage of the open space because it makes them feel like their deceased family members are still part of the community. So, your definition of “shitty things people do” is far from widely accepted.

          • And there are lots of people who either don’t care about sex trafficking or encourage it. So….?

  • A bunch of my people are buried in Glenwood cemetery, right at the entry circle around a big obelisk (Hi Josiah, et al.!).
    When I walk through Glenwood (or other equally-interesting old cemeteries), I like to think that by reading the headstones, I’m honoring these long-forgotten dead folk.
    So, if you do run through a cemetery, avoid burials obviously, but turn off your headphones and read the stones around you. And ponder your fate!

  • There are plenty of other places to run in D.C. so I would say skip running through the cemetery. As a runner myself, sometimes I find I even cringe when I run by the WWII Memorial. Let’s try to remember what these places are for.

  • Yes, I think it’s disrespectful to try to turn a graveyard into your own personal racetrack. There are plenty of other places to go for a run that will not be disturbing or frightening any mourners.

  • I live near by. I don’t see anything wrong. As long as you are respectful and don’t kick over the tombstones.

  • I could care less about cemeteries. That said, Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown (abutting Rock Creek Park and Dumbarton Oaks) specifically has a sign on the front gate that says “NO JOGGING”. So I’d be respectful of that.
    Still it’s a gorgeous place, especially when the leaves are changing.

  • Hmmm … how many of those against the use are joggers and/or ever visit a cemetery? Really – except around holidays – no one really visits gravesites – the idea that someone would be disturbed (and you cannot disturb the dead) is minimal. There are probably more dead joggers in the cemetery than those posting against jogging on POP!

    • Here’s the other side: How many of those who see absolutely no problem with jogging have been to a cemetery recently to bury a family member or to mourn the loss of someone they love? Cemetery’s are possibly the only places — aside from the actual funeral service — where we grieve and display our sadness and vulnerability publicly. They are also possibly the only places that some of us regard as sacred spaces. It’s not hard for me to understand wanting to preserve and respect that.

      • + a million

      • justinbc

        I can’t speak for others, but I just buried my grandmother in a cemetery a few months ago and I would have no problem with people jogging through it, it’s not like they’re running on the grass on top of her grave. The one benefit of people jogging / walking / whatever is that it provides a presence in an otherwise empty area. It (marginally) deters people from robbing, desecrating, stealing flowers, etc from other graves as well.

      • Have buried a family member recently, have visited them and have no trouble with people jogging. The family member was a big fan of cemeteries, btw. That’s why they’re buried in a pretty part of an old garden cemetery (Lake View in Cleveland which puts the major cemeteries here to shame in terms of layout, monuments, and botanicals–they do various tours and have encouraged people to come check out the flowering trees and foliage for decades). Much of my family is buried there and other than a very tight-assed aunt (who had problems with everyone), I can’t think of anyone who’d have a problem with joggers.

  • Absolutely not disrespectful – this is ridiculous. Running is not in any way implying anything negative about the interred – honestly, they’re dead anyway – and at least they are being visited. Even if you believe in the ressurection of the body, runners aren’t digging up and mutilating remains or otherwise disturbing them. They’re passing through along the same paths taken by visiting mourners (is it disrespectful of mourners to walk on paths and step on graves?).

    Sure, runners and walkers should be respectful of funerals, just as visiting mounrers of the already interred should be. Again: what a silly notion. I just started watching House of Cards and saw this scene where Robin Wright gets barked at by a woman for running in a cemetary. Struck me as bizzare.

    • why do people thing this has anything to do with what the dead think? it’s about the living and sacred spaces.

      • Exactly. It’s bizarre that some people are so ignorant of this.

      • Who is being disrespected when you run in a cemetery? Mourners? The dead? Who’s place is it?

        Cemeteries are not generally consecrated spaces (unlike parish churchyards) – for example, RCC, though it might be the churchyard of an Episcopal parish, is home to a wide variety of faiths.

        I just don’t think running is any more “disrespectful” than walking. Defacing graves, trampling flowers, abusing the space? Sure, that’s disrespectful.

        • what is potentially being disrespected is others who seek peace. also, it’s not just mourners, it’s anyone seeking peace and sanctity in a sacred place.

          i know we don’t live in a society that values inner peace, especially of others,so people are woefully ignorant as to why jogging would disrupt that, but imagine jogging in a library as people are trying to study. that is what is -potentially- disrespectful.

          i’m not of the opinion it is always disrespectful. context is important. Glenwood is not a tourist cemetery . it’s also really close to Trinity College, Turkey Thicket, Howard, and Catholic University where joggers can run ( not in the libraries).

