Tree Steward trainees and their mentors were agog at the magnificent tree specimens at Ivy Hill Cemetery in Alexandria on Sunday, Oct. 28th when they gathered for a tree identification expedition led by instructor Emily Ferguson. They encountered innumerable oaks of many stripes; maples; hickories (fuzzy-tipped and not); dogwoods with checkered bark; lenticeled cherries, both native and exotic; sassafras flashing all three leaf forms; a catalpa sprout; trees that sprawled, those that clung, big-leaved, to a shady slope, and every tree shape in between in this garden of arboreal splendor.
The cemetery, founded in 1856, pre-dates the Civil War and may have been spared cutting for sightlines by troops in that hostility. Its beautiful Timber Branch Creek is as it was formed centuries ago by enormous chunks of rock that scooted in under a glacier.
After a two-hour walk, the group gathered in the cemetery’s Crypt for refreshments and a lesson in funeral practices of the past, some rather unsettling. Before backhoes, speedy transportation, and warm winters, some deceased needed a resting place before burial. The Crypt, a brick-lined cavern in a hillside at Ivy Hill, held bodies on bunk-bed-style shelves in cold storage until the ground thawed or funeral arrangements could be made. This usually was temporary, until a spring thaw when the shad started to run in Virginia rivers and the Shadblow or Serviceberry trees first opened their blossoms.
Not all of the Crypt’s occupants departed in a timely fashion. Clippings from old newspapers indicate that some families were tardy in claiming their next of kin. In particular, Ivy Hill’s General Manager Lucy Goddin tells the tale of one lovely resident who exceeded all expectations of hospitality in the Crypt.
For that, you really need to take a tour and talk to Lucy, who assures us that would not happen today!
Click to learn more about the cemetery and its historic preservation society: