In last week’s Tombstone Tuesday post, I wrote about Arlington Abbey Mausoleum, where my great-grandparents were interred in the 1920s. Over the following decades, the mausoleum’s owners abandoned the property when it failed to become profitable. Its government overseers were unable to keep a close eye on it and it fell victim to looters and decay.
I came across an article that mentioned Scott Watson, an Army Corps of Engineers archaeologist, who in the 1990s had been tasked with locating next of kin of those interred at the mausoleum. The military was moving all of the remains out of the mausoleum in order to close it down permanently. I left a message with Watson and was able to speak with him this past week.
Watson was able to verify that not only were my great-grandparents originally buried at Arlington Abbey, but my grandfather as well. I hadn’t been able to track down his gravesite yet, so this was a somewhat unexpected boon (I was hoping he had ended up in the same location, but hadn’t found any evidence of that yet).
That is the good news — the confirmed burial locations of three relatives. The bad news is that they have all since disappeared.
When the Army Corps of Engineers went in to Arlington Abbey to catalog the remains there and prepare them for removal, the crypt where my relatives’ cremated remains had been interred was empty. Watson made the following observations at that time: the shutter from another vault was propped up against the Corley vault, which was second up from the bottom of a six-vault-high stack (so relatively accessible). He noted there had been a fair amount of vandalism.
Watson did say that between the 1950s and the 1970s, sometimes relatives of those buried at the mausoleum had removed the remains for reburial. The mausoleum sometimes kept records of this, but not always. There were no official records showing my relatives’ remains had been removed. Watson said that they had tried to trace the next of kin of the Corleys — but they put the most effort into tracking down families for whom they had remains to release.
Finally, Watson said that they discovered several unlabeled urns containing cremated remains in a pile on the floor of the Abbey Mausoleum. They had no way to trace the vaults to which the remains belonged. These urns were reinterred in the cremation vault at National Memorial Park in Falls Church, Va. This is where all other unclaimed remains from the mausoleum were relocated as well.
So, there appear to be three possibilities as to the current location of my relatives’ remains:
1) Another Corley descendant removed the remains sometime between the 1950s and the 1970s.
2) The remains are among the discarded urns found in the mausoleum.
3) They’re just gone — stolen or destroyed.
Watson apologized for not having better news or more details for me, but he’s given me a ton of information. He’s mailing me copies of the original interment documents and other information that he has available.
It does sadden me that there was looting at the mausoleum, and that because of this, I may never find the final resting place of my grandfather and great-grandparents. Arlington Abbey Mausoleum was demolished in 2000, so I can’t even visit that location.
But I have to admit that I’m a bit fascinated by this whole case. The story surrounding the mausoleum is quite incredible and I’m glad that I’ve learned as much about it as I have. I’ll report back if there is more to be gleaned from the records Watson is sending me.