          • Erre, as I said in my first post: runners aren’t that disruptive and cemeteries are not consecrated (sacred) spaces. I personally derive an enormous amount of inner peace and mindful meditation from running. Having a runner go by does not disrupt my ability to refect and think if I’m not running and just sitting there contemplating, reflecting or meditating. I’m not ignorant, I just don’t find the stimulus of a runner passing me to be all that distracting. I don’t buy the analogy: a cemetery is an outdoor space – full of city noises – not an indoor quiet space like a library.

          • “Erre, as I said in my first post: runners aren’t that disruptive and cemeteries are not consecrated (sacred) spaces.”

            Both are subjective. If you’ve spent a significant amount of time on Earth (or just read some of the comments on this thread) you’d notice a lot of people disagree with both of those opinions. .

          • something need not be consecrated in order for people to feel that it is sacred.
            what distracts you is not the same as what distracts others.

            i derive a lot of personal peace from having sex, but that doesn’t mean it’s not disruptive and in some scenarios disrespectful to others.

          • To be fair, it’s also pretty disruptive to be buried underground and leak toxic emblalming and coffin materials into the local water shed for decades as you decay. So disrespectful to the local community – won’t someone think of the children?

          • To Anon 2:19: And that, supposedly, is why people are charged a lot of money for cement liners and burial vaults.

  • So it must be okay. Karen knows what’s up.

  • I attend St. Paul’s in Rock Creek and several times I have heard the priest discuss marking off distances in the cemetery there or even holding a 5K.

  • Terri Maxfield Lipp

    As you might be able to tell from my screen name, cemeteries are a passion of mine, always have been. And for two years, when I first moved to DC, I was the Office Manager for Historic Congressional Cemetery and also managed their dog walking program. That program did indeed (as others have mentioned here) save the cemetery from desertion and ruin. The dog walkers are very respectful people who care very much for the cemetery and not only donate a LOT of money toward the upkeep and improvements of the place, they each volunteer a minimum of 12 hours a year doing any number of things that need doing in an old burial ground (cleaning, gardening, assisting in the restoration of grave markers and family vaults, fundraising, etc.). Most do way, way more than their mandatory 12 hours too. The people that work there, the people that visit on a regular basis, and the entire HCC dog walking community, all take a great deal of pride and ownership of the place and it shows.

    There was a time not too long ago that HCC was listed by the National Trust of Historic Places as one of the 11 most endangered historic places in the country – it was overgrown with vaults falling in, grave markers toppling over, frequented by drug dealers and prostitutes, and crimes were committed there on a regular basis. These are the kinds of things that I would consider “disrespectful” toward a cemetery and the memory of those buried there. Which would you rather have going on around your loved one’s grave? Crack dealers shooting each other, or a family out walking their dog, picking up trash, and basically taking deep care of the place?

    Congressional Cemetery holds many fundraisers over the course of a year, and one may not realize it, but maintaining 36 acres of very-difficult-to-mow grass, dotted with thousands of headstones that need care and repair…is rather expensive. And that’s just daily maintenance. Add to that improvements and modernization and you will find the numbers add up very quickly. The “Deadman’s Run” (a 5K run through the cemetery and along the Anacostia river) was first organized by a former chairman of the board who has dedicated over 20 years of his life to the betterment of the cemetery, and did so voluntarily, without pay, simply out of his love for the place. I was privileged to be one of the organizers of the first “Ghosts and Goblets Soirée,” which was not, nor is it now, an event where people are (as one commenter put it) “getting drunk, leaving booze bottles and pissing on graves.” I can guarantee you that the commenter has never been to one of the events at HCC, as they are wonderful, fun, educational, very well thought out, well organized and professional events, and the kind of behavior referred to in that post is simply not tolerated in any way, shape or form.

    Cemeteries are beautiful places that should be frequented. In the late 1800’s and well into the 1900’s, Americans would picnic in cemeteries, take walks, sit in the sun, read, meet their neighbors for a chat…basically treat cemeteries as parks, but with the added benefit of visiting their loved one’s graves. It is in that spirit that HCC invites people to visit the grounds, learn about history and very respectfully keep alive the memory of all buried there. “Respect” is not a somber, cheerless, doleful thing. It can be, of course, but it can also be joyous, loving, and delightful. It is this kind of respect that makes HCC and so many other cemeteries around the country that hold jazz concerts, educational tours, parties of all kinds, and yes, even 5K runs, places where those interred are not forgotten. So if you feel like taking a walk or a jog through a cemetery, do so with a considerate respect in your heart..and feel free to pick up any trash along the way too. It doesn’t hurt to demonstrate your respect while you’re there.

    • justinbc

      Awesome post, thanks for sharing your experience!

