There’s no better way to celebrate Halloween than to visit a local cemetery. This time of year, it’s nice to feel a connection to the spirits around us. Which cemeteries are the spookiest? I offer a five-cross rating below, in my tour of historic graveyards in and around Washington, DC.

Rock Creek Cemetery

DC’s oldest cemetery is Rock Creek Cemetery (above). It offers 84 acres with a park-like setting and notable residents, in a quiet part of Northwest DC (and in fact not next to Rock Creek). More peaceful than spooky, it’s the final resting place of Tim Russert, Gore Vidal, and many famous names from fading history books. Spookiness rating: ··✞✞✞

Congressional Cemetery

Congressional Cemetery is in Capitol Hill, next to the D.C. Jail. Its most famous residents are John Philip Sousa and J. Edgar Hoover (who is buried a few yards from his constant companion Clyde Tolson). Hoover isn’t the gayest icon here, however. Nearby is Leonard Matlovich, the gay Vietnam veteran whose epitaph states “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one” (see photo). The cemetery is also notable for the many Indians buried there. Their American Indians Tour states “most died while in Washington negotiating treaties or conducting business with the U.S. Government.” You can’t miss the giant Lummi Nation Totem Poles (see photo). This cemetery has a welcoming feel to it, not necessarily the reception one would want in a cemetery. I’ll call it “joie de la mort” – the sense that people led full lives, and are now content to rest for eternity in this corner of the capital. Spookiness rating: ·✞✞✞✞

Oak Hill Cemetery<

If you’ve biked the Rock Creek trail you’ve probably noticed Oak Hill Cemetery. This small but scenic graveyard sits on a steep slope in Georgetown, near Dumbarton Oaks. This one is my favorite because it’s dense and old, with winding narrow pathways. A lot of the tombstones’ names will be familiar. The most recognizable ones to me are Katharine Graham and Herman Hollerith. The smallest tombstone is the most intriguing: labled just “Minnie,” it looks like a ferret (see photo), but is most likely a lamb, signifying the grave of a young child. Many of Oak Hill’s stone crypts are buried in the side of the hill. Ghosts would be very much at home here. Spookiness rating: ✞✞✞✞✞

Mt Zion Cemetery

Nearby, Mt Zion Cemetery is even smaller. Here lie the graves of free blacks, run by the Female Union Band Society until 1950. The stones are deeply weathered, and the entire yard looks forgotten. Spookiness rating: ··✞✞✞

Holy Rood Cemetery

Holy Rood Cemetery sits on prime real estate in Glover Park, but is neglected and neither pretty nor spooky. Come here if you like seeing old stone tombstones that have toppled over. The busy traffic of Wisconsin Avenue makes it difficult to convene with the spirits. Spookiness rating: ···✞✞

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery is the nation’s most famous cemetery, but is too crowded with tourists to feel spooky. The rows of identical gravestones has the intended effect, to reflect on the tragedy of war and the honor of those who were killed fighting for their country. Well, not completely identical, as the Department of Veterans Affairs has a set of allowable emblems for headstones and markers. In 2007, a lawsuit forced the V.A. to accept a request for a pentacle symbol on the grave of a Wiccan soldier. Sadly, his grave is in the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery, and I don’t know of any witch graves in Arlington. Spookiness rating: ···✞✞

Angel with a Cross

Christ Church in Alexandria has a small cemetery in its yard with a few very old graves, including the only ones I know of in the region that have the winged cherub design (see photo), the sort you see so many of in Boston. They have an annex cemetery ten blocks south, with a few large-scale graves but overall a bit boring. Spookiness rating: -✞✞✞✞ for the main church yard, and ····✞ for the annex.

Did I leave out any spooky cemeteries? Let me know in the comments below.

Rating the Spookiness of Local Cemeteries

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