inTown: Outside of a Dog Book Festival
“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
This quote from Groucho Marx inspired the Congressional Cemetery’s naming of its book festival, which will happen this Saturday (8/11) at the cemetery ( 1801 E Street, SE). This is no ordinary book festival. Let me give you a little background on the cemetery, so you understand why.
The Congressional Cemetery is over two hundred years old, and it holds the graves of many notable Washingtonians, including John Edgar Hoover and Philip Sousa. The Cemetery had been languishing in decrepitude for many years, due to its inauspicious neighbor, the DC jail. Crackheads and prostitutes used the tall grass and graves, and most people were afraid to go into the cemetery. That is, except for the neighbors with dogs, who would bring them to run off leash in the cemetery.
Although neighbors have brought their dogs to Congressional Cemetery for many years, a small group started taxing themselves in the mid 90 ‘s to help pay to mow the grass. The cemetery was falling apart. Finally in 1997, The National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the cemetery on the Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places list. In 1998, Congress awarded $1 million to be held in trust for the cemetery by the National Trust.
In 2002, Congress added another $1 million to the National Trust fund, along with an additional appropriation to the Architect of the Capitol for a historic landscape and structures report. In 2003 and 2004, Congress awarded the cemetery $100,000 to conduct repairs and develop a master landscape plan. The dog walkers finally became official in 2007, known as The K9 Corps, a recognized organization of the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery with a Board of Directors, committees, rules, and a maximum number of dogs.
Since the dogs are such a huge part of life at the cemetery–dog fees pay for most of the upkeep of the grounds and owners are required to volunteer their time to improve the Cemetery–it makes perfect sense that this book festival would be called Outside of a Dog. Authors (with or without their own dogs) will set up tables through the cemetery grounds, and you can stroll through the cemetery checking out different books and authors. The best part? You can bring your dog along! Even if you’re not a member, the cemetery staff will be selling day passes for $10.
Also, bring your used books along for the free book exchange. Any books not claimed by the end of the day will be donated. History buffs can talk to Jefferson Morley about his Snow-Storm in August, which chronicles an 1835 race riot, defused by cemetery resident Anna Thornton. Another interesting author for history buffs to chat with would be Meredith Henne Baker who wrote about The Richmond Theater Fire. (Thanks, Meredith, for making sure we knew about this event!) Or, visitors can find many familiar cemetery names in Anthony Pitch’s bestseller, The Burning of Washington. The authors on hand will include:
Meredith Henne Baker
Louise Farmer Smith