    • I first came to DC in 1990 and visited Congressional with a relative who wanted to see the graves of Matlovitch, Hoover, et al. The place was a ruin and kindof creepy–opened vaults, etc.. We met a family of dog walkers who probably were early contributors to this effort. Very nice people and a wealth of info about the area. Fast forward, I came back to DC a few years ago and took friends to Congressional to see Matlovitch, Hoover, et al. It was amazing how much the place had changed. Very few stones needing attention, and many relatively recent burials. Been there more recently, and its even more remarkable. The Matlovitch grave has attracted a lot of gay burials–getting the living to visit a cemetery in various ways is what keeps them alive, so to speak.

    • Thank you and agreed!

  • It definitely depends on if it’s an active cemetery or not. If people are there mourning their loved ones, you should stay away. But if all the deceased are long since passed, I think it’s fine. If you’re dead, you can’t care about someone running over you, but if you’re in mourning you’ll want to have a quiet place of contemplation. Unfortunately, I just discovered that Congressional cemetery is in fact an active burial site, so I think the events there are tacky. I was under the impression that there were no more burials there, but that is incorrect.

    • Terri Maxfield Lipp

      Congressional does not hold events or allow dog walking during funerals, burials, or any kind of services. They actually block out hours before and after such things to do their best to assure there will be no cross-over, as well as blocking out time on weekends and all major holidays. Burials are relatively rare there now as available space is incredibly limited, but yes, they do happen on occasion. And when those occasions occur, I can tell you that everyone involved (staff or otherwise) at the cemetery, understands the importance of that moment. They truly are kind, smart, caring people. And the families of those being buried there are fully informed of the economic and social structure of the HCC community, how the fundraising is done, what kinds of activities are going on, the dog walking program, etc. In the entire time I worked there, I never saw anyone choose not to bury someone there because of it. On the contrary, they often become involved members of the community as well. It truly is a positive experience there, not tacky. I don’t know if that helps change your mind… 🙂

      • You’ve definitely given me something to think about! And even if I do decide I still disagree, I do appreciate the work you do to support HCC – it’s obvious that you do really care about preserving it and do give serious consideration to these issues, which I’m sure helps families feel comfortable burying their loved ones there.

  • I’m sure this will get a lot of negative response, but I frequently walk my dog in Arlington National Cemetery. I usually park near my dad’s grave and walk from there and I’ve never had anyone say anything negative to me, but have had old widows come over and thank me for bringing him to the cemetery. My dog is an extremely well behaved German Shepherd mix and he has never barked or done anything inappropriate at the cemetery. However, I have seen dozens of tourists in the cemetery over the years acting like idiots and being very disrespectful. So, I think a lot depends on the circumstances. A jogger or two going through a cemetery at 8:00 in the morning is different than a pack running through at noon during a funeral. A little common sense goes a long way.

  • colheights67

    I come from a big Catholic family — every year or so, we have a reunion, and one event is the morning prayer service/coffee & doughnuts at the cemetery plot where my grandparents, various aunt and uncles, my father and my nephew are buried. Between 12-25 of us say some prayers, sing a song, and then sit on blankets or in folding chairs and eat doughnuts and drink our coffee, and we tend to tell stories about our buried relatives. I pour a cup of coffee on my father. My cousin pours some coffee on her mother. If I saw a jogger go by, it’d make me smile, because my father loved to run.

    • Emmaleigh504

      My family has a reunion on the 4th of July at the cemetery. We have blankets, tables, chairs, lots of food, the kids play games, the older folks tell stories, we set off fire crackers, sometimes the dog from the farm next door joins us; it’s a fun time.

  • Is it disrespectful to wear jeans in the cemetery? How about eating food? As long as you avoid burials, don’t run on graves, and don’t smash pedestrians I think you are fine.

  • i guess a good question is if we as a society wish for any of our public spaces to be quiet contemplative spaces where animals should not be encouraged to defecate, and humans should be encouraged not to use a gym or office.

    if we do want that, where should those spaces be and what should they be like?

  • I have zero issues with running through a cemetery. It’s a safe, quiet place and as long as runners are considerate of mourners there is no reason for it to be an issue.

  • No, it’s not disrespectful at all. People once picnicked in cemeteries.

  • I blame the lawn park and memorial park movement for the philosophy that it is disrespectful to be in cemeteries if you are not there to mourn. These philosophies are a direct result of death becoming streamlined for the sake of ease of maintenance. In fact, the whole establishment of the memorial park cemetery was to hide death. Of course no one wants to go to a cemetery that only has generic, standardized headstones. Thats why people these days only associate sadness and mourning with burial spaces. Boo, 21st century cemetery developments. Yay, garden cemeteries.

    Congressional Cemetery is on the right path. When they are no longer receiving income from site sales and interments, they will still have support because they have developed a relationship with the community instead of isolating themselves as a place restricted to sadness. Live a little and learn a lot. The Victorians had it right. Go have an enjoyable time with your deceased loved ones in a beautiful cultural landscape. No frowns. Only smiles.

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